🐈 Community
dena-standley
Member

Client out of Contact

A client hired me for what will be a rather long project.  However, the first milestone is due at the end of this week.  Without going into too much detail, there are thousands of pages of documents included in this project, and I need a small specific number of documents to complete the first milestone. He did not specify where to find these in the mass of documents he sent.  For the price I am charging, I cannot afford to sort through two thousand pages of documents to try to guess which ones he is talking about.   The client knew that I had some other projects to finish and then would dedicate this week to getting his work done.  He has been a little difficult to communicate with over the past week, and for the last few days, he has disappeared.  The milestone was funded, I think he is serious about the project, but if I can't get clarification about these pages over this weekend, I doubt I will meet the milestone.  So, suggestions for how to handle this?  I can't even ask for a short extension, because we will be on a cruise the following week.  (So, the extension would need to be two weeks).  I guess what I am asking is when a client does not communicate and that slows down the project, how do you politely ask for a deadline extension?  

 

Since I am here, can I also ask if anyone has ever needed to ask to renegotiate contract terms?  We communicated in-depth before I accepted the contract, and I thought I knew what I was getting into.  However, the client has added several more requests and did not clarify the sheer number of documents to be reviewed.  I am not sure I will need to do this, basically, ask for more money, but I am curious if anyone has had to do this and how they went about it?  Or, do I just do the work for the agreed-upon price and accept it as a painful lesson learned?  Thanks for any constructive input.  I have learned a lot in the last month, but I still have much learning to do.  

 

 

ACCEPTED SOLUTION


Phyllis G wrote:

...

What to do now? Personally, I would take my medicine and work for peanuts on the first milestone, if that's what's required to deliver to the best of my capability. That would preserve the relationship and the long-term opportunity, and also be consistent with my own code of professional responsibility. It's up to you, though, nobody can make that kind of call for you.

 

As for renegotiating terms, don't conflate that with the schedule/direction situation on the first milestone. Scope creep is always a possibility with fixed-rate projects and it's possible to negotiate mutually acceptable changes to the contract if both parties are professional and honest. But keep the project mgt snafu separate, don't muddy the waters.

 

 


Agreed. A fixed-price contract means you deliver the agreed deliverable, regardless of how long it takes to complete. Plus, the first milestone with a new client is a trust-building exercise. This is where you demonstrate that you can be counted on to get the work done.

Clients may be sympathetic to life's plights, but at the end of the day, they care about getting the work completed on time and on budget.

View solution in original post

17 REPLIES 17
prestonhunter
Member

re: "However, the client has added several more requests and did not clarify the sheer number of documents to be reviewed."

 

??

 

A client can not "add requests" to a fixed-price contract.

 

You made a lot of mistakes as a freelancer. But that's okay. That is pretty normal when it comes to newbies working on fixed-price contracts.

 

You have completed 8 jobs successfully.

 

If you want to just close this contract and not get paid anything, then your JSS could take the hit.

 

You really only have 3 choices:

- Close the contract and don't get paid anything.

- Complete the contract for the agreed-upon price.

- Tell the client you are willing to complete the project, but you would need to re-negotiate the price.

 

Generally speaking, you are better off if you treat the client as an intelligent person who wants your help to get a project done. Expect the client to do the right thing.

 

If you can't complete the project at the agreed-upon price, then explain this to the client, and tell him what his options are. If you can't complete the work by a certain deadline, then let him know as soon as possible.

 

Hopefully you have learned your lesson from this.

Personally, I do not accept any fixed-price contract until I have ALL the instructions necessary and ALL the files needed in order to complete the contract.

 

If client needs me to work on certain files, then he hands them over to me before I click the green "Accept" button.

 

That way... no surprises.

Your advice is sound.  The situation is complex, as the client did hand over all the files before I accepted, but then added more.  I hope to be able to work through the issues and do a great job. I am a little nervous about not being able to reach the client with a problem with a looming deadline.  Obviously, I will explain the issue to him IF he gets back in touch. If he remains MIA, do I complete the first milestone that is funded with my best guess on information?  I guess that is my next question--what happens if a client just disappears?  I know a job is paid, assuming it is submitted, in 14 days if there is no response from the client.  However, do you eventually close the contract and suffer the hit or just leave it open indefinitely?   

 

I know I am getting ahead of myself as it has only been a few days of no contact, but he seemed very eager to get started.  

re: "However, do you eventually close the contract and suffer the hit or just leave it open indefinitely?"

 

You are talking about a contract that has already paid out money.

That is a really important distinction.

 

If it ends up that you need to close a contract without feedback, that is not ideal. We LIKE to see positive feedback for each contract in the work history section on our public profile page.

 

But closing an occasional contract without any feedback is not something to worry about with regards to JSS. What we see, in actual practice, is that freelancers can have quite a few of these without any noticeable negative impact on JSS. We used to worry a lot more about that. I'm certain that the algorithm has been changed, so that zero-feedback contracts are far less problematic or JSS than we previously thought.

If a fixed price job is for a relatively complex, long-term project, a client can very much say "I would also like to include this," etc.  I know I can ask for additional compensation for those things, but I have clients ask for extra details or small increases in project size frequently and that is with only a handful of jobs.  

dreamseller
Member

The date specified in the deadline does not mean anything to Upwork's algorithm. Work on or submit it when the client gets back to you with the required information.

Unless the client rates negatively (for missing deadlines) while closing the contract, you have nothing to worry about.

Just concentrate on other things / projects while you wait for the client response.

Some of my thoughts about fixed-price contracts and various comments in this thread:

 

Long and complex = hourly contract

Short and specific = may use a fixed-price contract

 

If a client has a long and complex project that she wants to use the fixed-price contract type for, then it is divided into short, specific tasks. For some freelancers, that means it is divided into short, specific milestones.

 

For me: That means it is divided into short, specific contracts.

 

I rarely do multiple-milestone fixed-price contracts.

 

I require clients to divide work into separate contracts.

 

As the freelancer, I decide what I will and will not accept. I tell the client what tasks will be in what contract, and what the prices will be.

 

Having a "long, complex" fixed-price milestone isn't a good idea. It isn't good for the freelancer OR the client. If we use hourly contracts, then we get paid on a weekly basis. It isn't good for anybody to have a milestone stretch on for weeks or months, having a freelancer do work for a long period of time without getting paid.

 

It is better to divide things up.

 

For example:

Yesterday I literally completed three fixed-price contracts - from start to finish - all for a single client.

 

No "additions" to fixed-price contracts.

 

If a client hires a freelancer for a fixed-price contract and wants to change or add something after the contract starts, here is the proper way to do it:

The client CLOSES the current fixed-price contract, and releases all escrow money to the freelancer.

Then the client creates a NEW hourly, which is flexible and does not need to specify everything up front.

Or the client creates a new fixed-price contract that specifies what she wants.

 

Fixed-price contracts are a privilege. If a client "burns their fixed-price card" by abusing the fixed-price contract model, then they are only allowed to use hourly contracts with me.

wlyonsatl
Member

Dena,

 

Within limits, the better you define each milestone in writing here on the message board before accepting a contract, the easier it will for you to later say to the client "This (extra work) will require an additional milestone" that was not covered in your original agreement to do the work.

 

In my area of specialty, there is "mission creep" about 99% of the time. This is why I rarely do fixed price projects - many of the clients I deal with really don't know what they need. And I am not as clairvoyant as I'd like to be.

 

But if they insist on a fixed price arrangement at a high enough price, the milestones are well defined before the contract is signed. That includes telling the client clearly what is NOT included in the work I have agreed to do.

 

Poor communication from Day One of first contact is probably Problem #1 in projects that don't end to the satisfaction of both the client and the freelancer..

 

Good luck.

To clarify, the milestones are relatively short and well-defined. However, the entire contract is large and complex. The problem is that I need x specific information to complete the milestone. I have that information, it is just buried in mounds of other information. If I have to tackle the entire mound without input from client, I will be working for peanuts instead of the reasonable milestone payment. I think I am going to do my best to complete the first milestone, and whenever the client goes get back in touch, explain the extra work- and the possibility that it is not exactly what he was looking for due to inability to communicate (professionally and politely). That way, I will get paid for the first milestone even if client does a disappearing act. If he reappears, we can renegotiate the specifics of the milestones then. I appreciate the feedback, and I am taking your advice to heart. However, hourly pay just goes not make sense for most writing contracts. It might take someone an hour to write 2 pages, someone else 4 hours, both of equal quality. Also, this type of writing requires a lot of research offline (through documents sent) so it would have to be manually entered.

I absolutely agree that I should have made sure I had the exact documents in hand before accepting the milestone though. Lesson learned.

I am almost glad as a new freelancer you almost always have to start with small jobs because it has allowed me to learn so much more about the process. This is only my second “larger” contract, so I am definitely learning what not to do next time.

re: "To clarify, the milestones are relatively short and well-defined. However, the entire contract is large and complex."

 

That's good.

Thank you for the additional clarification.

You are indeed between a rock and a hard place. It seems to be your own schedule that is boxing you in to complete the first milestone this week. (Safe to assume you anticipate submitting the work mid-week at the latest, so the client has an opportunity to request revisions and you can make them before you become unavailable the following week?) It's never useful when a client is difficult to reach but the fact is, they often are. In the U.S. this is a holiday weekend, which may exacerbate the issue. We make our own lives easier (and more profitable) when we ace the project management piece every time. That means making sure we have everything we need ahead of time.

 

You mentioned the client had added material to the document repository after the contract was in place. Is the additional material that created the confusion about what to use for the first milestone? Did you know, before the addition, exactly how to proceed? If not, then the addition of material is not relevant. (Unless there was originally 200 pages to search through and then it was suddenly 2,000 pages.)

 

You mentioned the client has been less than communicative recently. Did you specifically ask, earlier last week, which documents you should use for the first milestone and make it clear that you needed an answer by now in order to complete the milestone on schedule and make it clear that if you missed the first target date, your own calendar would force you to delay until such-and-such date? If the answer is no, then you can't only blame the client's failure to communicate--you have to acknowledge your own lack of planning. When you make a commitment for next week while you're fully committed this week, you have to engage with next week's project sufficient to be sure you have everything in place. You can never assume the client will be available to answer questions.

 

What to do now? Personally, I would take my medicine and work for peanuts on the first milestone, if that's what's required to deliver to the best of my capability. That would preserve the relationship and the long-term opportunity, and also be consistent with my own code of professional responsibility. It's up to you, though, nobody can make that kind of call for you.

 

As for renegotiating terms, don't conflate that with the schedule/direction situation on the first milestone. Scope creep is always a possibility with fixed-rate projects and it's possible to negotiate mutually acceptable changes to the contract if both parties are professional and honest. But keep the project mgt snafu separate, don't muddy the waters.

 

 

Excellent reply, and your solution is what I plan to do. I am disappointed though as it also means client may not be getting precisely what he asked for. Yes, client was aware of my schedule—that I would be unable to start until these last few days. We made arrangements to accommodate that. Yes, the additional documents were added that totaled probably 1/3 the original documents sent. Client wants a particular set of documents used to write a factual account summarizing current issue. The clients said that the documents he was referencing where in one place. I completely own that I did not CHECK to make sure they were. They are not, and missing that is on me.

Scope creep—assuming this means when the scope of work continues to creep up? If so, yes that is happening. Client had mentioned being willing to pay extra when we get to that point. I am just not sure he realizes we are already at that point. But, I will continue to eat this particular elephant one bite at a time. I will finish this milestone to the best of my ability and then, assuming client is back in contact, set better boundaries on the scope or be clear that we need to renegotiate payment to accommodate extra work.

Dena, btw, I speak with such authority because I've done what you did (failed to double-check all the details before client disappeared for the weekend). More than once. 


Phyllis G wrote:

Dena, btw, I speak with such authority because I've done what you did (failed to double-check all the details before client disappeared for the weekend). More than once. 


Me too 😄


Petra R wrote:

Phyllis G wrote:

Dena, btw, I speak with such authority because I've done what you did (failed to double-check all the details before client disappeared for the weekend). More than once. 


Me too 😄


Me three. I think this is something you only learn by making the mistake the first time. And second time. And third. Contract negotiation and expectation setting is an ongoing learning process because we're dealing with people, and there are may different types of people in the world. 


Phyllis G wrote:

Dena, btw, I speak with such authority because I've done what you did (failed to double-check all the details before client disappeared for the weekend). More than once. 


I JUST did this, and i'm 30 years in! I had a client ask me to complete a 2,000 word page by Thursday morning. I knew the content and had all of the resources I needed and knew how long it would take, so I wasn't worried about being able to complete it Wednesday evening, since I had some other deadlines ahead of it.

 

Wednesday evening came and I sat down to work and clicked on the link to the client's Google doc outline for the first time...and she hadn't given me permission to view it. That was her fault, sort of, and I was able to get it to her in time, just a couple of hours later than originally discussed...but if I'd taken literally one minute to open the outline and scan it when she asked if I could complete the job on short notice, it would have saved us all a lot of stress.


Tiffany S wrote:

Phyllis G wrote:

Dena, btw, I speak with such authority because I've done what you did (failed to double-check all the details before client disappeared for the weekend). More than once. 


I JUST did this, and i'm 30 years in! I had a client ask me to complete a 2,000 word page by Thursday morning. I knew the content and had all of the resources I needed and knew how long it would take, so I wasn't worried about being able to complete it Wednesday evening, since I had some other deadlines ahead of it.

 

Wednesday evening came and I sat down to work and clicked on the link to the client's Google doc outline for the first time...and she hadn't given me permission to view it. That was her fault, sort of, and I was able to get it to her in time, just a couple of hours later than originally discussed...but if I'd taken literally one minute to open the outline and scan it when she asked if I could complete the job on short notice, it would have saved us all a lot of stress.


This is one of the reasons I hate Google Docs. I can get in enough trouble by myself, without apps setting little traps for me and my clients!


Phyllis G wrote:

...

What to do now? Personally, I would take my medicine and work for peanuts on the first milestone, if that's what's required to deliver to the best of my capability. That would preserve the relationship and the long-term opportunity, and also be consistent with my own code of professional responsibility. It's up to you, though, nobody can make that kind of call for you.

 

As for renegotiating terms, don't conflate that with the schedule/direction situation on the first milestone. Scope creep is always a possibility with fixed-rate projects and it's possible to negotiate mutually acceptable changes to the contract if both parties are professional and honest. But keep the project mgt snafu separate, don't muddy the waters.

 

 


Agreed. A fixed-price contract means you deliver the agreed deliverable, regardless of how long it takes to complete. Plus, the first milestone with a new client is a trust-building exercise. This is where you demonstrate that you can be counted on to get the work done.

Clients may be sympathetic to life's plights, but at the end of the day, they care about getting the work completed on time and on budget.

Learning Paths