Day 6 – Case Study 1: A Non-Responding Client


Welcome to Day 6 of the Conquering Client Conflict course!

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nora-nonresponder_emailHere’s the deal: having just wrapped up the last round of revisions that a client has requested, you’ve sent an email notifying your contact person that the work is done. You’re hoping to finish things off so you can move on to the next project or even take some time off for yourself.

Days pass. No reply. You send text and email messages asking if the client received your previous messages. Still no reply. More days – and eventually weeks – go by. No response. You have a non-responding client on your hands.

A dozen questions whirl in your mind. Have you done something wrong? Did you piss off the client? Will you get that last payment you’re expecting? Have you been ghosted?

Before you press the panic button, take a breather and step back. Remember when we talked about presuming goodwill? Do not immediately assume that your client is being shady and that you have been swindled by your non-responding client. Instead of running negative scenarios in your head, think positive and try to be empathetic.

If you are working with a small business, you should be aware that the owner or your contact person might be performing multiple roles and is currently swamped with more pressing matters and cannot attend to you. Or perhaps, your contact person has a personal matter to attend to, a death in the family or a birth of a child. If you have set up filters for choosing clients and this one has passed those filters, I say cut them some slack – just for now – and presume goodwill.

If there is one piece of solid advice I can give to you about non-responding clients, it’s to hold the communication lines open. Give your client opportunities to explain their side while remaining consistent in both your efforts and responses.

What exactly should you tell a non-responding client?

Start out by telling them that the project requires two-way accountability; this is how I teach my clients that it’s not just me, the freelancer, who has accountability to the project; the client is accountable to their own project as well. It is your job as a freelancer to educate your client on the importance of their prompt response in moving the project forward. Let them know that their lack of or late response jeopardizes the schedule because you can’t move forward without their feedback.

If you must, simply inform them that the delivery date is now extended by one week; that just might get them to come running. A simple e-mail template for that might look like this:

Since I haven’t heard back from you regarding @THING in sufficient time to maintain the project schedule, the delivery date has now been moved back @TIME, to @NEWDATE instead of @OLDDATE. If you’re no longer interested in completing this project and have moved on, that’s fine; just let me know and I’ll send over a final invoice for work completed-to-date.

You may also enumerate the consequences of not holding up their end of responsibilities. For example, you can say that in light of the current situation, you are moving to other projects and you are putting your project with them on hold.

You might also want to give them acceptable alternatives like revisiting the accountability terms or paying you for the corresponding costs. At all points in a project, just as we are aware of the consequences of not holding up our end of a project, the client must also be aware that not holding up their end will harm the project.

It might be frustrating for you, but give your client an opportunity to air their side. They might have a valid reason for not responding to your messages – I’ve had some very big projects that were super-important to me, but were just one of a dozen equally-important projects to the client. If the client does reply to you and they have some kind of reasonable reason for the delay:

On the other hand, if the non-responding client remains silent, trigger the termination clause in your contract (again…you are using a contract, and you do have a termination clause, right?), bill for what you’re owed, deliver what you’ve done, and move on to the next, more cooperative, client. You can’t ever let a lack of response paralyze you – you’re running a business. You’ve laid out clear parameters, requirements and boundaries at the start of the project.

If your client is unwilling or unable to hold up their end of making a project happen, that’s OK. It’s their project to delay, but that never means that you have to let yourself be held hostage. Behave like the professional you are and move on.

Homework Assignment – Post Your Work To The Comments Below!

1) Do you currently have a stalled project due to a client non-response? Write them a polite-but-firm e-mail (seriously, keep it professional!) informing them that their delivery date has been delayed until (pick a date) due to a lack of response/feedback/approval/etc. Post it here.

2) Now, imagine the reply you would like for your non-responding client to send you in response to your e-mail. Post that reply below, writing it as though you are the client.

3) Now, send the e-mail from #1 above. Tell me if you feel better or worse.