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What to Do When a Client Kills a Project

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So, there you are, working away on a project, and oh, is it a good one. You’re having fun, the client’s loving your work, and then…

…the whole thing comes to a screeching halt.


A quick glance through my Projectus Interruptus file shows the following:

  1. A university department’s website redesign gets scuttled because the college’s website redesign is going on at the same time, and guess what? As part of this effort, each department gets a new site too. That sure was news to the department head I’d been working with. What’s worse, he liked my new design a lot better than the college’s.
  2. The company’s two head honchos can’t agree on what they want their product logos to look like, so they kill the entire logo design project.
  3. Another university department’s brochure design has to be approved by the college. And the college dean’s office informs the department head that their ad agency is already working on a brochure. He was just as surprised as the department head mentioned in the first item.

Whether it’s disagreements among your clients, out-of-the-blue budget cuts, or simultaneous design efforts that your client didn’t know about, the end result is the same: You’re out of work.

What to do now?

The first and most important thing is to get paid for what you’ve already done. Add a “kill fee” provision to your client contracts. Here’s some verbiage that you could use:

The total amount of this contract is $______________

This agreement begins with an initial payment of $_____________

If the Client halts work and applies by registered letter for a refund within 30 days, to the Owner of [Your Business Name, along with its address and telephone number], work completed shall be billed at the hourly rate [of $NNN] and deducted from the initial payment, the balance of which shall be returned to the Client.

If, at the time of the request for refund, work has been completed beyond the amount covered by the initial payment, the Client shall be liable to pay for all work completed at the hourly rate stated above. No portion of this initial payment will be refunded unless written application is made within 30 days of signing this contract.

Tip: Before you use the above verbiage, run it past your attorney. He or she may have some suggestions for you.

Be forewarned that some organizations, universities, for example, may not agree to a kill fee. However, I’ve found that university clients who’ve been hit with unforeseen Projectus Interruptus have paid me in full.

Second, don’t end your relationship with the client. Projectus Interruptus is painful, and you may not feel very cheerful and chipper, but get over it. Your client probably feels as bad as you do.

While you’re getting over the hurt, send your client a thank you letter. Tell him or her how much you enjoyed working with her, and that you would enjoy the opportunity to do so again. Suggest projects. Could her organization use a new logo? Show examples of logos you’ve designed for other clients. Or is the website a bit long in the tooth? Show how you’ve turned ugly duckling sites into beautiful swans.

In addition to suggesting projects, ask your Projectus Interruptus clients for referrals. They’ve probably been collaborating with you for a few weeks or months, so they know your work style and reliability. Even if your project didn’t get finished, their recommendation still carries a lot of weight with their colleagues.

Last but not least, keep your client in the loop. Put her on your announcements list, add him to your social networking contacts, or just check in with a phone call now and then.

Projectus Interruptus may feel fatal right now, but who knows what things could be like in six months? Your current-day budget cut victim may find new funds, and guess what, you’re back in a client relationship again.

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