Agency best practices — what to do when your client is stalled

Short of losing out on work, I’m not sure there’s anything more frustrating then when a client is stalled on a project.  You know how it goes.  Client calls with their hair on fire.  You move heaven and earth to get the resources ready to help them solve their crisis and you’re knee deep into the work when you get the call.  “We have to hold tight for a minute.” Which of course, turned into 2 months.

Or worse — you don’t get a call.  But you are waiting on something from the client (web content perhaps?) and you wait.  And wait.  But the client is stalled and not telling you.

The worst part isn’t the delay. It’s that every day of the delay costs you money.  And it costs you even more money when they’re ready to go again. You have to get your head back into the work, you have to go back and re-read the creative brief, and you often have to bring the team back together to get everyone back on track.  On top of all of that — you need to shift work to accommodate the old project because when they come back — they’re always in a hurry to get it done.

Ideally you can discourage clients from disrupting the flow of the work.  But even if you can’t — you shouldn’t be penalized for a client not having their act together.  I get it.  Sometimes it’s not your client but someone else inside their organization and sometimes, stuff just comes up.  But you know what — you’re running a business and it’s tough to do that when clients behave in an unpredictable and unreasonable manner.  Which is what all the stops and starts really are.

If you go back and check profitability on your work — I promise you, the projects that had some sort of delay, stoppage or a long waiting period because the client couldn’t get their act together are the ones where you lost your shirt.  It’s tough to bill for all the “checking in,” nagging, getting back up to speed time.  So that means every day there’s a delay, there’s also a leak in your profitability.

One way to combat the dormancy issues is to have language in your contracts that sets expectations and consequences for these kinds of delays.  You need to strongly consider having fees associated with these behaviors.  One of two things will happen.  Clients will manage their own internal resources better to avoid the delays/fees or you will be paid for all the time it takes you to get back up to speed and get the project back on track.

I highly recommend pre-set amounts as opposed to language that just says there will be some sort of fee.  Have them sign the document that spells out what it will cost.

Here’s some sample language:

A project which has not undergone an update or a service over a period of X months or greater is considered dormant. A client who elects to re-engage AGENCY regarding this project after this period will be subject to:

  • A library fee for recovery of archived resources ($500)
  • A service fee to fully review the project and bring older elements of the project up to date ($1,000)
  • A renegotiation of terms and conditions (if the scope of the project has changed)
  • In addition, if there’s urgency to your re-engagement and we have to put other client work aside to complete your project, there will be a rush charge assigned, based on the volume of work remaining.

 

You can adjust the fees, amount of time before it triggers, etc.  The important thing is that you have this language in your scope of work document/contract and that you use the language to help a client manage their time/get you what you need.

Ideally, you’d never have to charge the fee.  But we know better.  What this language does is give you a little leverage to either encourage the client to get their act together and keep things moving OR making sure you don’t lose your shirt while you wait for them.

Like all things with agency management — you can’t control all of the elements and you need to be set up to ebb and flow with the work.  But that doesn’t mean you need to pay a penalty for your client’s delays.

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