The only thing worse than losing a client is working with one who stalls. As an agency owner for 20 years, I have seen clients hesitate for every reason imaginable, and I’ve developed best practices to limit lost resources and keep projects moving.
Understand How Project Delays Happen
Every stalled situation starts the same way. The client is in panic mode. He needs this project now. You pull strings and work overtime to solve the crisis, but the next time you check in, the client says he needs to hold tight for a day or two. That day turns into a week, then two, and then into months, and all the while you’re waiting and bleeding resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.
Delays cost money to maintain and money to start up again once the client is ready to get back at it. The longer you stay away from a project, the more factors change, and the longer you need to become reacquainted with the work and its objective. When you finally get to finish what you started, you have to shift work away from other projects because (again) this client needs it done immediately.
You don’t want to fire the client — but you can’t afford to let him dictate your workflow. You can’t send a bill for the time you spend nagging him, so what can you do to keep your stalling clients happy without sacrificing profits in the bargain?
Change The Rules
The fairest way to keep projects moving without angering clients is to change the wording in your contracts to account for periods of dormancy.
Adding fees for reactivation of dormant projects sounds harsh, but in my experience, this strategy is a win-win for the agency. Either the client improves his internal processes to keep the project on track, or you recoup your financial losses in late charges. By setting expectations up front, you can incentivize clients to prioritize your partnership without making them feel trapped in a corner.
An example of appropriate wording and fees looks like this:
A project with no updates or service after three months will be considered dormant. If you elect to continue this project after it becomes dormant, you will be responsible for the following fees:
- Recovery fee for archived resources: $500
- Service fee for project review and revitalization: $1,000
- Renegotiation of new terms if the scope or nature of the project has changed
- Rush charges to complete project on a new schedule, if applicable
You can adjust the amounts and time limits, but by incorporating this language, you protect your business from indecisive clients and put the onus of the decision back on them.
In a perfect world, you would never have to collect any of these fees. Unfortunately, not every client will abide by your terms, even with penalties attached. When that happens, having this language in your contract will give you the leverage you need to keep the project moving.
Managing the collection or threat of these fees is a delicate task, but they are not designed to weed out the bad clients. These fees are simply compensation for your time, and good clients will understand that. When implemented properly, the possibility of extra charges will reduce the number of clients who abandon projects, which can lead to a massive increase in profits over time.
Deal With Summer Silence
Sometimes, new language doesn’t address the real problem. During the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day, many agencies simply don’t have enough work to stay busy. When that happens, don’t pester clients to come up with new reasons to hire you — use the extra time wisely.
Two of our clients came up with creative solutions to combat slow summers. One of them implemented Teach Me Tuesdays, spending every Tuesday during the summer on agency-wide education initiatives and providing avenues for team members to teach one another new skills.
Another client noticed that employees saved up their days off for the winter holidays when the agency was slammed but took little time off during the slow summer months. To encourage employees to burn more time in the summer, this agency offered an extra 25% of paid time off for time taken during the summer. Employees can take two days and get a half day free, or take four and leave for a whole week.
You don’t have to let slow clients dictate how you run your company. By adding new language to your agreements and making the most of your slow summer months, you can keep your business running efficiently without losing valuable revenue.
This article first appeared in Forbes.