What do you do when a client starts treating you like their lowest priority?

What do you do when a client starts treating you like their lowest priority?

It depends on what you've agreed to.

But even if you have the worst agreement in the world, you still have some options.

“The Case of the Slow-to-Respond Client”

Issue: What to do when a client does not respond in a timely manner during a typical progress/feedback project with a fixed price.


  • you have an agreement with a client to provide a website (or logo, or marketing copy) for a fixed price
  • you have a design concept in your head and you want to work with it a bit before showing the client for approval
  • you might also need certain materials (images, reports, stakeholder approval, etc.) to complete your task and the client has agreed to get you these

The current situation

  • you have delivered your first cut/draft and you want feedback/approval so you can continue with your design and ultimately complete the project and get paid
  • you expect the client to review what you have sent quickly and then to send you their feedback

The problem (from your perspective)

  • your client is not providing timely feedback
  • several days go by without any word, despite emails
  • they seem to have lost focus/interest
  • other concerns seem to have pushed your project down in priority in their eyes

The real problem

  • you just don't know what has changed for them
  • and you can't continue without them
  • you are becoming alarmed that the client has soured on the project, or on your work so far, or on you personally
  • anything you try to get movement makes things worse

In a nutshell

  • you and your client are no longer on the same side of the project
  • the project is in jeopardy of not being completed

How should you deal with this?

Approach #1: Stop Work. Partially Bill. Wait to Resume.

  • find out what has changed (if you can)
  • offer to postpone the project until their schedule allows for it to be properly considered
  • submit an invoice for work to date (if allowed for in your agreement)

Approach #2: Stop Work. Wait to Resume.

  • announce that you are putting the project on hold, pending feedback from them, as stated in the agreement
  • announce that all due dates of deliverables have been moved accordingly

Approach #3: Attempt to Revitalize Client Interest

  • get excited about the project again! Envision it succeeding wildly!
  • see if you can add to the project to make that happen
  • arrange for a 15-minute meeting with the client and impart your vision and enthusiasm liberally

Which approach should you use? ... it depends,

Choose Approach 1 or 2 if you think the client will eventually get back to this project and you're willing to wait. You simply stop working on this project.

Choose Approach 1 if you can bill for progress, otherwise choose Approach 2.

Note: If you don't have in your agreement now that you can bill for work in progress, be sure to add it next time. It gives you some leverage when this sort of thing happens

Please also note that you should expect delays in this kind of work. Your client's priorities can change just like your priorities can change.

Choose Approach 3 if you believe there is no hope of getting the client back on track by just waiting.

If you get excited and you communicate effectively the 'why' of that excitement, and then show them how that excitement might be achieved, you just might get their attention and cooperation again.

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