Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having my a client disappear on me. I guess I was lucky because I’ve been freelancing for almost two years before this happened.
I found this client through a reputable Facebook group for freelancers. She asked for someone who could schedule social media posts and create graphics on Canva. I checked out her website and thought I’d be a great fit. Her online personality was quirky and fun and she seemed to have found some success writing a blog on her area of expertise. She was doing things I’d like to do in the future like creating workbooks and online courses. I was excited about helping her and having the opportunity to learn from her.
She chose me from about 10-15 applicants. She seemed very friendly and organized and quickly sent me a list of things she’d like done. She warned that she only wanted to work together for about four hours per month broken down into 90 minutes per week. I gave her my hourly rate, she agreed it was fair and I went to work. After working for 90 minutes, I checked in with her and asked her to look at the three Instagram promos I’d put together in Canva. She didn’t respond. A few days later, I emailed again, asking if she’d had a chance to look over my work and offer some feedback. Still no response. I ended up emailing her three times over the next three weeks as well as messaging her on Facebook. She never responded to any of my messages.
In my last email communication, I mentioned that I am also a woman running a small business and I can’t imagine that she’d appreciate being treated the way she chose to treat me. She still did not respond.
This experience was very frustrating and discouraging. If the client hadn’t liked my work, I would have scrapped it and started over. It was rude and unprofessional for her to simply ignore me. Since she is also making a living through her small internet business, I thought she’d have more respect for a person doing the same thing. Ultimately, I don’t know why she chose to conduct herself like this, but I did learn from the experience.
Here are some suggestions on what to do if a client disappears on you:
1) Make every attempt to communicate
There are genuine situations where someone’s email goes into the spam folder or a text message is not received, or a call is missed. Even though it’s rare with today’s technology, it still happens. In addition, some clients are slow to respond to email so you should give them enough time before checking in again. Always give the client the benefit of the doubt and try to contact them through different methods. I used all of my available methods (Facebook and email) to contact my client and I waited a month for an answer before making my next move. I could see that she’d read my messages, but was ignoring them.
2) Invoice anyway
It may seem silly, but I invoiced my client for the 90 minutes I spent working on her projects. I wanted to follow my normal procedure and show her that I took my business seriously even if she did not. I may or may not receive payment, but the amount is so small it’s not worth pursuing past invoicing. If a disappearing client owes you a significant amount of money, you can take them to small claims court. Ideally, you’ll have a contract for the client to sign when you begin working together that safeguards against this behavior. In addition, if you are doing a large job, you should set a retainer or ask for 50% of the payment in advance and 50% after the work is done.
She ignored my invoice and did not pay me for my services.
3) Realize it’s not you
Even if a client isn’t happy with your work, it’s ultimately their problem if they choose to cut you off without explanation. It’s completely unprofessional and you shouldn’t take it as a reflection of your work. A client who is worth their salt will give you constructive feedback and a chance to correct your work if they see something wrong with it. No one gets it right 100% of the time especially in the world of creative work – visions don’t always match up. A good client will go through the process with you to ensure that the end result is something both parties are happy with. A good freelancer will welcome the feedback and make changes.
Special note: Publicly outing the client
I’ve read several articles that have specifically called out clients who have disappeared on someone or didn’t pay for their services. A public outing is not something that I’m comfortable doing because it goes against my ethics. However, if you feel that this would bring needed attention to the situation, it may be appropriate. In one case, I read about a conference organizer who had not paid any of the speakers from several conferences. The speakers banded together and demanded payment through a public campaign against the organizer. It worked and they were paid.
Remember, how you conduct your business shows your true character. Be brave enough to have uncomfortable conversations. And always treat others how you’d want to be treated.