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Do you have a process in place for when a client disappears?

It happens. Clients disappear.

You’ve been moving along with a project, and everything’s going alright, but then the client stops responding.

Nothing.

Crickets.

No response to emails, nothing to phone calls. It’s like she fell off the face of the earth.

What do you do?

Have a little sympathy

There may be a reason your client isn’t online right now. And it may be because she has a crisis going on. Before thinking terrible thoughts about how your client is screwing you over, consider that it may not be her choice.

Send an email to check it–to genuinely check in and see if everything is alright.

If your client is going through a rough time, cut her some slack. You can offer to put the project on hold and pick it up again at a time that works for both of you.

Remind her of your policies

After checking in, wait at least a week, then go forward with reminding the client of your policies.

Your contract should outline what happens when your client delays the project.

In my case, this adds a fee for each week the project is delayed up until the estimated end date. At that point, the project is put on hold, and all fees must be paid before the project can continue. I also charge a rescheduling fee as I have to re-work the project into my schedule.

This is enough to get a response out of most clients.

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Send an invoice

Nothing gets a client’s attention like a request for money. If the client still isn’t responsive, bill for work completed as well as any delay fees.

Your contract should outline that the client owes you payment for any work completed. Coupled with the delay clause, you can invoice the client for work you’ve done and any late fees.

This is a strong wake-up call, and at this point, even the most scattered clients seem to find a way to respond.

Cancel the project

If your client disappears, you need an out.

Your contract should outline that you can cancel the project at any time. Especially for delays and non-payment.

If your invoice is sitting there unpaid, and your client isn’t responding, cancel the project. Send a notice to the client that the project is canceled and let her know that she needs to pay the previous invoice.

When that is complete, you can discuss rescheduling the project.

Chances are, at this point, the client may never respond. But you should be hoping that your client is a jerk instead of a nice person who had something terrible happen. You may never know which is the case.

You can hire someone to attempt to get payment on your behalf, or you can leave it. The choice is yours.

But at this point, you need to be moving on to the next client.

Wasting time on an AWOL client is unlikely to be as beneficial as finding a new, responsive client. When clients go missing for this long, animosity can grow and you’re unlikely to enjoy working with her again. It’s better for both of you to cut ties and move on.

Make sure you have a strong contract

You might be wondering- how do I enforce these late fees or cancel the project?

Well, if you don’t have a good contract, you probably can’t.

That’s why it’s crucial to have each and every client (even your grandma) sign a contract.

I recommend Monster Contracts if you’re a WordPress web designer and Contract Club if you’re designing on any other platform. Both have cancelation clauses and can help you enforce your policies!

Tl;dr:

It can be hard to know what to do if a client disappears.

Start with being sympathetic. Something terrible might have happened.

If you don’t hear from your client after checking in, follow up with a reminder of your policies, and escalate to sending an invoice if you still don’t get a response.

You can eventually cancel the project if you still can’t get a response.

Finally, make sure you have a strong contract in place to support these steps!

Never Wonder What to Say in an Email Again!

Grab my collection of 125+ email templates covering everything from everyday emails to sticky client situations, and make your emails as easy as copy + paste.

Get the Emails!

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Originally published 10/21/2015. Updated 11/27/2023.

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