Feeling Haunted? How To Deal With Ghosting Clients
Are you afraid of ghosts? It may not be Halloween, but you might still be feeling haunted by spooky beings. And disappearing clients certainly fall into this category.
Many of us have been there. A new client notices your portfolio and contacts you; then you agree on the terms and start working on the project.
At first, your communication may seem smooth and stable, but then the client just disappears into thin air and keeps ignoring your messages. This may be excruciating if you are already well into the project or have even submitted the prototype.
In another scenario, the client may arrange a meeting with you and bombard you with expert questions, showering you with positive feedback, and building up your expectations regarding your further cooperation … only never to return.
You wait and wait to no avail. After days or weeks of silence or several unanswered messages, you finally give up. You feel conned and exploited, but in the end, you become stronger and wiser. You’ve surely learned your lesson the hard way.
We call them ghosts (though some may use far less flattering terms), and in 2021, many of them no longer use Ouija boards to reach out to you. Instead, they will message you on Dribbble or LinkedIn. They will not rattle chains in your hallway but will surely wreak havoc on your workflow with uncertainty and confusion.
So step into our circle of salt, and learn how to protect yourself against these entities.
Way Down Into the Radio Silence We Go …
No one likes being ghosted, whether by a friend or a romantic partner. But client ghosts have taken it to a whole new level. Not only do they ruin your plans and give you trust issues, but they can also stand you up financially. Of course, if you suffered enough at the hands of these jolly old chaps, who cares why they do it. However, to defeat the enemy, we need to understand their logic.
Do they want to say that you are fired? Could it be that you were too overwhelming or, on the contrary, underwhelming? Surprisingly, in most cases, ghosting is not about you. Here are some of the reasons why client might choose to ghost you:
Change in Priorities
You may have the best portfolio in the world, but if your client has an urgent issue to address at the moment, they may just disappear for a while. They will most likely come back eventually, but it’s up to you to decide whether you want to work with someone who does not care to put you in the picture regarding the project status.
Hard To Say “No”
Some people find it difficult to reject someone in a direct message, let alone a one-on-one call. So they simply ghost you, hoping that you will get the hint. Though simply ignoring the problem away would suggest little emotional maturity, a certain portion of clients will resort to this solution.
Not a Mistake, but a Design
Maybe they never planned to pay you in the first place? It’s painful, I know, but there will always be people who will try to take advantage of you and your expertise.
There is undoubtedly a special place in hell for such customers, but let’s not rely on universal justice alone. Although it is not in our power to change them, we can (and should) protect ourselves from falling victims to scammers.
How To Avoid Being Ghosted
Unfortunately, there is no single fool-proof way to keep ghosts at bay. All of us can eventually run into such a client. However, by arranging our work wisely, we can minimize the risks of being ghosted or make the effects less damaging.
At the dawn of our careers as freelance designers, many of us agreed to “work first” and be paid later just to earn a client. This practice surely puts one in a very vulnerable position.
Ask for upfront payments upon discussing the project, and set up a system of milestone payments (escrows and the like) so that you get paid for each portion of work you would present to your client. This way you will avoid losing too much time and money if your customer steps into the shadows. And don’t forget about signing a written agreement, at the very least, though a proper freelance contract with all the terms and conditions would be ideal.
Brief but Clear
While preparing a web design brief, outline all the whens and hows of your communication with the client. Clarifying expectations and agreeing to the terms of cooperation will help you and your client gain a sense of control over the process. Chaos may give birth to stars, but your nerve cells thrive on stability and profound agreements.
Communication via email or messengers is convenient. But some people are more susceptible to the so-called “out of sight, out of mind” effect of online communication. That is, if they have never seen you or heard your voice, it’s easier for them to ignore you. Arrange an occasional phone call or a video conference with your client from the very start to boost your “presence.”
Make people earn your trust. Take client ratings seriously; believe your colleagues’ reviews. Finally, turn to professionals, such as Lemon.io, who will match you with a reputable client and orchestrate your communication with elegance.
How To Unghost a Client
OK, suppose the above tips were still not enough to guard you, and you ended up with a string of unanswered messages. Don’t fret, there are a couple of tricks to bring a ghost back to life.
Resend Your Invoice
Sending a reminder invoice is an elegant way to remind your client that you are still waiting to be paid for your job. No offense, respect retained, you understand that sometimes people have too much on their plates, but you give them a chance to rectify the situation. They will get the hint, if they planned to pay you at all, of course.
Write a “We Are Concerned” Email
Maybe you have just started working together, and the client even paid for part of the project upfront but then suddenly disappeared.
If you suspect that they might be disappointed or simply chose someone else, be the brave one and write an email expressing your assumptions regarding what went wrong. If you spare the client the need to explain themselves, they might be more motivated to give you an honest answer.
The Last Call
Contacting your client to say goodbye does not necessarily have to be a direct call (let’s be honest, not all of us feel comfortable on the phone, especially with questions as sensitive as that). Instead, you can write an email or a social media message, clearly stating that you are officially breaking the deal.
Should you threaten to bring up a legal issue? Of course, it depends on how serious the matter is, but if you are not ready to do that or do not have a lawyer, just don’t mention it. It will take time and money and will be very stressful. After all, most people have enough imagination to think of the looming repercussions of unfair cooperation, whereas bluffing does no good to your reputation.
Still, before burning your bridges, it might be a good idea to explore other options. Depending on the individual circumstances, it might for instance be possible to contact someone at the client’s company, such as their legal or accounting department, and try to work things out.
Let the World Know
Never miss a chance to give feedback to clients, whether good or bad. We, freelancers, need to guard each other against clients from hell and promote responsible attitudes. While writing your reviews (you can use Trustpilot or G2 Crowd), try to switch off your emotions and be as brief and precise as you can. Beat them Caspers up with facts!
Be Your Own Ghostbuster
Without any doubt, prevention is far better than cure in dealing with client ghosts. Don’t be too shy to set forth your terms and ask for upfront payments.
Throw light on those who do not comply with agreements and basic human decency. After all, ghosts and their kin will only go as far as we let them.
And remember, there are a million reasons why customers might ignore you. Be kind, be patient. Your reputation and health are the only things you should worry about.