1

I'm PM with a reasonable amount of experience, both in person and remote. This is my first time working as a freelancer and I'm struggling a bit. My main problem is communication I think. My client just ignores everything, because I think he's busy. At the same time I'm getting almost no work from him, and I'm struggling to make any forward progress because he won't even answer yes or no texts. Getting him on the phone is hit or miss as well.

It's especially frustrating because the first few weeks were fairly good, but the last 3 weeks have there has been no tasks, work, or communication from him. I don't know how to handle this. I've tried sending him very specific, single task emails which he rarely responds to. I've tried sending him weekly in review/upcoming emails which he's responded to once. I've tried setting meetings, but he'll just postpone them.

It's just that I'm out of ideas, and I feel like I'm missing something. I was just hoping for a new perspective, advice or anything.

3
  • 1
    Are you billing him for the hours you spend waiting for answers or to receive work? Is he paying those bills? It would also help to know what kind of project you are managing. Maybe the client expects you to manage without him.
    – Bogdan
    Jan 26, 2021 at 8:28
  • Have you asked your client how the client perceives the problem? How the client prefers to receive status information? Have you explained to the client the impact of the communications situation on the project's schedule/cost?
    – MCW
    Jan 26, 2021 at 9:56
  • No, I'm not. It's hourly for work done and sitting around waiting on him isn't really work. That's part of my frustration, I'm spending a lot of time on this, but not getting much money.
    – Ransomrin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:18

5 Answers 5

0

First, you should think about how you can supplement communication with him by rather speaking to the CTO or tech leads. Please note that this way only covers the problem and does not solve it. But this is what I found effective at my work - I always think first if there is anybody lower in the "food chain" who can give me information/provide access/help, etc. It's just a good habit overall put less stress on the high heads.
Emailing is not the best idea because those emails just get missing forever in a long queue of messages. However it is very easy to trace down conversations and decisions in emails.
Writing to the chat I have found not very effective as well. People still treat chatting as something unofficial.
From my perspective, the best practice there could be is allocating time for calls and making those time slots recurring so that you could use them for communication with your client by arranging a call slightly in advance. You both agree not to use that time slot for any other planned activities so if there is a need to get on the line, there is always an opportunity. This will narrow down the range of excuses your client will have not to talk to you.
But all of it can have little impact unless you make sure your client understands that by hiring you it does not mean that he does not have to care about project management anymore. It is in his interest to collaborate with you so he could get better results and better return on his investments. It is "help me help you" rhetoric you should be using.
Also do not try to ask all of your questions in one go. I know that in a situation like you have, questions pile up rapidly. But asking all of them makes a person afraid of speaking to you because you always ask so many questions. Instead prioritize your questions using importance and urgency aspects and ask only the most important right now. Think about solutions in the long run, no this week.

2
  • Yeah I'm trying to throttle the number of questions in one go, but it's on week 3 of him not really responding, so it's really starting to pile up. Scheduled calls are very hit or miss, unfortunately, but I'll try to get something set up.
    – Ransomrin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:22
  • Review the questions for each interaction with your client, do not just copy and paste the sum which has piled up. You will have to make tough decisions here what to throw out of the agenda. Try to speak to other people who can also supplement the interaction with the client just as I mentioned (CTO, tech leads and so on). And above all, make sure the client understands that he has to be committed, not just involved. Follow the analogy here: visual-paradigm.com/scrum/scrum-pig-and-chicken Good luck! If my main answer helps, please accept it.
    – chullspen
    Jan 27, 2021 at 9:19
1

Try to use an email tracker, as it can clarify if the client has free time to respond. If this client continuously opens emails but doesn't respond it's a red flag that he/she isn't interested in a project.

Try to send emails with questions.

If a project scope has been specified I prefer to do it. In emails, I inform a client what is done, what will be done next, and if he/she has objections.

1
  • This is essentially why I've been trying to do. Write out in an email. 'Done/updates this week' 'Pending things' 'To-do/Action Items' It never gets any response.
    – Ransomrin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:20
0

This is a classic stakeholder management conundrum.

You say you "think he is busy" and that you send him "single task emails", and that he's "postponing meetings". These are symptoms of misalignment in what your stakeholder values, and what you value - and also, your communication styles.

Do the following. And document it, so that you can "show your work".

Steps to take:

  1. Don't assume anything; do not infer; do not judge. Your client may be busy, or distracted, or both. Do not make reference to any of this in any of your messaging; showing that we assume something about someone's else' life breaks down the trust relationship very fast and is very difficult to repair.
  2. Pledge support. Not tasks, no asks, just pledging support. Send a communique via his preferred communication channel (have you asked what it is?) and do not expect a reply. Just send it.
  3. Set up a walk and talk, or a lunch, or a coffee meeting. It can be virtual - the point is, you need to build your personal relationship with this person. we often fall into the trap of staying purely transactional in our business relationships. Trust in business relationships are built in the same way as it is in any other: benevolence needs to be proven. Do not talk business in this get-together until your client brings it up.
  4. Once you have the clear go-ahead to talk business, ask about your client's vision for the project - how he wishes the world to be different when it's complete. You will be aching to point to all the things you need from him; don't refer to any of this. Listen to his vision; ask questions such as "how specifically would you care to see X done?", and "what is critical for the success of X?". If you've had a conversation like this in the beginning of the project, do it again. Vision thrives on repetition.
  5. In this conversation about his vision, the client will also implicitly show you his communication preferences. Listen to the expressions he uses: does he often use words like "clearly", "can you see", "transparent"? Then he is someone that values very clear, visual communication - think graphs and pictures illustrating progress. If he uses leading words like "listen" and metaphors that point to auditory preference, your client values verbal communication. (There's much more to this point than I can explain here; look up communication preference cues).
  6. Once you understand all this, adapt the way you communicate with your client. If the problem persists, rinse and repeat with adaptations: #4 and #5 on barriers and blockers; or painpoints. As you have these conversations, your project management approach will also start accommodating for these elements - and you'll run a good project and have a happy client.

In the case where none of this works, know that you have done what you could. However, since you would have documented it, you can now take that and at least explain the process you went through to manage the client to the client if he doubles back on you. Most people have a come-to-J moment there and then and will take self-corrective action. Communication is a two-way street, after all.

0

Clients are busy, and not always ready to provide you with direction if you need it. In fact, some clients may not be able to envision what they want until a certain portion of the project is complete. Develop a foundation for your work by having the client explain the exact requirements of the project before you generate a plan. Use these guidelines to develop as specific a plan as possible. The client may waver on making decisions, but referring back to the original plans and goals will help provide focus and encourage the client to decide. To minimize the need to change directions mid-course, be straightforward at the beginning of the project. Explain your time frame and how much. If change is needed once the project is underway, illustrate the cost and work that will go into making changes. When presented with this information, clients are more likely to commit to their decisions.

Also, Understanding what the client expects, as well as their impetus for the project, will empower you to provide what they want. You’ve determined the client’s motivations, expectations, and goals. After you’ve accomplished your project objective, your work doesn’t end there. Take advantage of the relationship you’ve built with your client and elicit feedback regarding your work. A feedback form or questionnaire will allow you to learn from the experience and excel at future projects.

0

I guess there is one clear option to consider if your efforts to engage the client are falling short. You could always pick up one or more additional clients to fill your free time. I think one of your options has to be leaving the gig for something else.

As a last gasp effort with the client I would bring it down to money; just a quick calc of what you’ve invoiced so far and what he has to show for it i.e. zero! I always include time I spend waiting around for the client whether that’s a zoom meeting they forgot to turn up for or where I can’t progress until an internal decision has been made about an exception or something like that. If I’m sat around during working hours because my client isn’t working effectively with me or prioritising the project, then it’s important the client understand there is a cost implication to that because their perception of my services is that they are exclusive to them during the contracted time. I realised this aspect of working independently some years ago whilst in a permanent role. We had auditors on site and my CEO invited them to lunch with us on site. The company was charged for the hour the auditors were eating and my CEO hit the roof! You are experiencing a difference in assumptions about the contract between yourself and your client but you’re not a toy, don’t let them pick you up and drop you as it suits them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.