By Chris Marlow
[Editor's Note: Chris was writing specifically for freelance copywriters, but I think her advice holds true for freelancers and consultants in many businesses.]
One of my favorite past students emailed me a couple of
weeks ago with this distressing situation. In her own
"What do you do when you talk to a potential client several
times and you both agree on the details of a project. (The
project is worth $4,800.) They seem pleased and excited
"I send them my 'Fee Agreement' with details on where to
fax it and where to send the deposit. I emphasize the point
that I can not begin work on the project until I have both
the signed Agreement and deposit. I wait...and wait...
"Four days later I send them a short and friendly email
asking if they have received the information and again
remind them that I can not begin work until I have the
Agreement and deposit. No response. The due date that we
set for the initial stage of the project is approaching...
"What do I do? Have they dropped the project? Do I give
them another nudge or is this too pushing?"
How to interpret a client's silence...
In my experience there are several possibilities for why a
client suddenly shuts down at the beginning of a job:
1. More often than you'd think, it's not YOU, it's
something awry internally. And if it's a budget issue (like
not being able to cut a 50% check on demand), it's less
embarrassing for the contact to remain silent while he or
she tries to remedy the situation.
In other words, the silence may simply be a stalling
tactic. It's far less painful to come back to a copywriter
and say "Sorry, the boss was out of town and we needed her
signature," than to say "We're so stretched we can't pay
you $2,400 right now."
Another hold-up is the possibility that the contact has
"hired you," but now needs to "sell the boss." In this
case, patience is a virtue.
2. There may be a turn of events on their side. World
affairs, a business emergency, a sick employee, or a change
in business strategy are just a few common derailers. I've
even seen delays because a merger was imminent (and with
mergers there are usually power struggles...in which case
your contact may be unsure of what business decisions to
3. If this is a new client, you may have a lemon on your
hands...and by requiring a signed Fee Agreement and partial
payment up front, you've exposed them for being willing to
put you to work without paying for it.
Unfortunately, many copywriters get burned when they start
copy, only to have the client pull out. That's why I teach
my coaching students to submit a Fee Agreement and the
moment it's signed, invoice for partial payment up front.
If the client is distant, then ask for the check to be
over-nighted. Never start clock time without a check in
your hand first!
If the client's not willing to do business with you on the
same terms they do business with everyone else, then you
don't want them.
Still, when you find yourself in the situation my coaching
student did (and which I've been in many times), you do
want to give the benefit of the doubt.
How many times should you "nudge" a silent client before
calling it a day?
I would send a maximum of three emails (one every two or
three days), and on the third email (about the 7th day)
I'd say that it appears the project is stalled. I would
leave the door open by letting the client know that "I'm
setting the file aside, but I'm here when and if you move
When you show your client that you respect your time, they
will respect it too.
Copyright 2005 Chris Marlow, all rights reserved. Veteran freelancer and award-winning copywriter, Chris
Marlow has written for the nation's leading businesses for over 20 years. She also offers business coaching and
master-level copywriting to new and aspiring copywriters and other business freelancers who want to accelerate their
success. Check out the benefits of coaching at: http://www.TheCopywritersCoach.com
For affordable, expert help writing your own résumés and cover letters, please click here.