Dealing with a Sluggish Client

I’ve contracted with an individual to produce a Web site. Since I’m a freelancer (and a novice to boot), and work between 50 and 90 hours a week on other jobs, I gave myself 60 days in the contract to complete the site (which I could have done in a couple of weekends). I thought that would be more than enough time.

The 60 days is coming close to being up, and the site is nowhere near ready, for one simple reason: the client has failed to provide any real content. She has asked for multiple inclusions, both graphical and text. She has provided none of the graphics, and instead of writing material for the site, she has sent me things like resumes, CVs, and dissertation synopses. Apparently she expects me to write the content myself, something I did not contract to do and have no intention of doing (well, I have done some). She’s never even told me what specific pages she wants, so I’ve assumed she wants the usual “contact,” “links,” “about,” and so forth. All the pages are full of placeholder clip art and lorum ipsum text (and some I’ve generated from the docs she’s sent). Two weeks ago, she promised to send freshly written content and info, and has not contacted me since. She’s paid me half of the fee up front, and will pay the other upon completion.

Obviously I’m going to ask for a deadline extension. Here’s my question(s):

  • Should I set another deadline for completion, or should I just ask for an indefinite extension? If indefinite, how should I phrase it?
  • Since I’m no legal expert, does anyone have any suggestions about phrasings to be sure to include?
  • Anything else I should do?

She’s nice enough, and loves the design right out of the gate, making virtually no suggestions for improvement. I just can’t get her to send the stuff I need to finish it off. Our communications have been very polite and friendly; I’ve cajoled and requested, without trying to get “tough.” She just isn’t following through.

Thanks, folks.

No no no! I’m not an expert either but this situation has come up often enough in discussions to know that an indefinate extension is not and never will be the solution! You will dig your own grave like that. This is a REALLY common situation and you can’t do yourself out of the rest of the money you have worked for just because someone clearly is taking the ****. I started out doing paintings on commission, and quickly realised you need to get people to pay, and pay a deposit up-front, to get them to take YOU seriously. Otherwise they mess about asking for revisions till kingdom come. I would agree at the beginning that we would meet on X date and they would give me the rest of the money for the finished painting, end of. Nobody complained and they all complied. Same thing here, you must set yourself forward as the confident professional who expects to be paid for your work on time.

The standard advice seems to be along the lines of a letter clearly stating that although content hasn’t been provided despite repeated requests you consider the work complete (you CAN’T do any more without content) and that you need to be paid by X date. Best to combine this with a final warning about the content - provide it by date X OR the bill will become due in full, immediate payment, blah blah.

Just be professional and not nasty or threatening. Yes the lady is nice, but asking to be paid for the work you have done is NOT being nasty to her and needn’t stir up bad feeling.

This happens all the time, don’t get ripped off.

/my 2 cents.

Stikky’s advice sounds good to me, nothing to add there.

But, the phrase I quoted above makes me wonder. How did you estimate your 60 days if she never told you what she wants? What does the contract say, “Make a website.” ?
Didn’t you put in writing exactly what you would make, and have her approve it?

Don’t ask for a deadline extension, tell her politely there’s going to be an extension - it’s her fault the deadline cannot be achieved. You need to take charge of this situation, I think.

People here will soon start banging on about ‘what did it say in the contract, etc’ but I doubt that’s much help to you. :wink:

Why don’t you sort things out calmly and amicably by phoning her up (not emailing), explaining the situation and politely telling her what needs to happen, ie she either needs to provide the finished content promptly, or if this is not possible she needs to pay you now for the completed website with dummy text and placeholder graphics, with the content to be added later. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to demand.

Getting content from a client is a perennial problem. It’s really something that needs to be explained to them - and emphasised - in some detail before the project commences, something you’ll be able to do next time! :smiley:


You don’t get to set a deadline if you can’t execute on a schedule, have no specifics nailed down, and won’t develop one.

On the designer side, contracting with a writer and strategist who can walk they client through this process would have headed this off. It simply isn’t done.

Part of the separation of content from layout …from style …from strategy …from everything else is the pieces never come together. The situation has devolved into an estrangement of site developers from writers.

Apparently she expects me to write the content myself, something I did not contract to do and have no intention of doing

To the extent of never joint venturing with content producers? It is one thing to say you don’t write. It is quite another to firewall development off from writing so much this situation continually comes as some big surprise. For those who blithely toss off the word design, this was the designed outcome.

People think their problems just randomly occur. These situations aren’t like the weather.

Guess what. Web development is a leading cause of writing. The only way the problem occurs is when writing is so estranged as to never get taken care of during the course of site development.

It’s like building contractors who don’t “do” concrete. You either hire out or get out of the business …you do not profess surprise when cement problems come up …again …and again …and again …and again. (Hey it’s not my job doesn’t work – and hey, it was just a bird bath really doesn’t work).

The situation shouldn’t happen very often. It doesn’t have to happen at all. Purely due to the refusal of development to collaborate with those who might solve this problem does it persist.

Thanks for the responses, all. Sorry for the tardy response, I’ve been working almost non-stop since I posted this.

There is a rather extensive contract covering this deal. I’m contracted for a home page plus ten subsidiary pages. While I see no need to go into the details, it’s very clear what I will do and won’t do.

This is what I thought would be the best way to approach it.

I agree. I don’t mind working under an extension, but I don’t want to be fobbed off for weeks on end while she backburners the project and makes me wait for payment. I’ve already decided to rein in this situation, I posted this for input on the best way to handle (and not handle) it.

None of that is the case. I think you’re using this thread to clamber onto a soapbox. You’re right in what you say, but it isn’t applicable in this situation.

The site isn’t extensive enough to requre all of that. You don’t have to lecture me about writing for the Web, you’re preaching to the choir. I have written reams for the Web. But her site doesn’t require a tremendous amount of writing, and since it’s mostly a personal site advertising her expertise, her professional offerings, and her ruminations on her topic of interest, she needs to write it, not me. This was clear from the outset, and is stated clearly in the contract that she, not me, will provide the content. If she wants me to write the content, I’ll be glad to do it … under the terms of another contract. But that was never the understanding.

Again, thanks for the input, everyone. I’ll be phoning her this weekend to set this straight.

I think the lesson to take from this example Max is in the future, you should ensure to state in your contract that unless your being paid to write the content, the website itself will not begin construction and the job will not begin until you have the materials you require (with those materials stated in the contract - as to what you’ll need to do your job). If you give the client too much wiggle room you’ll end up hanging yourself, but as this client doesn’t seem too much of a hassle you can probably get away with trying to talk her into getting you the content (before you’ll be required to do anything further). Most clients don’t have any idea what goes into making a website, they really don’t have a clue, it’s your job to inform them as to what you need, when you need it and to set deadline periods (in days, weeks or months) as to what you expect from the client - as well as their expectations of you. Essentially, in the future don’t start the project till you have the materials, it’s what I do and it’s all round better for the client and yourself as the site should technically be designed around the content, not around Lipsum text (else they end up pretty generic and it may well end up backfiring on you in terms of people saying the design doesn’t get their “message” across). I always tell the client it’s in their best interest to get me the content before starting anything as I require it to “research” what kind of design would best suite their materials. :slight_smile:

Man, that contract covers everything up to and including locust plagues, but it doesn’t cover this. It’s a novice mistake on my part – I never thought she’d contract for a site (she contacted me and was all fired up about her spiffy new site, and when could I get started, and woo woo) and then not bother to supply any of the content so I could actually make the d@mn thing.

I am rewriting the contract template this weekend.

See this is why whenever I make a contract, I always use a multitude of contract templates and existing models to build my own from, if you place all your eggs in one contract you’re liable to miss something important, but if you source your material from several locations you’ll engage a much wider prospective set of pre-written segments you can make use of (if the situation requires it). Nothing worse than depending on a sole provider of information. :slight_smile:

Alex, any generic contract templates or info you’d care to recommend would be greatly appreciated, and well used. :slight_smile:

Not off the top of my head, but check other web professionals websites and you’ll fine loads of different ones to choose between. :slight_smile:

That’s where I got the templates that went into the contract I use now. I’ll keep poring over the ones I have bookmarked, and if someone has a link to a contract they find useful (even a portion), I’d appreciate a quick post about it.

Here’s a couple of links to templates for contracts
Andy Clarke’s at 24ways
Anna Debenham’s at her blog

For what its worth Black Max, I’m having similar trouble with a company that I’m building a site for. I’ve been paid two thirds of the total cost, and just need content from them so I can go live with it.

I, like you, started off with a contract. I even produced a project plan with timescales so that all parties could see who was responsible for doing what and when. I’ve been waiting MONTHS for content and now I’ve had enough so I’ll be dealing with it next week.

When content ceases to be irrelevant to the web design process, this stops. Not until.

When creating an agreement with a client, try to keep in mind the objective of being relatively unaffected if the client becomes sluggish. It’s annoying, perhaps, but it shouldn’t impact you too much if they don’t come through with their deliverable.

This can be achieved in many ways. If the project were divided into phases and the client had a payment milestone upon completion of each phase OR within 15 days of the scheduled completion if THEY lag on their deliverable, then you are always being paid for the work that you’ve done. If they get sluggish, you’ll invoice for the work that’s been done so far and stop working.

You take another project, and when they are ‘suddenly ready’ then you tell them that you can reschedule their project to resume when you are ready for them.

The client and I have reached an understanding; she’s sent usable content, the work goes on, and the problem is, I hope, solved. I had to wave the contract at her to get a viable response. :slight_smile:

That’s essentially what’s been done. Thanks for an excellent response.

BeeDee, thanks for the links. They are very good. Months is far too long to wait. Sagewing’s advice is pertinent there, I think.

Content is the engine that drives web design. Anyone who thinks otherwise should hustle off to take charge of the fry vat and leave design to people who know something. No one in this thread has suggested otherwise.

Well it’s much like I said before… have your contract state a need for all the required materials before you start any work. If they don’t provide them, you don’t burn time holding their project on the side (and potentially not get paid for the work you’ve done) and even better… it means once you get all the materials you won’t find yourself getting held up by the client holding up their end of the deal. It’s what I’ve got in my contract… I produce a list of what I’ll need from the client to do my job, tell them that I won’t begin billing them until the project physically starts (as I’m not working until the materials are with me) and that way, it’s fair on the client as their not being billed because they didn’t realise I needed content (or whatever) and I don’t lose clients due to stagnation of jobs. That and it gives me the freedom to do other jobs while I’m awaiting the stuff required to begin the contracted job (ensuring I can potentially keep a constant flux of work on the move). :slight_smile:

I’m rewriting the contract to reflect this. I’ve got another client in negotiations for a site, and his contract will definitely commit him to supplying ALL content beforehand. I can work with requests for alterations and modifications, no problem, but I won’t deal with this particular situation twice in a row. :slight_smile:

Reinforcing what Alex has already said, we don’t start any design work until we have all the content.

We also get a 50% deposit, and if the project in question involves the client providing content, we wait. But we have their deposit and haven’t wasted any time if the client takes forever to get it back to us.

It’s not really necessary for them to provide ALL the content beforehand. This is a simplistic approach, and you may find that larger clients aren’t able to accept those terms and wouldn’t want to if they could.

The problem is not that the content isn’t appearing on time, really, it’s that a vendor can be left hanging while waiting for the content. A good solution is to let your client do whatever they like with their content (as always) but structure your project so that you don’t take any risk.

Strict hourly billing makes this whole problem just ‘go away’ for example. Under hourly billing, if a client suddenly stalls on a project that’s just fine - they get their usual monthly bill for the hours worked and they’ll be able to start up when they are ready. The schedule will be adjusted accordingly because in the contract there are clear milestones and client deliverables (like content) are part of those milestones.

That reduces this whole problem to a single phone call, “… sure, let me know when you have the content ready and we’ll get the project moving again. Oh sorry, we won’t be able to stick to the original schedule since that schedule assumed that we’d have the content on time. But don’t worry, when you get the content ready we’ll do our best to get your project back on track!”

Or, split the project into milestones that include both content and payment, and write that if any deliverables are missed by the client, they need to pay up for the current deliverable and you owe them the code/designs to the extent that they are complete. Simple, and has the same effect.

I hear the gripe about clients not providing content all the time, and in my years in the web industry I know that this is a never-ending annoyance. But, I disagree that ‘forcing’ the clients to provide the content when YOU want it is the way to go.

I’d rather have 5 projects going and have 3 of them stalled for content than have 1 project going and stress out if a deliverable is missed.

And, as a frequent client myself, I know that MY content will be ready when WE are ready, and that WE can still our content as much or as little as WE want. If a designer/coder called and gave me a hard time for being late on content, I’d tell them that we aren’t ready yet and if they have to slip the schedule then fine. But, ultimately I am the client and I’m going to act in my own interest.

Once I was building a new site with a friend for his real estate business. We were doing the content together and using his chosen web developer. We got distracted with another business matter and didn’t work on the site for a bit. His developer had a fit because we were late on the content (about 2 weeks).

The developer called and gave me 15 minute speech about how ‘content is king’ and that didn’t know how to make a site work. I asked him to send a final invoice for the work performed and terminated him right on the phone. The reason? The website project he was doing for us was worth about 15k, but my partner had found a real estate opportunity that we wound up making much, much, much, much, more than that on.

It was funny listening to this speech over a 15k job when we were busy cooking up a nice, lucrative deal for ourselves. You have to keep perspective. Most people are going to be concerned about their core business and NOT their website. No matter how much you want it to be, their website is usually NOT their core business, it’s just part of it. And there are lots of parts :slight_smile: