One of our readers posted this question in comments and has kindly agreed to my answering it in a post.
“I missed a deadline with a client once because I was moving and my ISP was giving me the run-around. It was the worst. I can tell my client is now standoffish, but I’m not sure about how I should approach him to ask for more work. Keep in mind assignments with this client has went well and I completed projects sometimes weeks before the deadline. Should I just let him go or try?”
The short answer to this question is that you should try. Building and maintaining good working relationships with clients is the key to a successful business. Does that mean that everything is going to run smoothly all the time? Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
When you do all the right things for your clients, they appreciate it. The fact that you have done what was expected of you and met your deadlines was what you were being paid to do. Missing a deadline is never good for business and I hope that you turned in the work as soon as you could once the ISP issues were resolved.
Your client may have concerns that something may prevent you from going back to your previously good record of being reliable. I know that it may seem tempting to just write the client off and slink off to lick your wounds, so to speak, but you have an opportunity to show this person the kind of freelancer you are. I can’t guarantee that you will be able to re-establish your working relationship, but it will help to resolve things so you know where you stand.
Dealing With the Elephant
I was working on a project once where my role was more of a personal assistant than a writer. There was a mistake made and to be honest I don’t remember now what it was. The client was not pleased and let me know in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t happy.
I read his e-mail a couple of times. The first time through I admit that my back went up and I got angry. My first thought was to quit and run (not necessarily in that order). Then I calmed down and tried to address the situation like a professional.
Here’s how I handled it:
I acknowledged the mistake without making excuses. Then I apologized. Those two actions diffused the situation. Then, I explained that while I can’t change what has happened, I would like the opportunity to rectify the situation and I offered a couple of suggestions. He chose one and we got our working relationship back on track.
In the situation the FWJ community member is asking about, I would contact the client and explain that the ISP problem was an isolated occurrence and that I now have backup arrangements (a friend’s computer, going to Starbucks, etc.) so that any inconvenience to my clients will be minimized if something similar happens in the future.
I would tell the client how much I have enjoyed working with them in the past and that I hope that the incident in question will not affect future projects. Then I would ask what I can do to help rectify the situation so that we can get back on track.
Then it’s up to the client to let you know what they need from you. There is the chance that they will tell you that they aren’t willing to work with you anymore. It’s more likely that they will appreciate your professionalism and will consider you for other projects. My guess is that not knowing is worse than hearing the word, “No” in this situation.
So, FWJ community: What do you think? Is this the right approach, or is it better to walk away from clients who may not be happy with your working relationship?