Cutting a project loose

Despite your best efforts to get a project back on track sometimes you’re just going to have to cut a project loose. In my second post this week we talked about dealing with a stuck project and took 2 approaches:

  • When it’s your fault
  • When it’s the client’s fault

Today we’ll talk about ways the stuck project could be cut loose.

Your fault

As I said earlier, one of the things I have offered stuck projects (when it’s been my fault) is a full refund of the project cost. You may not offer a full refund if you have already delivered portions of the project but it really depends on what is done and what is not.

Giving refunds is not fun at all so if you offer it you better be prepared to provide it. Having a cushion of 6 months income makes this much easier since you’re not affecting your very next pay check.

If you don’t have 6 months of income saved (and I know that most freelancer’s don’t which is stupid but that’s another issue) then be prepared to eat beans and rice to get by. While the client may not want to work with you, they can still say that you dealt with a stuck project with integrity. You can still preserve a reputation as an honest vendor.

Having a reputation of honesty is huge.

When I’ve cut a project loose that was my fault I also offer the client all the code/design assets and tell them I’m around to assist in the transition to the new contractor. I want to do everything possible to make sure that it’s as smooth a transition as possible for them.

One project that I had to provide a refund for and did a few hours of emails (at no charge) with the next contractor ended up coming back 3 months later with another project. They didn’t love that the project was stuck, but they did love how I handled it and felt that a contractor that handled the death of a project that well deserved their business.

They recognized that everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we deal with the mistakes that speaks to our character not the fact that we made a mistake.

When it’s the client’s fault

What about when you’re dealing with that super surly client that didn’t get their tasks done and still expects you to work 36 hours a day to recover from their delays?

If you have made every effort possible to graciously but firmly bring the project back on track while having the client to comply with a new deadline but they still refuse then I say cut them loose and bill them for any work that has already been accomplished. (You should have a clause for this in your initial contract anyways.)

It’s unlikely that you want to work with them again so why prolong a terrible relationship?

In this case I still provide all the code/design assets that are around once they have paid the final invoice. I don’t want to hear from them again so giving it all to them means it’s way less likely that I will.

Here is a base email I use:

Hi $name

After a few attempts to explain why we can no longer hit the original launch date and attempts to get you on board with the new one, I really don’t think that I can continue on the project.

Currently the project is behind because you missed our deadline on content which was $date as outlined in the site documentation and referred to in the contract. Since deadlines were missed and we can’t seem to get a solution that is possible without time travel (so we could go back and hit the due dates on content) I’m exercising my right in the contract to end the project.

I’ll send over the bill for all work done shortly. Once the bill is paid I’ll send over all code/design assets for you to have so you can find a new contractor to work with. If the bill is not paid then I will not be sending over any assets.

I’m always sad when a project doesn’t work out, but I feel it’s much more important to work with awesome clients on awesome projects. Due to the conflicts we’ve had, this is simply a bad fit on both parts.

Have a great day.

Will the surly client pay the bill? Maybe.

Will they threaten and bluster about killing your reputation? Probably.

Don’t allow yourself to be baited into a verbal battle regardless of the clients reaction or accusation. That way no matter what happens in the future you can always claim that you behaved above board and treated the client with respect.

Can they actually kill your reputation and force you to live in a fridge box? 99% no way.

It sucks when a project has to be cut loose but at some point it’s going to happen. The best thing to do is stay professional and walk away.

Your family and overall stress levels will thank you for walking away.

Have you had to cut a project loose? Any tips that made it easier on both parties?

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