A Contract is Not Enough to Protect You... Plus Other Lessons I Learned After A Failed Project

Tammy Danan
December 6, 2022

This, people, is where we begin to eat our sandwich of commiseration.

Seriously though, one thing most freelancers don’t talk about is the failed relationships they’ve had with clients and potential clients. I’m always inundated with success stories and as much as I love them, the reality is, not every project with every client works out well. Not everything is that smooth.

As a freelancer, this is something you need to be prepared for.

How it all began

Let’s not name the brand, for professionalism’s sake, but it all began some 2 years ago when I reached out to a brand I liked and offered my writing services. We tested out with one article, they liked it, they paid me, but ultimately decided not to push through and make it a regular thing because they don’t have enough budget for it.

Two years later, it’s 2022 and we got in touch again through Instagram. It was quite exciting for me to hear from them again. Apparently, they saw some of the work I did for a brand they also like and wanted to really invest in their blog. And they wanted me to help build it with them. In other words, they wanted me to write blog posts on a regular basis.

By this time, my rates have raised. They still decided to invest but after 2 blog posts, they were honest about the fact that they can’t afford me.

A few months after, I was launching my content studio and decided to reach out to them to offer my studio’s services. Since this was something I was building from the ground up, the rates were okay for them and they were enthusiastic that we’d finally be able to work together. This was when the problem started.

A contract is not enough to protect you

I created a proposal for this brand, there were a few back-and-forths but we ended up on the same page. This was easy and smooth. And fast! The negotiation was close to effortless, I guess because we both liked to work with each other so there was that sense of “I’ll meet them halfway, no convincing needed.” I sent them a Letter of Agreement and when everything was set, they signed.

My whole freelance career, which pans about a decade, I thought a contract is a freelancer’s cape of protection. I thought if there’s a signed contract, a signed letter of agreement, I’d be okay. But in this case, it wasn’t enough to protect me and my content studio that’s still at its earliest stages because in this case, after that agreement was signed, everything began to fall apart.

To start, communication grew slower and slower and following up felt like a chore. The project struggled to move to the next stage because after the agreement was signed, I had to keep following up before I’d hear from them.

How a client communicates with you should tell you a lot

Let’s be clear, I totally understand the whole idea of running a business. I understand that we’re all busy and some things fall through. I have emails in my inbox I still need to respond to and it’s been days already. So I get this. 

What I’m saying is, there wasn’t only a delay in communication with this client, there were long periods of quiet. This was already a red flag but I refused to see it. I guess I was so wrapped around their enthusiasm and interest back when we were still crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.

The lesson here is to pay attention to how a client communicates with you. Expect delays, nobody’s perfect and we’re all busy… but if a client communicates with compassion and gratitude for your patience, that’s good. If a client tries to be better in terms of updates and response time, that’s good. If not, you may want to be more guarded and prepare yourself for things to fall through. I did not prepare myself for that.

Dedication equates to effort - if it’s not present at the onset, it’ll never be

After some 20+ days of waiting for the rough content ideas to be approved, I had to start waiting for the first half of the payment, which the client agreed to send after the content ideas were approved. Due date came… nothing.

This became a whole new problem when they struggled to send the payment though bank transfer. I was okay with PayPal back when we were doing one-offs because, well, it was just a one-off. But this was bigger and things have changed since then. I noted in the invoice I sent that I only accept payments through direct bank transfer and Wise. It’s a whole new process for them so I sent YouTube video tutorials on how to setup and use Wise. I also provided all information they need for the direct bank transfer in case that’s the route they want to try again.

Bottom line is, a client’s dedication to the project can be seen through the efforts they put in to make said project happen. If that’s not present at the onset, it will never be. And it never was with this client.

I ended up waiting 2 months and 10 days for that first invoice to be paid. I did not move with the project, I did not write a single thing. I kept following up and provided them with all the material and the information they need to make the payment. I stayed patient after a couple of their failed bank transfer attempts. They mentioned they have the funds, it’s just a matter of sending them to me. Ultimately, I had to force myself to see that I had been very patient and this isn’t working and I cannot keep going like this. My business won’t grow if I keep going like this. Patience is good but it has to be balanced with effort and dedication from the other side.

You have to know when to let go

One of the biggest, most painful lessons I learned was to let go. Looking back, I feel like I should’ve let go long before November when I actually did. I should’ve sent that final email earlier. I should’ve diverted my efforts into growing my business and connecting with other potential brands instead of waiting and waiting. Instead of holding on to the illusion that things would still somehow work.

Freelancing is a tricky field. You need solid skills, sure. But more than that, you need to learn to listen to your guts. Your intuition is your compass here. A contract is not enough to protect you. Failed projects will happen. You will come across clients that just don’t have or can’t dare to have the same level of dedication and professionalism as you.

After sending the final email detailing that I’m ending the contract, the reasons why, and the fact that I’m not closing my doors, I spent days wallowing over the fact that this could’ve been something, but it didn’t. Days later, I saw that they viewed the email. More days after, they viewed it again from another location. Three different locations in total. I don’t know how reliable these Gmail extensions are but that’s what I saw from my end.

And that was just it. They only viewed it. They didn’t even bother to reply.

And that, my friends, is a lesson on professionalism a.k.a. a hard pill to swallow.

But you have to.

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