Friday, January 25, 2008

When the Terms Change Mid-Stream

I just landed a new project with an old client I had a great experience with in the past. I gave him a price, he accepted, I drew up a contract, he signed it...things were chugging along smoothly. I've been waiting for some details on the topic before starting, and the client just got back to me recently. Along with information on what to include and the audience, the client casually mentioned a major change to the project--but assured me not to worry; he'd keep the page count the same so that the project could be kept at the same price.

That's where I had to stop and think. Although the word count would be the same, the changes did mean more than a little more work and time on my end. It was a whole different project requiring a new price. Sometimes the client isn't sure what he wants, or thinks a change is minor and won't affect the price. As a freelancer, you know better. Here's what to do in this sort of situation.

Don't be a pushover. I'm a Libra. We hate conflict. And I have to confess that my first instinct was something like "oh well, I guess I'll just do what he says. It's easier than putting up a fuss." Luckily I took a minute to think, and decided that actually, putting up a fuss would be easier. A lot easier. Be firm in the beginning, and you could save yourself weeks of hassle.

Keep calm. A more confrontational personality might automatically jump to the opposite conclusion, thinking the client was trying to get more work for less by throwing in a change at the last minute. This might be the case sometimes, but it isn't always. In this case, I believe the client probably didn't realize there would be any problem, since the page length would be kept the same. But page length often has nothing to do with the time and work required, and many people who don't write on a regular basis don't realize that. I've faced this issue many times with clients. At any rate, keep your cool if you don't want to lose the job. You'll get more business by giving people the benefit of the doubt, even as you stick to your guns.

Explain your position. Most people are reasonable. Explain the reason behind your change in price. If the client knows exactly what's happening and why, you're likely to prevent a misunderstanding.

Offer an out. Whenever this happens, I give the client two choices: to go ahead with the new changes and new price, or to go with the old price on the old project. This cuts out the third option: to completely cancel the project, which I don't want to happen.

I haven't heard back from my client yet--so you might want to take this advice with a grain of salt until I do. Hopefully, the project will move smoothly past these mid-stream negotiations. Be clear, firm and reasonable during the process, and chances are good that they will.


Anonymous said...

I had a client change the terms mid-stream and I wish I would have had these tips!

I handled it professionally, but I ended up not taking the job because the wanted more work done, but wanted to pay me less.

Next time I run into this issue (and I know there will be a next time), I'll be sure to put these pointers to work! Thanks!


Jennifer Williamson said...

You're welcome! As an update, I did successfully negotiate a new contract with my client--you live and learn.

Anonymous said...

Great post! (And a good example of a good longer blog post...)

I know that many writers will thank you for providing these clues to identifying bad clients.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Ha! Thanks, Laura!