Client response limbo. It’s a thing. It’s a REAL thing. It’s an affliction. It’s a disease. It can even be deadly!
Even when you’ve done ALL your due diligence, Client Response Limbo (or CRL) can kill a small creative business. Small businesses rely on smooth cashflow to pay bills and keep the tax man happy, and to pay our suppliers and maintain great working relationships so as to continue to receive great service and thereby offer you great service. What clients don’t generally think about is the fact that we too have overheads, bills, accounts, service providers, bonds, school fees etc. A small, one man creative business is more often than not thought of as a kind of ‘calling’ which we choose to answer like the sainted sisterhood of nuns who’re called by their heavenly Father and therefore the the nitty gritty realities of running a business don’t quite fit into that picture … ok, sorry to burst the bubble, BUT IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT!
We quote on a job, generally charged for in hours, which in an ideal and perfect world is performed in optimal conditions where the sun is shining, birds are singing, all client material has been emailed through on time with nothing missing, the brief is perfect and unchanging, client response and feedback is timely, you sail through proof one and two and receive final sign off on proof three … and you land perfectly, toes pointed, on the white finishing line, within the allotted deadline and take your bow!
BOOM! POP! CRASH! BANG! NO! It didn’t happen like that at ALL did it?
We had to do at least a couple of follow ups on the brief to clarify what clients thought was an obvious indication of what they wanted, and while filling in the ‘Kimberly Hole’ sized gaps in the information, they are changing their minds and moving the goal posts. They are adding, changing and taking away from the originally discussed brief with either the expectation that our pricing will remain the same OR the requote will be instantly forthcoming with no delays … now with other clients to service as well, what do you think happens? ‘The small delay’ happens, the ‘this will take a little time for me to get back to you’ happens, the ‘are you SURE you don’t have ANYTHING else to add?’ happens. Once we’ve nailed down the brief, and payment of deposit has come through, THEN we can start.
So we start working later and later and even pull all nighters to try and ensure we’re sticking to ‘The Deadline’ because what the deadline means to us is food, bills, rent, cashflow and finishing in time to start our next jobs and make our OTHER clients happy. Yes, again with the bubble popping, apologies … we DO have other clients whose cash has the same value to us as yours. After some rump busting we proudly submit our first proofs to you without skipping a beat, missing an hour or making you wait … then WE wait. And wait. And wait.
We email to ensure you’ve received the first proof and ask for an indication of when we will receive feedback … and we wait. And wait. And wait.
In this window of waiting we continue work on other jobs, we begin all these processes with new clients, follow up on changes and feedback from clients already booked into our work schedule and manage all our follow ups with you at the same time. What clients don’t realise is that consistent and timely responses actually lead to MORE time for us to work on and focus on their jobs because we know where we stand and can schedule the rest of our work around the expectant feedback. This means we can, with full focus, attend to your requests and get them straight back to you. Instead the reality is that Client Response Limbo causes chaos on our production schedule. It ripples through each aspect of our creative working existence, impacting like dominos, on each of our other jobs because generally speaking each client expects timely feedback, changes and replies themselves. Ironic? Yes. That’s one word I can think of …
Further to the screwed up logistics of Client Response Limbo, the cash flow becomes a real problem, without cash we cannot run our businesses. Sticking to deadlines is HOW creatives make their money. If we have quoted on a 4 week job which is dragged out to a 10 week job then we ARE NOT MAKING MONEY ON THIS WORK! This is NOT how you would operate YOUR business, please respect the fact that it’s NOT how we operate ours either. Working PAST an agreed upon deadline becomes us paying YOU for the privilege of doing work FOR YOU. Does this make sense? No.
So in the face of all of this the question remains, how does a creative not lose their sh!t when experiencing Client Response Limbo? There are so many options: take up drinking, top up your caffeine stream, keep a yoga mat under your desk so when you lie down and bang your head and fists on the floor you don’t hurt yourself … or simply just breathe … and put your prices up. We’re hoping that educating our clients as much as possible will be the key and ultimate cure for Client Response Limbo or possibly help us attain a new calibre of client who respects our time as much as we respect theirs, because this it a real thing that does directly affect your future client-creative relationships.
And yes. In our fine print we have specified final payment on completion. The key word there is COMPLETION. Let’s please complete the job then shall we? Lets meet deadlines TOGETHER shall we? Making an additional tweak or a change to a job 5 weeks AFTER the deadline has past might, having dragged it out purely by not being communicative or by addressing some issues and ignoring others, does legally comply with the fine print, but have you stopped and looked in the mirror lately?