Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Not Sure in Northern California

Editor’s Note: Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to [email protected]

Dear Bonnie,

After almost a decade of building my freelance design business, I landed a project for one of the majors in my semi-specialized field. I sent in a first round of designs and heard back the next day that they were being reviewed. A few weeks passed and I sent a short, informal query to see what was up. A few more weeks went by without a response, so I wrote a slightly more insistent note. This time I did hear back and it turned out some folks didn't love the ideas, but they pledged to get in touch in a week. That was two weeks ago.

I’d like to be a freelancer who is a pleasure to work with—and I want to keep working on this project—but I am frustrated and puzzled. And if this project is just going to fizzle away, I want to be paid.

It’s been about two months since I initially sent the work. What should I do?
Not Sure in Northern California

Dear NSiNC,
Unfortunately, and I think you may already suspect this, if you haven’t heard, you’ve heard.

I am not excusing their behavior at all. They have not handled this well. Many clients don’t quite understand how emotionally invested we can get in our work. We give birth to our ideas and nurture them and send them out into the world and then they don’t even bother to call home. It can be really difficult, but if it makes you feel any better, it happens all the time.

What you should probably do at this point is write them a gracious email explaining that because it’s been two months since you submitted your designs, you feel it’s safe to assume they are going in a different direction with this project. Include an invoice for the work completed, which you can refer to as your kill fee. Feel free to express how much you’d love another opportunity to show them what you can do. I would end the letter by explaining how you hope your assumption is incorrect, and if that is the case, you’d love to discuss next steps.

Please know that their non-response does not necessarily mean you did a terrible job. Often it can signal a disorganization on their part. Maybe their brief needed more work or there was a change in the team handling the project and chaos ensued. Or, maybe, just maybe, you did in fact miss the mark on this one. In your letter you can certainly ask for constructive feedback. You may not get an honest answer, but it (almost) never hurts to ask.

And, one last thing. I love that you want to be a “pleasure to work with,” but don’t ever let that get in the way of you getting paid what you are owed. You don’t want to work for people who don’t pay what they have agreed to. So, if they use the “If you push this issue, it will be more difficult for us to work together in the future” line, just say that’s okay.

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