“Failure isn’t fatal, success in’t final; it’s courage┬áthat counts.” — (generally attributed to) Winston Churchill

Failure may not be fatal, but it certainy isn’t fun. And today I reached a failure point.

Like most failure points, this one didn’t start today. I think it actually started two weeks ago, when the potential client I had arranged to teleconference with didn’t show up for two hours. That’s a bad sign, but I ignored it because, honestly, I was excited that this could be my first $85/hr project. I was willing to overlook a lack of professionalism in order to make a little more money, and set myself up at a new rate.

As of right now, I don’t really regret that. But I did ignore a signpost.

The next signpost was the same — another missed meeting– but this one came while I was already billing the client… so, I thought, “It’s okay. He misses a meeting, but he’s paying for the time. It’s a little frustrating, but no real loss to me.”

Similar was the flood of defocused, forwarded communication. He was in communication with an approvals and listing agency, and instead of sending me his requirements on the job, he forwarded me the dense back-and-forth without any summaries. Unprofessional, a little time consuming to sort through, but again, the client was paying for the time.

He didn’t respond to some of my questions, crucial for moving the project forward. Frustrating, but I filled the time with the other aspects of the job. Then, he did reply, but being tacked into the dense forest of other forwarded messages, I missed it. That one reflects very badly on me; I apologized and moved forward.

Another missed meeting. More time that the project isn’t moving forward, but hours are being billed. His loss, not mine, right? Wrong.

What I should have paid attention to there was that it all meant my client wasn’t getting full value for the time he was purchasing. Was it my fault? Well, partially yes and partially no. But ultimately, and more importantly, it reflected on my work.

So when I got a message that he was concerned about our overall progress versus cost, I shouldn’t have brushed it aside with a list of original projections and breakdown of current hours, showing how close we were, in my mind, to the schedule. My intention was good, and the tone was polite and professional, but I didn’t really shift over into his perspective. As a young guy (27) who was obviously not very professional, he definitely wasn’t considering the hours he’d chewed through with the inane (yes, I’m a bit angry) emails or multiple missed meetings. So, while I thought I had sufficiently addressed the concerns about productivity with the breakdown and clear steps forward, the air between us wasn’t clear.

Today’s meeting shouldn’t have been a surprise. After going through the list of items and questions about the project, he brought up his concern about our ongoing project and the total cost versus achievement. At first he simply requested that we change all the future projects over to fixed price, quite reasonable from his perspective, I’m sure. But with all the lack of communication and issues, there is no way that I’m going to let the guy waste my time and expect the same end product at the same cost. He’s obviously uncomfortable with the idea of continuing as we are, even with more detailed communication about hours for each task and closer tracking of where time goes. We ended today’s conference with him requesting I hold off on more hours till we have a chance to discuss estimated hours for additional aspects of the project.

And I came off the phone feeling like I’d been punched. I felt like I’d failed. Not in a huge way, but enough to where my income goals are shot for the month, and I have a quite unhappy client on my hands.

What I’m thinking right now is that I’ll refund half of the hours for last week, send over the files with some minor tweaks to make the progress on the project clear, and tell him to find another freelancer. It’s the only way I can think of to a) make sure that my client feels relatively good about a relatively bad situation, feeling that he at least got value for the money spent, b) keep my ratings intact, which allows me to spend so much less time bidding jobs, and c) avoid having to deal with this guy anymore.

Any thoughts before I pull the trigger? Have any of you had similar experiences?

Courage to continue into the unknown
Courage to continue into the unknown