I have been in situations like this on several occasions and I would like to hear how the community behaves in such situations. Also if you have handled this situation via the contract, I would appreciate you show me its excerpt that handles this legally.

The situation is like this: There is Client A and Client B, each with his own project. Client A came first and you estimate project will last 1 month (work + buffer) max. You tell client B you will take his project in 1 month (obviously everyone is in rush and you have to take project in work asap).

However, Client A is slow on replying to your messages or other member of his company slowly resolves issues that are preventing you to work on the project and A's project took 2 months, instead of 1.

As a consequence, you cannot start B's project full time as you have to finish A's project.

How do you handle situations like this? When it's 100% not your fault, but client is slow on taking actions.

Do you start B's project after 1 month? If yes, what do you say to A?

Do you delay B's project and give him some discount, but also issue penalties invoice to client A? It's his fault that you are losing money in B's project.

How do you resolve situation like this without impacting B's project (who should not suffer for A's actions), but also finalize A's project in a way that he realizes his actions caused delays and without A breaking business relations with you?

  • 1
    I was zoomed out too far and thought this was on Parenting, not Freelancers. I thought what a wonderful idea...
    – corsiKa
    Jun 21, 2016 at 15:29
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    This question hit the Stackexchange Hot Questions list! Yay, i think it may have been the first time :)
    – user152
    Jun 21, 2016 at 19:31

5 Answers 5


I solve this by never giving 100% of my time to one client at once.

Say, for example, client A comes to me with a project. I quote that project on how long it'll take at 10/20 hours a week (25-50% of my time).

Then, when client B comes along, I allocate to them another proportion of my time (25-50%, depending on when they want it done), and start on it immediately.

No client ever gets more than 50%.

At the moment, I have multiple clients ranging from 5-50%. In total, they add up to 125% (or 50 hours). However, I almost never work that much because very often clients will be slow. I usually find I work 40 hours a week on average this way.

Another advantage is that my rate goes up as I get busier. Hours 0-5% are much cheaper than hours 100-125%.

  • Good point on raising rate. I do the same, but ad-hoc. I don't have it in writing. How do you handle urgent projects? Obviously, you have to work on them full-time, otherwise working on them is pointless for the client.
    – Peter MV
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:52
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    I generally don't take on that work, then. If I have 20 hours/week available, and the client wants 40 hours, then I can't take that job. The existing clients always take priority.
    – user152
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:55
  • Haha it's easy to decline a new client. I do the same e.g. I don't work on urgent projects without getting to know the client. But I was asking about the situation when good and old clients are asking for urgent full-time tasks. Are you telling me that you are declining them as well? Sorry, I like you, but I don't make changes in my business policy - something you probably tell them.
    – Peter MV
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:56
  • That's a sticky one - I generally will see what I can do if it's an existing client. I have worked a couple of 60-70 hour weeks on urgent stuff as a result. If it's a week or two of extra time then it's fine, but I have turned down existing clients in the past because I'm too busy. I have a couple of friends in the industry I recommend to them in that case.
    – user152
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:59
  • It's also very industry specific. I tend to take on long-term development/programming type jobs (I think my average job is >6 months). So often I'll allocate a portion of my week to a client and it'll remain 'theirs' for a while.
    – user152
    Jun 21, 2016 at 14:03

To be honest, I work on everything simultaneously. But that may just be because my work allows that far more than yours.

If Client A is slow, I start Client B's project when scheduled, then I'll just split my time. When Client A gets back to me, I'll spend a day or so updating their project and a day or two on Client B's project.

I essentially get things alternating. So Client A is proofing while I work on Client Bs project. Client B is proofing while I work on Client As project. I generally have at least 4 things juggling at the same time.

And I plan on all this for delivery dates. You're right that all clients claim their project is urgent. But if you give them a delivery date, 95% of them accept the fact that .. okay, that's the best that's going to happen.

I don't schedule my time wall-to-wall. If I think a project will take 1 month, I plan on at least 6 weeks. And I always assume a client will take a minimum of several days to get back to me at best.

I also give soft deadlines when sending proofs....

"Hi ClientX, Here's a proof for [project]. Please get back to me with any revisions or corrections as soon as feasible. I'd love to be able to move forward on this by [date I want proof back] in order to meet the scheduled delivery date."

This way, if the client doesn't get back to me by the date I've given, there's a written (email) record of it. So, if the client later complains about delays.... well I've got ammo.

In my work, there's no such thing as a "urgent project" that takes more than a few days to complete. Its not a problem for me to occasionally shove everything else aside for a couple days to accommodate an "urgent" project -- but again, may be more to to with the nature of my work compared to yours. And I'm not always opposed to scheduling a 60-80hr week if there's that much work to be had (feast or famine).

To answer the question specifically... no I do not penalize clients for slow responses. I'm here to cater to them.. not the other way around. They can take all the time in the world since it's their project and they are paying me. It's up to me to work around their schedule. They aren't expected to work around mine (other than common courtesy).

  • But if you for example take 50% now, and 50% in the end, and you plan to get that money in 6 weeks, this will not happen with slow clients. So them being slow also affects your payment.
    – Peter MV
    Jun 24, 2016 at 14:20
  • Well, I don't really budget based on expected payments. I budget on current funds. So payment being made slightly later than anticipated isn't really an issue. In other words, I don't count on that second 50% until I have a check in my hand. Yes I expect it. But it's not really factored until I have it. I do post-accounting not projected-accounting.
    – Scott
    Jun 24, 2016 at 15:32
  • I am kindly lost in English economical terms. Are you saying that you work only for the funds you have been paid? For example, a client give you $500 to do some work and you work until $500 have been depleted - then you stop? If you do this, it's very interesting. I wonder how you calculate the scope - or you do not set "it will take X weeks" but you work week by week?
    – Peter MV
    Jun 27, 2016 at 12:04
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    I think the nature of my work may be merely different than yours, @PeterMV -- In general, I budget this month based on my lowest monthly income which has been averages over the past 2 or 3 quarters. So, I budget this month, based on something like Sept 2015 since it was the lowest 3 month average I've had in the past year. I have some general financial ballpark figures to aim for each month/week, but I don't build any monies into my budget until they have been paid.
    – Scott
    Jun 29, 2016 at 3:46
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    Most of my clients pay quickly when invoiced. And this allows me to "bank" or save any extra earnings I'm just in the habit of never planning on money I don't have in my pocket already. Dont' get me wrong, I do some projected earnings, but I just don't actually spend money or make plans based on anything projected. (FYI, I don't use credit cards either. Other than my mortgage I essentially have zero debt because I deal with finances this way.)
    – Scott
    Jun 29, 2016 at 3:46

It seems that Client A can wait. He is not in a hurry for the project to be completed. It means two things:

  • He is not envolved with the project or it's not a project that will impact his business enough to be worried about it
  • He is not aware of what his employee (responsible for solving the issues) is doing.

If these affirmatives are true, it's pretty difficult to change. Even if you could show to your client what his employee is doing, there are clients that don't want to see the truth.

You will have to explain to Client A that you have other other projects to work and if this project takes too long you will have to change the project scope. This means, start to charge for extra hours worked on the project including (emails, time to fixes, etc..).

From my experience, when a client is not involved with the project he is not a good client. Sometimes this brings more trouble than benefits.

  • Client A can wait, but I cannot as I have to get paid for the project. Am I right? That's why I have asked the question to see if I can invoice extras on being slow on responses and actions.
    – Peter MV
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:53
  • Yes. You can charge him as I answred in the question. This situation is difficult to handle, but that way worked for me.
    – ikkarion
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:56

What does your contract say?

If you don't already have one then you need to get this into a contract, all written down, black and white. Decide what each party's responsibilities are and have penalties if they are not meeting their end of the bargain (and obviously there may well be penalties the other way round too).

It's contracts that will keep both parties safe if anything like this happens, they should be aware that delays on their part are going to have a negative impact on their delivery date. You're a business, so are they, they'll understand.

Watch Mike Monterio's talk below, he discusses how his Design business has had to deal with various scenarios and what is now built into their contracts.



Unless you are an absolute rock star freelancer or the business sector you operate in generally fines late delivery, I would advise against it.

Working in IT (programming), I suspect that even if fines were stipulated in the contract, actually enforcing them would sour the relationship considerably. In addition, I would expect a lot of frustrating back-and-forth discussion on whether they actually are late or not.

As others have stated, having more than one simultaneous client is typically the way to deal with this. The only way one can 'discipline' a client who is always late, but expects immediate service when they suddenly re-appear, is to have other clients and professionally inform them that they have to wait their turn, as you explained X weeks ago.

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