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I do freelance web design and development on the side. I have a client recently who appears to be flaky and indecisive. She isn't very willing to commit herself to make decisions.

When I've the mockup designs ready for her, she doesn't want to confirm whether she accepts the design or not. I've told her before that by accepting the design in the mockups, we will not be allowed to make drastic changes to it during development. So I'm not sure if this has frightened her, but I do this to other clients and had no problem. And I did assure her that minor changes such as colours and texts are fine.

However, she has been replying to my emails asking her for confirmation with questions after questions and meetups after meetups, but just not her confirmation. She has said things like she needs to meet her friend A then friend B for their opinions first, etc.

I can't move on to the development stage if she doesn't confirm the design because every time we meet up (which btw actually eats wastes even more of my time) or after she has her questions answered, she wants to add or change something to the design (which even though its just the mockup images, it takes time for me to do it). But I have to prevent her from changing the design after implementation as that will be disastrous.

She has procrastinated on giving me a confirmation for 2 months since I'd given her the initial mockup design. I've a feeling the project is going to take way longer than I'd thought, and much of it is due to her indecisiveness.

The project was quoted on a fixed sum for an amount of work. So I don't get paid for the time allocated to wait for her approvals. She has given me a deposit for the project and so I believe she is sincere about getting the project done. But I can't afford to let her delay the project this way because I have other projects in line and other things in my life. Moreover, she has a tight budget and so what she has paid isn't anything worth more than a 2-month work.

I've been trying all sorts of way to get her to move to the next stage politely, but she has kept evading a confirmation.

I don't know what else I can do. I have thought of a few options:

  1. The first option is, I just let her flake all she wants until she finally makes up her mind while I go on with my life and take on other projects. Since I've her deposit if she decides to drop the project halfway, she loses it. BUT, I know she isn't going to drop the project and she may just decide "okay let's do it now" on any one day which may not be a time I'm available to return to her project! And she isn't going to expect me telling her "Hey I've waited x months for your approval, now I can't go back to your project until y months." Moreover, switching context between projects after a few months is extremely disruptive, at least, to me. I have to spend time re-understanding the code done months ago.

  2. The second option, tell her I need her decision by a definite date and if she can't give a confirmation by that date, I will take it that she has confirmed the design and wants to proceed to move on to the next stage. She is definitely not going to like this. But my biggest concern is that I can expect myself having more trouble collecting my final payment given her flakiness. She might just claim that I made the decision for her without her agreement.

Either way isn't going to turn out very well. I need help dealing with such people.

What's your experience with indecisive clients like the one I've met? How did you deal with them?

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Always #1. Always.

You're looking at things from your perspective, which is expected.

However, think of it from the client's perspective... They've paid you a fee to work and they anticipate paying you more. Do you like being given ultimatums or pushed by people you are paying?

The only time I feel it's okay to be pushy with respect to approvals/confirmation is regarding deadlines. If a deadline is looming, and a delay in approval may make that deadline untenable, then I will inform the client of that. A la:

"Hi [Client], In order to meet the April XXX, 2019 deadline I need approval on this prior to March XX, 2019. Any delay after March XX will cause the April XX deadline to be pushed back an equal amount as well."

But, as a hired worker you don't drive the ship in terms of timelines for approvals, the client does. It's their right to take all the time they feel they need. If their time to approve causes you to move onto something else, then move on. But, it's also your responsibility that when they do get back to you, you get back to their project within a few days.

What I gather is that in many instances freelancers seem to think "okay this project has to be done this week. Next week I'll work on the other project." I kind of understand that mentality, but realistically, that's never been a workable situation here. I always leave a day or two open during the week for "pop up" issues. I couldn't possibly assume that I can work all day, every day on scheduled projects. That's way too reliant on other people to be on my timetable, which is just unrealistic in my opinion.

I "juggle", for lack of a better term. I'll have 3 projects all which need to be done in 3 weeks. Each project alone should take me 3-4 days at most. So that leaves an extra 4-5 days of "padding" due to client approval delays or unanticipated issues, etc. So, to this end, I give finalization deadlines at least two weeks out, even if I think a project will only take me 4 days/24-36hrs.

I completely understand if this type of juggling just doesn't or won't work for some people or some projects - I do honestly get that. It takes a great deal of organization and multitasking skills. In addition to the ability to switch mental "focus" rapidly at times. I know many who prefer to work on things one at a time. You can tell clients you need to get their project done this week all you want, but if they want to take a couple extra days, face it - you aren't going to drop the project, you'll work around that delay. So, to that end, I've adapted and learned to work in an intertwined manner - where the order in which projects must be completed is scheduled, however the specify days I'll work on those projects are not.

Related: https://freelancing.stackexchange.com/a/1052/708

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    I can understand why you pad a few days extra to each project. But when it comes to indecisive clients, you don't know when they will make up their mind and you may not have the time for them when they are finally ready. From the client's perspective, they paid you a fee and they don't expect surprises like "oops okay i've waited for you x months so I can't do for you now until y monhs later". But on the other hand, you can't pad a few months to every project for indecisive clients too, can you? Also, I'm not paid during the time spent waiting for the client's approval. – xenon Mar 21 at 15:20
  • I "weave" project in and out of each other. During a given week, I may work on 1, 3, 5 different projects. As one project is waiting for approval, I move on to the next project. When approval comes in, I go back to the fist project, send for approval again, and go back to working on project 2. To this end, if approval is delayed by the client, I may need a few days to get back to it, but never "months". Maybe it's just me.... – Scott Mar 21 at 15:28
  • If it's just a few days or a couple of weeks, that's fine. But to context switch between projects after months, I think that's a little too "expensive" to do that frequently. Consider the time needed to re-understand the code and specs after a few months, that can be quite disruptive. :( – xenon Mar 22 at 8:27
  • I'm not disputing that. But you're either a client-friendly business or you're not. Some clients will always take extra consideration. If you simply refuse to adjust or demand they do things differently, well, you may not be in business as long as you'd like. Word of mouth can be a good or bad thing. – Scott Mar 22 at 8:50

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