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I'm recently working with a very indecisive client who never seems to want to make decisions or give approvals to any confirmations I asked of her. I have had a question on this here a while ago. But there is a crazy turn of things with this client today and I don't know what are my options - she now says she has always wanted her site I’m doing for her to be like another website, but this website she now mentions is more complicated than what we have agreed.

This indecisive client of mine has been evading my request for her approval on my design for her website before I implement it. Two days ago, after responding to her latest series of questions, I followed up by asking her for approval of the design again. However, she replied and said she will only give me the green light when she is confident about my maintenance terms. I have no idea how approving the design has to with maintenance but I believe she said that to evade my request for her approval again. She has done that numerous times. She has been coming up with questions after questions every time when I ask for her approval.

The worst part of all in her email, she said she expects the site to be launched by next month and I should take the time from now to next month to get things done. I was dumbfounded to read what she has written. How in her mind does she expect me to voluntarily "get things done" when she doesn't approve the design until when she is confident of something irrelevant to the design and I risk her coming back with changes later?

I replied to her that I will only start implementation after she has approved the design. I also counter proposed her deadline and mentioned to her about how the deadline will be pushed back for any delays in approval, as what one of the answers in my previous question has suggested and I think it's a good idea.

To my surprise though, she responded that she has always thought her website should be like blablahblah.com and I should go look at it. That website she now mentions is quite different from what she has said she wanted when we first agreed on the project. It's also more complicated than what I have quoted her in the quotation. The design has to be completely different to afford those features too and so my existing mockups for her will all be wasted! It seems when she has finally no other way to evade having to give an approval, she throws me a spanner by suggesting that she has expected the website to be like another site which she didn't mention at all from the start.

Seriously, she is telling me this after she took 13 months to decide to hire me since we first met up, and then another 4 months having over 50 email exchanges and several offline meetups asking me a ton of questions and wasting my time researching for answers to her questions. We spent all this time talking to build this one website and now she suddenly says she expects her website to be like another site!

A lot of lessons learned

Clearly, I’m quite upset about this incident but it has definitely taught me a lot about dealing with clients in freelance work. I’ve done quite a few freelance assignments but this client is tough to manage. On hindsight, I would have done many things differently like writing a more detailed contract to protect myself even though it seems like a small project and not worth the time writing a detailed specs for it.

What are my options?

Right now, even though I've learnt my lessons, I think I should also know what are some options I should take. She has given me a 50% deposit which I did state in my quotation that this is not refundable.

  1. Accept that she now wants her site to be different: If I accept her new expectation, I will have to quote her again for the new requirements and ask her to decide. Since it's decision time, she is going to have a hard time deciding again and I can expect her wasting my time answering her questions like "will users come to this page if we do it this way?" or "now with this new design, will users read this important info I wrote in my article?" I'm not sure she would even take my new pricing nicely. Even if she ever takes up the new pricing, given her character, she may flake again. And I need to spend even more time with her.

  2. Withdraw from the project: Honestly, I'm very tempted to go with this option. I feel like she is wasting my time and she isn't worth it. But, I've collected a 50% non-refundable deposit. I don't think she will cancel the project on her own. If I withdraw from the project myself, what should I do with the deposit? Do I refund her partially or fully, or do I stand by my terms that it’s not refundable? If I return her the full deposit, I feel like I'm not being compensated for the amount of time and effort spent on answering her questions, all meetups, my time spent coming up with the design and mockup screens. And almost certainly, my withdrawal will turn things sour. Given that she evades making decisions, she might be somebody who's insecure or just outright manipulative. I don’t want her to accuse me of scamming her or whatever for taking her deposit and withdrawing from the project because I’m not.

What would be the best thing to do after getting myself to deal with such a client?

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I also fell into this kind of problems more than once, and this is why I've decided to join just to try and help you.

First, this is the kind of client that will never be happy and you fueled her insane expectations, so accept that things are going to be difficult and you can't do anything about it.

You should give a quote for a redesign and treat it as a new project. Charge A LOT because it's better to lose this client as soon as possibile. For this new project, and for any future project, in the new contract you should never offer free revisions and put a time limit to give approval in all the phases, after which the project is considered dropped, not on hold if approval is not given. All revisions must be paid, even if they're little and silly. It's sad, but if you don't do it you won't be able to survive. I see a lot of freelancers giving compromising advices on how to manage the "freebies", but sadly there is no space for freebies in many professions and in intellectual professions most of them all. This is because with any other professions, even if you do something for free the client must be with you or you must be on location and be a nuisance (think a dentist or a painter). With a web site, the client tells you what to do and go on with his day, while you stay in your office/home working. This is why you absolutely can't give freebies. If you're not ok with this, it's better to change profession, it's clearly not in line with your values and you will only burn out eventually (and you don't want to burn out, it can affect your health for life, trust me I know).

Now that I warned you about the future, let's go back to the present: If she doesn't accept the quote for the redesign, you will send the last design with all the free revisions you gave her, asking for the final approval in X amount of time. You will tell her that if she approves the design you will be able to complete the project, otherwise you will be forced to drop it because you are not given a way to complete it. You will also explain her that you won't be able to make further revisions, and that you made all the revisions up until now for free out of your good will. After all from what I understand there is nothing about revisions in your contract, so you've done more than your share of work.

If she approves the design finish the project, otherwise the project can be considered dropped since she refuses to give you what you need to complete the project. Also she may refuse to pay you in the end, but at least you will have put her out of your mind. Sanity before anything.

You can get out of it, but you have to use your strength. Good luck.

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I apologize, but this isn't so much a question as it is a rant. But I can sympathize.

For what it's worth.. 13 months waiting on approval was a huge red flag. If it were me, pricing would be no longer valid after 1 month (my pricing is valid for 30 days, that's all). So, when she returned, over a year later, and gave approval, at that time I'd explain that pricing was for January/February 2018, not March/April 2019. Pricing will need to be revisited.

I would resupply a quote with very extended milestones/deadlines knowing she'll take forever to respond. And be certain to state, in writing, pricing is valid for XX days. If the project is ongoing, then I'd add a term stating that pricing is valid based upon defined scheduled dates and timelines. Delays more than XX days may incur additional costs. I'd also add a clause to a contract/quote stating she must respond with approval changes within 15 days or the project will be considered "on hold" and scheduling will be be no longer valid. Work will be rescheduled when a response does arrive.

With that, if she were not pleased, so what. This is business for me, not "make friends". You don't need to cancel the project in most cases, but you typically do need to adjust your pricing and timelines knowing this particular client will not be quick to respond. Most often that makes this type of client a "back burner" client... work on things when I have the time, but don't actually PLAN on moving forward when you are waiting on them for approval. If that means it takes me 2 weeks to schedule the project again when they do finally get back to me.... then they must wait 2 weeks for me to get back to it.

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