Waiting on clients to review your work or supply you with needed material to continue a project can be extremely frustrating.  It can also be damaging to your business because the gaps in time lower both your and your clients clarity about the scope of the project and your agreement.  It’s not uncommon for scope to expand over time as people forget the details. This often results in additional project management overhead with emails, calls, and meetings even if you’re vigilant and clear about the scope. When the project is not moving forward, you have to try to manage slack into your schedule for the possibility of closing out the previous project and taking on new work. Finally, you’re not getting paid in the meantime which is crappy for your personal cash flow and ulcer inducing if you run a small web development company like I do and have overhead to pay down each month.

Fortunately, you can eliminate and mitigate much of the frustration of a stalled project by adding a clause to address it to your contract. I’m not a lawyer and cannot provide you legal advice, so you should discuss exactly how you can do this with your lawyer.

As a generality, you want a clause that outlines the boundaries you’re willing to wait within and what happens when your client crosses those boundaries. It might look something like this:

PROJECT DELAYS. In the event a project goes on hold due to waiting on Client review and/or Client requests that work stop for more than three consecutive weeks, (YOUR BUSINESS) reserves the right to bill for all un-billed time and materials.  (YOUR BUSINESS) will add a “re-engagement fee” due prior to starting work again. [if you need explanation: This fee covers additional project management time related to project interruptions, possible unexpected down time for the company, as well as time needed to re-engage intellectually in the work itself.] The fee will be 10% of the project estimate and will be communicated to Client prior to starting work.

Additionally, (YOUR BUSINESS) reserves the right to resume work in a timeframe that is reasonable and compatible with their existing workload at the time of re-engagement. This may result in additional delays in the completion of the project.

What I like about this example is that:

  • It provides a clear timeframe.
  • It acknowledges the cost in project management that stopping and starting causes and sets the expectation that this will be billed for.
  • It provides flexibility in resuming work and establishes an understanding that resuming the work will be based upon your schedule and availability.
  • It sets a timeline for billing for un-billed work regardless of the client situation.

Even if you don’t have a stalled project clause in your contract, communicating this in writing as an internal policy prior to starting a project and setting this as the expectation will go a long way towards establishing boundaries.  However, a contract is still the preferred route because not only does it set expectations, it makes them legally enforceable, adding weight and options if there is disagreement.

As a final thought on this measure, remember the adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You don’t want to be good at managing difficult situations with your clients – you want to be good at preventing them.