Project management for freelancers

Why Freelancers Should Establish A Communication Framework

By Brennan Dunn

I’d like to tell you about a project that I regret to this day. This project cost me tens of thousands of dollars, hurt my reputation, and even made me want to throw in the towel and give up on consulting.

Deep breath.

OK, so back when I was running my consultancy — I think at the time we had 8 or 9 full-time employees. I had plenty on my plate… I had to make sure the next set of projects were lined up, that the current projects we had were running smoothly, and that my team was happy and taken care of.

There were two of us full-time on this project. I saw the work we were doing — it looked great. There was plenty of activity in our project management app. The client was paying his bills consistently and on time.

It seemed like everything was dandy.

…And then I got THE phone call. “This isn’t what I wanted!” And, “What the hell? What do you mean you’ve used up all of my budget?”

I was like a deer in headlights. But… Everything looked great! Stuff was getting done! My team reported no red flags! What was the problem?

The problem was that our client wasn’t actually a part of the project. Sure, he was getting comment notification emails. He saw stuff being delivered to him. He got the invoice PDFs in his inbox.

But it was a one-way relationship.

It was us throwing stuff over to him, without asking for anything in return. The list of tasks that had to be reviewed steadily grew longer and longer. The client had never even bothered checking out what we were doing. Our captain was below decks and not helping us steer the ship.

What happened was we assumed that he was getting what we were throwing over the wall and that his silence was tacit approval of our work. (Remember what I said about assuming?)

We failed by not requiring him to have an active part in this project. You see, some clients don’t want to be a part of a project’s development. They just want the end result. The product.

In the end, we ended up not getting paid for our last invoice. Our team was yanked from the project. The client was furious. And I was putting out fires — internally and externally.

And all of this could have been avoided had we established a communication framework.

Here’s what we ended up doing as a result of this mishap:

  • All deliverables need to be approved within 2 business days of delivery.
  • Our weekly project meetings are mandatory.
  • All blockers or questions to the client need to be responded to ASAP (with 2 business days as a cut-off.)

All of this could have been a non-issue and our client could have gotten the product he ordered had we simply required him to work WITH us, rather us working FOR him.

I learned a lot from this, though lost revenue and reputation hits are a pretty steep price to pay. I hope my setback can serve as a sort of parable for you and your business. Don’t take communication for granted, and don’t assume anything.