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  • Client Dragging Project on Indefinitely

  • James Cook

    January 10, 2022 at 9:43 pm

    Hello!

     

    I run a video production company and back in June of 2021 I agreed to a contract with a business looking to create a series of videos – there was a lot of content involved, but nothing that seemed particularly excessive or out of the ordinary.

    Fast forward to January 2022 and the project is still nowhere near completion. The work began as soon as the contract was signed off as there was ample planning involved which included numerous calls with the client and several site visits, so although we didn’t actually film until August, this has been effectively going on for 7 months and looks to continue for the months to come as well.

    The issue I have is that the client takes so long to get back to me between rounds of feedback and every-time they do get round to replying it’s almost like we’re creating a new video every single time due to their excessive amends. The main source of frustration as well is that they are choosing what they want featured in the videos from raw footage, which is not something I agreed to when taking the project on – it’s something they sprung on me after we’d wrapped filming – so where I’d normally jump straight into the edit, I’m having to wait for them to provide me with timestamps from footage they want to use which not only takes forever, but kills any creative freedom.

    I also feel misinformed by the client as well – when taking the project on I wanted to know how long each interview would be as there were a lot to conduct and this impacts both editing time and storage. I was told 3-5 minutes and every single one exceeded 30 minutes which massively changes the scope of work. I wish they’d told me as well about them wanting to choose what footage went in the videos as had I known it’s highly unlikely I’d have agreed to the campaign.

    I know a lot of this will ultimately come down to the contract, and having read back the deliverables, my feeling is that they are really pushing the boundaries of what was agreed – the longest video was meant to be 4 minutes and so far every single one has exceeded that duration.

    This is causing me a world of stress because I just don’t know how I’m going to manage this project as new work begins to come in. I have been paid in full which is a relief, however the client has mentioned that some parts of the project may not be edited until March/April 2022 which I feel is so out of line and should have been communicated to me at the start of the project.

    Last thing to say is the work is valuable, it’s not some run of the mill corporate client. It’s a charitable organisation and the videos are being used for fundraising efforts, so as you can imagine creating any tension is something I am doing everything to avoid.

    I want to give the client an ultimatum and say I’m happy to continue work until March, but any videos they want created after that will be charged for via an editing day rate. Their argument will be those videos form part of the deliverables in the contract we agreed, but my case is that they’ve exceeded the length of every single deliverable so far which has increased the workload. At this point the project is making me no money, if anything it’s losing money, and I feel like the client doesn’t understand that they are just one of many businesses I work with.

    I’m sure this is a scenario many of us can relate to when it comes to nightmare clients! Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

  • Craig Seeman

    January 17, 2022 at 3:20 pm

    Not are what your contract says but it doesn’t sound like it matched the discussion you had. If you get numbers from the client, you write them in. If they change them, the have to fill out a change order. Also a contract should have clear dates decisions need to be made by the client.

    If the contract doesn’t reflect the discussion, deadlines, work time involves than perhaps you need help writing your contracts.

  • Eric Santiago

    January 18, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Sounds like a nightmare that I’ve had to endure with many clients 🙁

    Thankfully they are the ones that try to stick to a schedule (some are due to films with funding deadlines).

    Is it possible to redo a contract like James or do you need to bring legal in?

  • Greg Ball

    January 18, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    I have to agree with Craig. What does your contract say? Does it specify the length of the edited videos? Does it specify how many revisions are allowed? Does it specify how long a client has to request changes or approve what you’ve done? Does it specify what your rate is for changes outside of the revisions you mentioned? Does it describe the fees for changes in the scope of work.

    These should have been listed in your agreement. Unfortunately, your “ultimatum” will not hold water since you can’t amend the agreement now.

  • Mark Suszko

    January 20, 2022 at 8:58 am

    You say this deal is valuable… I’d disagree, and suggest you close it down. In the end, it’s going to cost you more to keep chasing it. You are trapped in the “sunk cost fallacy”. Don’t take it for an insult: it isn’t. It happens to people every day in all walks of life, from business deals to creative projects to car and boat repairs to bad personal relationships, and usually it’s an un-involved, impartial stranger with the outsider perspective, who will point this out to the person trapped by the fallacy. That’s me.

    They have told you by their behavior who they are. If it happened one time, it could be forgiven. You gave them rope, they took it time and again, and now you’re the belayer on the side of the cliff, with no more pitons. They are never going to get better. This is costing you lost time you could be applying to better or at least different clients, building your business in other ways, or to do anything more productive. The situation is beyond saving and it’s time to walk away. There’s no shame in this. They were the abuser, not you. This next part is too late to help you on this gig, but I post it here for people who might fall into your situation in the future.

    What I tell people about working for charities is to not bill them, because once they have put any money down, all clients think they own you, even charity clients. ESPECIALLY charity clients.

    But…

    If you don’t bill the charity, you are free to walk at any time, and that may not seem important to you, but believe me when I say it makes a huge psychological difference in how the client feels they can treat your charitable contribution of time and talent. It’s a known phenomenon in sales psychology that people respect a freebie less than something they believe cost them something. Even if that “cost” is made up. Crazy? Yes. But absolutely this is human behavior you can count on. The way I suggest you do it, is to hand the charity an invoice up-front at the beginning of the project, for what you think is fair, marked: ” Total value of work: $xxx dollars, no charge”.


    “Mark, that’s a bill that doesn’t bring in cash, why would I do that!?!”


    Because first off they are all going to brag to everyone that they got (billed and comped amount) of work done for them, “free”. It establishes the value of your time and ability. It gives you credibility. Everyone loves a deal. They are going to brag and that’s free advertising for James’ work for other gigs that are payable gigs, and it’s coming not out of nowhere, but from the lips of people the other customers will find credible, versus someone they don’t know. This coincidentally scares off some of your competition that would have billed real money, because they needed to… But the best part comes next:

    When they tell you it’s great, but they wanna make a tiny change to three little things,… just the beginning, middle, and end… you can say: “You’ve used up all your free credit for this year already: I can only comp so much before it interferes with my paying client’s work and they have deadlines I’ve committed to. I could do what you want, but I’d need to get paid real money to interrupt the paying gigs and proceed.” And you are free to walk away. And they know it, so they will tend not to try to press. If they don’t come back at you with money, you escaped the wasted time catering to them, because they were never going to pay anyway. If they dawdle on deliverables, then complain to you, you can point back to the billing and explain again that cash makes the difference. Or not. You can just say you’re out of time. And mean it. There is a difference between comping a billing, and working for free. Get the distinction? Because James here, started with an actual billing, but due to the extra hours, he’s now not just working for free to finish the damn thing, he’s probably in negative income over it due to time stolen away from paying gigs with a future. Not his fault; he’s trying to be the good guy. But they don’t see it that way, in -their- heads.

    When they know they only have one shot at the beginning to control what you do, they won’t keep trying to tinker afterwards. You set the deadlines, not them, when you do the advance billing with the comp marked right on the bill.

    Why are you doing the charity work in the first place? I’ll tell you my philosophy on it. It’s not to try and get money off the charity. You are leveraging your contacts with the charity on this current project, to create future opportunities that DO pay well, not just with them directly, but ancillary contacts. You can use the charity work as a way to get close to other donors, patrons, and supporters, get known by those. You’re auditioning in front of the decision-makers instead of the gate-keepers. Think of it as using the kitchen entrance to get directly into the club and talk to the head guy, without wasting time at the front door full of bouncers and intermediaries and the like in your way. Next time the friends of that charity need a video, you are in their heads already. “Hey, I already know this guy that could do the project; his name is James, did a great deal with my favorite charity”. This assumes, of course, you did a great job on the charity project, worth the “virtual billing” you gave them.

    <i style=””>”There is a difference between comping a billing, and working for free.”- Mark Suszko

  • Eric Santiago

    January 20, 2022 at 3:02 pm

    Good stuff Mark, experiences I’ve run into and still dealing with.
    Hurts to read it knowing I fall into the same trap here 🙁

    I have walked away from a few and even put it up for auction with colleagues.

    Sadly, some of them come back to haunt me but I am better for experiencing it.

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