Failing your First Client

Anyone who works as a freelancer or contractor knows that managing your own clients has its ups and downs. However, new freelancers often neglect to consider the possibility of failing one of their clients. It’s not pleasant to think about but you are bound to fall short of a client’s expectations sooner or later.

Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do with failure is to learn from it. Here is what I learned from failing my first client. I’m hoping to pass the savings on to you in hopes that you’ll save yourself some embarrassment and reduce your chances of failing a client. But first…

Story Time

I was freelancing for a few weeks on My expertise was in web development but I was searching for low pay/low demand jobs to build a reputation on Upwork. I fought especially hard for a project that caught my eye. The client wanted a web dashboard to automate his Instagram accounts.  My job: to create a web front end to call and pass arguments to a Python script. Easy enough. I’d have it done in three days tops.

I got the gig! Smooth sailing for the first 2 days. Then I got stuck. The Python script stopped working (Instagram changed some things and maintainers of the script rewrote parts of the code). I could no longer test the application. After they fixed the script, I ran into trouble elsewhere.

To make a long story short, I invested a week of work into this project for WAY less than minimum wage. I was scared to fail my client. I was scared of ruining my reputation. Then I bit the bullet and explained to my client that I was unable to complete the project (After he had fronted me $100).

Lessons Learned from Failing a Client

1. Get out sooner rather than later

Once you know that you will be unable to deliver, tell your client immediately. This is best for you and your client. Swallow your fears of rejection and face the facts. You are likely to upset your client (especially if they already have put money into the project). Terminating the contract is better than hanging on and wasting everyone’s time.

2. Understand the client’s situation

Take a moment to understand the client’s losses (financial, time, energy, etc.) and the additional resources that the client will need to spend to complete the project. The better you can understand the client’s situation the better you can express yourself to the client and reduce damage to your reputation and perception as a professional.

3. Reflect on the experience

You have failed. Own it. Learn from it. Identify the early signs that should have been red flags.



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