It's all in your paperwork. If they put down a deposit against an agreed upon timeline, you need to have a clause in your contract that stipulates "this rate and estimate is current at the time of the quote and subject to change.", along with other stipulations as you see fit in running your business.
As for the current client, if you have documentation of all of your communications over the last year, I would compile those into a list, and send them a certified letter with the list stating they have until _X_ date to start the remainder of their project, or their estimate is void, you will move on and require a new commitment/contract if they want to pursue the project later.
Legally, you're in the clear to pocket the deposit since you've rendered billable services, assuming that you're up to date on your taxes for the time worked. If they had paid you for the remainder of the project though it would be a different hassle.
Uncommitted clients are some of the worst to deal with. Good luck with these ones!
thanks Mike, thats good solid advice.
Uncommited clients are a real threat to my business, hopefully this will help others but I generally wont visit a client or get involved until they have emailed me a "reasonable" specification of requirements.
This action teases out a reasonable commitment.
You can't really "handle" this. I had many of these. They simply left you just like they left us. This is exactly we require a payment up front, because we put time into analysis and writing specs and a proposal. If they don't pay for it, who will?
I actually have a client who's been "processing" the payment for the project for month. I know, they will pay, whenever the money gets pushed through the corporate pipe, but we're not developing for them in the meantime.
So, move on, work for other people. There are a lot of people out there who want work and are willing to pay for it.
-Talk about staff time and committment upfront. Get someone designated to be your contact person for development.
-For slammed clients, consider a third party "Project Manager." This person can take the weight off their staff and be the "bully" pressing them to meet timelines.
-Get buy in from the boss. If staff aren't fullfilling, he/she can crack the whip.
-More aggressive terms. Get a bigger deposit that covers more discovery so you can start developing, not just spec things out. Stipulate anticipated monthly billing (and start billing it). Bill enough to actually deliver something they can view and respond to.
-Stop specing things out and consider an Agile/RAD development approach. This can move projects faster and get better client buyin.
These clients obviously aren't committed to the projects. They just wanted to pay you enough to find out what it would cost.
I agree with Mike, Agnes and Bob on this one. Being an internal Project Manager in addition to wearing many other hats, I've seen first hand the challenges that uncommitted clients can cause.
Either they have 'tested' the waters and paid you just enough to get what they'd consider an inexpensive outline and quote in order to 'shop' for these services elsewhere, or they're just not understanding the value of what you're offering. Depending on the size of the project, it may be worth it for you to make an attempt to communicate as high on the command ladder as possible to remind them what agreement they entered in to and to advise them of all the value they continue to lose as they don't complete the process. Once you do this, like Agnes says, move on and bill elsewhere. Unfortunately, some clients will be very committed until it's time to be committed.
Like Mike and Bob, have very specific terms and deadlines for your clients to make payment, have meetings, review progress, etc. Make sure that you can have a deliverable, even if a small one, within the initial deposit so they can implement the segment and start seeing the pay off. Moving forward, try and determine what specific pain points cost them and work this into your agreement so they can be clear that feature xxx will prevent xxx from happening saving the company an estimated xxxx, just as an example.
We are religious about requiring a SPOC (single point of contact) from day one. The project doesn't start until a SPOC has been appointed and prepped and we continue to work with this person through the entire project and long after. This will help aleviate some of the issues you're having now as you've already qualified this person to be your eyes, ears and mouth within the organization.
Bob nailed it with recommending Agile / Scrum methodologies, use short sprints and committ your client (hopefully a SPOC) to meeting with you on a regularly scheduled basis so you both can ensure progress.
If all else fails and you're left with a speced out project and a deposit, and you've completed your end of the deal based on the documentation agreed upon by the client, there's nothing else you can do but pocket the money for what you've built and move along until they come back to finish what they started. When it's time to renew their licenses / maintenance, you'll have an ideal opportunity to negotiate a restart of their project and based on your previous dealings with them, you may decide you'd like pre-payment for all development and consulting rendered.
Business Development Director