I recently parted ways with a client and not on good terms. It was one of the worst experiences. As a people-pleaser, I go beyond my scope of work to make sure my clients are well taken care of. I typically work for more hours than I invoice them, and this client was not happy.
We both are to blame. Although we communicated frequently, it clearly wasn’t effective communication. Let me give a vague overview of the situation. “Beth” and I met at a networking event. She wanted a photo book made for her husband’s birthday as a surprise. I was excited to help and we met in person so I could scan her photographs.
When we had first began I understood the project to be due by his birthday three months after the first meeting. I scanned the photos at my office and returned them the next week. Beth began emailing more photos and texting some to my phone. She also gave me a Groupon certificate to a photo book editor. I hadn’t used this program before, but I was confident I could manage the project still.
I created a PowerPoint presentation with most of the pictures I had received to ensure I was placing the pictures in chronological order. Beth and I went through the presentation and added quotes from their family about her husband. Beth seemed happy with the order, but noted some of the photos were missing. I acknowledged that I couldn’t get the photos that were texted to me off the phone. I mentioned that my husband might be able to help, but I couldn’t guarantee anything.
I had attempted several times and couldn’t get my technology to work. I was also struggling with the photo editing program. It crashed my computer each time I tried to upload the pictures. Clearly this project wasn’t going smoothly anymore, but I was sure that I could complete this project by Beth’s husband’s birthday.
Two weeks later, I received a text message saying that she needed the book completed that morning and ordered that same day. I was shocked. I called her back once I was out of my meeting. I let her know about the technical issues I had been having, and I apologized for not letting her know sooner. Beth and I agreed that I should finish the project using Shutterfly. I assured her that I would be done and we could have the book shipped in plenty of time.
That same night I had a first draft completed and I sent her the login information. I told her that I had just worked on the photo selection and order, and had not added the quotes. She was very unhappy with the results. After reviewing the book and finding a few duplicate photos, she emailed very upset. I apologized again and said that it was just a first draft and I would absolutely add different pictures and complete the project before the due date.
The next day, I received more text messages and emails from Beth. She was incredibly frustrated with how long the project was taking and the quality of service. I apologized and assured her that I was diligently working on completing the book. I added the last few pictures and quotes and sent her a message that the book was done.
But she was too upset. She called to terminate the project. Understandably, we were both frustrated. I emailed all of her pictures back and am left questioning every mistake I made.
How could this have happened?
One extremely major mistake was that I did not have a contract in place. I should have written out in black and white, how many pictures I would accept and in what format. I should have chosen the photo editing program and I should have had a delivery date in clear writing. Because I was sure that I could finish this project and in plenty of time, I didn’t worry about writing everything down. As the project progressed, I was receiving more and more pictures in many different formats, the project had new and different requirements, and the due date kept changing. Just this basic, obvious step of having a contract should have prevented our two very different views of how the project was going.
I feel horrible about how the whole thing ended. Horrible. And I take full responsibility. I should have known better. She doesn’t have a completed book to gift her husband and I am out more than ten hours of paid work. What I hate the most is that I have an unhappy client.
I’m writing this all, not for sympathy, or to point fingers, just to be completely open and honest. I made a huge mistake and I’m very sorry for the distress my client suffered and I don’t ever want to make this mistake again.