Sometimes you simply can’t save a project. So when and how should you consider walking away? What factors should you consider?

Sunk Assets

One of the major psychological factors in trying to stick out a project or a client that just isn’t working is our sunk assets. We think about all the time, effort and energy that has gone into acquiring this client and starting to do the work. That perceived loss is hard to shake and this is why people stick with that boyfriend they don’t love any more.

It’s important to shift the mindset from “money you’re loosing” to “money you could lose.”

Let’s say you’re doing 2 days work for £500. You’ve got £250 up front. Now the project has gone wrong, the client wants a million changes and you’ve spent a full day trying to sort it out. So you’ve now done 2 days work and the project isn’t finished. You are currently down £250 of potential earnings because the day you spent saving this project could have been spent working.

At this stage you speak to your client and say “okay we’ve sorted your problem, give me your final changes.” At this stage you have potentially done 4 days work for the price of two. You are technically £500 down BUT you’ve salvaged the project, that client might come back and make it worth your while.

On the other hand it’s completely possible that you can invest another day and still not get paid. This keeps going because you think “I don’t want to loose that £250.” where as in fact if you were to walk away you are potentially stopping yourself from doing £750 worth of work and still not getting paid.

Don’t forget that if you’ve protected yourself with watermarks etc that the client also looses out if you can’t come to an arrangement and they will likely not want to cut their losses.

Serve Your Client

If your boots are made for walking, and you’ve been at odds with this client then my next piece of advice will sound odd. Serve them really well. One easy thing to do is to try and find an alternative solution that “might be able to better serve your needs.” I’m not saying you unload a mad client onto your best mate, but give them a few ideas on who else could perform this service. This demonstrates that you only have their best interests at heart, that you won’t put up with their BS, and often might see them being the ones trying to salvage things.  If I ever get low balling clients, I often say “have you cosidered working with your local uni?” as an example


Most of the time I would advise if you’ve done most of the work, don’t offer to repay the deposit.  As with above I know from a client’s POV it’s a major worry that you pay someone half the money and they just disappear but that’s a different scenario to this. If a client asks and you’ve done the work and it fits the brief then don’t give it back.

Legal Stuff

If you are thinking of walking away then certainly have a good look through your brief, and any contracts to ensure that you are covered. You should give a client a terms and conditions document giving you the right to walk away to avoid a potential court date.

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Awesome Works

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