Freelancers sometimes abandon projects in the middle, even if they realize they would not get paid.

Reasons for such action could be traced back to the employer (the project manager), who is making the freelancer unhappy with the payment/ with way the project is being run/ with the overall communication process/ with lack of support and tools/ etc.

Equally possible is that the reasons for abandoning a project may lay with the freelancer himself - e.g. he is generally unprofessional/ gets bored easily/ took over more projects than he could handle/ etc.

My question is about the latter case. Let's assume everything is perfect on behalf of the employer (the project manager). How could you predict inclination in a freelancer to abandon a project (upon hiring that freelancer or within the first few days of work)?

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    Within the first few days? I'd have serious concerns about the assumption that "everything is perfect on behalf of the employer" but other than that, I'd say that the work wasn't what was advertised. – Michael Dec 30 '13 at 15:47
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about managing your business not navigating the workplace. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 30 '13 at 15:51
  • @ Joe Strazzere - well, I am asking about the case with any freelancer, in general. As far as past performance is concerned - without any doubt, that would be the best predictor, but I would need to contact the previous clients of that freelancer which is hardly possible. And in the case of placing a bid, I would need to do that with all bidders. – drabsv Dec 30 '13 at 16:00
  • @ Chad - I posted it with the intention of asking a recruitment-related question (and recruitment is about the workplace, isn't it), only illustrated within the context of managing my business. – drabsv Dec 30 '13 at 16:03
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    @drabsv - of course you're only going to get the good references, but it's better than nothing. Even if you identified someone who was not happy with this person's work, you may not be able to tell who is at fault. Don't let perfect get in the way of good. – user8365 Dec 31 '13 at 16:01

Good old fashioned due diligence is the best place to start. Look for freelancers with a good reputation, proven completion records and past experience. Where possible, use people you've worked successfully with in the past and so on. Bad freelancers get found out pretty quickly and word tends to spread, but it all depends on exactly what you're hiring for and how.

That said, I think you're asking the wrong question because, in truth, it's almost impossible to know what somebody else is thinking or is going to do. What you should be thinking about is how to mitigate against the possibility, regardless of probability. For example, spreading work out rather than using one person for everything (Though this may also have its challenges), ensuring proper contracts with milestone payments and so on. It may even be possible to leave room to sue for project failure where the freelancer is liable, but in practice this may be hard, if not impossible, to prove or claim for.

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  • "it's almost impossible to know what somebody else is thinking or is going to do" - well, while that is generally true, some types of behaviours and attitudes go with well patterned clues. I am wondering if there are some proven clues which I just do not know about. – drabsv Dec 30 '13 at 15:58

Some hints that someone is likely to "bail out" on you:

  1. More complaints than solutions - If your freelancer has more complaints about the project that s/he does solutions, then you really should prepare yourself for a possible early departure.
  2. More than the "average" number of emergencies - Everybody has personal emergencies; it's part of life. That being said, someone who has weekly or daily personal emergencies is probably not interested in what they are doing and will probably leave, regardless of payment, prior to completion.
  3. Office poison - Along the lines of "locker room poison" in sports, an extremely negative person who makes the environment around them unhappy and unpleasant. This type of person is never happy with anything and will likely leave, as your project will never measure to the "standards" which they have set for themselves and others.
  4. Bad start - For one reason or another an initial misunderstanding (on your part or theirs) has never reconciled. WHile at first the person seems to be a professional, they never get over the initial negative feeling and they leave as a result.
  5. The "over-committer" - In an effort to maximize their earning potential, someone has taken your project and several others. WHen they determine (almost always too late) that they are unable to keep up with all of the work that they have saddled themselves with, they either fall behind and then leave or simply leave.

While there many variables, the above commonalities can usually be found when a freelancer decides to leave a project prior to completion. The best that can be done is to have one or more Plan "B's" to compensate for if/when this might occur.

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My freelancer/contractor habits formed when I was in my early 20s. Initially I found I was a 'collector' - I liked having lots of open jobs since it felt good to be needed. About 18 months into doing this I realized I wasn't getting anything finished for anyone, so I started to cut back. Overcommitment is the most common problem, and it is usually due to limited understanding of one's own capacities.

I've found that I can handle two clients, and perhaps a third in reserve, with the general understanding that the first client is 'core' and I do most of my billable work for that client. The second client is a lower priority, generally with limited budget, limited objectives, 'maintenance mode', etc. where I can work on their stuff to keep them running but it isn't major development. The third client, if any, is 'landed' - they are committed to doing the project, but they are aware that I can't really pick up their work until the project I'm working on now shifts from 'major effort' to 'maintenance'. I won't solicit work for a new major effort if the one I'm currently doing is expected to last more than six months.

If one is interviewing a freelancer, one would have to find out 'where they are' and 'where you are' - if they have a major project and you're asking them to do a major project you're out of luck. If they have one client and you want them to do maintenance the two of you have compatible objectives.

Unprofessional behavior includes things like stringing the client along - 'yeah I'm working on it I'll have something for you at the end of the week' - this for six months straight. If they aren't talking to you about current and emerging requirements they probably aren't writing any code - in any project I've ever done I had to get clarifications from the customer every few days. If you have a remote login arrangement and you don't see any activity for an unusual amount of time they're not paying any attention to your project.

What you want to get is a perspective on is how many open bookings the freelancer currently has. If they have more than two 'major projects' don't proceed further. If they have a single project, see if it's likely that the client will ask for the 'next phase' once this one is done. A point to remember is that an existing client is 'the devil you know' - they've set up their billing and spending habits around the client's payment performance - if yours is different it would have to be 'better'. If the existing client wants the freelancer to start a new phase this project might displace yours.

Some freelancers have a 'lot of little' things going on and no large scale project. I would run into someone what would spend months nailing down six week long jobs. 'Major' development projects normally last around 18 months, so a contractor should have one of these, and this will obviously involve a budget in the $100,000 range. If you're asking someone to do a two week job, and that's similar to most of the other stuff they're doing, they're spending most of their time out getting business instead of doing billable work. If they have had 'large' projects in the recent past, this is OK - they will most likely pick up another which will diminish their distractions. If there doesn't seem to be any prospects for the big job on the horizon, your project is prioritized in relation to the marketing effort rather than the production effort.

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    Would it be safe to say that you provide regular progress reports, major milestone deliverables, and communicate with your clients? By not doing these things ( and more that I didn't list ) it might be safe to assume the project might be in trouble? – Donald Dec 31 '13 at 12:56
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    @Ramhound - Those are certainly signs. 'Failure to communicate' means lack of involvement, for whatever reason that is. Those, however, might be a bit farther down the road that what the OP is asking - it sounds like he or she is trying to figure out whether it's going bad out of the starting gate. – Meredith Poor Dec 31 '13 at 17:45
  • I was just trying to confirm what I believed to be your thought process. I would agree, the author is indeed looking for warning signs, before any work is completed. Without having a working history of said contractor, those warning signs simply might not exist, and even then a contractor could have taken on to much work ( and you indicate from personal experience ) turn around and have to decrease the work load they accepted which might include the author's work. – Donald Dec 31 '13 at 17:51

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