I am working as part time remote contractor, developing custom solutions, and integrating various web services. As always, some clients expect that their solutions will be complete in just a few hours, and that I will spend my whole 24 hours day on it.

Yesterday I had an university exam, and also worked a shift at my full-time job. Even though I had told my customer that I would be unavailable a day in advance, he is now not replying to my communications.

I fear that they may be somehow upset with me. I have done more over than 70 percent of project, I and have about 8 hours left to finish. I don't want this work to go to waste. Should I contact them and apologize? How should I offer such an apology in a professional manner?

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    It is unclear what you want to apologize for. Did you agree to a certain deadline and miss it? Do you just want to apologize that the response time was outside your usual response time? Does your contract state a response time limit? – John Hammond Nov 21 '15 at 13:03
  • @LarsFriedrich, I have updated question. Do I have even apologize, and how? There is no certain deadline, but I haven't updated my client with current status of project and time schedule. There is no response time limit. – Alan Kis Nov 21 '15 at 13:39
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    Are you sure your client isn't just busy doing other things? – Jane S Nov 21 '15 at 22:21
  • Perhaps your customer is on holiday today. – Simon B Nov 21 '15 at 23:04

There's a whole list of issues to address here:

1. Set deadlines

You should NOT get into a project without some kind of deadline, or at least discussing the time-frame involved. It's unprofessional, and can only lead to trouble down the road.

Let the customer explain what they want, and then give them your best estimate of how long it's going to take you - multiplied by three. I'm not joking. If you think it's going to take you 1 day, say 3. 2 weeks? Say six. Unexpected things crop up. Don't promise the world, then fail to deliver because then you'll be in situations like this, where you're anxiously wondering how to apologize.

2. Define the scope

Always get the customer to agree to the changes you're going to be making in writing. That way no confusion can arise about the finished products, and also about the time it's going to take you to implement something.

If you get to work thinking you need to accomplish X,Y, but the customer then e-mails you and says he also expects Z done, then you have grounds for renegotiation. You can extend the deadline, ask for more money, or both. But if you didn't write anything down, how can you "prove" that you didn't just miss him asking that the first time you discussed the job? You may find yourself backed into a corner, and having to do a lot more work in the same time frame.

3. Set boundaries

Communicate important updates to your customer, by all means. But I would hesitate to make myself available to them all the time. If you can't pick up the phone, or don't communicate for a day due to other obligations you should not feel that you need to apologize (unless you promised an update on that particular day). You do this part time, while working another job and going to school. It's unreasonable to place yourself entirely at the customer's pleasure. Make sure they understand that you will always reply to an email/return a call, within the next 24 hrs, for example. That sets an expectation, and doesn't leave the customer wondering if you're avoiding them

Good luck!

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  • Excellent answer, I would just add regarding #3, it is also important to give enough notice. When working part time as a student, I would plan the days off the moment I had the exam dates and then would communicate them to my manager. This usually gave a few weeks notice – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 22 '15 at 11:01

As far as I can tell, you told your client that you will be unavailable, it is part of your contract that you can be unavailable (by the mere fact that you did not agree to be available) and your client did not request that you are available when you told them that you are not.

I don't think that it is necessary to apologize. As far as I can tell, it would only raise the flag that there was a delay, while at the moment it is unclear for the client whether your unavailability (which can mean a lot of different things) had any affect on the project.

I would focus on selling your results in a positive way when you are finished.

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No, don't apologize. But for the future, do learn to spell out in your contract the kind of response time you expect from your own client.

In your case, you clearly communicated that you were not going to be available. In the case of your client, he didn't communicate anything to you, so you have no idea if that person took an extended vacation in advance of Thanksgiving, or if that person had a heart attack, or if he's giving you the silent treatment, or if he gave up on you entirely after you reminded him you were going to be unavailable.

That is completely unacceptable. Remote contracting is difficult as it is. It needs to have clear rules of communications between both the contractor and the client, that both parties need to abide by.

Also, you need to have a contingency plan in place in case a client abandons you midway through a project, or if the client doesn't have the time to talk to you, or changes the project to something else entirely, or if a client doesn't pay you.

By the way, it does sound like there is some uncertainty about getting paid for this contract. Having not planned for that contingency, I still think you should finish the work even if you don't hear from him, but that's just my opinion. Ultimately, you know more about the situation than I do. If the work requires his feedback, then you're stuck I suppose. Or if you really believe in your gut that the client has abandoned you and won't be paying you, you might as well pause your project now (assuming it doesn't hurt your chances of suing him and assuming you would be willing to sue if it came to that).

But either way, if what you said is accurate, do not apologize. An apology will train your client to treat you unprofessionally anytime he wants and get away with it. Also, an apology may be used against you if you do try to sue for payment, so be careful about what you say to him.

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  • I totally agree with you. Initial problem is that a lot of things haven't been set up from start. Like deadline, updates frequency and other. I will not apologize, because I see that there is no need for that, I will just update client with project status. Thanks Stephan. – Alan Kis Nov 21 '15 at 21:58

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