Cinder Design Co.
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When Clients "Ghost"

Ghosting - the practice of ending a relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Imagine you go on a date. You really like the person and you're excited to see what happens in the future. You meet a few times, have a couple great conversations, and you're beginning to know them really well. Now imagine, after weeks or months of cultivating a relationship, they disappear. They don't show up to planned dates or respond to emails/texts. You think to yourself, what happened? Was it something I said? Were they never actually interested? Were they stringing me along? How can I keep this from happening again?

Professional ghosting is a very similar situation. For us, any potential client is the beginning of a new relationship. We work hard and spend a great deal of time and money getting to know the client, their business, and their needs. To have a client completely disappear after all of that (unpaid) work is incredibly frustrating and can negatively affect our business.



Every potential client is an investment. If a person or company reaches out to us, there are a lot of steps we take to understand the project so we can provide the most accurate estimate. We have several meetings and invest a great deal of time, energy, and resources into understanding the scope of work, developing a design plan, and writing a very thorough proposal. From the client, we expect honest and open communication. If for some reason a project fails to start due to budget or another issue, it's best to mention it as soon as possible. 


When reaching out to a designer or agency, be sure it’s a serious inquiry. If you're unsure what to expect regarding the design process or have an undefined budget, mention it upfront. At the beginning, we give a ballpark estimate and a breakdown of our process so the client has an idea of what to expect. This helps to limit any surprises when we hand the project proposal to them. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Ghosting often happens because people want to avoid a difficult conversation. For us, the most difficult part of a client disappearing is not knowing what happened. Is the budget not what was expected? Does the project need to be put on hold for a few months? Did business partners decide that they didn't want to move forward with the project? Did another agency feel like a better fit? If the project isn’t moving forward, let the designer or agency know. This prevents the relationship from getting ruined and leaves the potential for a collaboration in the future. Most design professionals are understanding and willing to work with the client to come up with to a solution.

Also, we all learn from our mistakes. Every time a proposal is rejected, we learn how to make the next one stronger. Giving feedback to the designer or agency about why you didn't select them over another designer helps everyone grow.

It’s a huge disappointment when clients ghost. The sunk costs are painful when a project doesn’t pan out, but it’s even more painful to waste valuable time and energy following up and saving calendar space for a project that, it turns out, is totally dead. We’re all human and we all deserve honest and respectful communication.
— Becca Kennedy, @becca_kennedy, Kennason



Any potential client or new project can be exciting, but over time we’ve learned to notice red-flags and when to “proceed with caution”. We've noticed that if a potential client doesn’t thoroughly answer questions about project specifics, they're not taking the process seriously and have a higher chance of being difficult or disappearing.

It’s also important to keep the client engaged. Set clear expectations and dates for when they can expect your proposal. Keep your clients updated on project progress. If you need the client to send feedback by a certain day, make sure that’s clearly explained. If the client isn't responsive, it’s important to address it early. It will avoid stressful situations later when deadlines aren't being met because the client disappeared or communication faded. It's also important to explain the consequences of slow feedback, mainly, project deadlines get pushed back accordingly. Always make sure it’s clear who the decision makers are. Don’t make the mistake of going all the way through the proposal to learn that the person you’ve been working with doesn’t have the power to move the project forward.

It has given us a callus for the weaker clients. We’re tougher on the first conversation with clients and discussing budget immediately. There have been a few that agree on the rough budget and then go dark after getting the proposal. We just keep discussing this occurrence with our peers to find out their tricks for avoiding scenario or clients like this altogether. Design Customer Service is a post grad class that never ends.
— PJ Engel, @pj_engel, Bear Design Co.

If you’ve had a client ghost on you or have tips that help you keep clients responsive and engaged in a project, comment below!