Getting Ghosted as a Freelancer When Working Remotely
If there’s one thing that bugs me more than anything else in life, it’s being ghosted.
Ghosting in a professional context is, well, unprofessional. It tells you that you’re not worth the truth, and leaves you questioning : ‘is it me, or is it them?’
You don’t quite know whether they are dealing with some personal issue, are stressed and busy, or just don’t have the bravery to tell you that they’d rather sever the ties for whatever reason.
Maybe it’s a combination of all of these. But I’d much rather be faced with a painful truth than be ghosted.
I’m currently reading the fabulous Ghosts by Dolly Alderton at the moment.
It’s based upon the same premise, yet applied to one young woman’s experience with dating apps:
“Anyone who’s been ghosted knows there’s nothing more compelling, horrifying, confusing and enigmatic. It’s like a mystery that traumatises and terrorises you; one that you’re desperate to solve” — Ghosts
Of course, we don’t ascribe the same emotional weight to being ghosted by a freelance client, but it still carries a sting in the tail.
It’s a relief to know the truth. You can just cut your losses and move on, gain feedback, and learn from the experience.
Sure, you might be a bit disappointed or upset, but at least you can understand exactly what happened instead of being in no man’s land.
No man’s land is not a place upon which you can grow or improve as a person if it was something you did.
Fortunately, 99% of clients are great. Ghosting hasn’t happened to me an awful lot in the past six years, but on those times when it has, I realise I’ve become a bit complacent and didn’t really do my due diligence. Our values never really lined up in the first place.
I’ve previously written about how it’s important to sharpen your intuition when remote working. Behind a screen, it’s easier to hide.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way. Consider these before you sign that freelance contract from a remote client, and block out sections of your calendar for them.
Review their credentials — do a google search
It’s easy to get excited by a client that seemingly matches your interests. But sometimes this means we don’t see the wood for the trees, and forget to do some due diligence on them.
Check them out on companies house. Find out if they have a solid standing in terms of revenue.
Working with startups is great and exciting, but you’ll find they are often very worried about cashflow, and therefore have a higher likelihood of ghosting if they’re not happy for any reason.
Make sure they have adequate contact information
Once I got ghosted from a remote freelance client, I realised that I didn’t actually have a telephone number for them. We did Google Hangouts, and Zooms, and had plenty of email exchanges. And they were on social media.
But it’s far easier to ignore emails than it is to ignore phone calls. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my due diligence — it was only in hindsight that I realised that was my only real way of reaching out.
Ask the client what the best telephone number is to reach them on should you need them.
Check who is responsible for invoicing
This one I haven’t always done, because I’ve assumed (never assume) that the person you’re in contact with is the one responsible for invoicing. But it’s not always the case. But when you work with a lot of entrepreneurs and CEO’s, the last thing they want is to be hassled for an overdue invoice — even if they are the one responsible for paying it.
“Before you agree to start work with a new client, find out the name and contact details of the person who will be responsible for paying invoices. Sometimes this may be an accountant, or finance department. Keep asking until someone takes ownership of paying invoices in advance and you’re much more likely to get paid on-time” — Coconut
If you’ve been ghosted and they owe you a ton of cash, there’s a number of further actions to take. Freelancers Union has found that more than 70 percent of clients have vanished into the ether when invoices are due. Tara Malone calls ghosting ‘a clear red flag’.
Try not to take it personally
Sometimes its difficult to know when the client has made a decision to ghost. They appear completely on board, perhaps even enthused to be working with you, but secretly they’re planning their exit strategy. That leaves even more head scratching when they finally do go AWOL.
You end up scouring back through emails — was it when I suggested that change? was it when I put my prices up? was it when I made an error?
Of course, it might not be anything to do with you.
They have their own reasons, so give yourself a certain amount of time to understand if there’s anything you can learn from, and after that, let it go.
Self-reflect, but don’t self-blame
One of the things I’ve come to learn is that you have to have a thick skin as a freelancer. Sometimes, it’s not about you — so try not to take a ghost personally. You can’t have 100% freelance success, all of the time, no matter how good you are.
There’s always going to be clients that disappoint you, that leave you frustrated and clash with your values. It’s how you handle them that counts.
“Weak and angry is not a great combination for running a thriving business. It kills your creative spirit, makes you resent your business and your clients, and sets you up for a cycle you’ll have a hard time breaking.” — Forbes
After all, it takes two people to be in a relationship. If they communicate in ways that you wouldn’t, well, that’s on them. If on balance, 95% of clients are happy with you, then you’re golden. You and the ghost simply weren’t a good fit.
Self-blame can only be destructive in the end, but self reflection can build a growth mindset. As long as you take the lessons from ghosters, they can even end up making your freelance mindset even stronger.
To those who ghost
I love this little card from Josh Bernoff. It’s a simple matrix that helps you to painlessly extricate yourself from a working relationship, should you wish to do so.
You’re safely behind your computer screen. Perhaps you’re even thousands of miles away from someone — it’s easier to bury your head in the sand and hope they’ll go away.
But even if you dislike the freelancer, it’s always worth treating another human being with respect. Here’s some good ways to say no with kindness.
Nobody likes to be ghosted. But it’s a common way of the world right now.
If we can take it lightheartedly, not identifying with potential reasons why this particular freelance client has become a ghost, we can build resilience and a more flexible, growth-orientated mindset.
Don’t get too lost in your mind as to why things have worked out the way they have.
Get back to your heart, your love of your craft, and move on to those who truly want to stick around.