As online small business owners, it is nothing out of the ordinary for inquirers—or even booked clients!—to stop responding to you after a few weeks of communication (aka being “ghosted”).
The term “ghosting” or “ghosted” means that someone has ended all communication with you without explaining why. When this happens it’s likely because they retained services elsewhere, are not wanting to pay you, have some personal issue going on, or simply changed their mind in some respect. Thus, what resources do you have if you already legally signed a contract with a client and now they have completely ceased communication with you? You have a few different options that we will go over below and TLP will explain what clauses you should put in your contract in order to get legally legit with your client's communication expectations.
Communication is Key!
As a business owner, it is important that you and your clients are working together and communicating consistently. This is especially true if you are working as a wedding planner, caterer, or in a service where you need your clients’ constant input throughout the entire duration of your relationship (from initial booking to contract completion). So, let's talk about how you can prevent ghosting from happening.
First and foremost, you should regularly communicate and contact a client from the very beginning to set the expectation on your end that you want the same in return. Make sure you are delivering progress updates and payment reminders. Also, let your clients know about your communication policies when you send over your contract for signing so they know their obligations upfront. If you have continually had ghosting situations or poor client communication, PLEASE make sure you change your workflow right now to ensure you are pointing out that clause to them PRIOR to booking with you. If you are in a situation where you fear they are ghosting you, you will want to build up some evidence referencing that you have attempted to reach out to them. You should do this by emailing the client multiple times, sending certified letters, and/or invoicing them the same receipt multiple times (then save all of this documentation in a tangible/virtual file somewhere). The goal here is to build a paper trail of the efforts you have made to communicate! Our point here is pretty clear: do not just call your clients because there is no paper trail.
You should also inquire about the reasons why they aren’t responding. It could be their own financial situation or personal circumstances. State the reason why you need to reach them and always ask if you can help in any way. It just might be that they need permission from you to ask or explain what they are going through. People are very guarded with personal issues, so oftentimes it's that they can’t find the words or energy to tell you what is going on. Your clients may simply be wanting to reschedule or set up a payment plan and are not sure how to bring it up. Of course, whether you are able to accommodate them is up to you, but at least your client will be talking to you again and you know what is going on.
Make Sure You Enforce Your Contract!
Here’s the thing, sometimes even when you have consistently attempted to communicate with your clients they will still full-blow ghost you. It sucks, but it happens more often than you think so just know you’re not alone in this. At that point, you need to legally enforce your communication clause and cancellation clause.
Step 1: Have a Communication Clause in Your Contract So You Can Enforce That Provision
A communication clause is so important because it sets guidelines and your business policies regarding what will happen if the client does not properly communicate. This clause speaks to the situation where your clients stop communicating to the point where you can no longer stay on the course of the project or your services without any delays. Your clause should explain the communication obligations for the clients to respond to you within a certain time period (via email/text/etc.) and if they don't then the clients cannot hold you liable for any project delays due to their lack of communication. This will protect you against lawsuits by the clients if a deadline is missed because they wouldn't email you back. Furthermore, some communication clauses such as seen in wedding planning contracts go even more in-depth and explain the consequences of intentional ghosting by your clients. For planners, once you send out 2-3 notices that you need communication to move forward with your planning services when they then ghost you and don’t respond you want your clause to explain that you have the right to unilaterally terminate the agreement and keep all fees paid.
The good news is TLP has three communication clauses for every type of business that you can copy and paste into your existing contract:
These clauses are unique to the type of service you are providing. Obviously, a wedding planner will need a heftier communication clause versus a photographer because a planner is working more closely with their clients for many months. Therefore, it is important you use the communication clause specific to your business type.
Step 2: Have a Termination Clause and/or Cancellation Clause in Your Contract So You Can Enforce That Provision
Another incredibly important clause of any contract is your termination or cancellation clause. Whether you are signing a contract for yourself or with a client there should ALWAYS be a termination or cancellation clause. When it comes to ghosting, you need a legal way to get out of the contract and still be paid for your work.
This clause should specifically outline the reasons the contract can be canceled, what happens if it is canceled, requirements for any additional payments for services performed that are due by the client, and even if an additional cancellation fee is in effect. For example, a good clause to include is a “Cancellation of Services by Company Clause” that explains you are able to cancel as the service provider in the event of a complete breakdown of communication and that the client will be held responsible for all costs incurred up to the point of termination. With this type of unilateral cancellation clause, you are immediately giving yourself the right to terminate the contract without legal repercussions and state at the get-go that you will be keeping the retainer and seeking any additional payments owed.
Step 3: ACTUALLY ENFORCE YOUR CONTRACT
Be aware that if your clients owe you money after you have terminated the contract due to a ghosting issue, getting that money may be a little difficult. Yes, you should initially send an email or letter explaining that they have breached the contract and invoice them for any amounts due. Then, you need to decide if you want to take the legal step of taking your client to small claims court. But, that will cost you money and time and you have to decide whether going through small claims court is right for you and your business.
TLP has a helpful blog on this exact issue to help you answer the question of Should I Go To Small Claims Court? Regardless of whether you decide to take that step to go to small claims court, be aware that you are not out completely because you should have received a non-refundable retainer and maybe some other payments which should make up for the time and money lost. That is exactly why you have a non-refundable retainer in your contract to make sure you are always receiving some kind of hefty payment right off the bat upon booking your client.
As much as business owners try to keep clients engaged and active during the contractual process, it is important to recognize when a lack of engagement turns into ghosting.
More importantly, it is critical to know what to do if you are being ghosted. Your time and services should never be wasted on ghosted contracts, especially when they initially resulted in you losing other clients by closing that date on your calendar. Remember, contracts are legally binding documents that need to be fulfilled and enforced even if the client changes their mind. Make sure you have a solid communication clause and a termination/cancelation clause in your contract. TLP has everything you need to make sure you stay legally protected so check out our clauses.