4 Ways to Get Your Stalled Freelancing Project Unstuck

You never thought it would happen to you. You’ve landed your dream freelancing project. You’ve been working on it for a while now, when all of the sudden you find you just can’t go any further. You’re stuck!

There are a number of reasons why a freelancing project might get stuck. In this post, we identify four of those reasons and explain how to overcome each reason.

(A special thank-you to our Freelance Folder forum moderator Behzad Jamshidi, who is also the creative director and owner at DesignFacet, for suggesting this topic.)

Why Your Freelancing Project Might Get Stuck

Here are some reasons why a project might get stuck, and some suggestions for getting it unstuck.

1. You took on too much work.
You failed to estimate how much effort each project would take, or even worse, you didn’t bother to estimate the amount of effort required before accepting the project. Now, you have more work than you can possibly do and you’re overwhelmed.

Solution: The way I see it, you have three choices: you can either work around the clock to meet your commitments (and vow never to make this mistake again), if your contract with the client allows for it you can bring in subcontractors, or you can ask the client for an extension. All of these options have advantages, and disadvantages. My personal choice would be to bring in a subcontractor.

2. You don’t have the skillset to proceed.
Maybe you misunderstood the project requirements, or maybe you were counting on learning new skills on the job. It doesn’t matter. The result is the same. You’re in over your head and the project is stuck because you don’t know enough to finish it.

Solution: If you have a loose deadline on the project, you may be able to find a tutorial on the subject you are weak on or even take a class to learn the skills you need. If the contract allows for it, you may be able to bring in a subcontractor to handle the parts you don’t understand. In a tight time frame, you may just have to come clean with the client and admit that there’s more to the project than you can handle.

3. You don’t have enough information from the client to go on.
Sometimes the client is actually the hold up. Maybe they hired you on the basis of your past work and promised to provide details later and now those details are not forthcoming. Or, maybe you have a question that you need to have answered before you can proceed.

Solution: Take the project as far as you can without the client’s help and then let them know that you are stuck. You can say something like, “I can’t proceed further until you answer my question and I may not be able to deliver on X Date, as we planned.” If you still don’t get a response, put the project on hold and let the client know why. “Since I haven’t heard from you regarding Y, I am going to put this project on hold indefinitely.”

4. The client puts the project on hold.
The project started well and you’ve successfully completed the first few phases. However, in the middle of the project things change. Suddenly, the client slows down their communications with you. Then, they ask you to stop working on the project. Finally, they stop answering your emails altogether.

Solution: This is one of the toughest situations a freelancer can face. The truth is that sometimes client priorities change and contracts do get canceled. Try to get a clarification from your client as to the status of the project. If you suspect the underlying issue is money, you may be able to revive the project by offering the client more favorable terms such as spreading payments over time.

It Happened to Me

When I started out as a freelancer, a potential client contacted me about creating user documentation for a new program he was developing. I spent a great deal of time mapping out how I would help him develop an online help system for his application. He even gave me access to a beta version of his program and I started to get into the details of what it did.

Suddenly, just before the project was to officially start, he stopped answering his emails. Naturally, I tried to contact him using every piece of contact information that I had. Finally, several months later, he sheepishly admitted that his funding had dried up.

I never did get to work on the help system for that application, and as far as I know, it was never launched as a product.

What About You?

Can you think of other reasons why a project might get stuck? Do you have other methods for getting a project unstuck?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.