how to deal with a client who’s always late or no-shows

A reader writes:

I’m a consultant in a professional service field. I work from home and all of my clients are elsewhere, so our meetings are always over the phone or Skype. For the most part, I love my clients, but one of them has a chronic problem with being late or simply blowing off our scheduled meetings entirely.

This client is basically a department of one within his company, so I know he’s regularly swamped. But this isn’t something that has happened once or twice; almost every other meeting, he’s either running 20-30 minutes late or he just straight up doesn’t show without letting me know he’s tied up (I’m typing this very email while waiting for him on a conference line).

For reference, we meet once a week and I hold an hour time slot for it, so I’ve usually worked my schedule around being free during that hour and have to shuffle the rest of my day around to accommodate him. Also, we meet at the same time on the same day each week; it’s not as if he could be forgetting we had something scheduled! Finally, and most annoying, he often requests last-minute meetings for “urgent” matters, which I move things around to accommodate, and then sometimes he doesn’t show for those, either. Grr!

Other than this late/no-show issue, this is an awesome client who I truly enjoy working with. It’s not an account I want to ditch, nor do I want to come off as out of line for raising an issue when his company is the one paying me (by the way, they’re on a retainer, so I get paid the same whether we meet or not, but meeting regularly is critical to our workflow). Should I bring it up, and if so, how do I do it tactfully? Or, is this one of those quirks I just have to deal with for a client who’s otherwise great and pays on time each month?

If you weren’t getting paid for that time, you’d absolutely need to bring it up, probably in the context of telling him that you were going to need to start charging for that time. But that’s already taken care of, so that’s good.

But yes, if it’s affecting your workflow, you should raise it. A tactful way to frame it is something like this: “You’ve been pretty late to our meetings recently, or missed them outright. I want to make sure that we have the time we need to keep X moving, so is there a better time for us to schedule these that will work for you more reliably?”

The advantage of that language is that it’s pointing out the problem, but it’s not a scolding — you’re framing it as “let’s solve this problem,” which is a more tactful way to approach it, particularly since this is a client.

And who knows, it’s possible that changing the day or time of these calls will solve the problem. But if he says the time of the calls is fine, then say something like this: “Because I’m holding the time for you and not offering it to other clients, and because touching base regularly is so crucial to our workflow, is there anything else we can do to ensure that you’re able to reliably make the calls?”

And you could also say, “If nothing else, will you let me know if you’re not going to be able make it? That way I won’t keep holding the time.”

That might be all it takes. Naming the problem and making it clear that it is a problem might be enough to get him to take your meeting times more seriously. Sometimes people who blow off appointments convince themselves that the other person doesn’t really care, or even that the person will be happy to have some time freed up for other things. Letting him know that’s not the case may take care of it.

If it doesn’t, then at that point you can say something like, “We’ve really got to meet once a week because of Reasons X and Y, so I think we need a different system. What would work better on your end?” Again, it’s not a lecture — it’s “here’s a work problem that we need to solve.”

But at that point, it might also be worth reexamining if you really need to have a standing weekly call. Maybe you absolutely do, but maybe it would be more practical to switch to every other week, or maybe some of the work you’re doing can be done via email or another method that doesn’t require him to be available at specific times.

Meanwhile, though, you don’t need to keep accommodating those last-minute meeting requests — especially if you carve out time for him on short notice and then he doesn’t show up! That’s quite disrespectful of your time, and it would be reasonable for you to decide that you’re not going to do that for him any more. Plus, if he thinks that he can schedule time with you at the last minute whenever he needs it, that might be making him more cavalier about keeping the regular weekly meetings. If he knows that’s the only time he’ll be able to talk to you that week, he might treat it more seriously.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    The standing meeting is not a priority for him. I think he feels that it’s an opportunity for him to check in with any issues that aren’t as urgent, and if he doesn’t have any, well, he’ll skip it.
    And considering he skips urgently requested meetings, you need to rethink if you want to schedule meetings with this guy at all.
    Maybe there’s some Sharepoint type matrix you can use to communicate status and get your questions answered.

    1. BRR*

      It might be a priority for him. I work with several people like this and sometimes urgent things come up, but they also have poor time management and organization skills. It truly amazes me how so many of my colleagues treat their calendar like a suggestion of where they should be.

      1. rldk*

        It may be *a* priority, but clearly not over other priorities. Actions speak louder than words or intentions here. If it was a priority to have the call, he would make time. Since he’s doing other things at call time, those other things are his priority.

    2. OP*

      “I think he feels that it’s an opportunity for him to check in with any issues that aren’t as urgent, and if he doesn’t have any, well, he’ll skip it.”

      That’s a great way of looking at it and I think you hit the nail on the head! I like Alison’s advice for moving it to every other week. This way by the time we have a meeting approaching, there will be enough pressing items that it will be hard for him to skip without our work getting seriously derailed.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Good luck! I think once you let him know this has become a problem, he will want to help create a solution. I’m sure he’s just not thinking about it from your side.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        So the client doesn’t mind paying for meetings that they skip, but to address the rescheduling, I’d say either say that going forward unscheduled meetings are subject to a $X surcharge for less than 24 hours, and $10X for less than one hour, IF you can fit them in. Whether that can fly depends on your industry, but if not, then stop rearranging your schedule for them! Tell them the next time you have free is in two days or next week. I hate to say this, but even if you’re not booked up, I’d start making it a little harder anyway, just so he starts treating your time less like a free, limitless resource.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ll second make it a little harder. A few “Actually I can’t today; would 3:00 in 2 days work?” can have a marvelous effect on people’s priors, where a 200 page treatise on respecting other people’s time sailed over their head.

          1. jb*

            Yes, this.

            Find a way to make him feel the cost of rescheduling without punishing yourself or being vindictive. Refusing to meet whenever he’s available right then, and offering up times when you are free, is a good way to do that.

      3. MillersSpring*

        You also might try reminders. Either “I’ve attached the document to review during our call at 2:00, that’s two hours from now” or explicitly, “This is a reminder about our call in 30 minutes–still a good time?” Also, be sure whenever you reference the call time, that you use his time zone not yours (if you’re in different time zones).

      4. Samiratou*

        I agree that switching to every other week is a good idea, but it’s still super rude not to tell you if he can’t make it. Schedule it every other week and tell him that if he doesn’t have anything to discuss that week, he can cancel the meeting, but he does need to actually cancel so you know.

        And not expect you to be able to show up at the drop of a hat for “urgent” things if he blows of the biweekly.

        I work with a vendor consultant, not on retainer, and we have a standing meeting every two weeks, but will let him know if we have conflicts or don’t have anything to discuss. Sometimes as late as the morning of, because I’m terrible at looking ahead at my calendar, but I don’t think we’ve ever just blown him off (at least I hope not!). However, he’s an hourly consultant, so he’ll bill us for that time either way, so it kind of sucks that you’re on retainer and don’t even get that benefit. “Sure, I’ll answer emails for other clients while you pay me $200 an hour to sit here and wait for you….”

  2. Rob*

    Maybe it’s time to fire him and find a client that is more respectful of your time.

    Chances are, you will end up making more money as a result due to the reduced impact it has on your other clients.

      1. Rosencranz*

        Ultimately, this guy is your client. And in the professional services industry, you generally need to go out of your way to accommodate your client’s needs.

        If he were stiffing you on payments by refusing to compensate you for time spent waiting for him, that would be one thing. But he’s not stiffing you.

        You could also decide he’s not worth keeping as a client, as Rob suggests. But if it’s “not an account you want to ditch,” and he’s not stiffing you, this is a time to suck it up. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

    1. OP*

      Financially speaking this is actually a great account for me, which is why I was hesitant about whether it’s even worth bringing up. Believe me, I wouldn’t put up with this for this long if the money weren’t making it worth my while otherwise!

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, he’s not abusive, he’s just not showing up to the meetings he’s paying for, and that’s annoying but not firing worthy.

    2. Bea*

      Firing a client is drastic and should only be done if they’re abusive or refusing to pay their bills. He’s a flake, if we fired every flake we wouldn’t be nearly as profitable and that’s not what business is about.

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    I really agree with this part:
    Sometimes people who blow off appointments convince themselves that the other person doesn’t really care.

    This could be reflecting their own work style, like they have a lot of things to finish but flexibility in which one to do when. Or they usually experience a cancelled meeting as WHEW a chance to get to other stuff. He might have convinced himself that OP’s great flexibility is because it’s easy for her to accommodate him–OP needs to spell out that it isn’t. But politely, because people who like turkey sandwiches are sometimes astonished that other people don’t, and their attempts to get everyone turkey sandwiches have been unappreciated.

    1. Leslie Hell Nope*

      I also second that part. Especially with freelancers, he might be under the impression that you’re sitting at the computer doing other work; when he shows up you’ll switch to the call, and if he doesn’t, fine, you’re working as you would normally be.
      And sometimes that really is the case. I actually had a private skype tutor that told me outright that delays were not a big deal; she was going to interrupt her work for an hour during our session and it didn’t much matter whether that hour would be from 1pm to 2pm or 1:30 to 2:30. I do think it’s kind of rude to just assume that’s the case, but he might legitimately think that and therefore Alison’s suggestion should take care of things pretty well.

      1. OP*

        Very good point. I have definitely been too accommodating for what my schedule realistically allows, but I haven’t done a good job of conveying that.

        1. TootsNYC*

          if you’ve been accommodating him, then your schedule actually does allow it. (not “realistically,” but actually)

          If you don’t WANT your schedule to allow it, then you will need to start letting your schedule have the ACTUAL say.

          Does this make any sense? It does to me, somehow, but i’m not sure if I’ve made it clear enough.

          Basically, live your boundaries. Don’t have time for him.

          Or, raise your prices. “Your company will need to pay me more money if you’re going to chew up my time like this–it makes it harder for me to earn money from other clients, so you’ll have to compensate me for that.”

          1. Nanani*

            When you’re freelance, you need to look out for your own boundaries. A big perk of freelancing in the first place is getting to set your own schedule. Set up surcharges, turn down annoying requests altogether, push back on unreasonable requests, and -don’t do the bits of the work you don’t want to do-.

            If you wanted to have a boss, you’d presumably go look work that has one after all.

      2. Seriously?*

        One way to push back is to be more rigid about the end time for the meeting (when it isn’t actually an emergency). You carved out an hour for him, he gets an hour and if he wastes half of that time, then you really only talk for 30 minutes. If he stops seeing the start and end times of the meeting as flexible maybe he will be on time. Also, if he asks for an urgent meeting, make it clear that it is inconvenient. Not in a refusing or complaining way but more “I have a lot of projects I am working on right now. I can make time if absolutely necessary but can this wait until our weekly meeting?”

        Another possibility is that he loses track of time. If that is the case it might be that calling him instead of waiting for him to dial in might be a better way to meet.

        1. Willis*

          Or establish a practice of waiting on the line for him for 10 minutes (or whatever reasonable amount of time) and if he doesn’t show up within that time the conversation gets rolled over to the next week or he has to reschedule. It sounds like he has too much access to your schedule now so there’s no reason for him to take a start time seriously.

        2. miss_chevious*

          I do a version of this and it works pretty well with my internal clients, when I had people who would show up late and then want their meetings to bleed over into the next segment of the time. I had a gentle conversation with them where I explained that they didn’t book “an hour” they booked “THIS hour” and I had to end on time (they were told this even if I didn’t have another meeting immediately following, as I need time to work). They still don’t always show up on time, but they understand that they don’t get to take up more of my calendar real estate than I planned.

  4. C4T!!!*

    I agree with Karma. And maybe after 15 minutes (or so) send him an email saying – “Hey, Hop your week is well. I’m going to hang on the line another minute or so before hoping off.” I’d argue aainst it though because then it might eat against your abilty/standing to charge a full hour against the retainer.

  5. Rusty Shackelford*

    Do these discussions really need to happen in real time? Could you ask him to try using email instead?

    1. LouiseM*

      Good point. You may need to adjust your workflow and model if you want to continue working with this client, OP.

    2. OP*

      We definitely do need a realtime component, but I think it’s absolutely feasible to move to every other week instead of weekly.

  6. hbc*

    Oh, heck to the no on the “urgent” blown off emergency meetings. You need to get some boundaries around that right quick. I’m having trouble describing how disrespectful and narcissistic that behavior is.

    Inquire into alternative times as Alison suggests, definitely. But I would also make a very clear statement about what (much narrower) restrictions he can expect with respect to ad hoc meetings. Not all of these would fly everywhere, but I’m thinking “I can only accommodate a meeting with less than a week’s notice if it’s from 2-3 on Tuesday or 9-11 on Friday.” Or “If I have to move other meetings, that’s not covered by my retainer and you’ll have to pay $X.” Or “My retainer only covers one reschedule per month, and there will be a charge for missing that rescheduled meeting.” Anything that you can do to make it less painful for you and more painful for him to be flaky.

    And if you’re being judged by anyone but him on the speed of your project, get your documentation asap. Someone who is so dismissive of your time will probably not hesitate to throw you under the bus.

    1. TheCupcakeCounter*

      Ooohhh…I like tacking on a few fees here and there. I would absolutely do it for the “urgent” meetings and any overages you experience due to his lateness (i.e. was 20 minutes late to the call but it still went a full hour so took up 80 minutes of your time).
      Absolutely raise the issue with him first and if it doesn’t improve send the company a revised contract with additional fees for these situations. Maybe when the company has to pay more they will work on it from their end as well.

      1. OP*

        I love this idea but not sure if I have the balls to do it :) (just being honest) I think one way I would be comfortable framing it is something like, “since you often aren’t able to reliably meet every week, it’s pushing back deadlines and causing the work on projects to take longer than I’d planned for in our original scope of work. I’ve attached a revised scope of work to cover a longer project completion time…” I think that could nip things in the bud real quick. WHat do you guys think?

        1. Irene Adler*

          Could work -if delayed completion times are something that would grab his attention. To change behavior, gotta get him where it hurts. A lot.

          Charging extra fees (as hbc suggested) might work if you make it your policy for all of your clients. “Just updating the terms of agreement.” Clearly other clients won’t be affected.

        2. TheCupcakeCounter*

          That seems very reasonable – it addresses the issues on his/the company’s end while reminding them that there is a cost for your time without it seeming punitive. I would still follow Alison’s script initially and try to correct it that way. And definitely start pushing back on the urgent meetings (especially if he missed the last call where you had planned to address that).

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I wouldn’t go straight to that if you haven’t raised this with him already. First let him know it’s a problem, then if that doesn’t work, you could raise the possibility that it could change the scope of the project (without actually revising it yet). They should have fair warning. If you just come in with “here’s a longer timeline and more money you’ll now owe” without doing those first steps, they’ll rightly feel blindsided.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            I definitely agree. I think there’s a level of escalation… What Alison proposes is perfect considering you haven’t brought it up in the past. If that doesn’t solve the problem, letting them know that the problem *may* cause a longer timeline, etc, would be an escalation. Still no solution after pointing that out and being sure to loop in all the decision makers (e.g. if your contract is with this guy’s company/boss, they may need to know about the problems it’s causing), but again, pulling those people in is an escalation, and the best thing would be to resolve it with the person before it gets to that point.

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Also, because I forgot to add it – Having an idea of how you might escalate something if you can’t resolve the problem through the original steps is helpful even if you never need it because if you do, you aren’t left scrambling or feeling like you were unable to solve a problem. Sometimes, a conversation will do it. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t and some level of escalation is required. Figuring out what you’d feel comfortable doing as an escalation can give you some extra confidence in the situation. (Like chess… plan out several moves ahead thinking about how you’d react to the possible outcomes from each move)

  7. Arya Snark*

    So, you’ve met my boss then? Granted, I’m not his consultant but we both work remotely, he’s always busy and does just about everything else you’ve detailed. He’s a great guy/boss/business owner otherwise but it is frustrating when the things I need to discuss with him are critical to me and his bottom line.

    I’ve taken to emailing or texting him ahead of time (our standing meeting is at 10a so I usually do it first thing in the morning) to see if he’s planning on attending our call/Skype session. That lets him know I do have things to discuss and gives him a chance to let me know if he has other things going on, how late he might be and reschedule for another time if needed.

    If he’s still late, I will text (that’s the best way to get a response from him but YMMV) after waiting 10-15 mins and see if he’s still attending. After that, I’m done and don’t usually answer if he calls because I’ve moved on to something else I have scheduled. I’ll just reschedule for another time if he has something urgent.

    1. OP*

      I love the idea of texting before. thank you! He’s pretty good about reading texts and at least I can maybe get a heads up if he’s planning on bailing that day.

    2. nonymous*

      A variant of this is to circulate a list of topics ahead of time (like the afternoon before). If OP is working with someone who needs time to ponder, she can get them thinking in the right direction in preparation for the meeting.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yes! Text him your agenda, so he knows that YOU have things to cover. Or, it gives him the opportunity to say, “I don’t have anything to talk about.”

  8. CM*

    I would definitely not rearrange your schedule at his request, since he’s proven himself to be flaky. I think talking to him using Alison’s script is good. If that doesn’t change anything, I think the two things you can do are to stick to your schedule (only be available during prearranged meetings and if he’s 30 minutes late, don’t extend the call by 30 minutes), and plan to have other work available that you can do during time that you’re waiting for him.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I want to signal-boost this one.

      One of my biggest peeves in the business world is people who are careless with meetings and people’s time. Specifically two things: (1) people who are late to meetings should not get things that they missed explained to them (because it’s punishing everyone else for being on time) and (2) meetings shouldn’t go beyond their initially scheduled time, so if it starts late it just has to be shorter, period.

      Also, I wouldn’t wait 15 minutes and then nudge the client that you’ll wait a little longer. I’d wait 5 minutes max, and then message the client that you’ll wait 5 more minutes, and then hang up and *be unavailable*. Let this client share your pain and maybe you’ll get a lot less of it.

  9. OP*

    Alison I love all of your advice, thank you! Like I said this is a good client otherwise, so I think just identifying the fact that this is a problem and one that is affecting my work for them might be enough to fix things – or at least give me grounds to push back harder on missed meetings in the future, since it will then be something I’ve had to address multiple times.

    1. Emily S.*

      Good luck, OP!

      And: Send Alison an update whenever the situation is (hopefully) resolved. We’ll be curious about what develops.

    2. nonymous*

      even if you just accurately capture how much time you are spending with this client, I think that will give you perspective to push back.

      A client that no-shows for a scheduled 1hr meeting and then requests an ad-hoc one later in the week uses up 2hrs of your time. If they are running 30min late but still meet for a full hour and then no-show for an ad-hoc later in the week, that’s 2.5 hrs of your time. Are you basing your retainer fees assuming 2.5hrs of meetings or 1? Over a year this can add up to an extra couple weeks of time (1.5*52 = 78), so I can completely understand the frustration.

    3. RabidChild*

      OP: I have a comment that’s unrelated to all the excellent comments already stated, but important nonetheless. Presuming that the workflow issues the missed meetings create impact the timing of deliverables, you need to document the heck out of all of it as well, and leave an email trail. I was a consultant for years and the number of times the client tried to blame delays on me/my team and not their own procrastination was frankly unbelievable coming from so-called “professionals.”

  10. Nita*

    Just curious, is this client ever on time, or consistently late? If the lateness is consistent, maybe set the call time 20 minutes before you’d really like to be on the line, and build in 10-15 minutes of flexibility just in case they show up on time for once. And have the client call you so you’re not waiting for them on the line.

    If there are others who have to be on the call, though, it’s a different story because it’s harder for multiple people to just jump on a call with an uncertain start time…

  11. LBK*

    I would definitely put a stop to taking his urgent meetings. He already has time on your schedule that he’s not using; he should start with using that and then he’ll earn the privilege of your attention at other times.

    1. Atalanta0jess*

      Definitely this. You need to approach it from a behavioralist type of perspective. Right now, he has no disincentive to miss or be late. His behavior is totally rewarded – he gets to be flakey AND have access to your time whenever he needs it. If you disincentivize the behavior, I bet it changes.

      1. Rosencranz*

        But he’s the client. It’s his party, and he’ll cry if he wants to. He has every right to show up late to his own meetings.

        I get that it’s frustrating, but OP’s choice is to discontinue the client relationship, or to suck it up and accommodate a key client. (Yes, theoretically there are intermediate options, like talking to him about How Rude It Is to Be Late, but those options don’t seem to be working, and ultimately at some point he’ll get tired of being lectured and will look for other service providers.)

        That’s life in the professional services industry, folks.

        1. Pine cones huddle*

          It may be his party, but it may not be the only thing on LWs plate. I work with multiple clients and have my own time/plans as well. I schedule meetings with this ornofher clients but I also have other things and free time on my schedule.

          Certainly he can show up late. But it’s a problem if him being late means that LW is now running in to time that she has booked to work on other projects or another meeting.

        2. LBK*

          But the client also clearly values the consultant’s expertise enough to pay for it; there is a give and take to the relationship. And most consultants don’t only have one client, so as one of those clients you have to be cognizant that your consultant’s time is not unlimited and conflicts may arise if you can’t meet them at the times they set aside for you.

        3. Jennifer Thneed*

          Hey, if I can’t treat my car mechanic that way, I don’t see why this guy gets to treat OP this way.

    2. Competent Commenter*

      One of the things I loved about being a consultant was being able to shift the blame to other clients (God I miss doing that now that I have a regular 8-5 job). So an easy way to approach it if he asks for last-minute meetings is to apologetically say that someone else has booked that time, and to mention that you frequently have calls scheduled so gosh, you’d love to accommodate him but you two had probably better stick to your assigned weekly time.

  12. Narise*

    I recommend having the calls first thing in the morning so hopefully he hasn’t started on anything else and won’t be ‘running behind’ from another meeting. This may not solve the problem but I think it’s worth trying to see if its better. I would also delay responding to urgent issues or respond ‘our scheduled call is Thursday can we discuss then?’ And if he doesn’t show up then I wouldn’t schedule an urgent call with him for at least a week or two. He needs to change his definition of urgent. His lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for you.

  13. AdAgencyChick*

    Our clients do this to us all the time. From their perspective, we’re just a vendor; if their boss wants to run over a scheduled meeting slot, then we are not only less important than that, the client may not even feel comfortable saying, “hey boss, can I just text the agency that I’ll be late?”

    We just…go ahead and let them be late. We still bill them for the time we were supposed to be meeting with them, and then drop everything when they CAN speak to us. (But each team at our agency works for far fewer different clients than it sounds like you do, which is why we’re able to bend over backwards for them.) And, more importantly, we tell them how it affects their deadlines. “Okay, no problem, but since we won’t be able to get your comments today, that will push the delivery date out another two days.”

    Basically, if you let him know what the consequences are of being late (billed time for no-shows, missed deadlines) and he’s okay with that, then it’s no skin off your nose, right? If he doesn’t want to accept the consequences, though, that is a harder conversation.

    1. Rosencranz*

      We just…go ahead and let them be late. We still bill them for the time we were supposed to be meeting with them, and then drop everything when they CAN speak to us.

      Exactly this, +1.

  14. Free Meerkats*

    Meanwhile, though, you don’t need to keep accommodating those last-minute meetings requests

    This, in spades. “I have other commitments right now, let’s take this up at our regularly scheduled meeting at XXX.” or, “I have other commitments right now, I am available from XXX to XXX this afternoon if it’s truly that urgent.”

    You’ve trained him that you are at his beck and call, completely on his terms. It’s likely time for some counter training.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      “But it’s an emergency!”

      “Okay, let’s discuss it right now, on the phone.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This so much.

      Dollars to doughnuts he’s not thinking of all your other work at all–he’s only thinking of you in terms of what you do for him, which, so far, has been basically to be on call. Stop doing that.

      1. Woman in tech*

        Ohhhhh this: “he’s only thinking of you in terms of what you do for him, which, so far, has been basically to be on call. Stop doing that.”

        Nail on the head. On a retainer, as a consultant, you’re not being paid to be on call with hourly billing. You’re being paid for your expertise/the value you can create. His nonsense is impeding that value creation, and for your sake and his you need some stronger boundaries and better systems to work together to get that value.

    3. Woman in tech*

      Yes, this. A useful bit of language I’ve picked up from my bosses is, when they do come on the line and 2-5min before the end of the call say, “By the way, just a reminder that we only have a few minutes left and I/we have a hard stop at 2:00, so what’s the (insert priority/takeaway/next step/best way to follow up) on xyz?”
      Framing it as an imoveable deadline, that of course they will respect, has helped keep up boundaries for us with a few similarly flaky clients.
      We also send an agenda in advance, always email/slack/message if we’re more than 2 min late (rare), only wait 10-15 minutes as a policy and then shoot an email with rescheduling options, and make a point to follow up with notes so people don’t feel like they have to reiterate points during the meeting itself (helps to cut down on time.) I kind of love the systems my bosses have in place.
      (We’re also consultants! We work across something like 12 time zones for a few clients, so sometimes that extra 20 minutes means we’re making someone in SF or Paris or Mumbai work unreasonably late, so it’s a bigger deal.)

  15. Busy Bee*

    I work with a few of these people. It might not help in this case, but I schedule those meeting to start 15 or 20 minutes after the hour (instead of every other meeting in our organization which seems to start/end on the hour. Somehow making the meeting shorter but also giving them a buffer built in makes it a bit better (and less irritating for me to be waiting…waiting…waiting. I think it improves the “lateness” and then also reduces the sense that “I’m so late, I just won’t even show up”.

    Also an agreement in advance about how long will wait for him – for both you and for him. But sometimes backfires because that implies that it’s still okay to show up late (or even not at all) because he will only be wasting a little of your time.

    Just be sure that you are protected – you may love this client, but if you aren’t making progress in a timely manner, they may not keep you. At some point, I do think you have an obligation to your client (the organization, not this yahoo) to ask them to address this issue. It is a retainer, but that doesn’t imply they should be paying for work you aren’t doing. Presumably they expect a certain amount of productivity for that $$, and they really aren’t getting it. And you ultimate obligation is, in many cases, to the person who is writing the check.

  16. Bea*

    Since you’re paid for the time regardless, I caution over trying to impose additional fees even though it’s so tempting. That will put a sour taste in someone’s mouth and can lead them to use a firm that allows them their leeway that they are accustomed to.

    I do hope that scheduling every 2 weeks works for you and absolutely squash putting his urgent requests through, that’s reasonable. He’s asking for a favor and it’s always reasonable to say “actually I can’t fit you in until tomorrow at 4.” or whatever next spot you have.

    1. Rosencranz*

      “That will put a sour taste in someone’s mouth and can lead them to use a firm that allows them their leeway that they are accustomed to”

      Again, exactly this. I once used a law firm in Europe that began attempting to bill 1.5x the usual hourly rate for work on Fridays and weekends. We insisted that clause be taken out of the firm’s engagement letter and were prepared to discontinue using that firm had they not agreed to remove it.

  17. Kudzu*

    I have two principles that have helped me here (in a big-organization, not a consulting, context).
    Your time matters and busy people understand busy people.

    1. Every single week, remind him.
    I’d send two: one two or three days before our meeting, and another the day before / first thing in the morning the day of.
    “Fergus, I’m looking forward to talking to you Thursday from 1-2 PM. I’ll be waiting for your call at 555-1212.”
    Send calendar invitations if you can, using something like Outlook or Gmail. This can help make sure the event gets on his calendar.

    2. Publish an agenda in advance.
    The agenda can be simple, but make it specific, prioritized, and time-bound. Show why it’s important that you meet.
    Item 1 – Llama grooming is on hold because we only have alpaca hairbrushes. Matting is imminent. What do we do? (10 minutes)
    Item 2 – Review designs from the Llama hairbow committee. We need a decision so we can move forward. (20 minutes)
    Item 3 – Which new position do we post – Llama breeder or Llama dental hygienist? We need to decide on the position and its pay rate. (15 minutes)
    When you send the agenda, say something like this:
    “Fergus, here’s what’s on our plate for tomorrow at 1 PM. If you have anything to add please let me know by 3 PM today.”

    3. Don’t break your meeting window.
    If you have a meeting scheduled from, say, 1 to 2 PM your time, that time is not casually flexible. If he calls in at 1 PM, you have a whole hour to talk – but not an hour five. If he calls in at 1:30 PM, the meeting doesn’t become a 1:30 to 2:30; it becomes a 1:30 to 2. You only have half an hour, and you may not get to the llama position posting.

    If he wants to reschedule – the answer is maybe. You can propose one or two alternate times, or he can ask for a time, but it has to be a time that works for you.
    “Right now, I can do Thursday from 3-4 PM or Friday from 9-10 AM. Which of those is better for you?”
    The “right now” bit is important – because you’re busy too.

    4. Meet in the morning his time.
    Mid-morning tends to be best. Otherwise, events may arise that make it hard for him to make the commitment, even if he has the best of intentions. No guarantees here, but it helps.

    The key here is that if you send messages that his schedule matters and your schedule doesn’t, he’ll respond to that and will treat your schedule as disposable. If you continually remind him that your time matters too and the meeting is important for goals that matter to him, odds are he’ll respect that (more) than if you don’t.

  18. Workfromhome*

    I get you don’t want to dump the client for what seems not to be a huge thing. If its not impacting your other clients or your ability to earn $ from other clients its not as big a deal.
    What is a big deal is that their lack of consideration is impacting the product you give to them. People come and go all the time from companies. What if the current client (the dept of 1)leaves or is fired? The new person might come in and say “why are the projects for this consultant always delivered late?” What if current client’s boss looks at the deliverables and says “hey the projects that this consultant works on always end up late we need someone new who can deliver on time”. Maybe his boss doesn’t notice now but they might in time or a new boss might.
    The client pays a retainer so $ doesn’t seem a huge motivation. But to protect yourself I’d start documenting the impact of the missed calls. If he blows off a meeting that you need to deliver X on time Id send an email shortly after the missed hour saying since you were unable to attend the scheduled meeting the new delivery date is now (X days later) Stop with the emergency meetings if he misses the scheduled meeting without notice. Its easy to miss the scheduled meeting if you know you can just catch up by scheduling a last minute meeting when the crap finally piles up. If the client knows that those urgent meetings are not a band aid they will need to choose between attending the scheduled meetings or delayed delivery.

    1. Pine cones huddle*

      Exactly! I’ve had client get miffed that a project was behind, yet never seemed to respond to me emails or calls or return things by deadline or basically hold up their end of the bargain in anyway. I’ve even gotten to a point that the work was suffering so much that I wasn’t proud of what was being produced and knew that if my portfolio relied on these samples I’d be embarrassed. That’s when I started backing off from working with these clients. In certain fields, your work speaks for you in many ways. I didn’t want someone seeing something I’d worked on in their office or on their website and knowing it was an example of my work because it would turn them off (as in “mental note don’t call her for XYZ project because this is a mess”).

  19. And So it Goes*

    Greetings. I run a consulting practice as well. Believe it or not this is costing you more than you realize. My suggestions:
    1. No longer accept last minute “urgent” meetings.
    2. Schedule your meetings every two weeks, early in the morning if not first thing.
    3. Don’t accept the meeting after waiting 15 minutes, the meeting is closed at that point.
    4. Should he not make a meeting, the completion date is moved out from that point on, and inform him due to missed meeting you have to move out the completion date.

    I understand not wanting to lose a client, believe me. However, until it affects him directly he will not change. I had a client who would never return my emails or phone calls, but regularly gave me work. Then he started his own company. Surprise surprise, he returned emails!

    I wish you luck with this!

    1. Pine cones huddle*

      I have found that the less you babysit people like this the less stressed you will be.

      Oh you want a meeting next week, ok here’s 2-3 days/times that work for me. If they don’t respond after that, then we won’t have a meeting. And I don’t hold those times. If 6 days goes by and someone else wants to meet, I’ll schedule it. Basically I’m not holding my calendar for you.

  20. Thomas E*

    I’m unsure what to say about this. I agree with some suggestions ( a reminder email / agenda) and asking the client if there is a better time.

    I’d suggest taking a slightly activist approach and calling him at the designated time… Rather than wait for him to call you.

    I’m a bit pessimistic about this one… I think that arranging your workload so you do some of your basic tasks (i.e. deal with email etc) during that slot may be your best option. That way his slot is productive whatever happens.

    If it impacts workflow make sure you keep a paper trail.

    1. Pine cones huddle*

      AGENDAS all the time for everything!!! I fou don’t have an agenda then this is another meeting that should be just an email.

  21. Pine cones huddle*

    I have this problem with a few of my clients actually. I typically meet them in their office and THEY are usually the ones who want to have meetings then they don’t show, they are late, they tell me they have to leave in less than 30 minutes, they dont have a meeting space reserved, or show up totally distracted or unprepared. I seriously had 2 people show to a meeting that their supervisor insisted on and literally sat there working on other projects while I answered their occasional questions. They also seemed to be totally unfazed that I have been repeatedly unable to access the server or database or other files while in their office (this is an IT issue on their end). Honestly, I charge for the time and I’m just waiting for the contract to end so I can exit gracefully (a mutual acquaintance is also consulting with them and wanted me to do some work with them and I don’t want to seem like I wasn’t seeing it through or make them look bad).

    One thing I will say is that there is typically a reason that these places have these problems. Typically they are completely dysfunctional about meetings and usually have way too many. I say this because it seems that from the directors down, everyone is like this. It’s not like one guy is always late. They are ALL late. It’s like being on time or prepared is not valued at the top and everyone is used to waiting for someone to show up, or not having handouts ready, or the PowerPoint not projecting… so they start to no longer even see it as a problem that they forgot they double booked me and a client and that I just spent more time on the road than actually meeting. And doing it on the phone doesn’t help because they always seem to have forgotten to set up the conference line, yet insist on using it for the call even though speakerphone would work since it’s just me on the line.

    If it doesn’t get better, consider cutting them loose. I find that over time these clients are just more trouble than they are worth, but more importantly they don’t value my time or skills.

    1. only acting normal*

      You’re consulting for the company I work for, aren’t you? Allow me to apologise; some of us do feel your pain. :-(

      Actually in old job, when I was bottom of the food chain, a coworker and I had a 2 hour meeting scheduled with the CEO (so he could get the perspective of the little people). He was *several hours* late, and about 20min in *both* of us got up, apologised (she had to do the school run, I had to get the last bus), and left. He was totally shocked, but didn’t protest, but I guess he really *did* get our perspective!
      TLDR: you’re right about culture coming from the top.

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