Need to back out without burning a bridge!
February 26, 2014 2:40 PM   Subscribe

I need to back out of a project that (thankfully) hasn't started yet--how do I write an email that doesn't sound flaky or weasel-y, and ideally lets me keep my client?

I am currently working on a full-time contract (Project 1). A different (and favorite) client pinged me about another project, which would run concurrently (Project 2). The plan was for me to pretty much work every day on Project 1 and every evening on Project 2. Not great, but it was a short-term situation and, like I said, favorite client.

So I agreed, but then Project 1's deadlines blew up in a huge way--I'm going to need to put in overtime on it for the foreseeable future, meaning Project 2 isn't feasible. I want to email P2's project manager ASAP to say I can't do it, but I feel like such an idiot for double-booking that it's paralyzing me in terms of actually writing the email.

TL; DR, what is a professional way of saying "oops, I thought I could swing your project, but I actually can't. Please don't blacklist me!"

Other relevant details:
-The manager for P2 was aware that I already had limited time to give the project
-No contract has been presented or signed, and work hasn't started, so there's no legal worry.
posted by like_a_friend to Work & Money (6 answers total)
"As you know, this project was to run concurrently with another project I am involved in. Unfortunately, the ongoing project will now require more of my time than anticipated, and I cannot, in good conscience, short-change either of you by taking on Project 2 at this time. I will be happy to assist you in locating a resource to fulfill Project 2."
posted by xingcat at 2:44 PM on February 26, 2014 [14 favorites]

I don't think there is a good way to go about backing out. Even everyone is buddy buddy, everyone will remember the time you backed out. I would address the issues in project 1 that caused it to blow up - pull back on that project, so you can work on the other project. Additionally, I'd think about subbing out some work or hiring someone to help.
posted by Brent Parker at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2014

I think this is fine. Go with xingcat's script, and add some phrases to indicate that 1) the deadline change was out of your control, so this isn't your fault, and 2) that this also disappoints you, because you were looking forward to working with them, and that you'd like to stay in touch about the project or similar projects in the future.
posted by suedehead at 3:33 PM on February 26, 2014

I did this once, as professionally as i could, and they never hired me again. Just FYI.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:47 PM on February 26, 2014

If you can find someone excellent to suggest as a replacement for you, yes. Or take it and handle the client but pass the work and fee to that other person, essentially subcontracting with supervision. My husband has done this for friends in similar situations. If he ended up working with the client, they usually offered the next job to him so he would look for a way to pass an opportunity for a new client back to the friend, but that kind of quid pro quo only works with good friends.

Even if you lose the client, providing leads for replacements will make them think well of you and possibly give you a way back for future projects.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:55 PM on February 26, 2014

Project 2 hasn't started? Were they so clear on their timeline that there's no chance of Project 2's start date being pushed back past Project 1's crunch time (either intentionally or via their inadvertent delay)?

If you go with xingcat's script, I'd include an apology. "I'm terribly sorry to have to let you know, but unfortunately, my situation has unexpectedly changed. My primary project at this time was just accelerated for reasons outside of my control, meaning that it will now require more of my time than anticipated. I cannot, in good conscience, short-change either of you by taking on Project 2 at this time. I expect my schedule to free up again in mid-March if I can assist you in any way after that point. I would be happy to help you locate a resource to fulfill Project 2."
posted by salvia at 12:30 AM on February 28, 2014

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