Here’s the scenario. A potential client hits you up for a project. You submit your proposal and get the verbal green light so you send off a contract or work agreement and prepare to begin. But then...crickets. Hate to break it to you, but you just got ghosted!

Ghosting, flaking, vanishing - whatever you want to call it, I think we can all agree that it is a pretty uncool thing to do. It’s uncool in your personal relationships and it’s especially uncool in business when time and money are at stake. It’s not something you want to develop a reputation for and it sure isn’t something you want to deal with from someone else. But let’s be real, it happens and sometimes for completely justifiable, unintentional reasons. The question is how do you respond when a ghoster, a flaker or a Houdini comes back around as if nothing ever happened.

In this situation, you essentially have four options.

  1. Submit a new proposal for the new work and proceed as if nothing happened.

  2. Submit your proposal but bring up what happened last time.

  3. Politely (or not-so-politely) refuse the work citing the previous incident for justification.

  4. Ignore it completely.

So which option is the best one here? Obviously, that is going to depend on a few factors so let’s break each one down, examining when (if ever) it becomes the appropriate response.

Pretending nothing happened

The first question you should ask yourself is how bad do you want this work? If you are still a little wet behind the ears and need to build your portfolio, it may very well behoove you to just roll with it. Rock the boat too much and you just might get thrown overboard in favor of someone less antagonistic. Are you competing against other agencies for the bid? Is the client and by extension, the work, big enough to make you swallow your pride and get on with it? This approach might help you land the gig but it could also set you up to get burned again if you aren’t careful. That’s where the next option comes in.

Address the issue and proceed with caution

Agency-client relationships are, in fact, relationships in every sense of the word. If you’ve been scorned, embarrassed or otherwise mistreated by an ex-lover, hopefully, you aren’t so smitten as to rush back into their arms the second they come crawling back. At least not without addressing the elephant in the room. If you can make the prudent choice in love, you should be more than capable of doing so in business as well. The first step is to find out what went wrong before you go demanding an apology. Perhaps there was a shake-up above their pay grade that was beyond their control. Maybe they are embarrassed about what went down and think pretending it didn’t happen is somehow the best course of action. Maybe they are corporate jerks who couldn’t give less of a crap about your silly little hustle. Either way, it’s probably in your best interest to bring it up and explain that you’d like to avoid a similar situation this go-round.

How you go about it, though, makes all the difference in the world. Take the opportunity to show your client that you are a cool and understanding person who recognizes that shit happens but that you are not the type to be walked on like a doormat. What you don’t want to do is come off as whiny or vindictive because that sounds a lot like the next option.

Drop the mic

It’s natural to want to seek vindication when you’ve been slighted. You know you were wronged despite doing everything right and at first, it feels kinda good to put someone in their place. But remember, this isn’t a schoolyard. Your words and actions have consequences that will affect you and your employees beyond this situation. As satisfying as it may be to rant and rave, what does it accomplish? As stated earlier, perhaps the contact had nothing to do with the decision or simply lost track of the project. Sure it doesn’t justify what happened but is rubbing their nose in the carpet like a bad puppy going to do anything if you are set on not doing the work anyway? It’s ok to cite the previous incident as a reason to decline but be careful not to chastise or castigate because it probably won’t do you any good. If anything, you’ll assume the mantle of the jerk in this equation and you don’t want that reputation. If you simply can’t let it go, try the last option instead.

Move to Trash

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. If your blood is still too hot or you aren’t confident in your ability to calmly and effectively communicate your grievance, maybe just let it go. Channel your energy and take your frustration out on a speed bag or do some yoga, whatever helps you calm down. If they are persistent, at least give yourself some time to cool off and proceed with one of the first two options or even a polite refusal but you’d be justified in ignoring it altogether if you chose to do so. True, it walks a fine line between taking the high road and being passive-aggressive but at least you aren’t shooting your reputation in the foot. Do you really even need or want to work for a ghoster anyway?

Deciding which route to take is a personal decision and there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all solution, but think about the kind of agency you want to be before you do anything and consider how each action either reinforces or undermines that idea. I’d bet most psychiatrists would recommend some form of talking it out. As long as you keep your cool, it can’t hurt to pick up the phone and have a friendly chat about how you like to do business. You just might be giving a fruitful and productive relationship a second chance to flourish.