"Can You Start The Project While We Sort Out The Deal?”

5 min read

"Can you start the project while we sort out the deal?”

This is what one of our enterprise client asked us. You thought you are going to get the project. And the money. But your client asks you to start working immediately while working out a deal in parallel.

Would you tell your client no while squirming uncomfortably?
Would you tell your client yes while hoping that he actually sort out a deal?
Would you stay silent and let the deal fall through?


It seems that you have two binary choices between yes and no, but here’s how to evaluate whether it’s worth the trouble.

Ask these 4 questions to evaluate whether to consider a yes or no.

1. Do you have a past working relationship with the prospect as an individual or a company where the experience and outcomes are positive?

The prospect is putting his relationship and reputation on the line to acquire this condition from you. Even better, check if there are people that he has tried to work on a similar deal to check his/her integrity. If there is no past working relationship or positive references, do not risk this and turn it down - unless you’re desperate for case studies especially if you are in the early trajectory of your career.

2. Is there a real need to execute the project?

If there is no real need, then you’re probably not important enough. If you’re not important enough, your work does not really matter. There is a higher probability that the prospect won’t bother putting the extra effort to compensate you after the work is done.
The truth is, if there is a real need paired with urgency, the client will prioritize in sorting out the deal and expedite the procurement.

3. Is the prospect a decision-maker who calls the shot on the budget and the project?

If the prospect is none other than the decision-maker, either get him/her to involve the decision-making to sort the deal or walk away. Anyone who is not a decision-maker cannot be responsible and accountable for the deals s/he made with you.

4. Does the prospect have the budget allocated or ready to allocate a budget?

This is a no brainer. No budget or plan to set a budget means you get no dough. However, be wary about smooth-talkers who over-promised that the budget can be set eventually while you executing the work.

Only if you have 4 yeses from these questions that you know it’s fine to tell the prospect a yes. And But it doesn’t stop here. If you stop here you actually have been negotiated down.

5. Is the prospect willing to give you a sweeter deal?

Once you have 4 yeses, use your “goodwill” to comply to his/her condition as a leverage to negotiate with the prospect for something else in return. It could be another project, or you get to execute or operate the project that you are going to plan.

You may choose for a higher fees, but that’s putting all eggs in one basket. Which means you’re taking a bigger risk.

6. Can the prospect sign a pre-agreement before starting work?

If no, botch the job because it’s all talk and the prospect does not want to walk the talk and be accountable. 

If yes, prepare a simple short agreement that outlines the terms that you negotiated with.

Lastly, do not provide the last mile of the work until you get paid for. This could be the files or source code or anything that is consider a working asset.

Only when the prospect has past working relationships with you, a real need to execute the project, is a decision-maker, has a budget set or planned, willing to give you a better deal, and is able to sign a pre-agreement that it would be worth the trouble to start the project while sorting out a deal.