Projects going off track and taking longer than they should is always frustrating. It impacts motivation, it reduces profit margins, it messes with other projects and it causes loads of unwanted stress.
Keeping projects running on time doesn't need to be hard.
A really easy way to handle this is the idea of "hibernation mode".
This is a way to pause projects when clients miss deadlines or payments. Some people will call this a suspension or even a termination, but I use the word "hibernation" because it's softer and sounds less permanent.
To make this work at its best you want to have 3 things in order. First, a documented timeline. Second, a clear buffer or warning time ideally between 5 to 10 working days. And lastly, a re-engagement fee.
When you create a timeline there will be set deadlines for the project. Some of these deadlines will be for you or your team, while the others are for your client. Timelines can be as detailed as you want - they can be a part of your project management system with automated reminders but they don't have to be complicated or daunting. Just a simple dot point list that covers the date, what the deliverable or action is, and who's responsible for the task, will be enough.
Initiating Hibernation Mode:
Whenever a client goes past their deadline, remind them of the buffer (bonus points if you automate this), doing this often makes the client focus and get back to you with the item on the list. If they go past the buffer time limit then you put that project into hibernation mode and all work stops on that project.
To restart a project, the client is charged the re-engagement fee. This fee should be large enough to be a disincentive for them, but not so large that it's out of proportion to the project itself (I tend to find a fee of $1000 is adequate). This should be changed accordingly depending on the client and their requirements.
Now, the last piece of the puzzle is that any project that has gone into hibernation mode must be rescheduled into your calendar - and you get to choose the time frame for when this restarts. Essentially, they have given up their place in the queue.
A really important part of the re-engagement process is that the client must provide everything needed to complete the project. If ANY scope changes are made in that time the whole project can be renegotiated.
The biggest benefit of doing this is the burden it takes off of your shoulders. When a project gets put into hibernation mode, you can forget about it, rather than letting it continually weigh on you or fill you with worry that a million things might all start at once (yeah, I've been there before too).
Give me break.
Maybe you are thinking that this sounds really strict and really harsh, but you can be flexible and compassionate in a way that is authentic to you. For me, I'm very lenient with clients who have clear communication. If they have something impacting their business or personal life that is understandable, or they give me enough notice when they might need more time, then I'm more than happy to accomodate people.
Use this wisely for the clients who are not committed and focused.
And remember, to make this work you need to make sure you meet all of your deadlines.