How do I ask client to.... without offending him?
I need my client to submit to me the materials needed to finish his project.
How do I politely tell the client that his dilly dallying is costing me time and money because I can't start my other projects?
Things have been progressing well on the "xyz" project I'm editing for you, and I think you'll agree it looks great so far, but I'm at a point where I can't do much more with this project until I get (item) from you. (Item) is essential to the (name of segment) at this point, and I've done as much work around the missing area as I can.
To keep this project billing within the range we already agreed, I need to have the outstanding items here by (date), or I can't deliver by (date). I have some ideas to propose:
To keep your project costs within the agreed-upon range, we could agree to suspend the project until the outstanding elements are ready. I will cease billing for time on the project as of today. I'll archive your project until such time as we can resume work, and you'll only be billed for the work completed to this point. I will continue to work with my other customers until your project is ready to resume production. Or we can keep the project active, but because that precludes my serving my other clients while we wait, that choice incurs a running charge of ( AMOUNT PER DAY ); I'd rather not have to bill you to "keep the motor running" if the anticipated delay for elements is going to be indefinite. So let's "park" your project temporarily, just until the missing elements are ready. Then we can resume work very quickly when we have everything we need to finish.
Please let me know by (deadline) how you wish to proceed, and I'll take care of the rest. If I don't get an indication by (absolute deadline) I'll have to go ahead and archive your project and submit a final bill.
Regards, Clyde etc etc
Translation: "Time to put up or walk, I've got paying customers waiting". (but very politely).
Why is this situation happening?
Maybe they really don't know what they are doing: Can you help them source the element another way? Or can they re-write the project to drop the hard to get item?
Are they victims to outside forces beyond control? Then park it and wait.
Consider that they may be stalling because they don't (yet) have the money to pay for the rest. Some subtle queries during small-talk might reveal this. If that comes out, you could turn it around to a positive and say "hey, let me work with you, we can work out a payment plan to spread the cost a little bit, or maybe I can make some changes on how I do the work that can lower the overall bill". This keeps you being the Good Guy, instead of the Mean Guy.
Also, the project may have suddenly got "de-authorized" back home, and they are looking for a polite way to cancel the job and just take their stuff and go. Clear language in your contracts or deal memos should reduce the need to play those kinds of games. Hey, cancellations sometimes happen, for many reasons. No need for drama, just pay up to the point the work stopped and go, no harm, no foul.
The subtle hint that you have other customers waiting may also put a little fire under them, because it signals you can afford to throw them out at this stage without fear, without being talked down on your rates. If a grinder senses he's your only income for the month, he's going to take every advantage to string you along. Your only leverage is that you have their elements and they must have a deadline that means something to them at SOME point.
The other subtle hint should be that by "parking" their project in your "archives" you're going to hold their stuff "hostage" until accounts are square. You never need to SAY that. Let them just infer it. Now, some guys would never ever actually go that far, and that's their choice, fine, but here's the thing: your client doesn't know if you DO go that far or not, and you don't need to volunteer the fact you don't. Unless contract language covers it, let their imaginations run wild:-)
It's a poker game, and you have just raised and called.
Thanks Mark! That's very helpful.
Mark has already done a good job of touching all the bases on how to react to client-caused delays. So let me add an idea on prevention, which is typically the least expensive solution to any problem.
When developing a statement of work, creative treatment, contract or whatever document is used to confirm expectations and state a timeline, I usually structure the timeline with two columns of due dates: one for my group and one for the client.
Then, in the narrative that supports the timeline, I make clear that my deadlines are contingent on client approval of the previous deliverable -- or in your case, providing needed material. For example, the script is due ten working days after client approval of the creative treatment; shooting completes 12 working days past client approval of the script.
I of course estimate when all of these milestones should happen. So the timeline does have specific dates. But the supporting narrative makes clear that all of these dates are not fixed, but contingent on the client hitting their dates.
This both makes clear, in writing, that you can't do your job until the client does their job, and gives you a signed document to point to when using one of Mark's well-crafted sentences to state that you're pulling the plug until the client delivers on their responsibility.