english culture essay

Running Late: Communicating with Clients When You Miss Deadlines


Let me make one thing very clear: missing deadlines is bad news.

If you make a habit out of submitting work to clients after its due date, you’re burning bridges, plain and simple. Think how you feel when a client pays an invoice a few days or even a week late. Not so great, right? Clients feel the same way about work handed in past the deadline.

And yet, I’m writing this post, because sometimes missing a deadline is all but inevitable. Life happens and unexpected obstacles crop up, putting a dent in your productivity. A sudden death, an onslaught of work, or a poorly planned vacation could leave you struggling to catch up, jeopardizing relationships you’ve worked diligently to build with your clients.

Before you sink further into the abyss and allow your problems to escalate, follow these simple keys to minimize the impact of a missed deadline.

Communicate with Your Client ASAP

Don’t be tempted to pull the ostrich move, sticking your head in the sand and waiting for the storm to pass. Seriously. Take a deep breath and reach out to your client. Outline the problem and a proposed solution, while apologizing profusely for the delay. In all honesty, most of your customers are probably going to be perfectly understanding.

I’ll be honest, I hit a few snags in my work schedule over the summer. I had multiple visitors head my way in rapid succession (who doesn’t want to visit NYC on vacation, right?), and my largest client asked if I could handle taking on double the work I usually perform for him. It resulted in a major scheduling snafu on my end. I kept up with my assignments pretty well, but I narrowly missed a deadline for one of them.

I immediately reached out to one of my clients and explained the dilemma, crossing my fingers as I did so.

SURPRISE—She was A) completely understanding and B) relieved. What!?

Yep, turns out I’m not the only one who was overwhelmed by a few summer curve balls. She was falling behind too, and putting our project on the back burner for a few extra days gave her time to catch up on other priorities.

Bite the bullet, admit you’re in the wrong, and move forward.

Stick to Your Proposed Solution

The only thing worse than missing a deadline is missing a second deadline. Don’t give your clients the impression that you really just don’t give a rip—hello, these people pay your bills, remember?

If you tell a client you’re running late and suggest submitting your work 72 hours later than usual, DELIVER IT IN THAT TIMEFRAME. If 72 hours isn’t feasible, don’t make the promise you can’t keep. It’s really as simple as that.

Get Better Organized

breeze dashboard

My current Breeze dashboard.

Let’s face it, missing a deadline can often be attributed to poor organization. Working as a freelancer often means juggling multiple clients, projects, and yep, deadlines. If you’re simply scribbling dates in a notebook, there is a good chance you’re going to run into problems down the road.

I’ll be the first to admit that organization isn’t my forte. Fortunately, there are so many different tools you can use to keep yourself on the right track. The most useful tool in my arsenal is a product called Breeze. This is a visual organization tool that allows you to create various projects, each of which can have unlimited tasks and deadlines associated with it.

I won’t go into all of the features here, but it basically works like an index card system. You can move cards around your board as you complete them, assign reminders and deadlines, and track how much time you spend on each project. You can even communicate with your client directly within the system, should you so choose. (If you’re familiar with Basecamp, the two systems are quite similar.)

The bottom line is this: don’t miss deadlines. Telling a client you’ve goofed is really no fun, and you’re risking poisoning your partnership. Should a scenario arise when you hit a road bump, however, don’t hide from it. Address the situation promptly, resolve it as quickly as possible, and take all measures possible to keep it from happening again.

Have you ever missed a deadline? How do you keep it from happening? Any tips for juggling multiple responsibilities without losing track of what counts?

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