Deadlines are inevitable in the life of every creative professional. Missing them is also bound to happen at one point or another. Whether you caught a bug and couldn't get out of bed for a week or a deliverable just took longer than you anticipated, you need to know one thing: the client needs to know.So how do you inform your client that you're missing your deadline without jeopardizing your professional relationship? Here are a few things you need to know.
A critical time to set client expectations is before a project even starts. Take the time to define the scope, timelines, and deliverables of the project pre-kickoff. It is much easier to communicate down the line when you are on the same page with your client.One common cause of projects delays is scope creep, which is when a client starts asking more than the original deliverables. It may be tempting to say 'yes' to everything your client wants so that you can please them, but you need to be careful about going off track, especially when the project's overall timeline is at stake.
You can protect yourself from scope creep by having everything in writing, such as a contract signed by both parties or an email outlining the scope and timelines. You can't refer to personal meeting notes or a phone call when a client demands more than what was discussed, but you can refer to a contract or an email that you've both agreed on.
Additionally, when it comes to timelines, be sure to identify realistic deadlines, and then add a buffer just in case. If you deliver ahead of time, that will make the client even happier. ItÕs always better to underpromise and overdeliver.
Of course, things can sometimes go awry, even when you've taken these steps to prevent missing deadlines. If you find yourself in this situation, continue reading below.
If you haven't been communicating regularly with your client, now's the time to start.
Maybe you bit more than you can chew or you made an error in your timeline estimates. As soon as you feel that you might experience a delay, inform your client. Know that the issue for the client is usually not the fact that you are missing a deadline; it's missing a deadline while they're expecting you to hit it.
Let your client know what's going on and that you are going to need more time than anticipated. The foresight will, in most cases, be appreciated despite the fact that you're missing the timeline. You can still try and meet the original set deadline, but letting them know about possible delay will set their expectations in the right place.Then there's realizing a few days (or worse, a few hours) away from the deadline that you will not make it. If you won't be able to give the customer a heads up, move on to step #3.
It's easy to shift the blame on anything or anyone but yourself when you can't deliver on time. You could say that you didn't get the project details as early as you needed, your internet was intermittent, or the sign-offs between phases took too long.
However, when you're missing a deadline, excuses are the last thing a client wants to hear. Of course you can mention that a family member passed away or that your infant has been ill, but your message should be mostly about how sorry you are about missing the deadline.
Of course, an apology alone won't cut it. You need to give an updated deadline so they know when to expect the finished product, so they can also make potential adjustments on their end.
Most customers will have some degree of flexibility when it comes to deadlines. Did you commit to submitting an article by 12pm on Wednesday? Friday morning probably works, too.However, it's in your best interest as a professional to assume that you have caused an inconvenience to the client's business, and you need to make it up to them. Maybe give a small discount to the overall project cost or offer to add a related, value-added service for free, such as additional article revisions or one year free website hosting.
Making these offers lets your customer know that you are serious about working with them in the future. It might cost you now, but you may also be earning yourself a lifelong client who is confident in your dedication to customer service.
Missed deadlines happen even to the best of us, but that's not an excuse to let it happen all the time. In fact, every time you miss a deadline, you need to reflect on it and find ways to keep it from happening in the future.
Identify problems and work on solutions. For example, if you think you accepted too many changes in the scope mid-project, practice saying 'no' and explain how it will affect timelines. If juggling multiple projects is causing you delays, then maybe you need to take on less work and price more instead, or consider outsourcing some aspects of your work.