As a freelancer, there are some basic fundamentals to fulfill if you want to be successful, including market your business, communicate well with clients and grow your skills. But there’s one fundamental that can’t be forgotten, or it’ll shatter the bright mirror of your business: meeting deadlines.
Deadlines aren’t loosey-goosey suggestions — the word “dead” in there should give you a sense of their rigidity. Of course, even the shining stars of freelance reliability miss a deadline every now and then — maybe their head comes unscrewed for a day, they break their hipbone skiing in the Alps or Beyonce calls for a lunch date.
But if you’re missing deadlines with any regularity, you’ll soon be missing clients. They like you to keep your word, and their business often relies on yours. To your clients, missing deadlines is a deal-breaker.
What to Do if a Deadline Dies
Let’s talk about the dark side first: what to do when you miss a deadline. Forbes has a good preemptive tip: If you have a sense that the approaching deadline is going to send a landslide over your head, alert your client immediately. Save them a heart attack and avoid telling them the day something is due that it won’t be done. Buy yourself some time.
Of course, don’t make excuses. Excuses are weasel-words that bite the ankle of your business. Take responsibility. This post by Shane Mehling for Creative Live reaffirms that blaming the client can put a curse on your business, and supplies a “plan ahead” bonus: Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Saying you’ll edit their 80,000-word book by tomorrow is only asking for that heavy book to bruise your head (and your business).
Oh, and apologizing and throwing in a freebie aren’t bad ideas either. Give the client clear, non-weaselish communication about what went wrong, and express your real regrets. If you were supposed to refinish their cabinets and your tools were stolen, borrow some and refinish their table too, your compliments. Everyone loves free.
Make Missing Deadlines Go Missing
But wouldn’t life be so much sunnier if you didn’t miss deadlines in the first place? A world like that must exist somewhere — and you can encourage that world to move your way. One skill freelancers must master is that of careful planning. Set project milestones in advance and act like the project manager you should be by knowing deadline dates and priorities.
And if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyptic Deadline are trampling the gates, enlist the help of another freelancer friend. You do have freelancer friends, don’t you? They make meeting deadlines more friendly.
Taking measured bites out of a project really does make a task easier to swallow. Big projects broken into short-term milestones don’t seem nearly as big. Also, never forget that we’re in the age of the software tool: Try a task manager to help manage your tasks. They’ll nag you in the sweetest of ways.
Obviously, issues will come up (your computer dies, you forget how to spell all verbs, you break your wrist madly shaking your fist while watching political news) that might make missing deadlines unavoidable. But you can lessen the chance, or at least soften the blow, by following some of the advice above. Build credibility and trust with your clients, and you’ll build your business.
Also, make sure you have a good alarm clock.