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How to miss a deadline.

May 21, 2012

How To Miss A Deadline

This is directed to freelancers in any field, but I think it applies to many other professional situations. You might read this and think, “Oh, well yah, duh. Everyone knows this.” I can assure you that not everyone knows this.

Transparency has two sides. It’s one part communication and one part selflessness. The communication side of things is pretty simple. You tell me what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, how, why, etc and then you do it. Selflessness is knowing when to make a decision that may not be so good for you, but it’s the best choice for the client or project.

Scenario 1: A business that we’ll call Professional Services Inc., contracts a copywriter. Let’s call her Lisa. The two parties agree on scope and timeline. Everything is clear about what is expected and Lisa begins to work. Now lets say Lisa has a creative block, a weird emergency, or she had a brain fart and forgot about a deadline. Lisa can do a few things, but what & how should Lisa do?

1. Always apologize. If there is no sense of regret in the email/call it can easily come off as arrogance. Even if it wasn’t your fault and there was no way around it, be humble and just say you’re sorry.

2. Explain the situation. If something is super personal, you don’t have to go into details, but just make sure you get the point across that it was unavoidable, extremely personal and there was no way to get the work done. If it was something dumb, be honest. Your client may get mad regardless, but at the very least they’ll respect your honesty.

3. Tell everyone. Often times there may be multiple people involved in the project. Make sure your excuses get heard by everyone. The last thing you need is for the decision maker to be out of the loop.

4. Set new, realistic deadlines. This is the most important part of the process. You need to make sure that your new deadlines will be attainable and still work with the project’s timeline. This is where the selflessness comes into play. You might be working on an awesome project, a dream project even, but if you know your new goals are impossible and you still go for it… Terrible things could happen. Best case scenario your work is rushed, more revisions are required which further delays things and your client isn’t happy. Worst case? You miss another deadline. Now your clients are really pissed. Now your clients are frantically searching for a replacement. Now your client is seriously delayed. Now your client wants to punch you. If you can’t do it, let your client know early on. They might still be disappointed but they won’t be near as upset if you drag things out and then bail.

Avoiding emails or calls is never the way to handle a tough situation. Always be upfront with your client. Even if the news is bad or not what the client wants to hear, you’re always better off with prompt, honest responses.

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