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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

What to Do If You MUST Miss a Deadline

Anyone who has been freelancing for more than five minutes knows the rule: Never, ever, ever miss a deadline. 

That's good advice. Missed deadlines shake the faith of clients and editors. Not only does missing a deadline make it less likely that one particular client will work with you again, that client is also unlikely to refer other clients.

That said, what if something comes up and you must miss a deadline? For instance, I recently had "minor" surgery–at least, I anticipated it would be minor. Unfortunately, complications arose and I spent two miserable days in the hospital followed by a period of wandering dazedly around my home with oxygen tubing trailing behind me. All the work I'd planned to do that week went flying right out the window. The pain medication alone made me so loopy I didn't dare work on any projects for clients.

Taking a week off so unexpectedly meant several missed deadlines and a couple of irate clients. Luckily, I had laid the groundwork for damage control and managed to emerge with most of my professional relationships intact.

If you, too, must miss a deadline, try the following tips to keep your clients as happy as they can be.

1. Notify Your Client ASAP

As soon as you realize you are running up against a deadline, notify your client. Give a brief explanation (not an excuse), apologize for the delay, and propose another deadline you know you can meet.

2. Keep Your Client Informed

Too much information can be, well, icky, but a little information may help restore your client's confidence in you. My clients had no interest in graphic details of my surgery or its aftermath. Instead, when I was on the mend, I sent each active client an email saying that I was feeling much better and had resumed my regular writing schedule. I assured each client that I was on track to meet the new deadline we had agreed upon.

3. Offer a Discount

If you can afford to do so, offer clients a discount on the services that were not completed by the original deadline. I offered 20 percent off my usual editing prices to clients who were affected by my surgery.  The clients appreciated not just the money but the fact that I realized they had been inconvenienced. In fact, not a single one fired me.

4. Offer an Out

Some clients have projects that can be put on the back burner for a few days or even a few weeks. Other clients are in desperate need of the materials you are supplying. If you can't meet a deadline for a client with urgent needs, offer to refer him or her to another freelancer who can get the project done in the allotted time frame. (Keep a list of fellow and sister freelancers on hand for cases like this.)

Missing deadlines isn't something that should be done lightly. If you make a commitment as a writer or editor, always try to keep it, of course. But if an emergency comes up and you must miss a deadline, communicate with your clients and try to make it up to them in some small way. They'll appreciate your extra effort.

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