What to Do When You Can’t Meet a Deadline

When a client approaches you with a big project, the initial reaction is to accept it, and for good reason – the compensation and experience are things that will benefit you. New, exciting projects always push the limits of what you can do. However, poor decision-making, particularly when it comes to timelines, could reflect poorly on you and could affect your ability to attract new clients

One consequence of over-booking is the possibility of missed deadlines.  Companies usually have some sort of a system that allows them to allocate resources to projects that are in critical condition. But in extreme cases, you have to accept that a deadline is going to be missed, and it’s up to you to mitigate the impact of the delay. Clear, direct communication with clients is the key to ensuring the survival of your business, especially in scenarios like these.

Know your limits. While you are still negotiating with your clients, let them know what your strengths and weaknesses are. This way, expectations are tempered, and you will be able to establish points of reference. Once all the terms are agreed upon, put them down on paper.  While window-dressing can get you new business at the start, good performance helps you keep it.

Ask for expert advice. Even the best companies seek outside help when an urgent deadline draws near. Teaming up with another firm or person with the needed expertise helps ensure that the project is finished according to schedule. The partnerships you build can also prove to be beneficial in the future.

Avoid getting pushed around. If your client insists that you meet a deadline and it is certainly impossible to do so, say “no” firmly but politely and give them other options. Let them know what your limitations are, and what the consequences will be if the project is rushed.

Renegotiate with your clients. Once you’ve explained the situation to your clients, you have an opportunity to make them look at the project through your eyes. Keep your communication lines open. If you play your cards right, your clients might even offer to assist you by giving more time and resources, just so the project can be finished as planned.

The prospect of missing a deadline is always there. Honesty and openness with your clients, especially in situations like these, can spell the difference between spoiled business relations and more project referrals.


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