3+ Ways Finishing Projects Ahead of Schedule Can Hurt You

As discussed in a recent post here on Freelance Folder, it is usually a best practice for freelancers to under promise and over deliver.

One way to under promise and over deliver is to pad your deadline when you agree upon a schedule for a project. Padding your deadline gives you extra time to deal with any unexpected issues and it also creates the possibility of finishing ahead of schedule.

In most cases, your clients will be overjoyed when you deliver their work sooner than expected. I encourage you to continue amazing your clients with your efficiency. This practice will usually help you to grow your business. However, there are times when working quicker than expected can actually inspire a negative response from clients.

In this post, we’ll look at some of the related misconceptions clients can have in an effort to help prevent them from happening to you in your future freelancing endeavors. I’ll also share how working too quickly impacted my own freelance business and explain what I could have done instead.

Re-examine Your Selling Points

One of the primary selling points I promote in my web design business is how quickly I can turn around a new project while still maintaining my quality standards. I have designed and built entire custom websites in a matter of days when others have told the client that it would take weeks.

Until recently, every single one of my clients has expressed their pleasure with how quickly I work and with the personal attention I give them along the way. So, it was a shock when I had a few recent experiences where the clients responded negatively to delivery of their project sooner than they expected.

The fact that all of them happened within the same week compelled me to examine the reasons for their responses and see what I could learn from them. What follows are the results of this examination and new considerations that have forever altered the way I approach new projects.

Misconception 1: Quality Takes Time

When a client wants to pay for a rush project, one of their primary expectations is that they will get the same quality result but at a faster pace than normal. In that situation, turnaround time is expected to be quick, so the client does not operate under the perception that quicker delivery lowers the quality. They have paid extra for the special treatment, so there is no surprise when they receive what they expected at an accelerated pace.

If a client does not pay for a rush delivery, but still receives their finished project unexpectedly ahead of schedule, there is a very real possibility that they will think the quality of the project has been sacrificed for the fast turnaround. Sure, there are those that will take shortcuts and a production-line approach to generate cookie-cutter results, but that doesn’t mean we ALL operate that way.

I have learned that it is important to clearly communicate not only your proposed timeline, but also the possibility of an accelerated timeline. In other words, tell your client your planned milestones and deadline, but let them know that if you have an unexpected opening in your schedule you could finish sooner, and when. This will keep them from being surprised and lessen the possibility of thoughts of lesser quality, should you happen to deliver ahead of time.

Misconception 2: Passion and Creativity Take Time

Every client wants to believe that they are your most important priority, even though common sense dictates this is not possible. Still, it is helpful to remember this fact when finishing a project early because the client might interpret your speed as an attempt to clear their project off your plate and get paid, rather than you giving it the same dedication, attention and passion that you give to every project and that your client deserves.

If you are hired to enlist your creativity, it is also possible that the client is either not a creative person themselves, or they are creative in other areas and believe, therefore, that all creativity takes time, blood, sweat and tears to produce. The reality, of course, is that different people create in different ways, processes and speeds.

Communicating your method of creative operation and your passion for the project to your client could clear this misconception out of their mind and help you avoid a negative response for delivering ahead of schedule.

Misconception 3: Clients Should Control the Throttle

Certain personalities possess a need for control, and this is no different in the context of clients. Pushing ahead at a speed that the client is uncomfortable with can generate all kinds of negative feedback, especially when that person equates their hiring of you as a purchase of your subservience to their desires and methodology. Some clients may actually want you to slow down because they believe they should be the ones who are dictating how and when things happen. Here the reality is that you should be working together to determine the pace that is mutually beneficial, and no one should dominate the decisions in this matter.

Clearly communicate your schedule. Your planned procedures and expected pace will always benefit your working experience and ease your client through what may be an unfamiliar process. It will also help them let go of the misconception that they need to be in control and place their trust in you and the reasons they hired you.

Other Reasons Clients May Want You to Slow Down

I was so shocked when I received these negative responses to my quick turnaround that I asked other designers and friends if this had ever happened to them, and what possible reasons they might receive a complaint for working too fast. The most popular answer was that finishing ahead of schedule meant the final payment had to be made ahead of schedule. Although I completely understand the constraints of budgets and so forth, if the client is not going to be able to pay for the completed work until a certain date it should really be something that is communicated up front.

Another issue may be the client’s own busy schedule, and their resulting inability to keep up with a quicker pace of necessary communication. For instance, in the design process there are mockups that need to be viewed and approved, revisions to be clarified, and other communications that take time between client and freelancer. An especially busy client may prefer to slow down the process in order to spread out the answering of a bunch of emails and phone calls along the way.

Most of these situations can be avoided by good communication from the outset, but I had never had any prior experiences where clients wanted me to work slower so it was impossible for me to anticipate the need for communications of this type. Now that I have experienced it, I make sure to communicate schedules, timelines and possible paces at which I will be working on the project so there are no surprises.

What About You?

Have you ever run into a client asking you to slow down? Have your clients ever reacted negatively to you finishing ahead of schedule? Have you encountered other misconceptions about the speed at which a client believes work should be done?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


  1. says

    All very valid points, but I find the biggest problem of finishing well ahead of schedule is that you set a precedent for any future work for that client – they will expect the next job to be completed just as quickly, regardless of how many other projects you may have on.

  2. says

    @Lee – Good point there Lee. I was thinking the exact same thing when I was reading and thinking of other misconceptions that could come up from fast delivery.

    A lot of my clients have praised me for producing results at impressive speed that this article actually made me hold my horses and think of the possibility of negativity due to over-delivery. You’re right about them thinking that quality has sacrificed due to fast delivery actually and sometimes I worry that my clients would think this whenever I submit finished work ahead of schedule. What I do to neutralize this is to ask the client to review the work and to let me know if there are any revisions to be made. This way, if there really are revisions to be made I can do them ASAP and submit them ASAP as well.

    This reminds me of the time I was working with a client live on Skype and he asked me, “You’re moving so fast! Is someone helping you with the work?”

  3. says

    Most of my clients need stuff yesterday, so they never react negatively when I turn things around quickly. However, when stuff ISN’T urgent, I usually sit on it until the agreed deadline for exactly the reason Lee mentions. I don’t want them to expect me to always turn things around quickly

  4. says

    It might be because I don’t work with regular clients, but ive never experienced negative feedback from turning around my projects early. Nor have I had problems with clients expecting the project early each time. Although I’ve had the problem where peoplenexpect me to keep an empty schedule and get their projects done rightbat the moment they send me an email :/

  5. says

    As soon you don’t sacrifice the quality fast turn-around is welcomed by clients in general.
    Regarding that they have pay earlier should not be an issue in case you finish the project earlier, since you specify a due date on the invoice.

  6. says

    Even if I do work way faster than before, there are rare occasions I promise a super-fast turnaround. most of the time the clients won’t keep up with the communication and this will drag the project. Of course, it will be impossible to explain to the client that you missed the deadline because it took him 5 days to respond to an email. When I construct my deadline I take this into account too. Not all my clients are online all day long, so, if we have to go back and forth with some changes, we’d miss my normal deadline.

    Another issue is that you get used to working fast and sacrificing A LOT OF TIME this way. I used to work for 14 hours last year. It took me 3 months of almost killing myself to understand this is not a race. And my clients don’t mind if their project doesn’t take 5 days, but 14. This way I can also enjoy life and not go into an early grave, while my clients don’t have to be online 14 hours a day to communicate to their overly eager designer ;)

  7. John says

    I like the article, i was amazed at the turn around you stated in the article so i took a look at your portfolio. Sorry to say, i’m not impressed. you need to update your skills.

  8. says

    # “Pushing ahead at a speed that the client is uncomfortable with can generate all kinds of negative feedback, especially when that person equates their hiring of you as a purchase of your subservience to their desires and methodology.”

    This is so true, especially when referring to a service that is not into the employer’s direct area of expertise. A mutually beneficial pace is, however, difficult to achieve and it may prove useful only after a long period of time, after the two have come to know each other.

    Lloyd Burrell

  9. Alexander says

    In my country (Argentine), most customers want the job for today. And they do not want to hear the schedule. When this happens, the budget will include additional charges, and the client usually accepts my schedule.

  10. says

    Getting a project done too fast will make the client think that they overpaid OR you haven’t done a detailed job AND it will open the floodgates for round after round of revisions because they now have plenty of time to tweak the project before presenting it to THEIR client.

    If you finish a project very early, sit on it for a while. and deliver it just ahead of the timeframe your client is anticipating. This is a VERY valuable lesson and hard to implement because your instinct is to deliver your work ASAP. BIG mistake.

  11. says

    PS- They also might not be ready to give you the client deliverables (copy, content etc) for the second phase of the project in which case, if you deliver too fast, they will feel this added pressure -dp

  12. says

    I had a problem once when working for a very small company that they got so used to my fast turn around, when I couldn’t produce work so fast they would get upset with me. I’d try and tell them that the project was more difficult and so it would take longer and they would be like you are a super star at this just wave your magic wand and make it happen. Needless to say it was very frustrating.

  13. says

    Good article though I sometimes find that not even clear communication can help a client when it comes to delivering a project on time let alone early. All my clients are supplied a timeline when the job commences but its a rare day when one of them actually meets deadlines set for them (of course they still expect you to meet your deadlines afterwards).

    But I also have the same issue as Amber where clients seem to expect that I keep my schedule open for them and they can email / call with a job and have it done by tomorrow. That takes some clear communication to remind them that I have other active projects on the go…

  14. says

    Ich bin Regel bis Blogging und i eigentlich erkennen Ihre Inhalte. Der Artikel wurde wirklich Gipfel mein Interesse. ich werde, um Ihre Lesezeichen web site und bewahren für brandneue Informationen.

  15. says

    I have never had a client telling me to slow down or complaining about fast work. Although fast work does lend itself to potential mistakes with projects, which I have made before.

  16. says

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  17. says

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