All About Deadlines

Probably nothing else in the freelancing experience creates as much stress as deadlines.

If a freelancer tells you they are up against a deadline, then you know that it’s time to back off and give them some space so that they can get your work done.

We all have deadlines, but we rarely talk about them. Yet, there’s quite a lot to talk about.

In this post, we’ll look at deadlines from various angles including types of deadlines, how to negotiate a better deadline, how meet your deadlines, and what to do if you miss a deadline. I hope you’ll also chip in with your own experiences and tips about deadlines.

Types of Deadlines

There are several different types of deadlines that a freelancer may be faced with:

  • Rush Deadlines. These are those jobs the come in with the client mandate that they be done as quickly as possible–yesterday if you can manage it. Since there’s almost always additional pressure built in to this type of work, most freelancers charge extra to take on a rush job.
  • One Time Deadlines. A one time deadline means you turn in all of your work to the client at once on the agreed upon date. These jobs can also be risky. If you’ve gone off on a tangent and missed the client’s objective you won’t find out until you’re done.
  • Phased Deadlines. Many jobs come with phased deadlines. Basically, this means that you turn your work in to the client in phases. After each phase is approved, you move on to the next. Since many clients pay for each phase separately, this arrangement can be good for long-term or large jobs.
  • Recurring Deadlines. A recurring deadline is good news because it probably means that you have a long-term client. An example of a freelancer with recurring deadline would be a writer who is assigned to turn in a new article each Monday.

Once you’ve figured out what kind of deadline you’re dealing with, it’s time to decide if it works for you. If it doesn’t, it may be time to negotiate.

Negotiating Your Best Deadline

Many freelancers don’t realize it, but deadlines are often negotiable. You’re not necessarily stuck with the first deadline date the client mentions. Sure, sometimes the client has a hard and fast date that absolutely must be met. But most of the time he or she is willing to adjust their deadlines (within reason, of course).

Here are some guidelines to follow when negotiating a deadline:

  1. Be enthusiastic. Emphasize that you are really excited about the work and do want the job. You don’t want the client to get the idea that you’re not interested.
  2. Suggest a reasonable adjustment. Many clients are willing to adjust the deadline by a day, or so. However, if you are suggesting an adjustment of more than a week you had better have a good reason.
  3. Be flexible. Consider whether you are also willing to make an accommodation for the client. For example, if they extend the project deadline by a few days would you be able to take on additional work?
  4. Be prepared for the client’s answer. If they say “no,” consider whether you can realistically meet the original deadline. If you can’t, you may have to refer them to another freelancer.

Once your deadline is negotiated, it’s up to you to make sure that you deliver on time.

How to Make Sure You Meet Your Deadlines

Once the deadline is set, you need to do everything in your power to make sure that you meet it. Here are some tips for meeting deadlines:

  • Break a large project into smaller pieces.
  • If the project will span several days, have daily goals.
  • Schedule a specific time for your work.
  • Plan to turn the work in early rather than in the “nick of time.” If you plan to turn it in early, that gives you a buffer if something goes wrong.
  • Work smart.
  • Make sure your office is neat and organized.
  • Back up your work.
  • Get plenty of rest to make sure you are at your maximum efficiency.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you do miss the deadline. If this happens to you, you’ll have to deal with it.

Dealing with a Missed Deadline

Nearly all freelancers miss a deadline sooner or later. It may be due to a family emergency, an unforeseen circumstance like an extended power outage, poor estimating, or even personal illness. Whatever the cause, you need to take some immediate steps to try and preserve your client relationship. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Notification. Tell the client that you are going to be late as soon as possible. If you can, let them know that you will be turning the work in late before the deadline actually happens.
  2. Let it go. If the client needs you to, be ready to release the project. Refer them to another freelancer with similar skills who is available to meet their deadline.
  3. Discount. In extreme cases, you may need to discount your work to help offset the missed deadline. The need for this is very rare, though.

If you’ve been reliable in the past (or if you have an excellent reputation), most clients will understand the rare emergency and you won’t lose the work. After all, your client is a person too. They understand that things beyond your control sometimes happen.

Your Turn

Do you stress out over deadlines? What is your biggest problem concerning deadlines? Do you have any tips dealing with deadlines?

Share your answers in the comments.


  1. says

    My most stressful deadlines are those when I submit responses to a Request for Proposal (RFP). No missed deadlines here! To make sure everything gets done, I created a spreadsheet to track every question/answer/piece of the RFP as to what stage it’s in, who needs to be providing information, what’s their deadline, etc. It helps me see at a glance what’s been accomplished and what’s not. I send this with an update to my client at the end of every work day, and it helps both of us keep everyone on track.

  2. says

    We normally manage these expectations during the initial meeting stage, where we listen to the client’s requirements and work out the total amount of effect needed. By then, we would already have a rough idea how long it’ll take to complete the job. Buffer it up by slapping on a couple extra days, weeks, whatever just in case and ta da…that’s our timeline!

  3. says

    Deadline can be headache when your not ready! My secret is to focus and work hard to be able to meet the deadlines. Clients will always want to be on time so you must be able to coup with it. Thanks for great tips you have here. Kudos! :)

  4. says

    What do I do with a client that does not reply whether my submitted project was accepted or not after a month? (We have no deadline yet)
    What do I do if they publish my work without paying me first?

  5. says

    Great comments!

    Catena Creations–There is some stress involved with responding to an RFP because at that point you don’t know if you’ve gotten the work or not.

    Morgan & Me Creative & SEOblush, Thanks for your tips.

    poch–If someone isn’t responding to your proposal, they probably aren’t going to hire you. If they were polite, they would let you know that you didn’t get the project–but not everyone is considerate. I would try to get in touch with them one last time and then move on.

  6. says

    Thanks Laura.
    What I submitted is really an edited version of an earlier submission. Is that called a ‘proposal’ too? Doesn’t that change your advice?

  7. says

    No Ma’am. I have no agreement in writing but I have their written instructions for the project. Maybe I considered that a written agreement.

  8. says

    The BIGGEST FREELANCER’S MISTAKE is saying yes to everyone who comes with an offer. This is when most fail at keeping deadlines. If this happens regularly it is best not to take on more work than you can possibly do or ask your clients to wait for a while as your hands are already full. In most cases a good client will wait patiently for his turn, but only if you have delivered quality earlier.

  9. says

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be on that the net that the simplest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely figure out annoyed while people consider worries they
    just don’t be acquainted with about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having
    side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to find more.


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