How to Never Miss a Deadline

deadlinesI’m going to let you in on the secret to keeping clients for years and getting more referral business than ever. Stellar portfolio? Sure, that helps, but no. That’s not it. It’s simpler than that. Here it is:

Never miss a deadline. Ever.

One of the most common complaints that clients have about freelancers is that they’re not reliable. What is this complaint based on? You can bet that missed deadlines had something to do with it. The project took twice as long to complete. Or you met the deadline, but it wasn’t tested for bugs. Perhaps this complaint was due something simple like failing to reply to an email in a timely fashion. These are all variations on the same key element of reliability. That is the ability to deliver a finished product, on time, every time.

I certainly have first-hand experience with this. Over the course of my freelance web design career, I often need to sub-contract other freelancers to help out with time-sensitive pieces of my client projects. The sad truth is that more times than not, the job isn’t done on time. I end up picking up the slack myself, or doing damage control with my client who expected their website to launch a week ago. Will I re-hire a freelancer who missed a sensitive deadline? Chances are, the answer is no.

This Is Your Opportunity

Given the fact that too many freelancers have a lack of regard for deadlines, it’s hard not to see the massive opportunity this creates for you. This your chance to set yourself apart from the crowd. You can spend hours making your portfolio website shine, but the reality is there are tons of beautiful portfolios out there. Yours should be great too, but it won’t guarantee the one thing that every client is really looking for: Reliability.

If there’s one skill you must hone to perfection, regardless of your industry, region, niche, or price range, it’s your reliability. And the best way to prove you’re reliable is to meet every deadline thrown your way. Clients value this a lot more than you might think. Deliver their project on time, and they are much more likely to love the results than if it were late.

Plus, your clients will jump at the opportunity to recommend your services to their friends and colleagues. As we all know, the best way to attract new business is by generating referrals. And the best way to do that, is to be reliable.

How to stay on track and on time

I think I’ve made my point about the importance of meeting deadlines. So how do you go about doing this in your day-to-day work-flow? Here are a few tips that help me stay on track and never miss deadlines:

  1. Set padded time estimates. Don’t give time estimates based on how many work hours it is for you. Set estimates based on your overall schedule, taking into account all your other projects. You also need to take into account extra time for testing, tweaking, and polishing. So if a project will take you two work days to complete, tell the client it will take two weeks. Of course, you need to be reasonable, but if you’re client is professional, they will understand the importance of thoughtful timelines. This brings us to the next tip:
  2. Thoughtful communication. Effective client communication is all about managing expectations. Sometimes it’s best not to be so precise about an upcoming deadline. “I expect to have that ready for you early next week” might be better than “You will have it by Monday, the latest”. The former gives you a bit more flexibility, while offering a reasonable expectation for the client.
  3. Break large projects into bite-sized milestones. Many of my projects can last several months. So how I do make sure things stay on track? Split them up into short-term milestones, each with their own deadline. Whether or not these deadlines are internal or if they involve a client review, it’s good to set clearly defined calendar goals for yourself (or your team). Don’t make your project revolve around one final deadline, months down the road. That’s too far ahead and will likely result in cramming everything just before the deadline. Split it into weekly or daily goals, and knock them out one by one.
  4. Use Getting Things Done (GTD) software. I’ve tried several apps before landing and sticking with Things. It’s perfect for visualizing my to-do list, separated by client or project. It fits nicely into my work flow, allowing me to prioritize tasks, and set deadlines for time-sensitive ones. I keep it open during the work day, reveling in the moment I get to place that check next to each task.
  5. things

I even have a backup system for items that are extremely important and time sensitive. That system is Google Calendar. If I know I can’t miss something, I’ll enter it in my GCal and set an email or mobile reminder for it. Since I’m constantly connected, this should keep me covered in case something falls through the cracks.

Do You Meet Your Deadlines?

How do you make sure you’re on top of your deadlines?

Share your tips in the comments!

Image by wwarby