The Importance of Doing What You Say

promise“I’ll have the final copy for that email to you in an hour and then it will need to be coded immediately,” he said. I made plans to be ready to receive the document and translate it into an email with superhuman customer service strength, satisfying the client’s needs and exceeding his expectations. Four hours later, I was still waiting, my schedule for the day had been turned upside down, and the client had set a precedent that I would pin to him for the remainder of our relationship.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

Even worse, have you ever done it to your clients?

For freelancers, one of the most critical things you can do is exactly what you say you are going to do. To fail to do so will have lasting effects on your business, your reputation and your client relationships. In this post, we will look at reasons this is important, as well as a way to insure that it becomes a consistent element of how you run your business.

Ruin or Raise Your Reputation

Losers make promises they often break. Winners make commitments they always keep. Denis Waitley

Probably the most important reason to do what you say is how it causes others–clients, colleagues and friends–to think of you. Regardless of your intentions, your reputation is how others perceive you, whether it is realistic or not. Your responsibility is to build the best possible perception of you for others and avoid giving them any reason to think otherwise.

Are you reliable? Do you complete your work in a timely manner and when promised? If not, most professionals will not settle for substandard for very long.

We all know that negative statements are dispersed far more easily and passed along much more quickly than positive ones. Any time that you make a commitment and then fail to follow through and fulfill it, the story of it is very likely to follow you wherever you go from that point forward. With today’s viral communication methods, this is even more dangerous to your business than ever before.

By contrast, if you make and keep promises, it is quite possible that your satisfied client will sing your praises and recommend you to others. I have seen this happen in my own business often, and it has become a cornerstone for its growth.

Drop the ball and fail to deliver, and you are guaranteed to begin ruining your reputation–possibly to a point that could be fatal. Keep or exceed your promises, and you will have a client, colleague and/or friend for life.

Satisfaction for Everyone

Your life works to the degree you keep your agreements.  Werner Erhard

Not only will your clients and colleagues be pleased with your work ethic when you do what you say, but your own life will reflect the satisfaction of a job well done. Your self-confidence will increase in proportion to the number of satisfied customers and commitments kept, which in turn grows the level of confidence your clients will place in you.

This perpetual cycle will produce overwhelmingly positive results. The opposite, however, can go so far as to kill your freelance business altogether.

Letting others down by failing to keep your commitments will steadily take its toll on you personally, which in turn impacts how you deal with your clients. This is a dangerous path to tread, and should be avoided at all costs.

An Expectation of Excellence

If you believe in unlimited quality and act in all your business dealings with total integrity, the rest will take care of itself.  Frank Perdue

Doing what you say consistently will create in your clients an expectation of the highest standards. For the lazy or timid freelancer (can there be such a thing?) this may sound daunting, and it might not be the environment they would like to work in. For the successful freelancer, this is the ultimate motivation.

High expectations breed high quality results. If you set the bar at a high level, you will find yourself striving to exceed it. A good freelancer always has some competitive streak, even with themselves. The expectation of integrity, high quality and consistency is a great motivator that is fed by valuing the commitment to do what you say.

Wouldn’t you rather have clients that come to you expecting the best, rather than mediocrity? Doing what you say you will do creates such an atmosphere.

The Key to Keeping Your Promises

The person who is slowest in making a promise is most faithful in its performance.  Jean Jacques Rousseau

The number one rule for consistently doing what you say is to keep from over committing.

It’s that plain and simple.

Think before you commit. Allow yourself some breathing room. Weigh other variables such as outstanding or upcoming projects. Avoid rushing into anything.

If you make a commitment that you know without a doubt you can keep–or even better, exceed–you will build a foundation for many future successes and growth. So take your time before promising anything. Very seldom do rush decisions work out well. In the end, everyone involved will be happier, and the future of your freelance business will be brighter.

Your Thoughts?

For some it may seem obvious or redundant to suggest that doing what you say is of vital importance to a freelance business, but rest assured there are plenty of people who for one reason or another have never grasped this concept.

How about you? Do you have a history of keeping your commitments or failing to deliver? How has this affected your clients and your business? What other suggestions do you have for ways to insure this consistency?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image by Shutterstock


  1. says

    I agree, the key to keeping your commitments is not to overstretch yourself. My rule is always to deliver what I say I’m going to. That way, clients will get to know you are reliable.

  2. says

    Because I love what I do so much, I grab almost every opportunity to help someone out, but I often ending up over-committing myself. It’s especially so when I am feeling super motivated … like I can take on the world. So I try, and then look around and see that I have some heavy lifting to do. It’s been a learning process, but I am getting better at seeing the signs now. I find that most people are good people and honesty is the best policy. Find yourself over-committed? Be honest with yourself and your clients.


  3. Brian Jones says

    Another great post Brian. Still an aspired designer / developer in my self taught studies, I am currently working on a pro bono site. I have been waiting for a complete list of services and 2 pics / bios for Meet The team for 2 weeks now. The upside is atleast I have had time to brush up on the sites aesthetics – smiles. Keep up the great work!

  4. says

    Ryan – I agree. I have the same situation here.

    Other thoughts are:
    – people sometimes feel too secure and after “one small thing to adjust” they come up with whole a lot of new ideas forgetting they haven’t paid for them, they paid for this one small thing.. + these ideas need careful planning and time to do

    – it’s not really that good to hurry so much – people may think it’s something really easy and they might not want to understand why 20 minutes of something is worth “that much”..

    – in my country (Poland) I have observed for the past 10 years of my career in education and webdesign that it isn’t worth being fast, reliable, etc. People will either think it’s easy (and therefore should be cheap as hell) or they come up with more and more ideas just to ..I don’t know, maybe it’s a matter of a customer but very often people try to use me.

    Don’t let people overuse you just because you work twice as fast as everyone else!

    Sometimes I see something quite the opposite (especially if you have had a lot of time and have made everything perfectly well and very fast) – they sometimes demand big things “in one hour” because if you’ve done something “that fast” then you can do anything. And the best would be you did it for free. But that’s a bit different, I guess…

  5. says

    A friend and client of mine, Darin Hager of Heyday Shoes put it to me in the most simple terms possible “Under promise and over deliver.” Ever since that day it’s been one of the maxim’s that I live by.

  6. says

    Haha, that photo made me laugh, haven’t done that gesture in years. I agree with what you wrote here. Why make promises you can’t deliver? I always tell my prospects that I don’t make promises, but I deliver results. This helped me avoid their frustrations whenever I can’t meet their expectations. I’m proud to say that I never miss my deadline and I always respond to my clients within a 24-48 hour time frame. This helped me keep short-term deals running for the long run. Freelancing is all about building your online reputation and if it’s smeared, you can’t simply clean it off with your household cleaner.

  7. Lynn G Clark says

    As Kevin says, “Underpromise & Overdeliver” works every time. I’ve learned the hard way to take a breath before I promise a delivery time for anything. I think about how much time I’d really need to do a good job on the request, then double or triple it if that’s feasible in the timeline overall.

    Then, I try to deliver it within half the time I quoted. And my clients (internal for now) get wowed.

    I used to be a drop-everything kind of girl, and then I analyzed my workstyle and found I was constantly, constantly reacting, leaving myself no time for planning or actually doing work that wasn’t reactive. I’m now in reaction rehab: my best response is “Let me take a look at my calendar and get back to you on that by the end of the day.”

  8. says

    You make some really great points. Many times I think the quality of your relationship with your relationship is even more important than the quality of the work. You need to do things to improve that relationship. Ideally the more you give, the more you get.

  9. says

    Completely agree. I also operate with the “under promise and over deliver” mantra. One of my weaknesses is in saying no, especially to friends who just need that one small favor. But if it means staying up all night to stay on deadline and exceed expectations, I certainly will. Disappointing the customer is never acceptable.

  10. says

    It is very easy to get backed into a corner by a frantic client who’s blown off planning and deadlines and expects you to make up for it. Underpromise & overdeliver is great advice here. I would also add: Don’t take on their anxiety. You need to take care of ALL your clients, not just the worry warts!

  11. says

    Brilliant post i’ve to say… – I guess even after years of working with clients you have to remember that concept quite often…

  12. says

    So right! There’s such a personal bit of joy that comes from fulfilling a clients need and when we extend ourselves too thin, everyone suffers, including ourselves. It’s best to know our limitations and above all, keep our promises.

  13. says

    Tension arises with clients when expectations are not met in the eyes of the client. The fundamental lesson that I learned about client relationships is to set realistic expectations. If this is not possible, it is not worth doing business with the client.

  14. says

    Seems to me that every time you pay people you work with right on time, immediately and with no delays – you get much better results from them afterwards, making your spent cash well worth. Keeping a promise is invaluable not only to them, but for yourself as-well.

  15. says

    Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips for inexperienced blog writers? I’d
    genuinely appreciate it.


  1. […] 3. KEEP YOUR PROMISES  A promise is a promise.  So are you on time?  Do you meet your deadlines?  When you agree to do something – does it get done?  If we don’t keep our commitments – even our minor commitments – we demonstrate that our words are meaningless. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>