What to Do When You Can’t Deliver (A Template For Emergencies)

We’ve dealt with the topic of not meeting a deadline on FreelanceFolder before. The general rule concerning them is simple: if at all possible, make the promised deadline. Your client is counting on your and your professional reputation is at stake.

That being said, eventually there is bound to come a time as a freelancer when you just can’t deliver as promised.

For me, the only time that I can really remember missing a deadline in a major way was a few years ago when my mother died. For you, the cause of a missed deadline may be something else that is beyond your control. The truth is, even with the very best planning sometimes things go drastically wrong.

In this post we’ll go over one way to help alleviate the situation and help you maintain your client relationships.

An Emergency Template

In an emergency situation it’s important to clearly communicate everything to the client and do your best to salvage the relationship and/or job. Below, you’ll find a draft letter that I’ve created as a guide for handling such emergencies. I wish that I’d had such a template available when my crisis occurred. After all, if a true emergency occurs you may not be able to create such a letter in the heat of the moment.

I’m presenting this information in the form of a letter, but depending on your relationship with your client you may want to use it as a guideline for making a phone call.

Here’s my emergency letter template:

Dear Joe Client,
First of all, I want to thank you so much for allowing me to work on the press releases for your new wig shop. I’ve completed all of the interviews and the finished press release is about 50% complete.
Unfortunately, something that neither of us planned on has occurred to affect the scheduled completion of the press release. Yesterday my house was flooded and the insurance company says it will be a month before I can live in it again.
This disaster has put me about a week behind on the press release project. However, I’ve taken the liberty of contacting Suzy Copywriter, an esteemed colleague that I’ve worked with before. With Suzy’s help I believe that the original schedule for the project could still be met. However, if you need to select an entirely different writer at this time I will understand.
I apologize for any inconvenience that this setback has caused. Let me know what you decide at your earliest convenience. In any event, I enjoy working with you and I hope that you will consider me for future projects.
Sincerely yours,
Frank Freelancer

Now, before you go sending this to anyone, I want to highlight the following aspects of the letter:

  • Professional, courteous tone – Your letter needs to be as polite and professional as you can possibly make it.
  • Prompt notification – The letter is written as quickly after the disaster as possible.
  • Detailed information – The letter informs the client of the project’s current progress as well as the extent of the delay.
  • Options are provided – With the suggestion that Suzy Copywriter finish the project, the client is given an option.
  • Brief apology – While the letter does contain an apology, it is not gushy or overly whiny.
  • Relationship – The letter seeks to preserve future relations with the client in the closing.

Based on my experience, if an event occurs that is truly not your fault most clients will understand. After all, it’s likely that they’ve had an emergency or two happen to them over the years.

Of course, if you are constantly having “emergencies” and regularly miss your deadlines then the client response will likely be much different.

Share Your Feedback

Have you run into any situations where you haven’t been able to meet the project requirements? How did you handle them, and what were the results?

Share your comments and feedback below.