3 Keys to Setting Deadlines for Freelance Writing Projects

Freelance writers face deadlines - and if you're just starting your freelance writing business, you may not have given this much consideration.  The important thing is that you always have to meet your deadlines.  No exceptions. 

If you've done things the right way and used a freelance writing contract, your deadlines and the project specifications will be clearly outlined.  Don't ever write without a contract, freelance writers - that's bad business, too.

You pick a day, they agree and you write.  It sounds easy, right? 

Not always. 

Why is it bad to miss deadlines?
  • Missing deadlines is unprofessional.  When you go to pick your car up from the shop, you don't want them to tell you it won't be ready for another day. 
  • Missing deadlines costs you clients. When the shop is finally finished with your car, will you ever bring it back there again?  Probably not - and the same holds true for your freelance writing clients.
  • Missing deadlines costs you money - both now and in the long run.  If you haven't lived up to your end of the contract, they may not be obligated to pay you.  They're also more likely to give you bad publicity - and that's like having a sniper take your business out before you even know it.
Choose your deadlines wisely, because your freelance writing business is more important than blowing off work for a concert or sleeping late one day.

What are the 3 keys to setting deadlines?

1. Be realistic.  If you have class three days a week, a date on Friday and obligations for the weekend, you might not be able to set aside the appropriate number of hours during the week to do your client justice.  You're either going to burn the midnight oil, burn the candle at both ends or burn your client - and if you want to keep your freelance writing business, you'd better choose wisely if you get yourself into that situation.

2. Don't be a showoff.  Most freelance writing clients know that it takes time to complete quality documents.  They also know that you're likely working on other projects.  You're not doing anyone any good if they call you Monday morning and you promise the documents by Monday night.  First, it shows that you're willing to drop everything for a little money; second, it shows that your services probably aren't in high demand because you've got nothing else to work on.

3. Work backward.  If your client needs the documents by Friday, look at where you are today.  How many days do you have?  How much effort can you expend each day (truthfully, now) while allowing yourself enough sleep, time to decompress and a little safety cushion?

Extra tip:  Say your client absolutely needs documents by Friday, for example.  Try to set your deadline for Wednesday, at the latest. If something comes up, both you and the client have a comfort zone and the flexibility to face any issues.  Inflexible client/writer relationships are already strained - and being unable to provide what the client wants in a timely fashion will probably cost you his business.

What if you absolutely can't help missing a deadline?

Sometimes things really do screw up your whole process.  In some cases, it ends up being ok - but not in all cases.  That's why it's important to make sure you plan wisely when you're setting the deadline with your client; allowing yourself extra time makes sure the client's expectations are met regardless of whatever circumstances came up in your neck of the woods.

If you absolutely must miss a deadline:
  • You still need to complete the work.  There's no excuse for abandoning a project unless you've worked it out with your client.  If you can't do it, ask for help from another freelance writer* so you can salvage your reputation and the client still gets what they paid for.
  • Be honest with your client.  It sucks to be lied to - especially when money's involved.  Don't do it.  Tell your client why you need to miss the deadline, but don't embellish or exaggerate.  Never make something up; liars are easy to see through and it may cost you your whole business in the long run.
  • Refund rush fees or other money if applicable.  If your client paid you a rush fee and you aren't getting the project done in a rush, give her her money back.  Same goes for the 1/2 she hasn't paid you yet - you may have to bite the bullet and let her off the hook.  Listen, I know it goes against why you're freelance writing to give money back - but giving it back now saves your reputation from a thrashing that only a pissed off client can give.
*Asking another freelance writer for help: In general, nobody's going to bail you out for nothing.  Be prepared to pay for a freelance writer's services - and make sure you let your client know you collaborated with another writer.  It's extremely shady to hide that.

The Bottom Line

You know how quickly you write, and you should have a ballpark idea on how long it takes you to complete a project.  Plan accordingly and you won't have any problems - and don't forget to pad your calendar to be on the safe side. 

Besides, your clients will think you're a superstar when you turn projects in ahead of schedule.

Have you had to miss deadlines?  How do you plan to make sure you get your documents in on time?

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© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on FreeFreelanceWritingTips.Blogspot.com or Gather, it's stolen.

"Pen on Calendar" image courtesy of Zela at RGBStock.com