Mark Nathan is Chief Technology Officer at Freelancers Union. View Mark Nathan's LinkedIn profileView Mark Nathan's profile

Wouldn’t life be better if people just let you deliver work on your timetable? Being recognized as somebody that delivers everything when you say eliminates risk for your client and creates buffer space for you to begin giving delivery dates that are less aggressive. Learn how to be Joey Reliable, and you will reduce stress for both your clients and yourself!

One of the most enjoyable experiences over the last twenty years leading technology at Apple, Disney, NeXT, Guardian Life and Freelancers Union is helping technology folks develop their skillsets. I’ve had the opportunity to manage hundreds of developers, and although the technologies differ tremendously, there are a number of important skills that transcend technical disciplines.

The story about Joey Reliable is about managing your time, and more specifically the benefits of delivering all your work on time.

Who is Joey Reliable?

Joey Reliable is a persona (gender neutral :-) that I’ve used for many years to explain how being reliable is the most fundamental trait in being perceived by clients as a top-notch expert and trusted advisor. Reliability is not a replacement for high-quality work, efficiency or skill-set knowledge. However, never being late will always enhance your other qualities.

Joey Delivers Everything on Time

This is the most important step towards being able to control your own time in the future. You absolutely must deliver everything on time – not sometimes, not most of the time, but all the time! If you are falling behind, work late, work long, work smart, work weekends…but work and deliver on the hour you promised. This step will pay off later. Once you are recognized for delivering everything on time (regardless of whether it’s the quickest time or not), then your clients will start to think about you as “the reliable one.”

Many years ago, when I was working at Disney, I was tasked with delivering the initial launch of family.com under a very aggressive schedule. I had to deal with the same challenges as most tech folks: late and incomplete requirements, scope creep, design changes and the usual compression of the testing phase down from say a month to what seemed like a few hours at 2:00am the night before launch. The project was brutal, but somehow we delivered…and I knew I had established a solid rapport with the website’s editors and producers.

Joey Sets Long Deadlines

Don’t be afraid to initially suggest delivery dates that might seem slightly longer than your client’s desire. As you negotiate with your client, impress upon them the importance you put in delivering quality products on time. Deliver for your clients, and work to become their trusted advisor. As you become more trusted, start establishing less aggressive dates.

After the family.com project was delivered, I still got requests for family.com feature enhancements. One Monday morning, a producer dropped by and asked me to change the format of the article pages. I knew I could get it done in an hour or so, but I said “how about a week from Friday?” They smiled, said ok, and I wrote it down. The next day a few more folks came by asking for changes, and I said “how about a week from Friday?” This continued into the next Monday and Tuesday, and I changed my response to “how about this Friday?” I was amazed at how much time I was given to get these tasks done…especially after such a hectic production release.

Joey is Credible

The first step towards being able to set deadlines (as opposed to the client), is to establish your credibility. There’s no doubt about it - this step requires hard work and dedication to your trade. This is part of building your freelancer-client relationship. Don’t expect to walk in and negotiate timelines with a client if you’ve never successfully delivered to them, and/or you don’t have a known reputation for being a very trustworthy technologist. Clients first and foremost need to trust you, and know you deliver quality work.

I could have chosen to work on the family.com website requests immediately, but I wouldn’t have the free time I needed for a new project. By giving a deadline that was further out than necessary, I was able to get seven days to work on the new project, and still meet everybody’s expectations!

Why Do Clients Love Joey Reliable?

Over the years, I’ve reflected a bit about Joey Reliable, and I’ve used the persona to help technology folks recognize the importance of meeting all their deadlines. Late deliverables cause projects to go into a thrashing mode which in turn causes other team members (i.e. testers) to have to change their timelines...which then creates a domino effect of date changes and extra meetings to get projects on back on track. That’s not fun for anybody, and especially frustrating for clients to witness.

Here are a few steps that you could try with your clients.

Help Clients Avoid Risk

The most important concept that makes the “Joey Reliable” technique work, is the vast majority of clients don’t like risk. They would rather have reliability. Once credibility is built and you are recognized for delivering on time, you can say “next Friday” instead of “this Friday.” The client might think “well, this Friday would be better…but it’s Joey, and it will get done on time.” At the end of the day, clients would prefer to wait a couple of extra days to ensure that the delivery is done exactly when it was due, rather than have to move related activities (such as marketing) at the last minute due to a late technology delivery.

Become a Trusted Advisor

Technology is complicated, and most clients won’t ever have the time to obtain the knowledge and skills that you have. Learn how to speak the client’s language, simplify technology, avoid techy jargon and just build a strong two-way communication style. But remember, the quickest way to building their trust is to deliver exactly what you say, when you say. At the end of the day, you’re being hired to build something that they generally can’t build on their own. It’s good if the client learns a little, but the most important concern is that they can tell their peers and managers that they delivered the project on time…thanks to Joey Reliable. After that happens a few times, those clients will be coming back and asking for advice on their next project.

Don’t Use Excuses

So, hopefully you will never have a need to use an excuse because you are always ahead of time on your deliverables. However, it’s not uncommon that something gets delivered late to you, some unexpected appointment messes up your day, or your dog simply ate your technology. Whatever the case is, it’s best to not have to rely on excuses. As you get closer to being Joey Reliable, you will learn to buffer your times significantly so that losing a few days doesn’t affect delivery. In the meantime, the best technique is to work really hard in the beginning of a project so that you can build up some buffer time for the unexpected events.

Why is Joey Reliable Good for Your Sanity?

Joey Reliable isn’t just a great persona for your clients. By becoming super-reliable, you can improve your life. As you build credibility with your clients, here are some ideas you might consider.

Get Out of the Blame Game

I’m sure you’ve seen it before – when projects are late, the blame starts moving in all directions. Wouldn’t it be great to not participate in the blame game? The best way to avoid or stay on the fringes of the blame game is to keep your head down and deliver your work on time.

Long Deadlines Help You Juggle Multiple Projects

Manage your time by managing what you build. It’s easy to throw in all sorts of extra functionality to demonstrate your skills and make the client happy. However, time really is money for most freelancers, so remember to right size what you build, and deliver a solid quality product that meets the client’s expectations. If you can throw some extra features in for free, that’s great…as long as it doesn’t jeopardize delivering your work on time. An extra feature isn’t an excuse for being late.

Working fast isn't always the fastest way to achieve success. Often you will find success quicker by always delivering on time - not 99%...but 100% of the time.

Do you have examples where you provided long deadlines, kept your clients happy, and reduced stress in your life?