My client didn't give me a deadline. Now what?
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In my seven-plus years of freelancing, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with clients isn’t getting them to pay my fees or retain them as regular clients. No. One of the biggest challenges is that, quite often, my clients won’t provide deadlines.
They will email me the work they need done, but there won’t be any information on when they need the work completed. And this can be a real problem for us freelancers as we try to manage our workload and clients!
These are a few tips, straight from my own experience, for how to best tackle this issue:
Ask for a deadline
Sometimes it’s simply an oversight on their part. You aren’t going to know when you need to get the work to your client unless they provide you with a timeline! Just ask when they would like the work completed by and they might be glad to give it.
If you can do this as soon as you receive the rest of the project information, that is best – you don’t want several days or a week to go by before you take a look at the work and realize you have no idea when you need to get it back to the client.
Suggest a deadline of your own
I have had clients completely ignore my question about deadlines – perhaps because they don’t know how to answer it, or maybe they just somehow missed the question altogether in our email correspondence. Other times, clients will respond to the question with an answer like, “oh, whenever you’re able to get to it,” or “as soon as possible.”
Since neither of these answers are very helpful, the best idea here is to suggest your own deadline. Take a look at your own work schedule and what seems reasonable for you. Let your client know that you will try to get it to them by X date, and check that the deadline works for them.
Providing a deadline of your own will often help them to identify what timeline they didn’t even realize they were thinking of – and they might respond with everything from, “Actually, I was hoping you could do it by X date,” (my friends, resist the urge to throw your hands up in despair when that happens after all of their earlier waffling) or “That’s three weeks earlier than I expected – awesome!”
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Make an educated guess
That’s right. Just guess.
This strategy is best used after other strategies have already been exhausted and you still haven’t received a solid answer, or if you’re having trouble connecting with your client. If you can take a look at the work your client asked you to complete, and compare it to other timelines they may have casually mentioned, you can make a fairly educated guess on when it would be best for you to complete the project by.
For example, if you are writing promotional copy for an event, work backwards from the date of the event; if you are editing a novella for an author who said they’ll be self-publishing in the next two weeks, that will probably be quite the rush job!
The point is, if you can use what you know about your client and the project, you might just realize you already have most of the information you need on when that deadline really is.
Are deadlines something that your clients struggle with providing? How do you go about managing project deadlines? Share in the comments section below!
Sagan Morrow is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager. She writes a professional lifestyle blog at SaganMorrow.com, and she has a great relationship with all of her clients - even the ones who don't give her concrete deadlines.