How to get clients to meet deadlines (video)

Viewing time: 4 mins. 12 secs.

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #94,  which addresses how to get clients to meet deadlines. The post first ran on June 7/19.


Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant and my topic today is how to get your clients to meet their deadlines with you.

I have question from Cynthia — she didn’t leave her last name — a successful freelance writer with an established writing business based in Denver. Here’s what she’s asked:

“ I find that clients frequently miss deadlines and so that impacts my ability to balance the workweek that I’d planned based on things that I can control vs the fact that clients are missing deadlines and then when their revisions and things come in, they’re late and they’re on fire. So, do you have suggestions?”

Thanks for your question, Cynthia. I have a really easy and straightforward solution for you and it’s one that I’ve used myself for the last 40 years.

What’s the secret formula? Give people fake deadlines! Yup, for me, it’s been that simple. Just don’t tell them that the deadlines are fake. So if you need text back from them by June 3rd, tell them the deadline is May 28th. That will give them three whole extra days to fart around, and it won’t hurt your schedule one bit. Does that sound longer than 3 days? I never count weekends. Ooops! I hope you aren’t working weekends. Remember, if you are, you should be charging a premium for that.

If you’re really serious about getting your schedule under control, here are a few other techniques you might also consider trying:

Do your clients sign a contract with you? They should have to! And make sure that contract spells out all their deadlines! I find that clients will take agreements much more seriously if they’re spelled out in writing.

Then, to sweeten the deal, consider providing financial incentives to those who meet their deadlines. You could offer 10% off if they do.

I always suggest using the carrot rather than the stick – clients respond much more favourably to carrots — but I also agree you shouldn’t experience a financial penalty for people simply doing what they said they were going to do. For this reason, raise your rates first, THEN offer the discount to those who meet their deadlines. You won’t face any loss of income this way and I bet the deadline-abidance rate of your clients will improve dramatically.

Here’s one more thought: Make sure you give your clients ample reminders about their deadlines. Check in with them by phone or email several times BEFORE the deadline day, asking them if they have any questions and reminding them of the deadline that’s approaching. It’s your job to keep them informed and to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

As writers, we all know that meeting deadlines is tough. Don’t expect your clients to be well-equipped to do this difficult job. Instead, give them incentives and give yourself the extra cushion of the fake deadline.

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the late Douglas Adams, author of the hilarious Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, link below: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Cynthia, you sound like a smart, determined writer. I think you know that allowing clients to fail to meet their deadlines — with no penalty to themselves — is not a sustainable undertaking. Solve this problem with fake deadlines and financial incentives. Your life will be a whole lot better when you do.


Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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