Despite having what started as firm, and even rushed, schedules, several of my recent projects have drifted into a sort of purgatory. (Or do I mean limbo?) Is there really a double standard for freelancers and clients when it comes to deadlines?
I always expect to be held accountable for deadlines. I ask for a schedule up-front. If one isn’t available, I ask for an end-date and try to work out my own milestones. I used to think that my ability to meet deadlines was something that clients prized above all else. But that world-view is changing, fast.
The truth is that many, if not most, of my clients don’t meet their deadlines. It’s not for lack of trying. These are dedicated, accountable, and professional people. What is working against their ability to stick to a schedule?
The obvious reason is that they are over-worked and have too many projects to run. Also, the pace of business (for-profit or non-profit) has picked up, and things tend to change faster and more often. And I’ve noticed a tendency to seek wider consensus, as if people are more tentative about decision-making. Have you noticed this? I’ve had to deal with more eleventh-hour comments—and even complete redirects—from previously uninvolved people than ever before.
I actually don’t like to hear, “Let’s just get this done whenever we can,” or, “Why don’t we just shoot for (some date not tied to any other event).” Everyone should have a calendar of marketing activities on which every project has a place. Also, projects that are not on a schedule tend to drag on and on. For a freelancer, than means a longer period with little or no pay, because most of us bill from 50-100% upon completion. Extended schedules are a cash flow nightmare.
Excellent client service is still the prime directive. I have to stay flexible and keep a good attitude. It also helps to believe that every change or redirect happens for a good reason—that even a comment out of left field can prompt some good thinking that will improve the outcome.
I’ve done it rarely, but I always keep this possibility open—I can stop the project, ask for fair pay for the work done to date, and ask the client to re-assess the need and come back to me when he or she is ready to start over or start again.