The Best-Kept Secret to Ecstatically Happy Clients

The Best-Kept Secret to Ecstatically Happy Clients

Most freelancers suck at meeting deadlines. I’ve heard horror stories from disgruntled complaining about people they’ve worked with in the past, and I’ve dealt with my own fair share of flaky freelancers.

Blown deadlines, forgotten deadlines, missed deadlines, stretched deadlines and the mysterious so-called “flexible” deadlines… no, freelancers aren’t really known for being reliable people you depend on to deliver.

That’s too bad. Because there’s one easy way to create ecstatic clients who come back for more:

Set a reasonable timeframe to complete your work.

The key word is “reasonable”.

Don’t say you can turn the work around in a day, especially when you know it may actually take you three days. Or four, because you have to be away from the computer most of Friday and, well, after that it’s the weekend…

The client won’t mind that much if you write in at the last hour and tell him you’ll deliver Monday instead. It’s only an extra day or two… right?


If you agree to a deadline, you have to hit it.

No excuses.

A client may listen and nod when you tell them that your kid was sick and you had to run her to the doctor, and then the tire on your Subaru Outback went flat when you were in the middle of the back roads and you had to walk twenty miles back to civilization. While carrying your kid. Without water.

Your client may be sympathetic, sure. But inside his head, he’s running down the list of anyone else he knows who might be able to get the job on time.

That’s why you need to remember this important truth of life:

Shit happens.

There’s no nicer way to put it.

You’ll be working on your client’s project, and it’s coming along nicely, then BAM! Something unexpected falls in your lap that you have to take care of immediately.

That deadline you had every intention of hitting goes right out the window.

It’s not your fault, of course. Shit happens. But blow a deadline even by a few hours, and that client will remember it forever.

Even worse, you’ll make your apologies to your client knowing that while he listens and nods, sympathizing with your situation, he’s also mentally running down the list of people he’ll hire instead of you next time around.

Your reputation is worth more than gold.  Meeting your deadlines is one of the most important obligations you have as a freelancer.  But of course, shit happens. So how do you circumvent the problem?

Pad your time.

That doesn’t mean lying about how much time it’ll actually take you to do the work or falsifying the hours in any way. It means overestimating how much time you think it’ll take you to finish the project, leaving yourself some wiggle room in case the unexpected happens.

If the project will take 3 days, tell your client a week.

If the project will take you a week, tell your client a week and a half.

Give yourself the extra time – just in case something unexpected happens.  You’ll save your reputation and still come out looking like a responsible, reliable freelancer.

That’s what clients like to see.

And if you don’t need that extra time? Fantastic. No one’s going to fire you for handing your work in early, so go ahead and deliver the work sooner than expected.

Your client will be ecstatically happy, which is exactly what you want.

If you're the sort that always has trouble meeting deadlines and never has enough time, you should definitely check out my book review of 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think. It's a big life-changer and one of my most recommended books – ever!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Excellent points, James. I’m still astonished to find that many freelancers don’t meet deadlines consistently.

    One tip I’ll add: Start the project immediately. No matter what else you have going on, get that first draft or section cranked out right away. Often, I find in this initial burst that I needed more information than I thought. I needed to ask more questions or do more research. Finding this out 3 days into a week-long project builds stress and makes for crappy work.

    Build “cushion” into everything. If it takes 15 minutes to drive somewhere, leave 25 minutes early. Save an emergency fund, so you won’t freak out when your car breaks down. Stop cutting it so close in life. You’ll feel less stressed, get more done, and make clients happy.

    Who’s next for the soap box? I’m stepping off now. Whew, that felt good! 🙂

  2. So, so true. As a beginner copywriter, I’ve come damn close in my last 2 projects. I made the deadline, but barely. Nice reminder to give yourself more time than you think you need. My goal is to never missa deadline. I think it can be done with the right time management skills and setting realistic, comfortable deadlines. Thanks, James!

  3. This topic was on my mind over the Christmas break. I wasn’t missing out on any mince pies but I was pondering the relationship between client satisfaction and realistic expectations.

    I think it’s really important to lay out your process for your clients, especially if they’ve never worked with you before. Not your writing process but things like how you take a brief, when they can expect the first draft, how many revisions are included and your payment terms.

    This clear view of the path ahead can help reduce the anxiety of uncertainty, boosting warm and fuzzy satisfaction all round…. When you deliver on your promises!

  4. I really don’t understand how anyone could let deadlines slip through their fingers when there isn’t any major reason not to finish the project. In those rare situations when something has come up and you realize you probably won’t be able to make the deadline, it’s best to communicate what’s happening to your client. As every good freelance writer knows, communication is key!

  5. Good one James,

    This reminds me that the best opportunity to convert a customer into a long term client is to exceed expectations when there is a PROBLEM.

    Anticipate what could and will go wrong and when it does this is the time to shine.

    Same thing when you go out to eat its when something goes wrong that really makes you loyal.

  6. And if you have to hire freelancers to help out with this project, NEVER give them the real deadline date. If it’s due Friday, tell them Wednesday. And it’s not a lie, its YOUR deadline (not the client’s deadline). This way, if they screw up, it gives you time to either find someone else or time to do it yourself.

  7. It’s scary how I heard this before. A client of mine once told me how difficult it was for him to find reliable freelance copywriters (to qualify: I am based in Singapore). It got me thinking how much damage irresponsible freelancers have done to our reputation.

    I’ve never kept a client waiting. I always deliver on or before the deadline. The secret is in padding my time too. If the deadline is too tight, I’ll either reject the job or work late to finish up the project. I feel that keeping a good reputation is absolutely imperative to freelancers. We should always honor our words, no matter what.


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