Leaving Work Behind

Your 5 Point Checklist to Delivering Client Work On Time (Every Time)

Written by Gina Horkey on April 1, 2015. 17 Comments

deadlineReliability is one of the most important assets for a freelance blogger – or any freelancer for that matter!

As Tom recently alluded to, it’s our job to sell (and provide) a solution, not a hassle. One of my personal selling points to my clients (whether it be for writing, virtual assistance work or something else) is that I make their lives easier.

If anything that I’m doing while providing a service to my client is making their job more difficult, they probably won’t keep me around for long. I position myself as an investment in their business, not an expense. That can be true both in monetary terms (i.e. my fee) and in terms of their time (everyone’s most valuable commodity).

If you’re interested in landing more gigs, keeping them and continuing to raise your freelancing rates, you’re going to want to over-deliver and under-promise on a consistent basis. Start by using my five-point checklist to deliver client work on time – every time!

1. Define a Deadline (If You Don’t Have One)

Some clients will need work done yesterday. These aren’t usually my favorite clients to take on, as it’s a tough sell right out of the gate. However, if I’m really interested in the work and have the availability in my calendar to take on the project, I will. Then I make sure that we agree on a realistic timeline (i.e. this needed to be completed last week, will two days from now work for you?) that we can both live with.

Other clients won’t have a really firm deadline in mind. It’s something that they’ve been meaning to tackle (or hire out) and while it’s important that it gets done (and done well), it doesn’t really matter if it’s tomorrow, next week or next month. In these cases, I’ll look at my own calendar, current deadlines and see where I can easily fit them in.

My goal is to assign a deadline a little further out than I can actually complete the work and then pleasantly surprise them by delivering it early. Work with the client to define a deadline, but if they don’t have one, show how you can be assertive and take charge by assigning one for them. But then make sure tiy beat it!

2. Keep Your Work Organized

There are a thousand different methods for keeping your work organized. It doesn’t really matter if you use a clever online tool, a handwritten notepad or a simple Google doc (like I do). What matters is that you find a system that works for you and actually use it to keep your client work and deadlines organized and on time.

As I’ve written about before, my “clever system” amounts to a separate Google doc for the week and another for the month. The monthly one contains a list (in order of soonest deadline) of all my writing projects. This includes paid client work, guest posts and blog posts I want to write for my own blog – I am one of my own clients, after all!

On a weekly basis, I’ll shift the appropriate number of writing projects from my monthly list to my weekly list. Then I’ll further break those down by day. At the end of each workday, I’ll physically write down a schedule for the following day. I’ve pre-decided what I’m going to try to accomplish and given myself a personalized to-do list of what needs to be done the following day.

3. Assign Yourself Deadlines (Based on Your Schedule)

As I mentioned above, I’ll then assign myself to do’s or deadlines for writing projects on a daily and weekly basis. Usually, I shoot for writing 5-10 pieces (it’s recently changed but used to be 10+ pieces) per week.

If I have 30 pieces on my monthly list at the beginning of the month, that’s an average of 7-8 per week. That amounts to 1-3 per day (depending on what else I have going on). I do my best to keep on top of client work and complete most in the first 2-3 weeks of the month.

If I can work ahead, I’ll over-deliver by completing my work ahead of schedule. Just as important, I’ll free myself up to take on new projects or be able to work on something that I’ve been wanting to in my own business (i.e. redoing website copy).

My personal deadlines are based on the client’s deadlines, but always a few days before. It’s important to give yourself some breathing room in case something comes up – and trust me, it will. And it’s never at the “most appropriate” time!

4. Complete Your Writing (Or Other) Work First Thing

It doesn’t matter if you’re a fellow freelance writer, a web designer, or something else entirely. For many of us, email can really get in the way of our productivity. So instead of opening up my email inbox at the beginning of each day, I try to use my daily to-do list and cross a writing project off of it first thing.

This helps me to stay focused on what work needs to be done (rather than responding to whatever “fire” has cropped up overnight) and also makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something first thing. This is huge for encouraging a productive day.

If you’re having productivity problems, I urge you to wait until a certain time each day to tackle your inbox. It can wait!

5. Never Miss a Deadline (Without a Very Good Reason)

A client doesn’t really care about your personal life (in most cases). As I mentioned above, things will get in the way. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The best way to prepare for this is by working ahead and giving yourself that breathing room on your own deadlines.

While there are other life events that you can’t really prepare for – a death in the family, an emergency health condition, etc. – it’s not okay to miss a deadline because you got a flat tire, your internet went out, or something else went awry that could’ve been circumvented.

Hopefully more major things won’t happen, but if they do, I think it’s most effective (and appropriate) to just be honest. You don’t have to get into sordid details, but informing your client that you couldn’t (or better yet won’t be able to ahead of time) complete a project because a very serious and unplanned issue arose is the best option. If it’s super personal, do your best to share enough, but not more than you’re comfortable with or that the client really needs to know (overshare works both ways!).

In Conclusion

Clients hire you to solve a problem for them, not create one. It’s your duty to deliver work in a timely fashion. It’s not appropriate to miss deadlines, and if you make a habit of this, you’re going to have a hard time earning to your full potential.

Instead, clearly define deadlines with clients before starting a new project. Keep yourself organized by using a method of organization that works well for you. And assign yourself deadlines, which are before the actual client deadlines by a day or two, so you have some breathing room in case “life gets in the way.”

If you’re having a hard time keeping up at the moment, start performing your client work first thing each day, rather than starting with your email inbox. Lastly, make it your goal never to miss a deadline. If you do, you better have a good reason and it’s best to just be honest (as appropriate) with your client as to what happened.

Do your best to under-promise and over-deliver. It’s an easy way to set yourself apart from the rest of the freelancing crowd!

What’s your best tip for maintaining client deadlines?

Photo Credit: angelamaphone

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17 Responses to “Your 5 Point Checklist to Delivering Client Work On Time (Every Time)”

  1. Mayur Mistry
    April 1, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    So true about emails! Great post 🙂

  2. Sydney
    April 1, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Totally agree about the e-mail thing! If I start with that, it bogs my whole day down.

  3. Chris
    April 1, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Good points. Missing deadlines is one very quick way to lose clients. A trick I use is to put them all on a calendar so I can visualize my month in advance.

    I develop websites, so the projects take a little longer than writing. What I like to do is set aside a week for an entire project and use one day that week for fires that may come up from other projects or clients.

    This has been working well so far, but I am always tweaking the system.


  4. Holly Bowne
    April 2, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Completely agree on building a safety cushion into deadlines. I do this as well because I’m paranoid about beating (worst case, meeting) a project deadline.

    Love your Google Docs idea. I’m totally stealing that one!

    • Gina Horkey
      April 2, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      I love Google Drive – one of my favorite “business tools.” And it’s free;-) That’s the best way to think Holly!

  5. Rohi
    April 7, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Great post, Gina.

    I liked this line the best:
    “I position myself as an investment in their business, not an expense. ”

    The backbone of my system : set daily goals the previous night and do a rigorous week review.

    And I try to track and record my progress every 30 minutes – It’s so easy to get distracted…

  6. Addevi
    April 17, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    I am glad you didn’t say ‘ to stay organised you need to do x, y and z’ and I like the emphasis on finding whatever works for you.

    I agree, emails can be such a darn time-suck! Emails can also depress me, especially when I open it and see no replies from an editor concerning a pitch.

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