11 tips to meet deadlines in your freelance business

On time, every time

One of the best ways to keep clients happy is to always meet deadlines. Of course, the quality of your work impacts the way clients feel about working with you. But if you are a freelancer who never misses a deadline, you’ll be a freelancer who doesn’t have to worry about losing clients.

This is because one of the most stressful, unknown parts about working with a freelancer is that clients can’t control the delivery of the work.

It’s not the way they could with an internal or on-site employee. So if you can meet deadlines and take that stress and worry out of the freelancer-client dynamic, you can develop lasting working relationships.

11 tips to meet deadlines in your freelance business

Here are a few tips and tactics freelancers can employ to make sure you stay on schedule, never miss a deadline, and make your freelance clients extremely happy and eager to keep working with you.

  1. Schedule “to-do” dates instead of due dates.

  2. Know how much time each project takes you.

  3. Build a backward project roadmap.

  4. Include empty spaces on your calendar.

  5. Set delivery expectations for clients.

  6. Set delivery expectations for project partners.

  7. Get on a consistent schedule with clients.

  8. Charge more for rush projects.

  9. Regularly save your work.

  10. Look and plan ahead.

  11. Set consequences for yourself if you miss a deadline.

Let’s get started!

1. Schedule “to-do” dates instead of due dates

One of the biggest freelancer mistakes that leads to failing to meet deadlines is scheduling the “to-do” date on the due date. The to-do date is the date you schedule yourself the time to do the work.

This date should never be on the same day that the work is due to the client.

 

In fact, a to-do date shouldn’t even be a day or two before the due date. Always schedule your to-do dates a week or more in advance to add padding to allow you to complete the task even if unforeseen obstacles pop up.

2. Know how much time each project takes you

If you want to never miss a deadline, be as accurate as possible with predicting the amount of time it will take you to complete a project or task. When you start freelancing, this can be difficult to estimate as you don’t have as much experience to use to inform your plans.

So, when you start freelancing, begin collecting data right away.

Track all of your project times using an app like Toggl or Harvest. Even if you’re getting paid per project, you can use these time-tracking apps to get an accurate read on completion times so you can better estimate upcoming project timelines and meet deadlines.

Related: 14 project estimate mistakes that freelancers make (and how to fix them)

3. Build a backward project roadmap

Meet Deadlines Roadmap

For large projects that take more than one day to complete, build out a calendar with a list of to-do dates. Work backward to develop these milestones.

  • List every task you need to do for the project along with the time it will take to complete each task.
  • Look at the project due date and set your final to-do date one week ahead of the due date.
  • Work backward with all other project tasks leading back to the first task you need to complete.

This process will give you a start date and series of milestones you need to meet deadlines.

Related: The difference between client management and project management 

4. Include empty spaces on your calendar

When you schedule projects, don’t only look for open spaces on your calendar and fill in every minute of every day. Leave empty spaces on your calendar as padding and breathing room. The fastest way to burn out (and fail to meet deadlines) is thinking you can pack every work day with eight or more hours of client work.

5. Set delivery expectations for clients

Even if you never miss a deadline, you’re clients might. And when they miss a deadline, it could impact your ability to meet yours. So if clients are involved in your project and you’re relying on them to provide materials or approval for you to complete your tasks, set clear client expectations early on.

  • Assign due dates to clients to deliver what you need.
  • Add an extra padding of a few days for their delivery.
  • Set consequences for the client if they fail to deliver. It could range from additional project costs to a delayed final delivery date. Create a consequence strong enough that it will motivate the client to meet deadlines.

Related: Managing client expectations so you get paid on time

6. Set delivery expectations for project partners

If you’re working with other subcontractors or freelancers, set delivery expectations and standards with them as well. Set clear consequences for what happens if the partner fails to deliver and impacts your ability to meet deadlines. Also, pad their delivery time and always have a backup plan ready.

Related: 6 tools for gathering content from your clients

7. Get on a consistent schedule with clients

It’s much easier to stay on schedule and never miss a deadline if you’re working with clients on a consistent schedule rather than a sporadic, per-project plan.

Whenever you can, get clients to sign on for a recurring, pre-scheduled or retainer plan so you can set dates, work in advance, and not have to worry about squeezing in last-minute projects.

For example, if you’re a freelance writer with a client who reaches out for a blog post once in a while, encourage them to get on a consistent schedule. Consider offering discounts for pre-planned projects to get clients on board.

Related: How to manage a project successfully: 3 crucial steps for web developers

Meet Deadlines Calendar

8. Charge more for rush projects

Just as you can offer discounts for scheduled or recurring projects, you can also charge more for one-time or rush projects. This can help you balance out your schedule by limiting the number of rush projects you need to cram into your task lists. Either clients can pay more (which provides a bigger incentive for you to work more) or wait until you have more time to get to their project.

Related: How to raise your prices and get better clients in 8 steps

9. Regularly save your work

A nightmare for freelancers is thinking that you’re done with a project and then realizing that you failed to properly save or store your work — and it’s gone.

While it might sound obvious to regularly save your work, many freelancers find themselves in situations where they lose their work which causes a massive headache and possible delay in delivery time.

So constantly save your work, use cloud backups (in case something happens to your computer), and use platforms that auto-save to make sure you never lose your work.

10. Look and plan ahead

You can only meet deadlines if you know when they are. End each week by looking at the week ahead, prioritizing your tasks, and making sure you have what you need to accomplish all of your work for the week. And at the end of each day, look at tomorrow and create a list of things to do so you can start the day with a clear outline of how to spend your work time.

11. Set consequences for yourself if you miss a deadline

Finally, if you never want to miss a deadline, you have to hold yourself accountable. As a freelancer, you don’t have a boss. While your clients are similar to bosses in that you want to make them happy and provide great work to them, they can’t hold you accountable in the same way a boss can. It’s up to you to make a commitment to always meet deadlines.

To make that promise to yourself, set consequences for missing a deadline.

 

It could be as small as working an extra hour for the day or as big as offering a discount to the client for the late delivery. Whatever it is, make the consequence something that will prevent you from failing to plan, put off the work, and miss your deadline.

Keep your freelance clients happy

If you use the tips in this post, you’ll always meet deadlines and be able to keep a roster of happy clients that will call on you as their favorite, most reliable freelance partner.

For more tips on keeping yourself on task and your clients happy in your freelance business, check out the post “The importance of personal accountability for freelancers.

Editor’s note: Microsoft Office 365 from GoDaddy offers all the tools you’ll need to stay on track — from Microsoft Invoicing so you can get paid on time, to OneDrive so you can access files from anywhere.