How to Client-Proof Your Work Schedule
It’s a fact of freelance life that some clients just don’t really seem to understand the sort of schedule that is necessary to complete a project. Keeping to a schedule when you’re waiting for approval, content or something else from a client can take a lot of patience and a little skill. While not every client is the same — some are absolutely wonderful when it comes to scheduling — having a few tricks up your sleeve can be useful.
1. Put Time Estimates in Context
There cannot be a crisis today; my schedule is already full.
Maybe this scenario sounds familiar: You prepare a proposal for a client, complete with a schedule or timeline. You send it to the client and hear back nothing for days or even weeks. When you do finally get a response, the client wants you to take on the project — and he wants it completed on the schedule you suggested originally. That schedule, however, was based on you starting the project a week or two ago — and you may have picked up another project to work on when you didn’t hear back from the client in question.
I’ve seen plenty of estimates and proposals that highlight a date that the freelancer believes she can complete a project by. It’s rare that date is anything but tentative, however: instead, focusing your client’s attention on the amount of time it will take to complete the project after you’ve actually started it. Any prospective completion date needs to be in the context of the level of work that must occur before that date for a client to understand just how easily it can change.
2. Set Your Schedule When You Actually Start
Once you’ve gotten the go-ahead to start on a project, you can set deadlines and completion dates. Now that you have some certainty that the project is actually moving forward, you can correctly predict dates — as well as tell your clients when you’ll need to get their approval on drafts or mock-ups, as well as get materials or content from then. The schedule may still be tentative in spots, but you don’t have to worry about trying to talk a client into a revised schedule based on when he actually got back to you.
3. Give Your Client Deadlines
Any time you have to wait on your client, it’s important to explain just how long of a response window he has before the project will be delayed. It’s important to be polite of course, but issuing a firm date is in both your own and your client’s interest. More often than not, I’ve been able to get exactly what I need with a sentence along the lines of “As long as you can get the material to me by the date mentioned, we’ll be on track for the project to be completed by the due date.”
Issuing a firm date is in both your own and your client’s interest.
On those occasions when you have to keep following up with a client in order to actually get the material or go-ahead necessary, it’s useful to issue revised schedules, clearly showing new completion dates. Even pushing back the date by one day can get a client’s attention and response.
4. Don’t Let Your Clients Push Your Schedule
I submitted a project to a client on a Monday and didn’t hear back anything until the end of the day Friday — at which point, she wanted me to turn around corrections before Sunday morning. It’s an awkward situation to be in: no one wants to tell a paying client that she can’t have what she wants, but at the same time, the only way for me to take care of it would have been to dump my Saturday plans. If you give in once to a situation like this (even if you charge extra), it’s easy for a client to keep doing it.
Suggesting a more realistic schedule may not make your client happy, but it’s often the only practical option from a freelancer’s point of view. It’s not impossible that a client will walk away at that point, unfortunately, but it’s far more likely that they won’t want to go looking for another freelancer, especially if you’re already part way through the project.