Tech & Work

Consultants must meet deadlines

If you expect to earn return engagements with companies, you need to meet project deadlines. Here are some tips for making sure you can deliver the goods, but also for handling those situations when you come up short.

Life is full of deadlines. While it's important for internal employees to meet deadlines, there tends to be a little more flexibility. But if you're a consultant, there is no flexibility. You would think that those who depend on jobs from outside companies would realize this, but it's not always the case. Here are some ways to make sure you meet deadlines and that you become a contractor companies want to come back to.

Use common sense

If you find halfway through a project that the company that makes a component you need is backlogged, let your client company know. Don't wait until the day the project is due to end and use the missing component as an excuse. If you tell the client earlier, they can make adjustments for the delay. Also, know your own limitations. Be realistic about what you can and can't deliver.

Learn to say no

I run into this a lot. Someone will go out of his way to pitch a project to me. I accept and then the person doesn't come through on the decided upon day. I understand there are emergencies—sick kids, earthquakes, the bubonic plague—but aside from those, you should be able to deliver what you promise. By missing deadlines a lot, the message you're sending the client is "You're not important enough." It's not the best way to build a relationship.

It is tempting to promise what you're not sure you can deliver just to land a client. But if your gut says a deadline is unrealistic or the expectations are something you don't think you can meet, then ask for a time adjustment or pass on the project. You're not doing anyone any favors by hedging your bets.


Some clients won't require a progress report from you, but you should think in those terms anyway. A lot of times the client won't deliver on something you need to get the job done. You should communicate regularly to make sure you get what you need instead of waiting until the last minute and using the client's lapse as an excuse for missing a deadline.

Here are some do's and don'ts from contractor Abbi Perets:

Do's and don'ts

If, despite your very best efforts, you're about to miss a deadline, what do you do? How can you best approach the client and reserve the possibility of future work? First, the don'ts:
  • Don't make excuses. Business is business, and the client doesn't care about the nature of your personal issues. You should have planned ahead.
  • Don't come to the client with only a problem. In presenting a problem, figure out at least three possible solutions and a new timeline before telling the client.
  • Don't get defensive. "Well, I would have had it finished if" is not a phrase in any successful consultant's vocabulary. When dealing with a deadline issue, focus on what you can do, not why you couldn't do it earlier.
The do's:
  • Open with a sincere apology.
  • Offer a brief, factual explanation.
  • Propose a new deadline and give the client choices for how to proceed.
  • Show goodwill: If the client was paying premium prices for a rush job, you should refund part or all of that money, so let that be known at the start. And if you're going to be really late, it's a goodwill gesture to offer a discount-even if it means you'll lose a bit of money in the short run. The long-term value of a steady, happy client is worth the cost.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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