5 Things to Consider When Negotiating a Deadline With Your Client

Mark your calendar!

Every freelancer has his or her own preferences when it comes to scheduling deadlines.

Maybe you don’t want to work on the weekends so you never schedule deadlines on Mondays and Fridays. Maybe you prefer specific deadline days for specific clients. Or maybe you don’t schedule more than one deadline a day even if it means accepting less work.

While you can set your own deadlines, the reality is that a lot of times clients have their own preferred deadlines. If you can accommodate their preferred deadline… great! In case you can’t, the next course of action is negotiation.

Below are five things you should consider when negotiating a deadline with your client.

1. Your workload

Sounds like a no-brainer right? Unfortunately, it’s often the most overlooked aspect of deadline negotiation.

Just because you have a deadline free day next week doesn’t mean you’ll be able to submit the work on that day.

Take a look at your current workload. Do you have any big deadlines coming up? Is there a project that needs your attention all week? Does the suggested deadline give you enough time to complete the work?

Unless it’s a rush job, just taking a cursory glance at your calendar should be enough to give you a fair idea of your current work load.

For rush jobs, figure out which deadlines can be moved around or how many more hours you’ll need to work. Just don’t forget to charge extra!

Be diligent about pencilling deadlines in your calendar—if you aren’t already. Set up recurring alerts for clients on a retainer.

A client of mine requires submissions three times a month. We decided on what three dates he wanted the submission and then I saved them in my calendar as a recurring event.

You can go the big paper calendar route or you can go with Google Calendar. Both work brilliantly!

2. Your work pace

While work load is an important factor to consider when negotiating a deadline, the pace at which you work is equally important too.

If you’re a slow and steady worker or get distracted easily, you’ll need more time than someone who’s used to banging out work in one go.

So that 1000 word article you need to write for a client? You won’t be able to finish it in a couple of hours if you’re not a fast writer.

Give yourself enough time to write, rewrite and edit your work when deciding on a deadline.

3. Your schedule

Saying that every freelancer has a schedule feels like a bit of an oxymoron since most of us start freelancing to escape the dreary schedule of a 9-5 job. But the truth is, most freelancers have some semblance of a routine or schedule.

If you take Wednesdays off, or a half day off on Monday or even choose to have a deadline free Friday. As long as it’s a regular occurrence, it become a schedule.

Me? I never schedule deadlines on Mondays and Fridays if I can help it because I end up working over the weekend if I do.

4. Unforeseeable events

Sometimes, even the best of plans fail because of unforeseen events.

You could catch a cold, there may be a storm, or God forbid your computer dies! All of these things can happen without warning.

To avoid missing the deadline because of any unforeseen situation, give yourself a couple of days of breathing room and negotiate a deadline with your client that gives you a couple of extra days to work on the project if you want to and to give your client a heads up if you won’t be able to meet the deadline.

This way, you’re covered should anything unexpected happens. Just make sure you pencil in the deadline two days earlier than the original one to stay on top of it.

Sending work early impresses clients but not sending work on time does just the opposite.

5. Missed deadline contract clause

Just as there’s a contract clause about late payment, there’s often a contract clause about missed deadlines.

To be honest, not many clients have the clause in their contract but I the way I see it, if we charge them extra for late payment, it’s the client’s right to set a penalty for late submission.

Of course, clients generally let the occasional missed deadline slide but if make a habit of it; it won’t be long before you land in hot water.

A missed deadline clause is a very strong motivator to meet deadlines. If you have one in your contract, make sure you treat it responsibly even if your client never invokes it.

Negotiating deadlines with clients

Project deadlines are to a freelancer what a compass is to a traveller – if it weren’t for them, we’d be lost.

Clients realize that it’s not always possible for the freelancer to accept their deadlines and are often flexible with them. If you can’t agree to the initially preferred deadline, make the process of setting a new one as simple as possible.

Apologize and let them know that you won’t be able to complete the work by their preferred date. Emphasize that doing so would affect the quality of your work and ask them to suggest another date.

Make it easy for them and give them three deadline options that suit you. In case they really can’t move the deadline, see if you can do some rush work? Offer the possibility to them and let them know it will cost them a little more.

And finally, if you really can’t accommodate them and they can’t move the deadline, refer them to another freelancer who can.

How do you negotiate deadlines with your clients? Share your best tips!

Samar is a freelance blogger, e-book writer and the voice behind this blog. She loves her kid, her work and helping freelance writers break free from low paying writing gigs and earn more .

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Hi Samar,

Nice reading your article. I wanted to know how does it look,rather how are we perceived when we submit a freelancing work much ahead of time,say a work to be submitted in a week's time is submitted on the 3rd day itself.


Great deadline tips, Samar. I've been working on ironing out a few problems with my schedule and I really liked your advice about keeping your weekends open by not scheduling deadlines on Fridays. I'm going to try that in the future. 


You are always great Samar, for me i do respect all my clients deadlines because they respect my time and work too.


I'm lucky that most of my clients give me more than enough time to finish articles and blogs. Creative fiction also needs more time than most so turnaround times are longer. The main thing is to be honest about how much time you need to finish something. It's great to impress clients but never bite off more than you can chew because you're going to end up looking like a noob... LOL


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