Tips to Assist Freelancers in Meeting Project Deadlines

Being one’s own boss is a lucrative profession for budding freelancers, but it has its own set of challenges. Being the boss implies that you take all the responsibility for your business. One lapse and you could ruin your reputation, without any guarantee that you’d have an opportunity for redemption.

One of the major challenges for the client of a freelancer is getting them to meet deadlines. Both parties have undoubtedly been witness to the deadline demon. I have had firsthand experience with this, having been the culprit on more than one occasion. Lucky for me, I was dealing with clients who were patient enough to cooperate and didn’t let me go. I learned my lesson and offer the following list so that you do not have to experience the lesson the same way I did.

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How to Meet Project Deadlines

Reality Check

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An important note for beginners: you are the best judge of your capabilities and skill set. Be honest and clear in your mind about the work you can and can’t do. Once you have listed the categories of projects you are good at, discuss them with your client and let them know beforehand. This not only helps your client assign projects accordingly but speaks volumes about your honesty. Clients appreciate clarity of expectations rather than disappointment down the line.

Be Realistic

There will be times when a client expects you to step out of your comfort zone and help with something that you are not familiar with. Though this may be flattering, you still need to be realistic. This would be another great opportunity to practice your honesty by sharing that you do not feel you can do justice to the extra work, not because you do not want to take on more, but simply because it’s not your strength. The point here is that you do not want to lose or weaken your reputation by taking on a task that you won’t be able to finish.

Schedule Your Week

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You may be the boss of your own time, but learn and get used to planning your week, even if it doesn’t come easily to you. Break up the week into days and hours, and plan your time; by doing this each Monday without fail, you will avoid having to wake up every morning to figure out what lies ahead. Planning your week is the first step in consistently delivering results on time. It might be a little difficult initially, but practice makes perfect!

One Thing at a Time

Being on two boats at the same time is not my style, and I would never suggest this for others either. While multi-tasking may be the order of the day, this is better left for full-time employees at large organizations. As a freelancer, you hold all the responsibilities and are answerable to yourself; you don’t want to compromise on the quality of your work or the deadline of the project at hand. To avoid monotony, you could take on a second project, but one at a time is ideal.

Get Serious: This Is Your Bread and Butter!

Remember, a freelancer is like a business entity, and it takes years and years of hard work and excellence to build your reputation. And yet, all it takes to spoil your image is one mistake. In this online-savvy age, just one click of the mouse from an unhappy client can seriously damage your good name. Your image and work are your bread and butter; don’t take things too easy, and be conscious of this at all times. Everything else can take a back seat, but you need to be serious and focused on the work to meet the deadlines.

Clarity of Expectations

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Get on the same page as your client before accepting a project. Be very clear in your communication when you meet with them; ask about every detail that you need to learn more about the project. Anything ambiguous needs to be spoken about before you accept the project, including the business requirements, specifications and design scope. Let them know that the scope of the work needs to be defined in order for you to plan your program, and that any future updates, modifications or corrections need to have a time cushion. Be professional, and create a business arrangement that is exhaustive and covers all the possible questions and specifications you will need. This will also enhance your reputation, and clients will be happy not to be constantly bothered with questions later on.

Fall in Love

This one is straight from the heart: you can’t let the one you love down, right? If you want to become a freelancer and be successful at it, fall in love with the deadline. Make it your spouse, think of it all the time, and give it all the love and attention that you give to your girlfriend or boyfriend, and I guarantee you will never miss a single deadline. Keep a list of all the projects and their deadlines handy when you are working… and even when you’re not!

Submission, Target and Deadline

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When signing an agreement, decide on and include the three dates that will be most important in your business relationship with the client: the submission, target and absolute deadline date. You might want to tell them that it’s a part of your process of scheduling the project beforehand. The date of submission is when you are required to submit the completed project to the client. The target date follows this and gives the client some time to review your work and request any changes or corrections. The deadline is the absolute end of the project, and you and the client need to avoid missing it at all costs, except in case an unexpected add-on or modification needs to be made.

Scheduling these dates not only will make your task a lot smoother but will help build your client’s trust and convey the message that the project is safe in the hands of an expert who knows what they’re doing.

Break It Down

Now that you are absolutely aware of the project’s scope, requirements and deadline, get straight to the planning. Plan your approach to the project, break down the project into smaller tasks, and plan the respective dates of their completion. Write down the skills and tools necessary to accomplish these smaller tasks. The accuracy and quality of these smaller tasks will determine the result of the project, so think through every detail thoroughly, meet your own deadlines, and follow the schedule according to the plan.

Don’t Wait to Get Started

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I often see freelancers delay the start of a project and end up rushing as the deadline approaches. This is not a route to success, and you should try your best to avoid or reverse this trend. As soon as you have figured out the execution plan and have a clear picture of the end product in mind, don’t delay starting work, even if you feel you are rushing into it a little. The reason some people do this is simple: it’s a human tendency to relax until we cannot afford to any longer. Rather, if you start the project on time, chances are you’ll finish it well before the deadline. “Use it to experience it”: I have definitely benefited from this approach.

Promise to Deliver

You know what your capabilities are, and you learn the requirements of the project in the client meeting, so go ahead and commit to delivering on the agreed-upon standards of quality and deadlines. However, while committing is crucial, as noted, never over-commit or exaggerate your capacity. I have seen many freelancers over-commit on an impulse but land in trouble down the line. Better not to promise if you can’t deliver on time. You are the best judge of your working style, so before committing, figure out the project in your mind and draw a rough picture, with enough cushions for unexpected developments.

Burn the Lamp

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I strongly recommend that budding freelancers not work late nights and instead maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are exceptions, though: the client is the boss and the work is your bread and butter, so you cannot compromise on that front. If you run behind consistently on a schedule, then work more and put in those extra hours to catch up. As a freelancer, you know that you are your own brand, and it takes years to build a brand but only one mistake to compromise it, so do everything you can to meet the deadlines.

Get an Extension

The best part about updating your calendar with every small step and each deadline is that you stay on your toes and don’t fall behind schedule. You also become constantly aware of whether you are moving in the right direction toward the deadline. If you think you might not make it, despite working hard and doing your best, then let the client know before the deadline. Get on the phone and negotiate an extension, remembering to be honest and graceful in your request.


Having worked my brain to provide the most effective tips for meeting deadlines, I hope these really work for you. Please leave your thoughts, and be kind enough to add any more tips that you think would benefit us all.

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  1. Wow..great post,i really got many useful tips from there..i bookmarked your article …i will gradually implement your advices one by one on mine

  2. Ooooh do I agree with all the points you make on “Burn the Lamp”, Daniel. I actually did that on a project just recently (don’t tell the client! shhhh!) and was up late, zonked out of my mind, trying to work.

    And I broke the site. I don’t even remember what I did, or where, but I broke it so badly the next morning – after spending 2 hours scanning code/css/js for the missing ; – just ripped it all down and started over.

    Thank Goodness I was a week ahead of schedule at that point. Havingworked some flex in the deadline listed in the contract saved my bacon.

  3. Hi Daniel,

    thanks, I enjoyed reading these tips! There are some tips you are giving I had to learn the hard way .., bummer ;-P

    What I also have learned that it’s wise to give yourself that extra margin when discussing your deadlines with the client. Give yourself some 5-10% extra time for the project, .. you never know what can happen during a project!

    Thanks for sharing this stuff! Cheers & Ciao ..

  4. Some useful points raised here. I’m not sure about falling in love with my deadlines (we may always have a strained relationship!) but I do think a shift in your view of a deadline can certainly help. If you only hold negative associations over the concept of a deadline then clearly this won’t encourage you to meet it.

  5. “Don’t Wait to Get Started” is the key. Just start working on the project from day one and don’t waste a minute.

  6. I totally agree but there are still times that even though you’ve followed all of these tips, something comes along the way, like a friend or relative suddenly taken to the hospital because of an accident. It’s hard to go and just say, ” I need to leave you for a while because I have to write” or something to that effect. It’s hard to juggle priorities sometimes so I think that there should be enough time management that you can finish earlier than the set deadline. It’s being ready to face challenges and yes, interruptions like these, that I think should be added to your list.

  7. These are some great tips! I will be putting these to good use! Thank you.

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