What Happens If I Miss a Deadline? A Consultant's Viewpoint

March 30, 2017

What Happens If I Miss a Deadline? A Consultant's Viewpoint

As consultants, we all know about deadlines. None of us want to miss deadlines but stuff happens. So let's open the box and see what happens if you miss one and, more importantly, what you can do about it. Here's my two cents on the subject.

If you miss a deadline you may have caused the following to happen:

  • You’ve destroyed any trust and goodwill you’ve built up with your client.
  • You’ve caused your client embarrassment, frustration, or anger, or all three.
  • You’ve compromised your client’s position in her organization.
  • You’ve jeopardized the chances of your invoices being paid.
  • You’ve destroyed the chance of any future work from either your client or her organization.
  • You’ve damaged your reputation in the business circles frequented by your client.

Not good, not good. But on the other hand, you may have caused the following to happen:

  • Nothing, no adverse effects, nothing at all.

It all depends on how you handled things in advance.

Apart from rare circumstances such as accidents or a sudden bout of amnesia, deadlines can’t be missed, particularly the important ones. You realized that there was a good chance you wouldn’t make the deadline some time ago. The big question is, what did you do about it at that time?

So why might you miss a deadline? It certainly isn’t anything you plan. Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Something weird happened: you were in a traffic accident, you were ill, you got stranded in Chicago due to a snowstorm.
  • You underestimated the amount of work you had to do and couldn’t get it all done in time.
  • Someone who was supplying you with information or working on part of the project let you down.
  • You needed some input from the client that wasn’t forthcoming.

The solution to avoiding all the bad points listed at the start of this section is timely communication. Now, if something weird happens that is out of your control, you may not be able to communicate. However, I’d argue that this may be a result of poor planning on your part. Just because the deadline is November 1 doesn’t mean you should plan to send it out at midnight on October 31 (after all that candy).

Consultants are famous for taking things to the wire, but it’s not a good idea. And actually it’s very bad for your blood pressure. It leaves no leeway; even if something minor happens, like your car breaks down, you could miss the deadline. If you have more time, you can probably still make it. Or you can talk to the client and warn him that you may not make it. That will probably not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s much better than just failing to deliver.

Talk to the client. Communication is critical—and never more so than when things are going out of control. If you realize a couple of weeks before that there’s no way you can make the October 31 deadline, think about it logically. Why can’t you make it? Is it a lack of information? Could you manage without that data? What can you provide by that date? If you can’t complete by that date, when can you deliver by?

Talk to your client about it as soon as you can. Maybe the deadline isn’t as critical after all. Maybe one part of the work is critical by that date but not the whole thing. Maybe that information you were waiting for isn’t important after all. Until you start communicating, you simply won’t know.

There’s really no excuse, apart from dire emergency, for not delivering on time. It’s unprofessional, and you open yourself up to the bad consequences mentioned above. It’s not okay to be even a little late, unless you agreed on it with the client beforehand. If it was due on Monday and you delivered on Tuesday, you’re late. Justifications like “It’s only a day late” or “I nearly made the deadline” simply don’t cut it - in my experience anyway.

As always I'd welcome your thoughts and comments. Deadlines are always a touchy subject...


As a highly experienced consultant and author of “Consulting Made Easy”, Adrian assists consultants, or would be consultants, to achieve success on their terms in their own consulting businesses.  Adrian helps consultants increase their fee rates, find more clients, have more free time and have more fun.

If you are not getting the fees that you want, if you do not have enough clients, or you are simply working too long and hard, contact me at adrian@adrianpartridge.com or through my website www.adrianpartridge.com. I’ll help you diagnose the real issues and lay out your next best steps to take your business to where you want it to go.

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