Project delays are a problem all freelancers face. Regardless of your industry or experience level, there will be times when even the best project plans, schedules, and intentions go awry.
Usually, these occasional delays cause minor inconvenience, but they can have dangerously negative implications for both your workflow and cash flow if they happen regularly.
It may seem like there’s not a lot you can do to influence the swift progress of a project. After all, there may be numerous stakeholders involved in decision making and reviews, meaning progress can be slow. Even if you’re working with just one person, they can be influenced and distracted by life and work events.
How best to avoid damaging project delays
However, while some delays are unavoidable, there are ways for you as a busy freelancer to mitigate the damage they do and the chances of them occurring in the first place.
Here are just seven ways to ensure you avoid untimely delays derailing your productivity, earnings, and wellbeing.
- Get clear on your terms and conditions
Before working with a new client, it’s wise to get your terms and conditions drawn up, ideally by a legal professional. Your Terms & Conditions outline the rights and responsibilities of both freelancer and client. They form part of your written contract and are essential if you want peace of mind and security regarding things like late (or absent) payments, refund demands, cancellation, ownership rights, and liability.
Part of your T&Cs should cover payment requirements such as pre-project deposit percentages and late payment charges, among other things. Make these clear to all new clients before any work commences.
- Understand the potential for delays
During the introductory phone call with a prospect, it’s good practice to ask about all the stakeholders involved with the project decisions and processes. While the person you initially communicate with might want to get a project completed quickly, other stakeholders will often require more time – planned or otherwise.
The bigger your client’s company, the more potential for extensive delays. Factor this reality into your planning and payment requirements.
- Agree on a timing plan
Wherever possible, draw up a timing plan. A pre-agreed timeline between you and your client, with clearly defined milestones, will provide a focus for both parties. Good clients will appreciate the time boundaries. They get a better understanding of when their project will be completed while you’re able to plan your payment structure and schedule accordingly.
You can then build in late payment or project delay charges into your contract. An example might be that after a set number of days (i.e. 21 days) without any communication or forward momentum on the project, you can then invoice for the final project fee.
- Stay polite and positive
Never lose your temper or be rude to a client, no matter how frustrating or obnoxious their behavior may be. In most cases, your client will simply be overwhelmed with their own work and lives. It’s easy for anyone to innocently forget to pay an invoice or respond back in an appropriate timeframe when things are extra difficult.
Politely follow up with a client about a late email response or project decision. Stay positive, confident, and friendly in your correspondence, even when you need to chase a late payment.
- Prepare contingency plans
It’s best to expect and prepare for the worst as a freelancer. In other words, always have a contingency plan. In an ideal world, your clients will promptly communicate with you, and your project will go exactly to plan. This scenario doesn’t always happen, even with the loveliest of clients.
Life gets in the way and business decisions can lead to delays. When scheduling a project, create an alternative plan in case things are put on the back burner for a week or two. Always have an eye on alternative tasks (bookkeeping, for example) and projects you can complete when things don’t go to plan.
- Schedule regular meetings
When working on a lengthy project, it’s sensible to arrange regular meetings. A weekly Zoom conference or phone call ensures you are both on the same page regarding project details and schedules. Radio silence is bad for everyone and usually results in poor project results. Make it a priority on your part to avoid losing contact for too long.
Before project commencement, work out a communication plan with your client to which you can both agree.
- Continue to say “yes” to new projects
New prospect inquiries are like buses, you can have none for a while, and then three or four arrive simultaneously. Unless you’re completely snowed under with work, it’s good to always say “yes” to appropriate projects. The reality is that not all of these inquiries will turn into paying projects. Some will fizzle out before you even get to the proposal stage.
Keep marketing, keep talking to prospective clients, keep saying “yes” to good projects. When you factor in delays from other projects, you’re usually going to have time to slot in further billable work to your schedule.
Dealing with project delays in your freelancing career
Project delays needn’t be stressful or a regular feature of your freelancing week. By enacting some of the above tactics, you can influence clients to get on board with your schedule and avoid unexpected frustrations.
The key is to be in control. When you can maintain your productivity and keep a healthy cash flow, despite delays happening around you, then you know you’re dealing with project delays in the best way possible.