Eric Ahrendt Writer

Negotiating with Clients About Deadlines

Posted on August 2, 2014 by

In my experience, “When can you get it to me?” is tied with “How much will it cost?” for being the first question a client asks after explaining an assignment. Both are kind of hard to answer before you’ve had a chance to review source materials, decide if you need to do interviews, figure out how much you need to write from scratch vs. adapt from another document, and so on. But that doesn’t get you out of giving an answer.

Stall If You Can

If you answer the “when” question right there on the phone, it’s going to be a real guess, and, if you’re eager to please, as most freelancers are (and for good reason), you’re likely to commit to a date that puts pressure on you to finish quickly. Better to say, “Let me look over the materials and get back to you.” Clients accept that. They all want everything ASAP, of course, but they do understand that it takes a few days to write a multi-page document. Some even understand that you have other clients whose projects may be in line before theirs.
So if you’ve bought some time, you can look at the materials, find out what you’ll need to write the piece, check your schedule, and email them back with an estimate. I usually promise to get them a draft within a couple of days to a week. Sometimes clients call with a short assignment—a headline for a web page, a marketing email that’s very similar to others I’ve already done, title options and a paragraph about a webinar—and they’ll want it that very day. I almost always say yes, even though they’re cutting in line before others. Why not give outstanding service if you’re able?

Use Smart Negotiating Tactics

If you have to give an answer on the phone, follow the rules of smart negotiating: Just like in price negotiations, where you should avoid being the first one to name a price, in deadline negotiations, avoid being the first one to name a date. If you let the client name a date first, chances are they’ll be more lenient than you would be. They don’t want to appear unreasonable, so they may name a date that’s towards the end of the date range they need the piece. On the other hand, if you name a date first, you want to appear responsive, so your date is probably sooner. Better to let them go first, have them name a date further out, which is what usually happens, and just agree to that.

What’s a Rush?

Now that I’ve brought up cutting in line, I have to talk about its implications for deadlines, client service and fees. I know a graphic designer who always applies rush charges to assignments that cut in line in front of other jobs on his schedule. He doubles his fee for those assignments. I think doing that (a) compensates him for the inconvenience; (b) discourages clients from making a habit of asking for extremely fast turnarounds; and (c) risks alienating clients.
I think rush charges are justifiable, but I don’t assess them myself, partly because I have trouble defining a rush. Is it a rush if a client calls me in the morning and asks me to turn around a short assignment that day, and I have the time to do it and still stay on track with other assignments? Not in my book; that’s just being a good vendor. At the other end of the spectrum, if someone calls me on Friday with a fairly time-consuming assignment and wants it on Monday, meaning I have to work over the weekend, that’s a rush. But there are lots of requests in the gray area in between that constitute cutting in line but don’t make me work nights or weekends and don’t put me at risk for not meeting other deadlines. Are those a rush? Not in my book.

If you’re going to assess rush charges as a standard business practice, you need to define for your client, right at the beginning of the relationship and in writing, what constitutes a rush and how much extra they’re charged. I’ve never done that, so I’m not comfortable assessing rush charges on an ad hoc basis with no warning. The rub for spelling all this out up front, though, is that a client might not like that and go elsewhere. “If they do,” my designer friend would answer, “you’re better off not having them as a client.”

Fast, Cheap or Good

BTW, this whole discussion of rush charges and turnaround times should also include a comment on quality, because they’re all tied together. Remember the classic option vendors present to clients: “You can have it fast, cheap or good. Pick any two.” Writing something in a rush often does in fact affect the quality. Some assignments, like creative concepts for a marketing campaign, just can’t be turned around in a day. Well, they can, but the ideas you come up with won’t be nearly as good as they would if you had more time to spend thinking. So if you feel a turnaround time is too short to allow you to do the job right, ask for more time, and explain why. I’ve found that most deadlines aren’t drop-dead deadlines, except when they are.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.

Log in

About My Blog

Most of these posts are my opinions and observations about marcom writing; others are about somewhat-related subjects I felt were post-worthy. I'm just hoping none of my current clients leave me after reading these.


  • December 2018
  • December 2017
  • January 2017
  • December 2015
  • January 2015
  • December 2014
  • October 2014
  • August 2014
  • June 2014
  • April 2014
  • March 2014
  • February 2014
  • Categories

  • Featured
  • Humor
  • Posts
  • Travelogue