Consultants and deadlines

I’ve spent some time consulting for a small and medium sized companies and I’ve seen many consultants make many errors and one of the worse for you clients is blowing deadlines.  Now for me to say that you’ll never run into a situation where your project is incomplete when the deadline comes would just be silly.  As all consultants know that there are sometimes factors in your project that are outside of your control.

For first time consultants, it may be hard to adjust to the hard deadline because when you are an employee for a company, deadlines are important but sometimes can be flexible, but consultants don’t have that luxury.  When you rely on other companies for your source of income, coming through on your promised completion date could hurt your future business.  Making sure you come through with your deadlines is just one way to endear that client to you.

Communication with a client is one of the biggest things a consultant has to remember (but don’t over do it).  Use this in conjunction with common sense when it comes to project deadlines.  If you become aware of a component or software that you need for your project is backordered or delayed let your client know as soon as you are made aware.  I’ve seen some consultants wait until the deadline due date to inform the client that it couldn’t be done because of a backorder.  This also has the advantage of giving the client more time to adjust for the launch of the software or product.

Live in the real world, when it comes to the beginning discussions of the project make sure you don’t over promise.  If you don’t think that you are going to be able to meet the deadline, then either pass on the project or ask for a time adjustment.  Because if you feelings turn out right, you aren’t benefiting anyone when everything falls apart.

One of the things that helped me stay on track is status reports.  Some companies require these on a regular basis, but even if they don’t I still send them, and even if they don’t want them, I prepare them.  Status reports don’t just help the client know where you are, it’s a reminder to you of where you are with the project.

When your project does run over a deadline, think like your client when you approach them with the information.  For one don’t use personal issues to excuse while you are past deadline.  Clients only care about the project and why it’s not done, being honest on your short comings can go longer than whining.  Also try to always remain positive, don’t go to clients with negatives, like problems without solutions.  They hired you, make sure when things go bad and drag your project longer you come up with solutions before telling them.

Some positive things you can do when your project slides past the deadline, small things like offer an apology (and mean it), give the client a brief run down of where you are, and choices to proceed.  Also depending on the terms, give the client back some money.  I know it hurts, and should only be used if they paid good money, but this helps show the client that there is goodwill between you.  Just like a retail store will refund cash to a unhappy shopper, you can refund or knock off some money to show that you care…and hopefully keep a client.

One of the things I try to always keep in mind when I was working with clients, is to put myself in their shoes.  I’ve given consultants timelines that for one reason or another were not met, but the client being upfront and honest with me and kept me in the loop and didn’t try to make all their money in a single shot was the consultant who I would always come back to.  In a sea of consultants make yourself stand out, you wont be a fit for every client, but the ones that work with you, will be more likely to come back.

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