How to Tell Your Client You’ve Missed the Deadline (and Be Professional About It)

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Guest post by Simone Smith


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Missing a deadline is something that happens even to the best of us. Whether you got sick and couldn’t finish your tasks on time or the project took you much longer than expected, one thing is clear – you’re about to miss the deadline and need to communicate it to the client. How to do that in a professional way and save your relation with them? Here are 6 essential steps to help you do that and ensure that you never miss a deadline again.

1. Get in touch

The earlier you reach out to the client, the better your exchange will go. Telling the client that you’ll miss the deadline a day before will put you in a bad light. Use the most reliable method for communication your client prefers – you need to be sure that they get the message as soon as possible. If you’re afraid that an email might get lost in their inbox, just call them and keep them informed about the delay.

2. Be honest about your mistake

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Stop beating around the bush and admit that missing the deadline was your fault, not a result of a series of incidental happenings. Acknowledge your mistakes to yourself and then to the client. This is how you can save your reputation and relation with customers. Facing the truth isn’t easy, but it looks much better than coming up with endless excuses for explaining what happened. Even if you had a legitimate reason for missing the deadline, you still need to recognize your mistake.

3. Explain why you missed the deadline

Every deadline is important, but some are more crucial than others. It’s one thing to fail to deliver a key task you agreed for in a contract, and quite another to forget about a correction you promised to make within the next few weeks. Naturally, each deadline requires a different degree of explanation. Always state why your work didn’t go as planned, without blaming anyone for it or telling some kind of sob story.

4. Apologize for being late

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Once you acknowledge missing the deadline, offer a sincere apology. Be clear, genuine and honest. Don’t blow things out of proportion just for the sake of adding some drama to the situation. Be calm under pressure and your clients will admire you. Make sure that the way you apologize matches the expectations of the client – some might not care about you missing the deadline, but others might need a firm assurance that it will never happen again.

5. Offer to make up for it

But don’t finish with apologizing. You need to remedy the situation by offering a solution for the delay you’re causing. You’re the one who created the mess, so clean it up by offering to fix the issue and basically do whatever it takes to manage the problem. If you react quickly, a missed deadline won’t become anything more than a minor setback in your project.

6. Reflect

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If you happened to miss a deadline, you should treat it as a lesson and develop solutions to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future. Take a good look at what occurred and analyze what went wrong. Perhaps it was a technical issue or an organizational problem? Maybe you’ve made a mistake at the beginning of your task and never recovered the time lost on correcting it? Identify the problem and make sure to eliminate it from your practice. If you forgot about the task, come up with a new system of listing your responsibilities or start using a smart project management app to keep up with your duties.

Missing a deadline is a tough experience, so if you happened to make this mistake, use these tips to save your relationship with the client and keep the good work going.


Simone Smith is a free spirit and an enthusiastic blogger who often shares her stories about self-growth and business development at Online Courses Australia. She is also a supporter of a healthy work-life balance, believing it is the key to life happiness and business success.