Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 5: Missing deadlines

This post is part 5 of a series. Read the rest of the series here:
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 1: Not signing a contract
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 2: Allowing a discount
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 3: Burning bridges
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 4: Working for family

There are a small number of things you can do that will completely ruin your relationship with a client.

After all, most clients are human too (notice I say most) and they understand if you get sick, get stuck in traffic, or have a strong opinion about something and want to voice your opinion. (Please note that most clients are tolerant to a point, but don’t push it, or you’re likely to be replaced.)

But if there’s one thing most clients won’t put up with, it’s missing deadlines.

That’s why today, ‘missing deadlines’ merits a post in our series Common mistakes designers make with clients.

Why missing deadlines is so terrible

As creatives and artists, we designers often think to ourselves, “What’s the big deal if I get this project to my client today or first thing tomorrow? I’ll polish it up tonight and it will be worth the wait!”

But many times our clients have strict deadlines (whether they have created their own schedule or are managed by someone else) that they have to meet and when designers disregard those deadlines, it can throw the scheduling of the entire project offline.

How to hit your deadlines every time

So how can you make sure you hit your deadlines every time? Let me offer a few suggestions. Here’s how I do it:

  • Set a deadline together. Just because you have been hired by the client doesn’t mean that you have no say in when the deadlines are. Any client who can’t be flexible with your schedule, preexisting projects, and other scheduling elements might not be worth working with in the first place. (Yes, I’m talking about the client who calls you wanting a web site designed by the end of the week and only wants to pay a minimal fee. Just say ‘no’.)Decide on a deadline together as partners working together. Help your client understand how long it will take to produce a quality design. Both of you should be flexible when finding a deadline that works for everyone.
  • Set mini-deadlines (or design milestones). After you and your client agree on a final deadline upon which the final project will be completed, create a list of mini-deadlines or design milestones.These sorts of mini-deadlines should be reasonable and clear and will help both you and your client stay on task.Set mini-deadlines for both parties. For example, set a deadline for when you, as a designer, will have a preliminary design finished. But then set a deadline for when your client will have collected all the feedback and emailed it to you. (Or whatever deadlines you need to set in order for it to all work smoothly.)

    The day I started setting mini-deadlines was the day I started hitting my final deadlines every time. Give it a try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find.

  • Under promise, over deliver. Offer deadlines that make your clients comfortable, but always give yourself a little extra time for those little issues that come up. Because things always come up. Whether you have a family issue, problems with another client, computer mishaps, or any number of surprises along the way – you should always be prepared for them.If you set a date that’s further out than when you truly expect to have the project completed, when these issues arise, you can still hit your deadline. If no issues arise you can deliver early. It’s a win-win.

How do you hit your deadlines?

I’m sure there are many of you deadline-hitting pros out there reading the blog post. What secrets and tips do you have for the rest of us on hitting our deadlines? Share with us by leaving a comment on this post. I always try to respond to the comments and really appreciate your added insight on the topic at hand!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.


  1. Hi Preston,
    It’s funny, because as I’m reading this, I’ve been fretting about a deadline that I’ve now missed by a week. Luckily, it is a self-imposed deadline, and the client is terrible at meeting deadlines. I do whatever I can to not miss deadlines. I use wunderlist ( set deadlines for each project or part of a project and then I tell my client that I can have it to them the day after the day that I’ve set as my deadline. That way I can over-deliver, and be sure that I have enough time.

    Thanks for your great blog!

    • @Emily Smith,
      That’s a great strategy, Emily. How many deadlines do you usually give yourself within the process of just one project?

      • @Preston D Lee,
        It depends on the project. I try to find the natural divisions within a larger project and then set deadlines for those. The website I’m working on right now has 4 deadlines – navigation, content, images, and transfer to the client’s server. Most print projects I do are just one deadline, even if it’s a large project, because you need the first part (like a logo) done before you can do the other branding elements the client wants.

  2. That seems like such a “no-brainer” (not missing deadlines), but I’m always amazed at how many artists and designers consider themselves “free spirits” and think they’re above deadlines. I guess I’m just naturally more of a type A person–I’m usually the one bugging my clients to get back to me so we can finish!

    I like your idea of agreeing together on mini-schedules though…I think that will help some of my more laid-back clients stay on track. I’m currently in the process of adding a Client Responsibilities clause in my contract–including something about getting back to me in a timely fashion!

    Thanks for the post and this website, it’s been a great resource!

    • @Sheila,
      A definite ‘must’ for any contract is how quickly your client will get back to you. I can’t tell you how many times that has saved me. When they say I missed a deadline, I tell them they are in violation of contract because they didn’t get back to me in time to meet my deadline.

      Good luck with the mini-schedules.

  3. Can’t miss deadlines.

    Family emergency or illness is about it, and that can only happen once a year at best. Plan your deadlines so that if something does come up, generally you have some wiggle room.

    I love the idea of setting deadlines for your clients, too. It is so surprising how often they get back to you a week late and still expect to hit the original deadline, which is often tomorrow. From now on I plan to be clearer about when their deadlines are so they understand the implications of their (in)actions.

    • @April,
      Glad to hear so many of you like the idea of the mini-deadlines. It’s been something that has really helped me! Some great advice to give yourself wiggle room, April. How much wiggle room do you usually give yourself?

  4. I keep an electonic notebook with multiple tabs and detailed business notes. One particular tab is set up just for current projects. The cover page is an overview schedule of what each project is, who it’s from and additional notes that help me pinpoint each job at a glance. I also set up individual project pages with detailed notes of every project spec (including mini deadlines). It’s been working greatly for me to stay on point and I love it!

    • @Dionna Hayden,
      What a cool little process you have there! I’d love to hear a little more about it and I think Millos audience could benefit from learning from your system. Would you be willing to share more with us in a guest post?

  5. Missing a deadline is a real confidence killer from the client’s perspective. Unless there’s a very solid explanation, this will often lead to lesser jobs and recommendations over time. My suggestion is, do not over promise, be honest with your bandwidth and delivery times.

    • @Website Design Singapore – Morgan & Me Creative,
      So true. A lot of designers do it backwards: they overpromise and under deliver. What do you do when you’re just booked full and a client still wants to work with you on a lucrative project?

  6. Very useful to tips, i have small online business, this tips gonna help more 🙂 thanks!


  1. […] Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 5: Missing deadlines Tweet […]

  2. […] Consider the in-house flip side. You walk over for a quick confab with that same marketer, brainstorm a little bit about solutions, and keep the project on track. […]

  3. […] Consider the in-house flip side. You walk over for a quick confab with that same marketer, brainstorm a little bit about solutions, and keep the project on track. […]


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