Everything is Running Late, but Nobody Seems to Care

Over the course of 5-6 years, I was very active on Twitter. It was time to start using my free time better because the social network was fading out each year. While I did rarely tweet, I kept my account to use it from time to time.

As it turns out, the single purpose left my account was to “tweet a taxi”. A local company offers this kind of service and it’s very useful when you are in a crowded place. Also, when you don’t have time to wait for the operator to answer, it’s easier to tweet. The company thrives because there are no competitors like Uber in my country.

The Importance of Being Punctual

One day after ordering a ride, a surprising reply came back. I was to wait more than 10 minutes until the car arrives. This never happened before, and it occurred in the middle of the day, not even close to the rush hour. I went outside the building to wait. After about 5 minutes the driver appears and shares an interesting story with me. A very useful one for all those who deal with deadlines in their work.

The driver who is unfamiliar with the neighborhood gives a pessimistic time estimate. If he says to be there in 3 minutes and turns late, customers can register a complaint. He receives a penalty from the company and loses money for the ride. On top of that, there’s a 3-hour exclusion from the network. This means he’s not able to accept new customers. I can only imagine how frustrating this is for the drivers, with such a small margin for error. But, it is respectful to the customers.

Every Project Comes with a Deadline

I was thinking about how I’ve never experienced anything like this in any of my projects. More often than not, project completion happens after the deadline. So much so that it almost became accepted as a standard. Companies and individuals take little action to improve their performance and overcome lateness.

My freelance career as a web developer started while I was still in high school. Over the course of 10+ years, I worked on a hundred different projects. All those projects came in with some kind of deadline. Clients want everything “as soon as possible” and place “urgent” labels on anything they can. I can say that well over 80 percent of projects finish after the deadline we agree upon. This is usually due to the incomplete content, poor feedback, last minute changes, etc.

Every freelancer in the world had similar struggles, at least once. Of course, as none of us is perfect, I must say that a few projects were late because of me. Sometimes you decide to have different priorities. If you take part in many projects at the same time, one of them will have less of your attention.

We’ll Talk About it When it’s Already Late

In all my projects, I have never discussed the consequences of being late with the client. Let’s agree that both sides can be late. Although the burden falls at the freelancer, there is rarely any kind of punishment. I’m not talking about the financial aspect, never working with this client again is also bad enough. They can also damage your reputation with other clients. Of course, if I am going to be late, I always tend to communicate and explain the situation. Luckily, I was never that late to make someone quit the project altogether.

The real issue here is not the non-existing clause of being late in most of the deals freelancers make. The real question is – how do we act once this situation happens? What do we learn from it that can be useful for our future projects?

Under Promise and/or Over Deliver?

As a freelancer who tries to be very punctual, should I stop working for the client who is always late? What type of lateness is the worst – with the feedback, the content, the payments?

If you are a freelancer who is always late, sure you can apologize all you want. You can even pull out a few all-nighters to fix things or get less money for your effort. But if you make a habit of being late I’m pretty sure that sooner or later that kind of behavior will have revenge. Let’s hope it’s not when you least expect it, as these things usually are.

I am still not confident enough to ditch the client who is late, so I’ve never done that. But it always grabs my attention when a client doesn’t commit to the project. This is why I try to push things forward whenever we hit a roadblock. It works like charm, but my main suggestion would be to agree on a pessimistic deadline. This will give you plenty of time to deliver everything before the panic kicks in.