This curated column is authored by Writer, Designer Paul Jarvis
The dishwasher I bought that was supposed to be delivered last week isn’t here yet. I called the delivery company and they aren’t even sure where it is. The quote I requested from a fence company to fix my fence (a project worth a couple grand) still hasn’t come through. I was told I’d hear about that last week too.
My point here isn’t to complain. I seriously didn’t expect either job to happen on time. Pretty much any date anyone gives me for something involving paying them or offering to pay them is late.
People often ask me for advice on freelancing and my answer is always the same. It may come across as stupid or reductive, but it’s what’s made me stand out a designer, and now as someone who sells products.
Do exactly what you say you’re going to do.
Don’t waiver from this. Don’t do this some of the time. Don’t do this when it suits you. Always do this.
Almost every client I’ve ever had told me they liked working with me because when I said I’d get them something on a particular day, they’d get it. Other designers, they’d tell me, were late on most deliverables and once they were late, they’d start avoiding calls/emails.
I’m not the most talented designer, writer, programmer, anything. Hell, I’m even pretty damn lazy. But if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I do it. If I’m not sure I can get it done in the timeframe they want, I let them know (ahead of time) that it’s going to take longer.
Treat every agreement as a legally binding contract. Because on a societal level, that’s what it is. If you promise to give someone something, then do it. On time. Whether it’s a quote or a deliverable or anything else, it doesn’t matter. If you aren’t sure you can deliver, either say you can’t deliver or pitch a longer amount of time so you can be sure you will.
This forthright approach sets people apart. The fence company I contacted can’t even get me a quote, so how can I be confident they’ll do a good job on the work they supposedly specialize in? The dishwasher, which I sorely need because mine is leaking, gives me a mental note each time I clean up the pool of water it leaves on the floor to never buy an appliance from that appliance store again.
Any time you don’t keep your word, you’re not just letting that one person or business down. You’re losing the opportunity to work with every single contact that person or business has, because you can be sure as shit that they won’t ever send business your way. Or worse, they’ll tell everyone they know that you don’t keep your word. It balloons outwards, like our ever-expanding universe, where you haven’t just ruined your relationship with one potential client or contact, you’ve ruined the chance to work with everyone else they know and could refer you to.
Most of the time, missed deadlines aren’t a massive jerk move by the offending party. We all have good intentions with our time but most of us are absolutely shitty at managing it properly. Which is why it always makes sense to just double or triple the amount of time you think something will take. That way, even if life shits on your face or your dog pees on your laptop, you’ve still got time to deliver.
By doubling or tripling the timeframe, the worst case scenario is that you deliver on time. The best case scenario is that it takes you as long as you figured it would, without doubling or tripling it, and then you deliver early and look like a freaking superhero. Which is kind of the opposite of giving yourself just enough time to do your work, and delivering late because it took longer than you thought. In that case, you probably look like a supervillain (or at least a highly incompetent person).
I’m convinced that you can succeed in business by simply keeping your word and delivering on it. Just like how word travels fast if you miss deadlines, word will travel faster than deer jumping over my broken fence to eat my veggie garden if you always deliver on time. Everyone your satisfied client knows will likely hear about you. How awesome you are. How great it was to work with you. How everything you said you’d do was done, on time! Parades will be held in your honor, and televised so that even more people hear about you. (Ok, maybe not that last part, but you never know!)
It’s simple, really. Do exactly what you say you’re going to do. Every time, no exceptions. And good things will come your way.