“Call me a braggart, call me arrogant. People at ABC (and elsewhere) have called me worse. But when you need the job done on deadline, you’ll call me.” – Sam Donaldson

One of the facts of life for a freelance copywriter like me – any writer, in fact – is deadlines. We live with them. They’re always looming. And they never go away.

Ask anyone you know who’s ever worked as a reporter or editor for a daily newspaper.

“I feel sorry for you,” MB, a contractor who specializes in kitchens and bathrooms, told me the other day when he saw the pile of work on my desk.

“Why?” I asked as I happily clicked away at my PC.

“You have all those deadlines,” he answered.

I stopped typing. “Don’t you?” I replied.

“No,” said MB. “We just take on a lot of remodeling jobs, and we get to them when we get to them.”

“Don’t you have schedules in your contracts?” I asked.

“Sometimes. But no one expects us to stick to them. After all, we’re contractors.”

MB is dead wrong in thinking he doesn’t have deadlines … or that his customers don’t care about his slow turnaround. I know, because I am one of his customers. He is remodeling our master bathroom right now.

He told us it would be done in June … and the job is still not finished.

Is my wife steamed? Don’t even ask. And, frankly, so am I.

The point?

Every service business … every business, in fact … is deadline driven. If you don’t think yours is, you just don’t realize it yet.

The instant you promise to do something for a customer, he is waiting for it to be done or delivered. Even if there is no contractual deadline or agreed-upon delivery date, your customers want what they have ordered – the sooner, the better.

The longer you take to deliver, the more impatient and irritated they become. Dissatisfaction increases with the delay.

If there’s no deadline in your contract … or oral promise to deliver by X … that doesn’t mean your customer has no deadline. It just means your customer hasn’t told you about it.

Not asking for a timeframe – and agreeing with it – is negligence on your part … and an invitation to disaster.

Now, your customer may not himself know what his deadline date is. But there will come a time when … if you haven’t yet delivered … he will suddenly wake up, angry that you are taking so long.

He’ll be annoyed … and feel ignored … and call you every other day until the job is done or the merchandise is delivered. And even then, he’ll complain to his colleagues and friends about your company. (“Their quality is okay, but their turnaround is slow, and customer service is terrible.”)

So my advice is simple …

First, if there is no set deadline – either written or verbal – volunteer to set one.

The deadline should be not only a date, but a specific time of day. (“X will be delivered on or before January 15, 2007, no later than 3:00 p.m. EST.”) If you do not specify a time, you will get a call first thing in the morning on the 15th from an annoyed customer asking “Where the $@#$@ is my stuff!”

Second, don’t miss your deadlines.

If difficulties arise that will cause you to miss a deadline, let the customer know as early as possible about the problem – and ask for an extension. Do this the instant you have an inkling that a delay may occur. Don’t call the customer the day before the deadline and tell him you won’t make it.

Third, set generous deadlines up front.

If the customer wants it in two weeks, ask for four weeks … and then negotiate a three-week turnaround. Then make every effort to deliver earlier.

If the customer expects it in 14 days and you deliver in 15 days, you are late – and he will be irritated. But if the customer wanted it in 14 days, then agreed to a 21-day turnaround, and you deliver it in 15 days, you are six days early – and the customer will be delighted.

Make this your motto in business: “Under-promise and over-deliver.”

This goes for service, quality, price … and deadlines.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books. He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing University: The Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.