“Do the least damage possible to the client.” (Me.)
Recently, a good pal (and damn fine copywriter) had a bit of a meltdown…
… because Life inserted some truly cruel and unusual shit into his day, and he was in danger of missing a deadline. (That’s a photo of a deadline, above. Nasty thing.)
This is a no-no among most top professionals of all persuasions. You don’t miss deadlines.
People are counting on you. As a freelancer, entire businesses may be counting on you.
Back when I wrote for the largest direct mailing outfits in the world, a missed deadline might mean tens of thousands of bucks wasted, as printing presses sat idle. If my piece was meant for a print ad, even more money could potentially go down the tubes — my deadline was attached to a publication deadline, and no magazine or newspaper waits for you to get your shit together.
You don’t get your ad in on time, you don’t go into the publication. And you still have to pay (at least a penalty, and maybe the whole ad cost).
It’s serious stuff.
… because we’re all humans living in an essentially hostile world (full of danger, unpredictable risks, and lots of other gruesome horrors)…
… you need a plan.
A plan for that day (which hopefully never comes) when… shudder… you may be forced to miss a deadline.
My colleague is a true pro. He understands that clients and printing presses and budgets and biz plans are counting on him to meet his deadlines…
… and over a decade as a freelance copywriter, has never to my knowledge missed one.
And yet, here he was…
… cornered by Life, and needing some advice on what to do.
So, I whipped out a short list of options.
And it was so good, I thought I’d share it here.
For you to use NEVER… unless there is absolutely no other choice.
So, ONLY for your deep Bag O’ Tricks-Maybe-Needed-Down-The-Line (and never for regular use), here’s that advice:
How to get out of a deadline…
… when you absolutely have to (cuz you’re faint from loss of blood, or space aliens kept you locked up all night doing anal probes, or your eyes fell out…
… which, by the way, are the ONLY real excuses a true professional would ever let get in the way of a deadline. Other than life-or-death emergencies.)
Let’s begin with the stark fact that I, for one, have never missed a deadline. Never. In a 30-year writing career.
A few colleagues have expressed shock over that. Cuz, from the complaints I’ve fielded over the years about my cohorts, the average copywriter misses approximately half his deadlines. From rookie to top dog. It’s appalling.
But it also opens up a huge opportunity for writers who want to stand out (as all the “A Listers” do). One of the reasons I earned the global reputation I enjoy, in fact… is by meeting my deadlines.
Deadlines are sacred. I made a vow early in my career, “biz before pleasure”, and I stuck to it.
Without that attitude, I would be just another run-of-the-mill copywriter. No fame. No fortune. Not worth much.
In fact, the whole notion of meeting ALL your deadlines caused me to create what I call “The Professional’s Code”. It’s good for anyone in any kind of job where people count on you.
Here’s that code: You are where you said you’d be… when you said you’d be there… having done what you said you’d do.
It’s just that simple. In biz, romance, hobbies, getting your hair cut, everything you do… you follow the code.
If you crave the respect (and rewards) of BEING a true pro…
… you move heaven and earth to make this code REAL in your life.
You become That Guy who can be counted on. Who follows through. Who you can trust with your life. Or the life of your business.
… nevertheless, there may come a time in your career when life interferes so drastically…
… that you are forced to miss a deadline.
If that happens, here are your options:
Option #1: Arrange for an extension. You do not reveal details of your emergency. You’re not looking for sympathy. You’re a professional who is admitting that you cannot meet the current deadline…
… and something else needs to be arranged.
If they refuse your request for an extension, then: (a) return whatever fee you’ve already been paid, and deal with the professional shame of missing a deadline…
… or (b) hand in whatever you’ve completed up to this moment (if it’s even close to being what the client needs)…
… or (c) combine (a) and (b).
You may lose the client if what you give them isn’t something they can use… but then, who needs clients who don’t respect the fact that — once in a while — life hands you a bummer? (And, to be fair, what client needs a writer who misses deadlines?)
This is assuming you haven’t made a habit of missing deadlines. You may have earned some slack, IF your rep is clean up to now.
If missing the deadline causes a huge problem for the client, then your reputation has taken a massive hit…
… and your job, for the next few years, will be to try to repair your reputation. It will be hard. And dependent on you never missing another deadline.
If you take the hit, face up to it. It’s a setback. You’ll have to work to fix it.
It is what is. (Good Zen advice for living imperfectly in a rough world.)
Getting an extension is the best possible option.
But it only works if it works for your client, too.
If you must face the reality that you will not meet the deadline…
… then own up to it as soon as possible. Do not try to keep a fee you haven’t earned.
And — most important — do not vanish on the client.
The WORST thing you can do is go radio silent, leaving your client in the dark… just because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’re missing a deadline.
This compounds the error, essentially tossing your reputation into the toilet.
Own up to the situation. Again, you do not need to share details — what’s important to the client is not what’s happening to you, but what’s to become of his campaign. He paid you to do a job, and you’re not doing it. There are no “good” excuses for missing a deadline…
… but there are missed deadlines, even the most perfect of worlds.
Option #2: Gear up, do the best job possible in the time you can give to the gig, working overnight if you must, and meet the deadline with something resembling a complete ad. Meet the deadline despite the crises.
Schedule time to get at least some sleep, and to deal with the interfering emergency…
… but give the rest of your available time to the job. Make it happen.
I’ve even resorted to jamming out an ad in a couple of hours, to meet a deadline. Normally, I want weeks to carefully craft an ad… to research it, edit it, come up with multiple headlines, carefully craft the whole thing. However, I’m also capable of writing quickly, without the days of obsession and editing.
I prefer to have time to do it right.
But when time is not available, I do the best job I can inside of the small block of time I do have.
When you jam stuff out… what you end up with is what it is.
Just know that a top writer working at 70% is worth a lesser writer at peak output — which means, if you’re a veteran writer, this rushing to meet the deadline at the last minute can still produce “good enough” copy.
If you’re not a veteran writer… then you’ve got to make the call: Can you craft a complete ad — even an inferior one — in the time you do have available?
If you can’t, then this isn’t a good option for you.
Side note: The great Gary Halbert used to routinely finish ads, writing by hand on a legal pad, in the passenger seat of a car speeding to the client’s office. I’ve written speeches in the airplane, flying to the event I’d be speaking at. I know writers who’ve recorded themselves talking out copy while in the shower, and editing the transcription in the lobby of the client’s biz.
And I’ve written ads (and made major biz decisions on the phone) in hospitals, taking a break from attending to the loved one I was there to see. I never neglected my duties as part of the support team. But there was always time to break away for 20 minutes or an hour (when they were sleeping).
You do NOT need your usual “safe space” to create good copy, once you become a true professional. You use what you have.
Especially today, with modern technology. I’ve written ads on my iPhone, typing with thumbs.
Option #3: If you have even a day to spare, hire a ghost writer, and meet the deadline.
If the emergency forcing you to miss the deadline is also taking you away from your ability to do ANY work at all…
… but there is still time for SOMEONE to do it…
… then this is the best option.
Early in my career, I worked for copywriting legends like Jim Rutz (inventor of the magalog), Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert in these exact situations. Sometimes, even for my very first jobs with them…
… so we had no history, and they had no idea of I could deliver quality or not. But they hired me, because I was willing to throw myself into the fire, work all night (for several nights, if needed), and move heaven and earth to help them meet their sacred deadline. And they’d heard from other marketers that I met my deadlines…
… even when they were unreasonably short.
It was a great way to kickstart my reputation as a writer you could count on. And it got me inside their operations, where I soon held high-status positions.
If you need to hire a ghost writer, hit up your network and pay what you need to pay to meet the deadline. It might be all of your fee…
… which is acceptable, because this is an emergency situation.
Oh, wait. You don’t have a network yet?
Well, why not?
One of your priorities in life should be to cultivate and nurture a network of colleagues who are in your biz. If you’re a writer, then that network should be full of your writing peers — the sort of professionals you can hit up when you’re forced to hire a ghost writer.
And those are your options.
Bottom line: Do not be bullied or guilt-tripped by the client — for your own peace of mind. Rest on your laurels if you have to — if your reputation is clean (because you’ve made meeting deadlines a professional habit), then this one time missing a deadline or returning the fee won’t harm you much.
Recite: “It is what it is. Under normal conditions, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be an issue. It is an issue, however, this time.”
Then make your decision on the best option, and engage the client in conversation if you’re backing out of the gig. The sooner he knows, the more he can mitigate the problems you’ve caused.
Seek the least damage to the client.
Side note: The best way to AVOID this travesty, of course, is to avoid agreeing to hard deadlines in the first place. Smart clients pad their deadlines, so they’re not actually “hard”, in the sense that missing it creates a disaster.
A “soft” deadline means there is still time after you turn in your manuscript before the ad runs, or gets printed, or the project starts. You’re not turning in your copy the day before the launch or the print date.
That doesn’t mean you can miss soft deadlines with impunity, though. The extra time is usually reserved for your copy being reviewed, fact-checked, and proofed. All very necessary stuff.
Top pro’s who’ve had experiences with deadlines prefer this arrangement. If there’s a problem — especially one in miscommunication between client and writer (including bad info, incorrect facts, and totally misunderstanding some essential part) — it can be caught early, during one of the multiple soft deadlines in the funnel.
It gets complicated, when writers don’t want early drafts of their work seen by the client. I certainly do not want this.
However, it’s very smart to insert soft deadlines where the client must get all info to you (so you can start writing)… where all facts (from phone numbers to links to research info) are double-checked… and where you float your hook (especially if it’s outrageous) or sale-closing angles (including guarantees).
This saves everyone a lot of problems.
It also forces the writer not to wait until the last minute to start writing (which is why sudden emergencies cause such havoc). If you’ve got all the info double-checked, and you’re sure of the facts you’re working with, AND you’ve cleared your hook with the client…
… then having to finish up in a hurry (when unexpected shit hits your fan) becomes much, much easier.
Top writers know how to navigate life and business at a level far above how regular civilians operate.
Because people are counting on you.
Hope this helps.
P.S. Want more good advice like this, specifically for copywriters and consultants?
The “Freelance Course” is crammed with it.
Go here to check it out.
Many top working writers used this course to break away from the pack, and start earning the Big Bucks as their reputation grew by leaps and bounds.
Take your career seriously. This is a great place to start.
“Are you ready for a brand new beat?” (Martha & The Vandellas, “Dancin’ In The Street”)
Just cuz I’m such a nice guy, I like to gather recent Facebook posts I’ve published and lay them all out here on the blog…
… so you lazy types who can’t be bothered reading social media will still enjoy the advice, tactics and weirdness I lay out for everyone else.
So here, in no particular order, is a fresh pile of the good stuff from the last month or so:
Pro Chaos Theory Tip #1: Freelance copywriters learn quickly that the level of functional insanity among biz owners…
… is astonishingly high.
A client who (rightly) wouldn’t dream of interfering with his dentist, or plumber, or mechanic (“Here, let me drill for a bit on my molar — you’re doing it wrong”)…
… will routinely muck up and alter ad copy, no matter how accomplished the copywriter.
I’ve only had a tiny handful of clients in a 30-year career who resisted changing essential copy. The majority indulged in this ad-murdering habit (often after consulting with their English Lit major daughter, or the boys down at the local watering hole).
There are multiple ways to deal with this situation (the primary one is to establish yourself as “the adult in the room” early)…
… but first you have to realize what’s happening. You can’t “fix” dumb, and you can’t soothe irrational rage…
… but you can (as a First Option) learn to identify who’s gonna be trouble down the road, and choose not to play with dumb or irrational players.
Seems obvious. Isn’t. If you don’t stay aware, chaos will consume you.
Why are so many top writers introverts, I’m asked.
It’s an extroverted world. Introverts, to survive, must observe, understand and adopt extroverted models. This strengthens your Empathy muscles to absurd degrees.
The basic ingredient of good, persuasive writing is (aha!) empathy.
Extroverts are under no such pressure to study or change behaviors…
… and just get pissed off when forced to deal with introverts, who seem inscrutable and closed-off.
So, at least for writing, introverts have the advantage.
It’s only fair, as the world tends to bully introverts in most other categories.
One of my goals is to become “That Uncle I Never Had” — a worldly guy who would have taken ME aside back when I was so tortured by the challenges and choices of life…
… and just laid out a good reality check. Not tell me how to live, but show me the OPTIONS.
A single freaking clue or two would have gone a long way helping my bewildered teenaged-self cope.
For example: The entire extended family was working class — we traded physical labor for wages. A noble lifestyle that valued hard work, sweat equity, and not getting too big for your britches.
However, I was a near-sighted, introverted thinker. Turning off my brain and rolling up my sleeves to concentrate on hauling, hammering, lifting and building was doable, but difficult. My dairy-owning cousins seemed to revel in it, and mocked my mental exhaustion from blocking critical thought.
It didn’t dawn on me to pursue “brain work” until I hit 32. All my energies, up to that point, went into figuring out why I didn’t fit in, pushing uphill against the micro-culture of being working class.
I felt like a traitor, and a weenie.
I finally got my own clue, said fuck it, and became a freelance writer.
And, surprise, I suddenly worked harder and with greater sweating glee than I ever thought possible. This square peg had finally quit trying to fit into a round hole.
Letting my brain off its leash launched the career I should have always pursued…
… if I’d ever gotten a clue it was even possible.
“That” uncle I never had would taken me aside and said “Johnny, me boy, you’re different. And that’s not just okay…
… but it’s something to CELEBRATE. And pursue with gusto. Think, and write, and debate and go down dark mysterious philosophical alleys to your hearts content…
and NEVER be satisfied with mediocrity.
Or conformity. Just don’t expect anyone to applaud your choices. You’ll catch grief all the way… and that’s to be seen as a badge of honor, not shame. Go your own way, and let your freak flag fly.”
That’s all most of us need in life — a clue. A hint that we’re not wrong to want something else, or abnormal to not even know what you want yet…
… but that it’s okay to wander away from the herd to find out.
I’ve met precious few people along the way who qualify as “that” uncle. So we can all use one.
This is why I write these long posts, and have kept the blog going for ten years. It infuriates some folks, but I’m writing for those who can use the advice and clues.
The truth is, going your own way won’t always make you rich. And you gotta be okay with that, if you’re gonna unleash your brain and heart.
Cuz sometimes, you will stumble upon wealth and happiness you cannot even comprehend now.
Life is one long risky adventure. And if you think you can make it safe and without drama, you’re deluded.
Much better to embrace reality, prepare yourself for the game, and work hard on a solid, ethical and deliriously happy ride.
Big bonus if you help others and make the joint a better place.
Do you have smart friends who always seem to make dumb-ass decisions?
Are — ahem — YOU one of these miscreants yourself? (Confession: I am. More often than I care to admit.)
Well, gather ’round. I believe I’ve stumbled upon a solution.
Here it is: When you have an important decision to make…
… just ask yourself this simple question: “What would a smart person do?”
Then, go do that.
Do NOT (as so many of us somehow seem to do) ask “What would a blithering idiot do?”…
… and then go do that.
No, no, no. This is your self-intervention moment.
Don’t be the blithering idiot.
Do be the smart person.
Sounds too simple and obvious to work, doesn’t it?
Stunningly, it works.
Pass it around.
Random thoughts I probably should just keep to myself: It’s the birthright of every American to bitch and moan about how things are run.
Heck, the country was birthed in a snit, and didn’t last a generation before dissolving into civil war.
Still… as anyone who’s ever had to meet a payroll knows…
… it’s ridiculously easy to complain and insist you could do a better job…
… but it’s infinitely harder to roll up your sleeves and actually get something done.
All pro copywriters who’ve had a client insist their changes made the ad “better” know that look the client gets when the results come in…
… and they’re suddenly faced with the harsh reality of their doofusness.
It’s similar to the look the drunk who thinks he’s a great singer gets when he finds hisself onstage with a karaoke mic, exposed for the clueless wreck he actually is.
The world is divided into 3 groups: Those who know what they’re doing, and do it well.
Those who don’t know what they’ve doing, but figure it out.
And those those who refuse to acknowledge they are incompetent maroons, yet insist on being in control.
This is why true experts like to hang out with each other. Because the rest of the time, they’re dealing with aggressive stupidity, misplaced overconfidence, and stubborn ineptitude.
Let the bitching and moaning commence.
No one can predict the future, but the universe always lays out hints…
I may have stumbled onto a scientific way to add MASSIVE productivity to your week.
It’s just freaking amazing how awesome this tactic is.
In fact, it adds the equivalent of a entire EXTRA day to your workweek!
Wanna hear what is?
Here’s the secret: I woke up today thinking it was Friday. Was kinda bummed that I hadn’t accomplished quite as much as I’d intended to this week…
… until I discovered it’s actually Thursday.
Entire extra day added!
Think I’ll use this found time to goof off.
I mean, I earned it. Being a productivity scientist and all…
If you agree with everything you read… then you ain’t reading the right stuff.
There’s a baked-in bias in our brains that seeks consensus. And that’s fine for civilians, whose shallow thinking usually causes little damage outside their social circle.
But when you’ve swum into the deeper part of the pool — whether in biz, politics, or celebrity — each new decision and action is fraught with larger consequences.
It’s fine to be hard-headed when you actually know what the hell you’re talking about.
It’s pretty screwed up, however, to take your industrial-level naïveté (the polite word for raw ignorance) onto the Big Kids playground where maroonity is challenged and a real handicap to getting shit done.
Read more stuff that pisses you off, but don’t GET pissed off. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes, and try to determine what is actually rankling you.
Our default internal mechanism of blindly rejecting the Other represents the worst of our tribal tendencies. The grand arc of civilization has been a relentless battle against that destructive thinking, but it requires disciplined effort.
Surrounding yourself with people and info sources that agree with you may seem the comfy way to go.
But it’s a trap for anyone seeking to live fully and with gusto.
Life is rife with challenges. Instead of dodging them, embrace them.
It may make your brain buck and resist at first, but growth is never easy.
If growth bothers you, best to swim back to the shallow end.
And that’s it for this session, folks.
P.S. Don’t forget to solidify your position as a true bad-ass in your niche…
… by quickly learning how to write everything you need to persuade, sell, and nurture your customer base AND your future prospects.
Best way to pull that off: Take the Simple Writing System at-home program.
At your own pace, using your own best learning style, we’ll simply and efficiently install murderously-good writing skills into your brain.
No matter how stubborn you are, or how convinced you’ve been that you “can’t write”. That’s nonsense. We’ve taught thousands of entrepreneurs, biz owners and rookie writers how to write at the most awesome level possible…
… and if THEY could do it, then you can, too.
It’s time to up your game.
See what the fuss is all about here.