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When freelancers leap into a new project, we have one goal: to deliver a terrific, well-performed project on time. It turns out that’s not as easy as it might seem.

Every freelancer is a project manager on top of being a designer, writer, developer, or whatever your specialty might be. You’re juggling many tasks, clients, and expectations. You might be juggling multiple team members or subcontractors too. With all those balls in the air, sometimes things don’t go as planned.

If your project isn’t going the way you expected, it might mean you must change its cost, deadline, or both. When and why might this happen? How do you handle it professionally and prevent it from happening again? Luckily for you, I’ve been there and have some insights to share.

When You Might Need to Change a Project’s Cost or Deadline

There are many things that can shift while an assignment is in progress, but certain culprits are at fault more often than others. These are the most likely issues.

Added Scope of Work

Ah yes, the old scope creep – every freelancer’s enemy. Sometimes clients ask you to design a ten-page website, but ten pages turn into thirty. When your assignment’s scope changes, the cost and deadline should change too.

New Complications

Stuff happens, whether we like it or not. Complications arise and sometimes we can compensate, but sometimes those complications negatively impact clients’ work. You might run into technical glitches, unanticipated legal hurdles, or, you know, the chaos of 2020. This can throw off any project’s timeline or expenses.

Lack of Cooperation

Sometimes you’re doing everything possible but someone else isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. Maybe subcontractors aren’t meeting project deadlines or clients aren’t responding to your requests for the information you need to complete their assignments. Waiting for responses costs valuable time and pushes back deadlines.

Poor Planning

We all make mistakes, and sometimes you just mess up your resource planning or project scheduling, plain and simple. When you’re at fault, try to make it work if possible but if you can’t you’ll have to swallow some pride and extend the deadline.

Tips for Changing a Project Cost or Deadline (Without Losing a Client)

Obviously, it’s best to avoid changing a project’s cost or deadline whenever possible, but sometimes it’s inevitable. When that happens, there are ways to do it while causing as little frustration for your clients as possible.

Be Clear But Concise

Be honest and explain the situation rather than simply saying, “I can’t meet the deadline.” Be concise, though, instead of rambling on with every detail. Focus on giving reasons, not excuses, and be specific about the deadlines or cost changes you’re proposing.

Communicate in Writing

Put the changes in writing, like in an email. If the client responds in a non-written way, send an email or text reiterating the new agreement. This way, the client can always look back for a reminder. You’re also protected in case they come back later and request your original price or deadline.

End with the Positives

Wrap up the email in a positive way, reminding them that this change will make it a more successful project. For instance, “This modified timeline will allow us to take the site live without unnecessary technical issues, creating a better experience for your customers.”

How to Avoid Planning Issues in the First Place

Project changes happen, but you want them to happen as little as possible. No one can anticipate every variable but use these tips to plan ahead and hopefully prevent project changes from being necessary.

Create a Critical Path

A critical path is a planning strategy that is essentially a work breakdown. It’s a plot of all the tasks a project will require, laid out in order. This tool gives you great perspective on how much work a project will entail and how long you should allow for the full process. From there, transfer each step in that critical path to your task manager with dates for each item to help you stay on track.

Use Great Tools

The right tools make any job easier, including developing your project plan. Scheduling software, for instance, helps you gauge your existing workload and how much time you can dedicate to upcoming projects. Project management software helps you track various tasks throughout the project as well.

One popular option is a Gantt chart. These bar chart-like tools create literal timelines for each team member and each task on their to-do lists.

Planning and Adapting: Every Freelancer’s Dream Combo

Whether you manage one project at a time or twenty, putting in the time and effort to plan appropriately will save you from many uncomfortable, business-risking conversations ahead. At the same time, sometimes project changes are unavoidable so it’s crucial to know how to deal with them when they arise.

You don’t need a whole project management team to make it work. All it takes is dedicated planning and smart communication to keep everyone happy.

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