5 Tips for Requesting a Deadline Extension without Seeming Unprofessional

Every freelancer would like to say they’ve never missed a deadline. Their career depends on it, after all. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. We can’t all boast being perfect and making every deadline on time, so what can we do when we’ve run out of hours in the day?

Figuring out how to let your clients down gently when you can’t deliver work on time is every freelancer’s worst nightmare. However, there are ways to get around this without losing clients and tarnishing your reputation…

Give plenty of warning

As soon as you think you might have trouble delivering on a deadline you need to let your client know. The temptation can be to put off delivering bad news until the very last minute, but this won’t earn you extra points.

The sooner you explain the issue, the sooner you can sort it. Find a new realistic deadline and give it to your client. They might not like it and they may not even be understanding, but giving them more time to adjust can allow them to make necessary arrangements to cater to the new deadline.

Be honest

People appreciate honesty. If you’re caught out in a lie – however big or small – it will certainly damage your freelancing reputation. However embarrassing or ridiculous the truth might seem, explain it to your client. You shouldn’t feel like you have to go into the WHOLE truth (please don’t tell them the ins and outs of your troublesome UTI) but explain enough so that they understand why it is affecting your work.

Clients are more likely to respect that you’re honest and upfront with them rather than being shady and vague. You should respect them enough to explain the issue, and hopefully they respect you enough to understand.


Once you’ve explained the problem, don’t assume that’s the end of it. You need to hear their concerns before you expect an extension. They might be worried that the incomplete work will have a direct effect on their business, or that it will ruin their campaign.

If this is the case it might be an unfortunate truth that they have to find someone else who can complete the work on time. Here’s where it’s important not fly off the handle. You shouldn’t get angry when they raise the point of working with someone else – it might not be ideal but you should respect their work enough to let them get on with it. Even recommending someone else can be a credit to your own services!



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Apologise… but not too much

If this hasn’t been your first reaction when delivering the news of a late piece of work – where are your manners! Make sure in your first email or phone call that you end the conversation with a sincere apology and explanation of how this is a rare occurrence.

However, as with anything you don’t want to inundate your client with emails and calls. Don’t send an apology every half an hour until they reply. Instead, wait for their response and see how they feel about it. Then you have the chance to either explain further or move past the issue. Over-apologising can seem desperate and unprofessional – avoid it at all costs!


If your client decides to go ahead with the new deadline, lucky you! Once the work is completed and everything has been smoothed over you should follow up with a review of your performance. This isn’t necessary for every piece of work but when something arrives late it’s just good manners.

Once the project is complete send a review of why it was late and what you’ll do in the future to tackle the issue. You should also raise the subject of payment; do you need to do a part-refund to apologise? Or is the client happy to pay full price? This will be different in every situation, so review each individually.

What works for you when it comes to requesting a deadline extension? Have these tips been helpful? Drop us a comment below!

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