Don’t Overpromise

by Mike O’Mary

I remember a sales rep from a commercial printer who would never tell me what I wanted to hear. I’d say, “Is there any way we can get that printed by May 1?” And he’d say, “Ooh! I don’t know…that’s tight.” Never once would he say, “Yep, no problem.” Yet almost invariably, it was no problem. He never overcommitted and always delivered on time.

As someone who used to do things like “commit” to being in downtown Chicago in 15 minutes when I was still 30 miles away, or “commit” to producing a draft of a 2,000-word article in two days when I knew it would take two weeks, I greatly admire that rep’s discipline. And I learned from him. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear. And as a freelancer, you want to please your clients. But you will do them and yourself a favor if you are realistic when it comes to the commitments you make.

What is your track record as a freelancer? Do you deliver on time 100% of the time? Or is it more like 90%…or 75%…or 50%? If it’s less than 100% of the time, why is that? Is it because something unexpected came up, or were you just trying to do too much in too short a period of time?

Don’t fall victim to your desire to please clients by telling them what they want to hear. It’s better to please them by delivering on time. So set realistic deadlines and then meet them. If you can do those two things, you will always have repeat business–and your reputation will result in lots of referrals.

Mike O’Mary is founding dreamer of Dream of Things, an independent book publisher currently accepting creative nonfiction stories for anthologies on 15 topics.

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