You may be a perfectly responsible language translator who plans ahead and sticks to a schedule. Even so, you’ve found that you simply can’t meet a deadline. It happens, even to the best translators. Although missing deadlines can damage your reputation, there are several ways to minimize this damage and still make clients happy.
Make sure that “the deadline” is really the deadline.
We’ve accepted last-minute assignments from frantic clients claiming that they “needed the translation yesterday.” And we’ve worked into the early hours of the morning to turn our translations around and meet nearly impossible deadlines. Once the translation was emailed on Monday morning, we were surprised not to hear back from the client—the same one who “needed the translation yesterday.” So we make a phone call only to find out, “Yes, I received it, but I won’t be able to review it until Friday.”
Deadlines are frequently artificial. Before you run yourself ragged trying to meet a deadline, ask if there is any wiggle room with it. Does the project really need to be in by such and such time?
Always contact your client sooner than later
Figuring out that you’re not going to meet a deadline rarely happens on the day the project is due. Most language translators know that they're in deep water early on. Never wait until a couple hours before the deadline to contact your client and ask for an extension. If you give an advanced warning, your client is more likely to be understanding and may even be able to push the deadline back.
Outsource the work when you have no other choice
So you can’t meet the deadline and know that there’s no hope for an extension. This is the time to turn to a friend. Always have at least one trustworthy language translator you can outsource work to when you are overbooked. Backing out of a project after accepting it is going to cost you a client—but so will turning in shoddy translations. Your brand is your reputation; never put it in the hands of someone whose work you’ve never seen.
Keep in mind that outsourcing work means that you’re going to take a financial hit since you didn’t factor in this expense when quoting the project.
Take it on the chin and learn from it
Having to ask for an extension won’t end your career, especially if you submit an impeccable final product. Granted, informing clients that you’re unable to meet a deadline won’t be an easy email to send or phone call to make, but you’ll both live to see another day. In the future, aim to under-promise and over-deliver.