We freelancers have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. We love them because there is nothing that will get your rear in a chair and your fingers typing like a looming copywriting deadline.
Aaaaaand we also hate them because what gets our rear in the chair are twinges of panic at the idea of not getting the work done in time.
Deadlines are essential because they ensure that we finish the work and the client has a clear understanding of what they’re going to receive and when. (A client who understands the process and the timeline is a happy client.)
But how do we ensure that the deadlines will actually work for the projects? That we won’t be sitting at our desks writing copy and thinking, “Holy sh*t: There might not be enough time to do this”?
1. Work With Your Client to Set Copywriting Deadline
First, I want to get clear on how deadlines work. Deadlines aren’t dates that are imposed on us by clients. They are mutually agreed upon dates between you and the client at the beginning of the project.
You and your client will talk about when they’d like the work done, you’ll think about your schedule, and you’ll agree on a date that works for the both of you—and, again, all of that will happen at the outset.
There will never be an occasion when you promise to do the work and a client then demands an unreasonable deadline. When you send out your proposal, it includes a detailed scope of work, the cost, and the date you’ll deliver the work.
(Sometimes a client might request that you turn around work a little faster in the middle of a project, but you’ll only do that if you’re able to.)
You are partially in control of a project’s deadline.
2. Think In Terms of Days, Not Hours
Being partially in control of a project’s deadline freaks some new copywriters out.
After all, how can you know how long it will take you to write something if you’ve never written it before? Or if you’re working with a new client? Or how long it will take them to review the work and send feedback?
The good news is that all of this is a lot easier to figure out—and has a lot more wiggle room—than you might initially think.
Remember that when you’re planning out a copywriting deadline, you’re planning in terms of days, not hours. There are a lot of places to steal away some time to write copy throughout the course of a day. Yes, even if you also have a full-time job. And a significant other. And kids.
When you and your client are talking about a deadline, you need to move backward from when your client needs the finished (finalized and approved) copy in hand. And this doesn’t mean, for example, that they need the finalized copy the day the website goes live—it means they need it in time to give it to their web developer so the web developer has time to get it on the site before it goes live.
This isn’t your responsibility, of course, but it can help to think it through and point it out to clients—sometimes they forget other service providers’ timelines when they’re thinking through yours.
3. Set a Realistic Project Timeline
So, you know when your client needs final copy. Before that, you’re going to want to leave at least three or four full days for revisions—maybe even longer if you’re a newer copywriter. Remember, what has to happen is that you deliver your first draft of copy, your client reviews it and sends you feedback, and you revise it and then send through another version. And then maybe your client will have a few more tweaks you have to incorporate to get it finalized.
From there, you’ve got your potential first draft date. (This will go into your proposal.) Now, look at your schedule: Is this possible for you?
Bear in mind all of the steps that your project has to go through once the proposal is approved:
- Input call with your client
- Writing your creative brief
- Outline your messages
- Write the project (of course)
- Edit your work (editing should take at least half as long as writing it does!)
The length of time for writing each type of project will be different—and the client, topic, industry, and a host of other things will affect that. But, of course, do your best to err on the side of giving yourself more time than you need.
Listen for More: Check out the “The Creative Project Process” episode of the Build Your Copywriting Business podcast for more insight into typical elements of a project.
4. Factor in “Sleep-on-It” Time
Also, try to give yourself a night to sleep on your copy before you begin editing it. Giving your brain that “off” time to figure things out can net you better copy in the end.
And here’s another quick tip: end-of-day Friday is, for all intents and purposes, the same as first-thing Monday for the vast majority of clients…but it’s a huge difference for you. Giving yourself the weekend gives you a little extra bit of breathing room.
5. Give Your Client Deadlines
It can help to remind your client that revisions are a normal part of the process—little tweaks to get it just right. But the faster they give you the feedback, the faster you can make the changes. If it’s absolutely crucial that they hit that finalized date, then it’s absolutely crucial that they give you feedback in a timely manner.
If a client seems to be taking their time to give feedback, you can send a polite email. Use the following as an example:
“Hi, I just wanted to check in on the feedback. Keeping our timeline in mind, in order for me to make the changes and get you the finalized copy by [DATE] I’ll need your requested changes by [DATE OR TIME].”
It’s not your fault if they’re not getting you feedback on time.
6. Schedule Mini-Deadlines for Bigger Projects
For most people, a copywriting deadline is a one-time thing. It’s the date on which the project is due to be entirely complete. A deadline is an end-of-project date.
But relying on a single deadline to help pace you through a large project is like relying on a brick wall to stop your car. It’ll work, but boy is it going to hurt.
So what do you do instead? You put in speed bumps.
You need to build in smaller deadlines to help pace yourself ahead of your big deadline. And, just as importantly, they need to be enforceable deadlines.
For example, many people promise themselves, “I will definitely, definitely have this done tomorrow” and then blow right through that deadline because there are no consequences.
If you’re the kind of person who can truly stick with internal deadlines, then great. But if you’re not, you need to create consequences by promising things to your client.
For example, if you owe the entire copy for a site on May 1st, you could propose the following schedule:
- April 5: About page
- April 15: Homepage
- April 20: Product page
- May 1: Careers page
You can’t let your client down, so you’ll hit these shorter/smaller copywriting deadlines. And hitting your smaller deadlines will keep you on track to hit your overall deadline. By the time your overall deadline comes up, you won’t be struggling—you’ll be sprinting over the finish line.
What Happens When Life *Still* Gets in the Way?
Of course, even when you plan out a client project carefully and give yourself plenty of time, life can get in the way. When that happens, you just have to make the time to get the work done. Maybe that involves skipping your normal downtime, or maybe it even involves late nights or pre-dawn writing sessions. The point is that you get it done and, with any luck, learn a lesson or two for next time.
(That’s also why it helps to have a few copywriters who you can turn to in a pinch! Of course, you need to trust them. And you’ll still need to review their work.)
There’s no perfect formula for setting a deadline. And (like most things) you’ll get better at it the more you do it. The key is to give yourself enough time—even more than enough, if you can swing it—while still delivering the work in a timeframe your client is happy with.
Your turn! What tactics do you use to keep your copywriting deadlines in check? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on December 6, 2022
“Editing should take at least half as long as writing it does.” Thank you for pointing this out! Sometimes I feel like O mist be doing something wrong if I’m taking longer than I thought to make edits.
Ha! like how I should have edited my comment before hitting “post.” 🙂
Nicki Krawczyk says
Well, you should know that *my* initial reaction after reading the first line of your comment was, “Uh oh, she found a typo in my post!” 😀 Oh, it’s so tiresome to be so hopelessly human, isn’t it?? 😀
Thanks for commenting!
I LOVE deadlines! And I strive to deliver projects early as well. I don’t always manage (because life), but I have never missed a deadline.
I had a client who would actually not give me a deadline, and would say “There’s no rush. Whenever you finish is fine”, but that’s a recipe for disaster for me, so I would choose my own deadline and inform my client. “I will have it ready for you in 3 weeks.” Then, a day or two before the deadline, I would send another message, “I will have your project completed by tomorrow.”
Nicki Krawczyk says
I completely agree – with clients who have a “get to it when you can” attitude I always make us both commit to a deadline. If I’m writing it “when I can get to it”…I’ll be writing it in 2026. 😀
Thanks for commenting!