What to do when you’ve accepted a freelancing project you cannot complete – Part One


Many a times freelancers take project/s either too much in number to complete within the deadline or requiring the skills they yet do not possess. New freelancers especially those who are too desperate to land a gig might find themselves entrapped in a similar situation. This is no doubt a very tight situation and if you’re unable to handle it properly you would put some ugly black spots on your to-be-established career.

Hence, the question at hand is what to do to save yourself from the embarrassment and a perpetual loss.

As it is with any given problem first step in solving it is to understand what the underlying cause of your problem is. Like I’ve already mentioned the majority of such cases would be either because you cannot meet the deadline or you haven’t the required skills. Now even for the first scenario there can be situation like

  • In your desperation you never cared to read the description properly and the project’s deadline was unrealistic to be met within the time the employer had assumed.
  • The deadline is alright but you’re not fast enough to complete within that period.
  • The deadline is realistic, and your speed is alright too but you’ve taken more work than could be done in a particular period.

Once you’ve successfully analyzed your situation it becomes easier to reach to an appropriate solution. In this article I’m going to talk about the situation where you have got the skills but not the time.

Talk to your client

Nothing would work better than talking to your client and letting him know of the situation. Although this might bring upon you an instant wrath, but you’ll save yourself from the long term damages that a failure would have given you.If you’re not very confident with the project and you think you’ve got no other option, you may refuse the client with an appropriate apology and tell them that you’d love to work with them in future. If you hadn’t taken any advances or milestone payment this should work out smooth, however, if you have already received some payment a refusal wouldn’t sound too fitting.

In those cases where you’ve received full or some part of payment you may either ask the client to make certain adjustments to the schedule. (As for the delay you’re going to cause, you might have to compensate the client with a little discount, which would keep your client calm and co-operative). A prior reputation would play a significant role in such a case, as clients are going to put more trust in those with a reputation, while for a freelancer without reputation they may even seek a full refund (or even more than that) than extending the deadline.

You may also try convincing your client by coming up with an all-new brilliant idea in enhancing the project. Of course, if the idea is accepted you can easily demand a deadline extension, along with some extra money, and cleverly adjust previous time deficit within the revised project schedule.[bctt tweet=”What To Do When You’ve Accepted A Freelancing Project You Cannot Complete? #freelancing”]

Make yourself work like a work mule

If talking to the client was in vain, but luckily you retained the project next feasible option is to make the impossible possible. If it’s a short term project you might want to spend more time working and less time in everything else. However, you must remember that this was a mistake and you cannot repeat it in future. Of course we work to have a better life, and not that we live to work like a mule.
Best approach is to manage your time properly. Organize all the work in order of priorities and start with the work of highest priority. Now since you’re short on time you may have to reschedule your entire timetable in order to meet the deadlines. Cut a little from sleep, spend less time, a little from your social life, a little from your hobbies and recreation time (or, in fact you might have to forget them for a while) and cancel/reschedule any event which doesn’t screw you up in doing so. Also, talk to your family (and, friends if you had any fixtures with them), explain them about the abrupt changes in your behavior and gain their confidence, support and care.

Request help

You may ask someone you know to help you out of this situation. Someone from family, or friends. Let them help you out in whatever way possible—directly helping you in the project, or help you with other things that you cannot do due to constrained time. Again remember to make it a onetime deal and promise to never do it again.


While nothing else works for you, you may outsource a little work to other freelancers and let them have a share from your profits. In fact, many freelancers with a huge reputation have adopted this as a method of earning additional benefits. It’s easier to secure new projects at higher prices once you have that reputation, and then you can outsource it to fresh freelancers who would do the same work at much lower price. This way you earn a good share even without doing anything more than just bidding.