Missing a project deadline can damage your relationship with a client and cost you business. However, sometimes delays are unavoidable. The way you break the news can make the difference between strengthening your relationship and destroying it. If you approach the issue in the right way, you can reinforce your client's trust and reassure him that you’ll do whatever it takes to complete the project.

Check In Regularly

Instead of waiting until there’s a problem to touch base with your client, send weekly progress updates and an up-to-date timeline. Because you’ve been communicating with him frequently, it won’t be as much of a shock when you inform him of the delay. If it’s clear you’re running into trouble, notify the client and apologize immediately. Your apology will have a greater impact if delivered early than if your client receives it after the deadline has already been missed.

Recognize the Inconvenience

Let your client know that you understand the trouble the delay will cause him. This demonstrates that you take the situation seriously and that you’re concerned about how it will affect him. Also, reassure the client that you have a handle on the problem and won’t let it happen again. This will make him more likely to stick with your company rather than find someone else to finish the project. For example, tell him “I know you’re counting on having this well in advance of your annual shareholder meeting. We have identified the problem and will do whatever it takes to finish it before then.”

Have a Plan

Instead of just saying your work will be late, give the client a new completion date. This lets him adjust his timeline and accommodate the change. He’ll have more confidence in your abilities if you have a clear timeline than if you just say you don’t know when you’ll be done. Also, outline what you’ll do to get the project back on track. Let the client know that you know what went wrong and that you’ve addressed the issues and have a plan to get the project back on schedule.

Minimize the Damage

When you tell the client about the delay, offer him something to make up for the inconvenience. For example, offer him a discount on that project or on a future project to encourage him to give you another chance. You can also offer to throw in additional items or services at no cost. This demonstrates that you want to make amends and repair the relationship, while giving the client a tangible benefit for giving you a second chance.