5 Emails to Tell Your Client You Are Unable to Meet the Deadline

As people, all of us are bound to slip up from time to time, and this includes missing important deadlines.

For whatever reason, we are often unable to deliver our work on time, which could lead to serious penalties and maybe a VERY disappointing look from your client or supervisor.

In order to maintain a professional image, it’s always better to inform your team and your manager in advance about any sort of delay in meeting deadlines.

To make this conversation less uncomfortable, we have drafted some very effective email templates to send when you know you’re unable to meet that all-important due date.

Read on for 5 Email Templates That Tell Your Client You Are Unable to Meet the Deadline:

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Email Template 1 | “We Underestimated the Time it Would Take”


Dear [Insert Name],
I am writing to let you know that I will be unable to meet the deadline for the project you assigned to me last week. I was unable to calculate properly how much time this project would take to complete, and I apologise for not being accurate in my estimate.
However, I assure you that my team and I have been working very hard to try and complete the work as quickly as possible. Currently, 80% of the work is complete, and we require three more days to deliver the remaining items. If possible, a short extension to the deadline would enable us to complete the final tasks and hand over the work.
The delay was caused by a planning error, which failed to consider the time needed to get the reports back from the surveying team. Now that we have all the resources we need to move on with the project, I assure you it will be completed promptly. 
Thank you for your patience on this matter, and I look forward to completing the project very soon.
[Insert Your Name]
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Email Template 2 | “Our staff Went on Strike”


Dear [Insert Name],
This email is to inform you that my team has been unable to meet the deadline for your project. Everything was going according to schedule, but three days ago my team went on strike, which was called by their union.
I apologise for not letting you know sooner, but this was a very fluid and dynamic situation, and we had hoped that the strike would be resolved quickly enough to still meet your deadline.
The project is really big and valuable to us. Had the strike not happened, I would have delivered the task on time. My boss and I have been struggling day and night to put another team together and we did, fortunately, finalise a team of five members who will be on board with us for this project. If we could get an extension to the deadline, I assure you your work will be completed and we will work with more diligence to deliver what we promised.
Now that the strike is over, we have allocated additional resources to this project in order to complete it as quickly as possible.
Thank you for your patience on this matter, and I look forward to delivering the project shortly, and to working with you again in the future.
[Insert Your Name]
If you're looking to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the following video course from LinkedIn Learning.
Click here for full access to "Creating Positive Conversations with Challenging Customers" On LinkedIn Learning
In this course, Myra Golden shares approaches that can help you reframe such conversations, and use your words and actions to put a positive slant on an otherwise negative situation. Learn how to use empathy and pacing to foster a sense of connection with customers. Discover the words and phrases to avoid in customer service, how to use partnership language to leave people feeling heard and satisfied, and how to properly apologize. Plus, learn how to approach real-world situations, such as billing issues.

Email Template 3 | “I Was Unwell and Unable to Work”


Dear [Insert Name],
I’m writing to let you know that I will not be able to complete the project you assigned in time to meet your deadline. I do understand how important this project is to you, and I know that you stressed how critical it was to stick to the deadline.
Four days ago, I was taken ill unexpectedly, and had to go to hospital. Once discharged, I was ordered to rest for several days, and I have only today been well enough to contact you to let you know about this situation.
In view of these circumstances, would it be possible to grant me an extension, so that I can complete the project? I have already completed 80% of the work, and an extension of 2-3 days is all that I need to finalise everything and check it through.
Once again, I apologise for the delay and promise to deliver the project very shortly.
With best regards,
[Insert Your Name]

This template explains your unforeseen circumstances without going overboard on the details. It’s not necessary to explain too much, but you also need to impress on the recipient that this was a serious illness and not just a minor bug. By assuming that an extension will be granted, you are suggesting that this is a reasonable approach in the circumstances.

If you want to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the "Having Difficult Conversations" video course from LinkedIn Learning.
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Here you'll get practical advice on how to have difficult conversations with colleagues, employees, and managers. You'll learn to develop your communication skills to improve your relationships, teamwork, and business performance all from the comfort of your laptop.

Email Template 4 | “We Were Busy With Other Work


Dear [Insert Name],
Throughout the [insert project name] project, I have provided regular progress updates to keep you informed of completed activities and issues that have arisen. Whilst previous reports have all been positive, I have to let you know that we are unable to meet the next deadline, which is in a week’s time.
Due to staff shortages and changing requirements from other clients, our scheduling has suffered in the past few weeks, and the consequence of this is that some projects have incurred short delays. we are doing everything we can to rectify this issue, and we hope to catch up completely within the next 2-3 weeks.
I do apologise for any inconvenience caused by this delay, and I assure you that the work is our main priority. If we are able to deliver the project earlier, we will of course do so, but I guarantee that it will be with you within 10 days at the most.
[Insert Your Name]

Whilst this template acknowledges that you were working on other projects, it doesn’t dwell on that point, as no client wants to hear that they are not important, or that they have been pushed to the back of the queue. It’s important to always inform the client that you will miss a deadline before it happens, so that they can make plans if necessary. It’s also important to be precise about exactly how much extra time you need to complete the work.

If you're looking to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the following video course from LinkedIn Learning.
Click here for full access to "Improving Your Focus" On LinkedIn Learning
In this course, productivity expert and best-selling author Dave Crenshaw helps you develop the survival skills to both avoid daily distractions and stay focused on what's most valuable. Curate your digital and physical space to strengthen concentration, discover ways to keep your mind on task, and protect your relationships—both at work and at home—by focusing on what's most important.

Email Template 5 | “I Forgot the Deadline for My Homework or Coursework”


Dear [Insert Name],
I am a student in your International Relations class and you recently gave us a Literature Review that was to be submitted today. Unfortunately, I didn’t submit it because I forgot to do the assignment, as I was preoccupied with a number of personal issues.
I assure you that I do not usually forget assignments, and I am committed to working hard on my course. However, the personal matters I mentioned above were serious, and they affected my concentration.
If it is possible, could I give the complete assignment to you tomorrow? I understand that I may be penalised for submitting the assignment after the deadline, but I really hope that you will allow me to submit it anyway.
I understand this is a core course and this issue will make it hard to get a good grade, which is why I hope you will consider my circumstances when deciding whether to accept my late submission.
[Insert Your Name]

Always remember to be truthful about the reason why you missed a deadline. No matter what profession or what circumstances, most people appreciate honesty and positivity.

At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.  

If you’re interested in further reading, we’ve also included links to our trusted resources and related posts below. To find out more about NTRW and our recommended tools, you can do that here.

Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!

Article by Never the Right Word

Scripts & Templates for Life’s Uncomfortable Conversations. Learn more about NTRW here. NTRW is supported by adverts and affiliate marketing links. For more info, please see our Earnings Disclosure.

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Never the Right Word

Never the Right Word

Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.

In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.

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