How to Deal When Your Agency Accidentally Drops the Ball

Ice cream that has been dropped on the floor

Is there anything worse than when your growing agency accidentally drops the ball on a project for a big client?

Let’s face it, your agency is bound to make a few mistakes, especially if you have overlapping deadlines, a lack of resources, and too few work hours to accomplish all of your goals.

If you’re not careful, it’s an all too common situation for deadlines to be forgotten and tasks to slip through the cracks. And if you make a habit of these accidents, you definitely won’t be in business much longer.

Luckily, we know a few simple strategies you can take to ensure that this doesn’t happen too often. And in the event that your agency does in fact drop the ball, today we’ll show you the best ways to handle it so you can keep your customers happy.

Set Expectations You Can Actually Stick to

Your first step is to set realistic expectations and deadlines with your clients.

Now, you probably have a pretty good idea of how long projects will take your team to complete on the service side of your agency.

For example, can they build a website in 45 minutes from scratch? Write 10 articles in two days?

Of course, you’ll always have those unexpected annoyances that pop up and delay parts of your project, but for the most part, you should know what a realistic deadline looks like for your team.

Unfortunately, many times the issue of setting realistic deadlines isn’t on the service side; it actually stems from the sales side.

People discussing a project over a laptop

See, your sales team is so eager to close the deal that they often over deliver on their promises.

If you’re not careful, this could snowball into a stressful situation when your team can’t keep up with your client’s expectations. How does this situation end? Your client will part ways and leave you and your team with an unpaid bill for all of the work you’ve already put in.

Let this happen one too many times and your agency will quickly lose it’s high-quality reputation.

Here’s how to avoid this nightmare scenario: Get your sales team on the same page as your service side, even if it means they won’t close every deal that comes their way.

To do this, your service side needs to sit down with your sales team to see exactly what goes into each and every project. No, that doesn’t mean they need to be there from start to finish, but they should have a general understanding of the timeline for any given project or service you offer.

So if a website design usually takes your team two weeks, your sales team needs to know this and understand that to produce a high-quality product, a week timeline is not doable.

Most clients will understand this.

If a client doesn’t get this, you may not want to take them on anyway since it’s going to be a clash of expectations from the start. Unless the rush fee is super high, it isn’t worth sacrificing quality and stressing your team.

Encourage your service side to come up with a standard procedure to estimate project timelines so everyone is on the same page.

You can also have employees from the service department sit in on sales calls where they can actually discuss realistic deadlines from the front line. However, it’s best to run with the first option of setting up a standard procedure so you don’t have to constantly pull teammates away from client work.

Re-negotiate Deadlines Before You Miss Them

Now, let’s say that you already set a realistic timeline based on your previous projects, but there’s an unforeseen obstacle that’s now causing a delay in the project.

Instead of missing the deadline, you should renegotiate a new one beforehand. This is a Raving Fans tactic that works extremely well.

Let’s use an example to see how this plays out in real life:

You’re setting up a wireframe for a client when you realize that you’re not going to be able to knock out the entire website by the agreed upon deadline. But since you’re working so diligently, you probably have at least something to show the client. This is better than nothing since it shows them that you are in fact plugging along.

Be upfront with your client about how you won’t have everything ready by the original deadline, but that you’ll have something to show them.

If you wait until the due date arrives to tell them this, they won’t think highly of you dropping the ball. Giving them a heads up shows that you’re making an effort to straighten everything out.

Present what you have on your original deadline date. Then, set a new deadline for when the client can expect the rest of the wireframes—and you must stick to this!

If you miss your deadline twice, you’re only asking for an unhappy client who may just drop you altogether.

Remember, there’s no need to spit out a mouthful of excuses as to why you couldn’t get the job done. Rather, you just need to assure your client that you’ll be ready to go with this new deadline.

You may consider throwing in something extra for your client as a way to smooth out the delay of the project. Just keep in mind that if you over promise something extra and you can’t deliver on it, you’ll be even worse off than before.

On the flip side, if you surprise your client with an extra goodie because of the delay, they’ll appreciate this gesture tremendously and you’ll build back some credibility in their eyes.

Here’s How to Defuse the Situation

Certain clients won’t think favorably of a re-negotiated deadline, especially if they’re in a time crunch.

Remember, it’s not their fault that you missed the due date so if they’re not willing to move the deadline, you cannot fault them for this.

You’ll just need to do things a bit differently for these clients.

First, you must accept and take full responsibility for what happened. As we mentioned earlier, excuses won’t help and blaming them is certainly not an option.

Bring forth a few strategies for how to fix things and solidify your intentions for how you plan to move forward. If this means your team has to work overtime or pull an all-nighter, so be it. The job needs to get done.

Next, follow these steps outlined by HubSpot.

Step 1: Call the Client Directly

Emails and texts won’t cut it this time; take the extra personal step and hop on the phone with your client.


A phone call is slightly more personal and also ensures that an email or text is not misread or taken the wrong way.

Step 2: Listen Carefully, Validate Their Concerns, and Don’t Interrupt

No matter how much your client drills you, listen carefully and do not interrupt them under any circumstances.

If you truly dropped the ball, they have a right to vent uninterrupted.

Make sure you understand specifically what it is that they’re unhappy about and assure them that they have the right to feel this way. You should acknowledge that this is in fact a problem and admit that you see it as such, as pointed out in that HubSpot article.

Step 3: Act Fast

Whether that’s following up or fixing the problem, your client needs to see that you’re trying everything in your power to correct the mistake. Acting quickly is your only option.

Brainstorm a plan of action with your team and share this gameplan with your client so they know you’re working on a solution. Get to work right away and don’t stop!

The faster you can fix this mess, the better.

Once you do fix things, hold a team meeting that focuses on how you’ll do things better next time. Ask your team what you can do collectively to prevent this from happening again. As bad as these situations are, they’re always a great learning experience.

Try to find the lesson in each of these stressful times so you’re not repeating the same mistakes.

Final Thoughts

By keeping these strategies in mind, your team will not only know how to avoid dropping the ball, but they’ll also know what to do on the rare occasions that it does happen.

The key here is to set realistic expectations from the start and re-negotiate any deadlines before you miss them.

If your team finds themselves with an unhappy client, call your client directly and listen wholeheartedly to their concerns. They’re not looking to hear your excuses; they want you to admit that you’ve made a mistake and come up with a plan for how you’ll fix things.

As long as you deliver the high-quality work you promised, hopefully you’ll have a chance for redemption with your client’s next project.

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