We've all gotten behind on a deadline or two, or have allowed too much time to pass before fulfilling a commitment to a client or prospect. It happens, and unless it's a chronic condition, most people will cut us some slack if we handle it correctly.
Too often, though, we offer as justification for having gone dark on someone the fact that we've been really busy. Really? I thought you were busy doing my work.
Here's an actual exchange I had last week with a consultant (we'll call him "Joe") who I respect, like, and who has been helping me in a big way with a big problem. This was not his finest hour:
6/23 email from me to Joe under the Subject line "Next Meeting?": "We seem to be losing momentum. Our last meeting was 6/6 with [other party], at the end of which you were going to send me some dates/times for our next connection. No word from you in 2+ weeks."
6/26 reply from Joe: "Sorry I went off the grid. I've had two monster projects run into each other and consume my month. At the moment I have 3 people from a client company, plus a second developer here in my office working with me and my team. I was supposed to review your project and make a final to-do list ind I haven't had a chance to do that. How about you make an appointment with me here: [URL for his online scheduler]"
What's wrong with this exchange? First, it's not true that you haven't had a chance to do what you promised. You've had a chance every day for the past 17 days. But you dropped me down in your priority queue. You bumped me for the two "monster projects." Those didn't just consume Joe's month; they consumed mine, too, in the sense that more than half a month elapsed without the promised progress. Knowing of his commitment to my project and deadline, Joe accepted two additional projects, apparently for immediate launch, for which he didn't have sufficient capacity, and didn't reserve some capacity for existing commitments.
Should he have accepted those new projects? Absolutely. However, he should also have calculated what it would take to fulfill them and existing commitments. He should first have allocated whatever was required to complete mine, and alerted those new clients that he couldn't start the new projects until a date that allowed him to honor those already made.
If the two monster-project clients knew that he was bumping me to take on theirs, would they be flattered, or would they wonder if they'd get bumped, too, in favor of a new client whose project was even more of a monster than theirs? I'm betting the latter.
"I was too busy to do what I promised to do, and that you're paying me to do, because I got a bigger client." That's like canceling a date because you got a more attractive invitation. Actually, this is more like being a no-show at the date because you got a better invitation.
Do I feel like an important, valued client? Not even a little bit. Is that how you want your clients to feel? "I've been swamped (with other clients' work)" is a reliable way to make certain I don't overburden you with future work.