Freelancer Etiquette: How to Ask For An Extension

By Mason Lerner May 27th, 2014

Almost all freelancers have to ask for an extension at some point. Stuff happens—sources flake, pegs change—and that stuff can be out of our control. But aside from turning in great work, being dependable is the most important quality of a successful freelancer. If asking for more time becomes a habit, you probably won’t score much work once editors know you are perpetually behind schedule.

So how exactly does one go about asking for an extension without spoiling the milk of a working relationship?

The first rule is pretty self-explanatory: Do not ask for an extension unless it is absolutely necessary. According to Rose Jacobs, a freelancer based in Germany and former editor at The Financial Times who has experience on both sides of the fence, extension protocol depends on how comfortable one is with an editor .

“So much of being a freelancer is about building up social capital with your editors, and asking for an extension can, in a matter of minutes, drain what you’ve spent months creating,” Jacobs said. “So I’d really only ask for an extension in an emergency situation. And by that, I mean personal emergency, not the fact that a better commission came along that I really, really want to take but that might compromise my turning in another piece on time.”

Jacobs advised freelancers to carefully negotiate the deadline before accepting the piece in order to avoid trouble later.

“I do, before accepting a commission, sometimes negotiate over the deadline, or ask that the editor agree to a flexible deadline depending on interview subjects’ availability, changes to the brief, etc., etc.,” she added. “You can also use deadlines to negotiate fees. If an editor wants me to drop everything I’m doing to get him or her a piece the next day, and it’s something that would normally take a week, a higher rush fee is completely in order.”

On the corporate side, the rules are very similar. James Heron, social media manager at mobile and web engagement solution company Como, said his company often uses freelancers for the company’s blog, and the most important things he looks for when a writer asks for an extension is early communication and honesty.

“Flag early and be honest with the final end date,” Heron said. “That way we an adjust our own pipeline and reschedule accordingly. There is a big difference between a one off re-work from a writer you trust… and a writer who consistently fails to deliver on time, with sub-par pieces.”

Think of it as a Get Out of Jail Free card. Monopoly only includes two cards in the deck for a reason. If you rely on them too frequently, the next time you want to collect $200 from an editor, he or she may turn you away for good.

“It seems to me that, as a freelancer, you can win editors’ loyalty in two general ways: by writing brilliant pieces and by being reliable,” Jacobs said. “We all want to be the former, obviously, not least because that lets you get away with a lot of other stuff. But unless you’re absolutely sure your work is consistently, fantastically brilliant, you’d better make sure you’re reliable too.”

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