Early in my consulting career I promised time to clients on projects that never ended up happening. That meant I turned down other work because I had already promised my time to someone that would never end up giving me money.
Project Completion Length
So how then do I deal with clients that want to know up front when their project will be done? Well I tell them how long the project will take and when I could start it if they provided a deposit today.
Deposit = Start Date
The goal is to be very clear that if another client provides a deposit and signed contract first then they are in line first. The only way a client gets a start date for the project is by providing that deposit. The only way you can know that the client is invested and wants to use you is to get money from them.
Now I say this to clients all the time, but let me tell you they almost never hear it. Even if they hear it, they expect that at most it means a wait of a day or two. So that means when you tell them it’s 2 weeks, they’re going to push back and try to get you to start right away.
The thing is you can’t. Other clients have provided deposits and been told start dates. If you let a new client push you in to starting earlier than possible you’re going to break a promise to someone by missing a deadline. It’s much better to loose one client because the start date is later than they’d like than it is to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t finish things.