business Free Advice The Essentials

Free advice: show up early

DELAY happens. The train is late, the flight is cancelled, the traffic is murder. Travel is the leading edge of entropy, and entropy is the universe’s final comment on the meaning of it all. If the universe is expanding and there are snow delays on Route 1, it’s not your fault that you’re 15 minutes late to the meeting, right?

Don’t be so quick to excuse yourself. If 80% of success is just showing up, 90% is showing up early.

It’s hard for the client to sympathize with your lateness when she, who had farther to travel, managed to make the meeting on time. No matter how well you tell your story about the newbie cab driver who thought you said 114th Street, the client still sat waiting for you for twenty minutes after denying herself a Starbuck’s so she would be on time. Everyone in the room is a grownup, and, on the surface, your lateness isn’t an issue. But although nothing will be said, somehow the meeting will not turn out as well as expected.

Of course the conference organizers care that you, their keynote speaker, spent the night in the airport because of a cancelled flight. As sensitive human beings, they’d love to upgrade your room to a suite, hire you a masseuse, and send you to bed. But as business people who spent the morning juggling their schedule and making impromptu excuses to attendees because their keynote speaker showed up late, they will never hire you again.

How can a client blame you for a cab driver’s mistake? How can a conference organizer hold you accountable for an airline’s cancelled flight?

They can do it because lateness is part of the order of things, and grownup professionals plan for it, just as they plan for budget shortfalls and extra rounds of revision.

If you plan to arrive early, then you are covered when circumstances beyond your control conspire to make you late.

This is simple and obvious but many otherwise brilliant professionals clearly don’t think about it. The result is that they often arrive late. It’s never their fault, and yet it’s always the same people who are late.

I’m a bleeding heart. If your pet turtle dies, I’ll give you a month’s paid vacation. But promptness is a duty we owe people who pay for our services. So here’s some free advice. Give yourself more time to arrive than you reasonably need. If you work uptown and you have a meeting downtown in two hours, head downtown now. If you’re speaking on the opposite side of the continent early Monday morning, fly out Saturday, not Sunday. That way, you’ll be where you’re supposed to be, no matter what obstacles the weather, the airlines, and the TSA throw your way.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but client services means apologizing every five minutes. Give yourself one less thing to be sorry for. Take some free advice. Show up often, and show up early.

By L. Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek. Author, Designer, Founder. Employer Brand at Automattic. Publisher, & Ava’s dad. Pete’s brother (RIP). He/him.

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