Get All Access for $5/mo

The Dangers of Overpromising and Under-Delivering Seven potentially perilous outcomes of making careless assurances.

By Jonathan Herrick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Maskot | Getty Images

We've all heard the saying, "Act now, apologize later." In fact, a lot of us might even live by that motto, believing that our intuitions know best and that if things don't pan out later, we can always apologize and make up for everything. But when action looks like overpromising, which later results in under-delivering, an apology might not cut it.

At the core of what makes entrepreneurs great is the ability to dream big and cast a vision of what could be. But when you aren't able to deliver on your ideas and promises, your reputation will suffer, which is bad for you and bad for business. So before you promise the moon, beware of these seven potentially perilous outcomes when you under-deliver.

Related: Overpromising Is the Worst Mistake an Entrepreneur Can Make

Depleted Credibility

Keeping your promises is imperative if you want to retain trust and grow your business. In fact, it should be one of your highest priorities. While some businesses that experience high client turnover are complacent with offering substandard work, most companies cannot afford to operate that way. It can take years to build up your credibility, and only one or two unhappy customers to make everything come tumbling down. If you cannot do something within a specific time frame or by a particular date, then be upfront about it. If they need to go elsewhere because you cannot meet their timeline, then so be it.

I'm willing to bet that your honesty will bode nicely for you. Being honest by telling a client that a deadline isn't feasible shows them that you are committed to quality work and you understand how long it takes to achieve it. Clients know that a lot is on the line when you push back, so doing so will actually work in favor of your credibility.

Negative Reviews

In today's digital world, if you make a misstep and let your customer down, chances are everyone will hear about it. Consumers are savvy, and they don't hesitate to post their concerns and complaints about companies directly to social media or review sites. If negative review after negative review is posted to your page, then you risk losing prospective shoppers and clients before they even consider working with you.

Negative reviews are hard to recover from, so your best bet is to do as much as you can to avoid them. This means managing your customers's expectations upfront and always maintaining transparency. Don't ever make them feel like they were promised something so that you could get them to partner with you. The future negative review isn't worth the short-lived business.

Unhappy Customers

With negative reviews come unhappy customers. Customer relationships are the core of your business, and when your actions yield unhappy customers, it can be a major roadblock to growth. A new relationship is like a new life. You're very excited, and you have a lot of anticipation. You have all these ideas of how it will go and how much fun it will be to start this new journey. The last things you see on the horizon are any obstacles.

Even with the best intentions, things can and do go wrong in business. If, for some reason, you are unable to honor a deliverable, cannot meet the agreed-upon deadline or have to go back on your word, then take ownership of the situation. Get a hold of the customer immediately, explain the reasoning and give the updated fulfillment date by which you can realistically have the work completed. Don't pick an imaginary date out of the air and risk failure a second time, as that could lead to losing their business altogether.

Bad PR

The saying, "Any publicity is good publicity" does not apply in today's business landscape, unless your goal is to drive customers away. A juicy story can spread like wildfire, and before you know it, every magazine and online site is running it. Therefore, it pays to go out of your way to look after your customers and focus on a business model that services well, gives back and invests in the well-being of its employees. Make sure you take some time to focus on how your business contributes to your community and treats its staff.

Also, start thinking about how you should handle a PR crisis, should one happen. Having a plan of action never hurts and can undoubtedly keep you better equipped for the unexpected.

False Expectations

Winning someone's favor and keeping them happy is your job. What isn't your job is lying to clients's faces. Do not provide your customers with false expectations in an effort to keep a smile on their faces. I promise you, those smiles won't last long, and this method will backfire.

If something does go wrong, don't play the blame game. Even if it was someone else's problem or "fault," you are still responsible. It's your company, and you have to stand by it no matter what happens. You're the captain of your ship, and if that ship is going down, you're the last one on it. Instead, provide them with as much reasoning as possible, but take full responsibility for the situation and tell them you will personally rectify it as soon as possible.

Related: What to Do When You're Getting Bad Press

Loss of Business

Through poor planning or lack of judgment and your failure to meet promises, you could easily be handing over your customers and clients directly to your competitors. No one will want to do business with you if your lousy reputation exceeds the quality of work you do. The business world is highly competitive; therefore, you need to develop your reputation on above-average service, rock-solid trust, and efficient delivery.

If you fail to maintain your reputation and continue to lose business, you'll have to eventually look at creative ways to retain the customers and up your client-acquisition strategy. Both should already be a focus, but when they're all you got, it's a dire situation that adds a lot more stress to your business.

Poor Cash Flow

When you start to lose business due to failure to deliver, it can be devastating from a cash-flow perspective and create more significant problems for your organization. If your customers begin to go elsewhere, then that's money you won't be seeing month over month. This can, in turn, affect other areas of your business if it continues on a long-term basis. You don't want to have to start laying people off or reduce spend by removing certain perks and benefits for your team.

Letting people go is the worst part of being a business owner, and it's something you'll want to avoid as much as possible. You are responsible for your employees, and it doesn't feel good for anyone when you have to let them down and lay them off because you couldn't deliver for your clients.

Overpromising and under-delivering doesn't just affect small businesses; it can also destroy the reputation of prominent organizations. It is best to err on the side of caution when it comes to making promises. Be realistic with your deadlines so you can under-promise and over-deliver every time. Your customers trust you, unless you give them a good reason not to. So be open about what you can and cannot do and strengthen your relationship with your customers, rather than pushing them away.

Jonathan Herrick

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

CEO of Benchmark

Jonathan Herrick is CEO and chief high-fiver at Benchmark Email, BenchmarkONE and Contacts+, bringing together 150 employees serving over 25,000 customers and 1 million users in 15 countries and nine languages worldwide.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Money & Finance

Day Traders Often Ignore This One Topic At Their Peril

Boring things — like taxes — can sometimes be highly profitable.


Want to Be More Productive Than Ever? Treat Your Personal Life Like a Work Project.

It pays to emphasize efficiency and efficacy when managing personal time.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.