Nobody’s perfect. When you’re juggling a lot of clients or a long to-do list, certain emails might sit unopened in your phone for an embarrassing amount of time. While you might feel ashamed, nervous, or upset once you realize your mistake, it’s important to fix the situation by communicating with the person involved through an apologetic late email response.
If written communication isn’t your forte and you’re struggling to craft this email, don’t panic! We’ve come up with four late email response templates for different situations so you can have a baseline for how to respond with sincere apologies and plan to move forward together.
No matter what your reason is for writing a late email response, there are a few dos and don’ts for crafting this message.
- Remember all the proper elements of professional communication. The purpose of this email is to apologize and demonstrate that you are still a professional worth working with. Have a direct, specific subject line, start with a professional salutation, always proofread, avoid casual slang, keep a professional tone, and end with a closing signature. When you have a delayed response, you can appear disorganized and unprofessional. Combat that notion with a well-constructed, thoughtful note that adheres to all the professional standards of electronic communication.
- Accept blame where blame is due. No matter what the reason was for the late email — whether there was a personal emergency or you just completely forgot — apologize sincerely for the delay. Accepting that blame will show that you take responsibility for your work and don’t just shift the blame to someone else.
- Be open and honest. If you feel comfortable, you can share the reason for your delay. Don’t go into too much personal detail; instead of saying that your mother was diagnosed with cancer, simply say you received some bad news about a family member and you’ve been preoccupied with helping them through this difficult time. Everyone can relate to the fact that in life, stuff happens. Giving a small glimpse into your life, without being too revealing, can give them an idea of what you’re going through, and they’ll understand more where you’re coming from.
- Don’t be overly emotional. Although it’s important to be honest with your client, as that can foster trust, there’s a difference between honesty and TMI. No matter what it is you’re going through, professional communication is not the place to unload your problems. Keep your response polished and remove unnecessary details. You can say that you’ve experienced a loss, but don’t get any more specific than that.
- Detail your next steps on what you plan to do moving forward. Most importantly, patch this lapse in communication with your detailed plan on how you are going to move the project forward now that you’re caught up. Let them know what your steps are, what you need from them, and how you can both work together to get whatever project you’re working on back up to speed.
Open and honest communication can solve almost any problem. A well-worded email can help you get back on track to mending this professional relationship.
Late Email Response Templates
1. When You Just Forgot to Respond
We’re all guilty of this; you open an email, respond in your head, make a mental note to respond later, and then you…never respond. By the time you remember, you’ve been leaving them hanging for a week or longer.
So how do you construct a response so you don’t look completely unprofessional and disorganized?
I am so sorry for only returning your email now. I read your email soon after you sent it and meant to reply that evening. With everything going on, it got lost in the shuffle, and I hope you’ll forgive me for such a late response.
Once you apologize, you can continue to respond to their email.
2. When You’ve Missed a Project Deadline
Sometimes a slow response to an email can result in a missed deadline. In this instance, you need to not only apologize, but work together with the client to come up with an altered timeline that will fit both of your needs. Offering solutions and suggestions on your end will show that you are prepared to problem-solve and adapt.
I regret to inform you that I don’t have this portion of the project completed yet and I missed our deadline. I had a personal event occur that impacted my availability [or] Due to unforeseen complications, this particular portion of the task took longer than I had previously allotted in our timeline. I’m sorry for any complications this may cause on your end. I believe with a dedicated effort, I will be able to complete this part of the project by this date. In order to get back on track and hit our next deadline, I suggest we bring in this person to help us finish out the project.
Use this mistake to understand your time management skills and predict in the future if you will miss a deadline. Sometimes life happens and things come up, but if you can tell someone before the missed deadline that you might need an extension, they can more quickly shuffle things on their end so you can work together on a solution.
3. When You’re Returning from Time Off
Whenever you’re going to be out of the office for a few days, it’s good practice to set up an automated response that details when you’ll return, how you can be contacted in case of emergency, and who they can contact in the meantime for a quick response. However, if you were out unexpectedly or simply forgot, here is a good way to respond to urgent messages sitting in your inbox.
Thank you so much for your email! I apologize for my delay in response. I was out of the office from [this date] until this morning attending to personal matters, but I am now available and happy to answer your question.
You can give a more specific reason for your absence if you’re close with the client, but you can stay as vague as necessary for you to feel comfortable.
After that opening, you can give whatever requested information your client needed.
4. When You Can No Longer Fulfill the Terms of the Project
Emergencies happen. Family members fall extremely ill, a loved one passes away, you have an accident and are confined to the hospital. Sometimes, life gets in the way of work and you simply can’t complete a project you promised to finish.
When you’re late responding to an email and you have to tell them that you can no longer take on the project, handling the subject gracefully and offering solutions where you can is key.
Here’s an example email you could adjust to explain your situation.
Recently, I’ve experienced a devastating event in my personal life that has significantly impacted my ability to work. Due to this event, I will no longer be able to adequately complete your project. For the foreseeable future, I’ve decided to take time off to help my family, and I will not be able to complete your project.
In my place, I highly recommend this person to take over the job. I filled them in on the details of your project and copied them on this email so you two can start talking about next steps needed in the project. This person has extensive experience in this field and I think you will really enjoy working with them.
Copy the new person you are recommending to take over the job in the email so your client can immediately begin working with them. Doing so will help everyone get started on picking up the project where you left off as soon as possible.
The amount of work you’ll have to do in transitioning the project will depend heavily on the type of job you were doing. If you were a freelance videographer and can no longer cover the event, you can simply inform the new freelancer of the event details and client expectations so they can take over the shoot from there. If you are transitioning the project to another person in your company, they hopefully are familiar with your job description and the client they are taking over for the time being.
Keep Your Late Email Response Honest
Even if you took several days to respond, the most important thing you can do to salvage the relationship is to be open and honest with your communication. People value honesty, and a genuine “apologies for the delay” sends a strong message that you are prepared to fix your mistakes.
In the future, try to remember that a brief response is better than silence. If you don’t have the time to send a full response, send a quick email saying you got their message and look forward to talking to them in detail soon. Then, set up a reminder on your phone to prompt you to reply when you have more time. Knowing that they haven’t been forgotten, but you’re in the middle of handling something else, sends the message that you care. Don’t put off responding; taking just a moment to send a quick message can make a world of difference.
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.