One of the things I see all too frequently is new freelance writers burning out and leaving the freelance life behind. I know you’re thinking, “Wow, it must be great to have so much work to do that you burn out on it. That’s the kind of problem I’d like to have.” But I’m not talking about having too much work, I’m talking about clients not respecting your time.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had the following happen:
1. Had a client contact you at 10:00 at night (or later) for a project they consider urgent (or to discuss an urgent matter or idea about a project you’re working on);
2. Had a client contact you when you’re on vacation (and they know you’re on vacation) wanting you to do something;
3. Had a client contact you on Friday evening, wanting something completed by Monday morning (good-bye weekend); or
4. Had a client call or email you at any time assuming you would drop everything to help get their project finished first.
The problem is your client doesn’t respect your time and as much as I’d like to make the client the bad guy, the issue is actually with you (sorry, but it’s true and I’m here today to hand out some tough love). The second you say “yes” to answering your phone at 10:00 pm and working until 5:00 am for the client, you’re setting a precedent, and the client will continue to expect that level of service. When you agree to do just one “little thing” for a client even though you’re on holidays, it becomes harder to say “no” the next time this happens, and it will happen over and over again. Because now you’ve given the client the idea that it’s no big deal.
For many writers, there’s a dilemma that comes with the 10:00 pm phone call: If they say no to the work, they think the client is likely to find someone else to do it for them, taking their money with them. It’s easy to see why freelance writers have a difficult time saying “no” to these situations, especially when they can rationalize it by saying, “This probably won’t happen again.” But it usually does happen again. And again and again. The next thing you know, all your evenings, weekends and holidays are taken up with answering urgent phone calls from clients and writing press releases that really could have waited until regular business hours, while your children, spouses and friends get more and more annoyed that you’re not paying any attention to them on what are supposed to be your days off.
So what can you do? The first thing you have to do is respect your own time. If you don’t, your clients never will. That means putting a time limit on when you will and will not answer phone calls and respond to emails. You don’t have to keep it to 9-5, but set up something reasonable you can stick to. Then, decide how much your free time is worth to you and, if you really feel you have to do that urgent, overnight job, charge accordingly. You are free to charge a “rush rate,” “weekend rate,” or “urgent job” rate, so long as you inform the client of it ahead of time.
Charging more for work done on your time off forces the client to either pay more for your work or, in the future, reconsider whether the project is so urgent they need to pay extra for it (once you charge extra, they tend to decide that the work can wait until Monday morning). And, if they still want the work done, you’ve made extra money for giving up your time off, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Still not convinced? Before you agree to do weekend work without extra pay, ask yourself if you’d be willing to do this every other weekend for the next year, because that’s the precedent you’re setting. Suddenly, keeping the client when you’re getting very little pay in exchange for all your free time doesn’t seem quite so appealing, does it?
What else can you do to make your clients respect your time? Wait a while before returning a phone call or email. I’m not suggesting you wait days and days, but if you’re constantly returning emails and phone calls within 30 seconds of getting them, you’re sending the message that you have nothing better to do than wait for phone calls and emails. So set aside specific times each day to return phone calls and emails and don’t worry about getting to them before that (this will also free you up from checking your email all the time, which can be a huge time waster). Be firm with the hours you will and won’t work and don’t respond to emails or phone calls during your vacation.
And lest you all think I’m above all this, my friends will happily tell you that I’ve spent plenty of weekends and nights out checking my email and voicemail and helping clients with “urgent” problems. It’s something I’m moving away from, so I can spend the time at work fully immersed in work and the time away fully focused on other things. In fact, I recently had a client contact me with a last minute project. I told him the only way I would do it is if he paid extra. He agreed, and it all worked out. If he hadn’t agreed, I would have told him it could wait until Monday, or someone else could do it. I’d rather lose the client than burn out and resent being a writer.
Respecting your time, and having your clients respect your time, is vital to being a happy freelancer.