Your clients expect you to be available – and you should be. You should answer the phone. You should answer emails. You should pick up on the occasional instant messenger buzz.
But how available should you really be? What does availability do to your productivity? What does that availability do to your life in general? Your creativity? Your professionalism?
In my business, I’ve found that availability is a double-edged sword. You want to be available to your clients, but you don’t want to be there all the time, as it can kill your real working time, kill your work and make you look needy or unpopular.
But at the same time, if you’re aloof or distant or unavailable all together, you’ll upset the very people who keep your freelance business going. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s one that you have to address. You want your clients to feel loved. You want your clients to feel that you’re watching out for their best interests. But you also want your clients to understand that they are not the only clients you have – and you want them to understand that you have a life outside of their project.
I’ve also found that if you give them an inch, a lot of clients will take a mile. If you make yourself available after hours or on the weekend once, they’re going to expect you to do that all the time.
So much about the freelance and self-employment business is about training your clients, managing their expectations and also managing your image. All of these can take a long, long time to do – and if you approach it incorrectly, it’s enormously difficult to change any of these down the road.
If you make yourself seem too eager for the client’s business, they’ll see you as unprofessional or unpopular. The tattoo of “Please! Give me business! I’ll do anything!” is a tough one to wash off. Being over-eager or overly available can give the image of desperation, and no client wants to work with a desperate designer.
So – how do you handle your client’s expectations of your availability? Don’t rush to answer the phone. Don’t check your email and respond to it every 10 seconds (I’m guilty!) and don’t tell them that they can call you after hours, on your cell phone or on the weekend.
Give it time. Mull things over before you respond. Only respond to the things that need to be responded to.
What does this do? It lets the client know that you have a life away from your desk and chair and keyboard. It’ll buy you some space. It’ll buy you time. It’ll buy you the ability to communicate and work more on your terms – which is why you started down the twisting path of the freelancer.
Well – I gotta go. Phone is ringing, IM is buzzing, and I just got 45 emails that I need to ignore for a while.