Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Timing

I noticed a comment in my last post about defending your prices that got me thinking. My colleague Mike Chen recounted this story:

I had one guy who asked for a quote on a Sunday, I reviewed his stuff on Monday and asked for more info, he replied on Tuesday, and I gave him a quote on Wednesday. He said my quote was too high and I screwed up his schedule.

I've definitely been in this situation before--when the client needs it yesterday and doesn't factor in that arranging a copywriting project takes time. I've never had any project that I've been able to actually start on the same day as initial contact. But I've still been in situations where a client contacts me on a Monday, says he needs the piece by Wednesday, I've said yes, and then the process stalls us both. The bottom line? Allow enough time to get things done.

Here are a few thoughts on how long things take--and why you can't get it all done in a day.

Give yourself 24 hours to come up with a quote. My copywriting business isn't Geico--you can't just type in your facts and figures and get an automatic quote in seconds. I need to talk to the client, check out the existing website, and generally expend some time to understand their needs and come up with a proposal. Getting the quote right is another thing you don't want to rush. You want to allow yourself plenty of time to gauge how long you think it will take and a fair hourly or flat rate. Rushing your quotes can lead to anxiety and overcharging, or a simple failure to think things through--and an off-kilter quote as a result. Above all, never give a quote over the phone without getting a chance to think about it first.

Expect some give and take over contracts. In my experience, it's not really possible to get a project started and finished in a matter of two days. There can be some client back-and-forth over the contract that can slow things down. I usually allow for at least 24 hours to get the signed contract back by email.

Allow some time for everything to be mailed in. If you need to do things immediately, you can have your client scan and send contracts by email or fax them to your office, and you can accept payments through Paypal or your bank's credit card acceptance system. But Paypal charges its own fees, and whenever the project allows it I'd rather do things by mail. That way I have an original signature on the contract as well. If you're operating under business terms that require you to have a contract and deposit check in hand before starting the project (which is never a bad idea), that can slow things down by several days.

Sometimes the due date depends on client response. In Mike's example, the prospect waited a day to respond to his request for more information--then got mad at him for "screwing up his schedule." I've found that the more client back-and-forth there is, the longer it's going to take to get everything done. Clients are usually busy people, and may not be able to respond to your email by the end of the day--and the same for you. Unless you can get every question answered over the phone, the time it takes to get the info you need can slow things down.

Their rush isn't your rush. Above all, keep in mind that your client's hurry is their problem, not yours. You know how long the process takes; don't let anyone get a quote from you or get you to agree to a due date your gut is telling you is unworkable.

I've seen prospects try to rush me right up until I need something back from them; then they can take forever to get back. They may have been trying to rush me to keep me off balance during the negotiating process. Always keep in mind that it's a possibility.


Laura Cross said...

Even though I provide writing services for fairly large projects (books and book proposals) I am often contacted by potential clients that want me to start on their projects immediately -- my pricing structure is straight-forward and listed on my website so I only need to conduct a telephone consultation with a client to ensure we are the right fit to partner on the project and then I put together a formal contract -- obviously, like all writers I schedule work on my calendar and can't just start then-and-there. As my business has grown, my calendar now books two, three, even four months in advance. I have found that once I explain to a client the process and timeline they are understanding and actually anxious to hurry up and get scheduled on my calendar before the next client comes along. In the past nine months, I have only "lost" one client who decided he could not wait three months for me to start his project. What I think has assisted me is 1) I have a clear-cut price structure that the client can review before even contacting me 2) i have a contact form on my website where the client can fill in detailed information about the project so I have an understanding of what he is looking for before I contact him 3) as soon as I am contacted I respond with a note or phone message with several day and time options for scheduling a telephone consultation to discuss the project (and if I do not have all the info I need to proceed, I request it at that time) and 4) by the time I speak with the client he is usually ready and wanting to work with me, so then I can outline the timeframe (which may not be at all what he expected, especially if it is several months away) and the client gets on board!

Though many of your readers may work on shorter projects than I do - I think being able to efficiently put together a cost proposal for the client, gather all the information you need from the client, and clearly outline the timeline to the client --such as "Thank you for contacting me I will have your proposal to you by the end of the day. If you decide to proceed with my services I can fit the project on my calendar within three weeks. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you via phone tomorrow at 10am, will this work for you?" -- can have a positive effect on closing a sale.

Lori said...

Love this. As I've often said, their fire does not constitute my emergency. I can rush it, but it costs more because now I have to drop everything else and work on their project, thus having to work overtime to get the rest of my clients' things done. Why should my other clients be punished because this client can't plan ahead?

Lori said...

Forgot this - I just provided a quote to a client and when she called for it, I told her she could expect it by the end of the next working day. I could've probably stopped and put it together quickly, but I wanted to research the topic a bit to see how much work I could expect to put into the project. Also, I didn't want to appear so desperate for work that my price becomes negotiable. And I was working on two other projects, so that had to be put aside.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Laura: I think that expressing your timeline clearly and setting up reasonable timeframe expectations in the beginning are key. I've tried in the past to post my prices, but because I charge a range of prices depending on the complexity of the project i've found it works better for me to keep those prices off. I've experienced that prospects tend to think things are too expensive if I charge higher than my stated lowest rate for something. I suppose if I did a comparison such as "I usually charge $x for something, but I'll give it to you for $y" the client might feel better about it because the price seems like a better's all about the comparisons. I'd like to have my website work like yours though, and have it screen potential clients for me.

@Lori: I agree with you. There are times when I could rush things, but would really prefer not to--I need to know I've researched things thoroughly before committing to a price. I try to give myself about 24 hours (or if I get the email early in the morning and am not swamped with other work, I'll do it before the end of the day) to get a quote together.