Monday, December 14, 2009

On Being The Freelancer Your Client Calls in an Emergency

I have a very good friend who works for a company that hires freelancers. We often have conversations about what life is like on the other side. I love hearing her insight on what it's like to work as a creative director or marketing manager with freelancers every day--and what they look for.

One thing that came up recently was the idea that a great freelancer is one who is "no hassles"--they can be called up even in an emergency and can turn work around quickly. For many corporate creative leaders, the freelancer they'll work with is the one who can be called up in an emergency, and can fix a problem--no fuss, no muss.

I am all about making my clients' lives easier. But this particular issue made me think. Here's why I think it's tough--for all but a few, probably impossible--to really be that "emergency" freelancer on a consistent basis.

Because next-day turnaround requires client cooperation. As a corporate manager, if you have an internal issue, you can call on whatever employee is expected to take care of it, and that person will do it. Period. You don't have to sign a contract. You don't have to send out a deposit. You don't have to clear it with your boss before you spend the money.

I can't count how many times a client has gotten in touch with an emergency situation--then when I say yes, I can get it done tomorrow provided I have a signed contract faxed and a deposit in my Paypal account, everything goes silent. I've never figured out why this is--but I think it has to do with the fact that the client is too busy to handle the details of actually hiring me. My response to the idea that a good freelancer is one who can be counted on in an emergency-turnaround situation is that I can sometimes do that--but it requires client cooperation.

Because you probably have other work to do. If you're the boss at a company, you're used to everyone doing their work as it's prioritized by you. Freelancers still see you as the boss--but of their particular project with you, not their entire practice. A freelancer may not be able to handle a next-day project because he or she has other projects scheduled for that week--and so might not be able to accommodate a rush project.

Because I'm not a full-time employee. Here's the crux of the problem, I think. Sometimes people who work for companies are used to having full-time employees around. They get to know where the employees are all the time, make sure the employees are dedicating all of their work time to the company, and get fast turnaround on requests. Freelancers can't be available on demand the way employees are. We have multiple projects and clients to juggle--and we have to maintain a schedule that makes sure every project gets the time and attention it requires.

When I can accommodate a client who needs an emergency rush job, I do. But it's not all the time--and lately it's been less and less likely. What do you do when a client confuses you for a full-timer?


AnnaLisa Michalski said...

Good points, all, Jennifer. These are really the things that define the difference between "freelancer" and "employee," from my perspective.

I don't know how far off the norm my policies are. My normal minimum turn-around is 48 hours from receipt of full instructions, materials, deposit, and signed contract. The only exception is occasionally moving up a deadline (within reason) on a project that I'm already working on with the client.

I offer a rush plan (24-48 hour turn-around from receipt of full instructions, materials, deposit, and signed contract). But it costs the client 30% extra--intentionally steep because I really don't want anyone to take me up on it. That's fine. I work such nontraditional hours to begin with, I simply cannot accommodate last-minute rush requests. :)

Lori said...

Super post. And I agree with AnnaLisa's points - 48 hours is usually the best turnaround. Sure, there will be times I can do it in less time, but as long as the clients understand that's the exception and not the rule. And I'm all for charging extra for the faster turnaround, because someone else's well-thought-out project is going to have to wait in order for me to accomplish it.

It's easier to hire a freelancer IF they consider everything you just pointed out, Jen.

Jenn Mattern said...

Great post. I usually do try to help a client out when they need quick turnaround, but when it can't happen it just can't happen. I'm not going to deliver something late to another client just because they gave me something to do at the last minute.

While it doesn't happen as often as it used to before settling into regular contracts, it still happens. Sometimes the most difficult scenerios are when working with middlemen clients. I'll be working directly with my client's client and that person doesn't always understand that I'm not working for their SEO or marketing firm full-time. They assume that if the other folks are around all the time to answer their questions and handle a project right away that I will be too.

Most people I've worked with have been pretty understanding when a rush job just isn't feasible. And when they're not, well, that's what rush fees are for.

Devon Ellington said...

Great post.

I am very blunt that I am not a full time employee, and , if I am hired for this job, these are my parameters.

The reason I'm hired is because I have expertise outside of the regular staff, or else they'd do it inhouse.

I make everything very clear up front, and don't cut slack, because the minute you let one little thing go, they push for the next little thing, and, all of a sudden, you're in a mess of your own creation, because you didn't hold the initial boundaries.

Freelance Daily - Suzanne Franco said...

Jennifer ~ Awesome post and some very insightful comments too. I completely agree that companies will often forget that freelancers are not employees and shouldn't be treated as such. I personally hire a lot of freelancers and I have to keep in mind that not only do they have other clients they are working with but that I should expect to pay more for a rush on my end (and I've offered extra money when I was in a pinch due to some "broken" code on a website)! LOL *SmiLes* Suzanne