No is not really no. It’s not now, or not me.

One of the hardest challenges, especially for newer businesses is saying no. I’m not talking about jobs that pay too little, or clients you really despise. I’m just going to assume that you already know to charge enough and like the people you work with.

The problem I end up having is that every day ends and the workload never seems to get smaller.  Why does each day fill up with nothing, and I end up with some days where the amount of real design or code that I input seems smaller than it should?  Often it comes from people whom I haven’t trained to respect my time.  Here’s some things I work on, and struggle with, when dealing with clients.

No to requests when unscheduled

We all do it; a client, who you’ve asked if they need some of your time, and they say no. Then they come and want us to do this ‘little thing’, even though you’re not scheduled to work with them, and you’ve made it clear that you’re now booked up.  So you do it. You may or may not charge them for it, and it makes you feel like a good person, one that takes care of their clients.

The problem is, caving for one, means you cave for many. And often. And they’ll expect it. What happens then is the clients that planned ahead and booked your time are pushed back by the manic, unorganized clients. This means you’re not doing your best work for your best clients. This can’t be a good thing.

What to do instead

Tell these clients your next block of time, for eg, in three days time you can give them an hour, or next week when you can give them 3. With decent clients, blowing them off until next month is not good for business, but letting them know that you can give them a small block within a week or two, followed by booking in your time properly in 2 months will leave them less disgruntled. This sets their expectations right, and it will force them to be more organized in knowing when they will need your time and booking ahead.  It also means that you can give the proper attention to those who deserve it the most.

No to the leeches

I’ve wasted hours and days helping out former clients and friends with their technical hosting problems (where I have only a small amount of knowledge) or website problems (where I have lots), when I have paid work waiting, and other deadlines looming. The problem here is often this type of help often uncovers deeper issues with whatever they’re working on, or what they’ve done to mess things up.  Before you know it, half a day is gone, you’re no where closer to fixing their problem, and you’re resentful.

What to do

It’s hard to say no to these people, as they always come up with smooth reasoning, or seem so desperate, so I have a policy to not take on friend’s problems unless they are my best friends or my mom. Many people think because I make my own hours that I can just take time out of my day to help them (for free, of course). That’s unfair– I wouldn’t ask a friend to take a 1/2 day off work because I’m too cheap to pay for something myself (don’t say that to them like that though, or you’ll have a lot less friends!).

Keep a list of contacts that are excellent at fixing computers and websites, and when someone asks, and expects help right there and then, let them know that you have a completely booked week, and unfortunately can’t help them until 3 weeks time (if you can tell them you’ll have to charge for it, that would be even better). Then offer your list of help, with approximate rates (sneak in that your rates are the same), and let them know that you highly recommend them. These people don’t value that your time costs you money, so even if you have to be a bit harsh, it’s better than wasting days.  Again, you’re taking time away from people that don’t value it, and giving it back to the people who do.

No to emails or unscheduled calls

Every once and a while I’ll get a small client who seems to think I want to hear their whole train of consciousness.  They’ll send me a few emails a day, with a line or two, or maybe a question.  These ones are easy to respond to: just do an email daily answering all their questions, suggesting to them that they keep an email draft with their compiled questions on it, so that it would be easier for you to make sure you have answered all of them.

Others have this great habit I like to call ’email and notify via skype’.  They send me an email, and I see the notification (via growl) and before 5 seconds have passed, I receive something like this via skype:  “I’ve just sent you an email.  Let me know when you’ve read it and you want to discuss.”  Others have no skype etiquette and will skype call me without confirming that I’m not busy, and that it’s okay to speak.

One of the biggest problems with productivity is interruption.  How can I do a great design, or code something up efficiently if I’m being interrupted, especially by a message letting me know I have an email? I leave skype on because I work with some colleagues remotely and it’s a great way to keep connected.  I have no problem with clients talking to me on skype, in fact it’s a great way to keep connected and share ideas.

What to do

Because skype is an instantaneous thing, I will often respond to such skype texts with, “Thanks, I will have a look a bit later!”  This lets them know that I’m not ready to discuss quite yet.

To unannounced skype calls, I will decline the call, and let them know that I cannot speak right then, but give them a time when I can.  The key here is to make the client understand that you are busy, possibly working on their project even, and would like them to respect that.  If you always respond and communicate immediately, they begin to believe that you’re at their beck and call and you’re only steps away from their 2am call when they have a question.

No is not really no.  It’s not now.

If you’re like me, you like to be busy, and you work hard, long hours.  Your clients respect that you work long hours too, and for the most part you get along great.  When you take a bit of time to address a few of the bad habits clients and others have with demanding your time and attention, you not only regain your time, but also claim their respect for your time and attention.  It means you want to work harder for your good clients, and will produce more of your best work, which is really what they want, right?

Client management

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