Since starting work as freelancers this is a question Agi and I have been wrestling with. As a freelancer there is a certain amount of paranoia that a client could potentially end your relationship without any notice. You want to keep your clients happy but how far does this go? When a client asks for something should you drop everything else?
When you work in a salaried position there is (usually) a clear delineation between your work and off time. If someone asks for something that you think is unreasonable you can push back and you probably won’t get fired (not legal advice!). You can feel secure if for no other reason than firing people in most countries is quite a lot of hassle. One of the downsides of freelancing is that there are no guarantees. Clients can come and go with very little notice.
I wrote a post recently about working while travelling. I mentioned that we rarely take any extended time off work; choosing instead to maximise our travel time by working as we go. We are both very happy with this situation and we keep our clients informed to avoid surprises. This can lead to difficult situations though.
If you are on the way to the airport and you receive a client email with a request. Should you fire up your mobile hotspot and try to sort it there and then? If you get back from dinner and you’re tired but you see an email asking for an urgent task. Should you do it then or wait for the morning?
Essentially, where is the line? What can a client reasonably expect? What do you owe to yourself? These are tough questions and I don’t have definite answers but I’ll give you some of my thoughts.
At the start of my freelance career I had only one client and I was terrified of losing them. I made myself available whenever they wanted and jumped on any emails like a teenager waiting for a text from the hot girl in class. Now that I have grown my empire(!) I feel more confident in myself. I have a few clients and I don’t feel so dependent on any individual one.
Lesson the first: Diversify your client base
I have worked with my current clients for a reasonably long time now. We have got to know each other and how we work. I know that they will not ask for something urgently unless it really is urgent. Equally, they know that I can be relied upon to get stuff done so they don’t ask for constant updates.
Lesson the second: Develop relationships with your clients
The final thought is that, as a freelancer you are taking control of your life. Most of us do this because we don’t want to be chained down to a single location or company for 40 years. I don’t think we should exchange one type of chain for another. Only you know what you are comfortable with and you should get to know your own limits and expectations. I frequently work on things late at night or in an airport waiting room because I know that I can take time off during normal work hours if I want to.
Lesson the third: Find the level that you are comfortable with
The final point to take away is that freelancing is a kind of adventure. Most people do it because they don’t fit the mould so, by definition, no 2 people’s experiences will be the same. Get started, find a work style that you are comfortable with and build from there. Let me know how you’re getting on. I love to hear your feedback.