The art of being flexible

FullSizeRenderHow far will you go to accommodate your clients’ needs? Are you a complete pushover when it comes to their demands (reasonable or otherwise), or do you refuse to compromise on principle?

I’d planned to write one last post before signing off for a well-earned break over Christmas. I was all ready to down tools this coming Friday afternoon, and not pick them up again until the New Year. Is that going to happen? No, not quite – I have already agreed to do a couple of fairly small things in my time off: one for a very new client I would like to work with again, and the other for a long-standing client that pays well and gives me a lot of business. Does this make me a doormat? Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.

Although I have labelled this post ‘the art of being flexible’, in truth I don’t think it’s an art I have mastered … and I am not sure it’s possible to do so. As a one-woman micro-business, I need to keep myself in work for as much of the time as I can, and I choose not to delegate any of it. I do have lines in the sand when it comes to my clients, but the sands themselves can shift. I believe that a certain amount of flexibility on my part is one of the things (along with a high standard of work and professional approach) that keeps my clients coming back for more. After all, the ideal of a flexible workforce is one of the factors that drives my clients to employ freelance expertise in the first place.

Of course I don’t have to provide all the flexibility of the entire freelance workforce on my own, and I remain clear in my belief that saying ‘no’ is one of the most empowering things a freelancer of any description can learn to do. However, the flip side of being able to walk my children to and from school most days, or deciding to take the odd Friday off without permission, or not having anyone checking to see how much time I spend on Facebook has surely to be that sometimes I have to fit in particular work requests which may cause me minor personal inconvenience, if I judge that they’re for the greater good of my business.

Some of this depends on the type of client, of course. I have colleagues who I know get entirely booked up many months in advance by extremely organised people who know exactly when they will want their freelance input, and who can stick to a schedule. Some of my work happens this way too. Meanwhile, in other markets that I work in, things can move quickly and schedules can change at the last minute, so some jobs I do fit in at rather short notice, around the longer-term ones. I enjoy the rapid-fire excitement of fast-turnaround briefs against a more tranquil backdrop of slower-moving projects; however, this collage-like way of working doesn’t suit all.

With this in mind, if a clients asks me respectfully to do something a little demanding in terms of schedule, and it is a client who in general appreciates the fact that I am a person, with a life outside of editing, and is willing to pay me properly, I will often take on their rush job, or I will consider working antisocial hours for them, assuming I can find the capacity. All of my current clients are respectful and considerate in this way, and so I believe that there is scope for some give and take. I know too that if I can’t accommodate their requests, it’s OK for me to say so without harming the ongoing relationship.

However, if a client simply assumes that I can perform miracles, and perhaps even considers that I should be grateful for the opportunity, then this is unlikely to be a good match, and I will very often decline to perform said miracles.

So, happy holidays – whether you are taking a complete break, working through … or being somewhat flexible about things.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She can be quite accommodating when it comes to good clients, but is not nearly as flexible as the illustration might suggest.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Nice post, Liz. Refusing to compromise on principle is tricky in the real world – unless you’re regularly turning away business because of sheer weight of work, which I guess most of us aren’t. For those new to freelancing, I would suggest you think very carefully about what you agree to take on, though.

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    1. Thanks, John. Yes, I think whatever stage one is at, it’s a question of weighing up the benefits of saying yes to something that might not be totally ideal (like in my case, doing a little bit of work in a period I had set aside for doing none at all). I don’t think there’s always a right answer, and it will vary from person to person. If anyone has a magic formula for this, I would love to know!

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