Happy New Year!
Every year I make resolutions, big and small. Even if they don’t always stick, I think there’s something to be said for trying. And, while the calendar rolling over to a new start is ultimately arbitrary, if it helps you start a new habit, does it matter?
One of the things I’m obsessed with is productivity and good work flow. I want to make it possible to do the most with the time I have. So, capturing my ideas, figuring out how to use Photoshop more effectively, things like that are all part of that.
Boundaries help with that. I think they’re important to those of us who freelance. I think it’s typical for freelancers who start off with a day job to work nights and weekends. But when you make the transition to full-time freelance, it’s easy to allow your work to bleed over your entire life. And, while I love what I do with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns, it doesn’t mean that it’s all I want to do. I have a fiancee, a family and friends, books to read and movies to see and walks to take. I love being in the studio, but I want to make sure that I leave it, too.
So, I’m taking the opportunity of the New Year to post my schedule. It’s important to manage expectations. How fast should you be expected to respond to an email? When is too early to call? So, here we go with my five house rules.
1. I work from 9:00est-5:00est, Monday through Friday, not counting holidays. You can call (or text) me from 9:00est to 8:00pm est on those days.
I live in the East Coast Time Zone, but not all of my clients do. So, I start at 9:00, the classic time to start out here. I try to wrap up around 5:00pm. But I have a lot of West Coast clients. It’s unreasonable to shut them off at 2:00pm their time. So I’ll take calls up until 5:00pm on the West Coast.
Does this mean you can’t call me at 10:30 on a Sunday night when you have a crisis? No, of course not. If you’re a client and you’re living a disaster, it’s my job to make that go away. But not everything can be a crisis. If it is, we need to have a talk.
Same schedule for texts. With emails, I know that people send those when they think of it. You’ve got an idea on a Sunday night and want to get it to me when it’s clear and you’re on your computer. Great! I’ll take a look at it Monday morning.
2. I try to return all work emails in 24 hours, phone messages the same day, text messages within a couple of hours, Monday through Friday.
Here’s more expectation stuff. I’ll occasionally get an email that reads “Please respond- URGENT!” I’ll tell you right now, email is the worst way to get me an urgent message. I’m a one man operation, so there are times when I’m at a meeting, heading to one, running out to buy art supplies, whatever… I am not constantly looking at my email. Heck, in my more productive times, I turn it down to check every 15 minuyes, sometimes once an hour, just so I’m not interrupted while I’m in the middle of a huge project. I’ve always got my phone with me, but that doesn’t mean I can always get to it either. Texting and driving is bad, and if you scheduled a meeting with me, you wouldn’t want me to interrupt it to take some other client’s call, so I won’t do that to someone else.
And please, leave a message. If I don’t pick up the phone, it doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you. I could be on a call with someone else, my phone might be in a bad service area. Even if it’s to say “I had a question but I need an answer now, so don’t worry,” then at least I know why you were trying to get a hold of me and if I should call you back.
3. I can’t promise instant turnaround time.
I’ve got a forty-hour work week, and I try to book each of those hours. So, when I go to bed on Monday, I already know what I’m going to spend my Tuesday working on. So, if you call that Tuesday, even with something small that wouldn’t take long, it doesn’t mean I can do it. I have a client I work remotely for once a every couple of weeks, and during that day they’ve bought all my time. So I’m already booked solid. That can happen.
It’s best to assume that it will take me three to five business days to turn something around. Now, if you call me a week ahead of time and let me know you’ll have a project coming in hot but you won’t have all the details or necessary materials until the day of, that’s fine. (This is especially common with lettering, where you’re waiting for art to be finished.) Then I know to block that time out for you.
And sometimes things happen, I know. An artist blows a deadline. You suddenly get an opportunity that you can’t turn down and you need an ad for it. We’ll take care of it. It may require some late nights on my part, it may require a rush fee on your part. The goal here is to make sure everything isn’t a rush.
4. Deadlines. I don’t miss them. Please make sure to tell me them.
When you’ve got a project, let me know when it’s due. From my newspaper days, hearing “ASAP” drives me nuts. To me, that means I can do it As Soon As I get the projects done from people who could actually gave me a deadline. If you need it finished tomorrow, tell me that you need it tomorrow. There have been more than a few times when people have given me a task, I let them know I’ve received it and have it scheduled for tomorrow, and I get the response back later “Oh, we need that today.” Tell me that to start and we won’t lose time going back and forth that could be used to get the job done.
I’ve been working professionally for over fifteen years and I haven’t missed any deadlines in that time. I’ve gotten pretty good at time management. And, if I can’t make a deadline, I’ll let you know that, too. I won’t take more work than I can handle.
5. If you’re a regular client, I will let you know my schedule.
It’s not all about what you need to do. I have to do things in the client/artist relationship, too.
I do a lot of conventions. My brother got married on a Friday afternoon two weeks ago. I do career days at schools. There are lots of reasons that I’d be out of the office.
So, if you send me regular work, I’ll be sure to email you and let you know when I’ll be away at Comic-Con in San Diego. I’ve got lots of clients who aren’t comic related, so they don’t know the industry shuts down for that week in July. It’s my job to make sure you know that so if you do have work, we can make sure it gets done.
I hope none of that sounds too harsh. I think it’s good to get these things stated and in the open. I’m under no illusion that this will solve every issue, but it’s a good place to start.
And, if you’re a freelancer, I encourage you to think through these things yourself. When do you want to be available? How much do you want to work in a week?