05 May 2006


I have a client for whom I did a major project last year - a total overhaul of her website (the original one was a disaster zone, it looked dreadful visually and the copy was appalling - badly written and full of typos - not exactly enticing for her own potential clients). I wrote 60 web pages of copy for her and brought in my graphic designer to build her a new, attractive site.

Since then, because her English is not that great, I have done various proofreading and editing jobs for her, mainly cleaning up her tenders and course literature. She has an infuriating habit of calling me at two hours' notice to do a job for her on the assumption that I can do it on the spot. She seems to think I don't have any other clients and just sit at my desk playing computer games until she deigns to call for my help. Sometimes she calls me to resolve her computer problems because she doesn't know how to use it properly. It's staggering that she has a six-figure turnover and doesn't know how to use Windows' most standard programmes. It's not as if she is uneducated, either. Once she sent me a document in a template that had come from a third party, in which she had added text to the requisite boxes. She told me the text was red when it was supposed to be black, and was scored through. I said I would try to resolve it. On opening the document, it was clear that "track changes" was switched on. I did the editing and sent it back to her, only to receive an anguished call from her that everything was still red and scored through. Patiently, I talked her through how to switch off "track changes" so that she could see the final version.

The last time she dumped a job on me at the last minute, I agreed to do it under duress as I was pretty busy that day, and asked her politely to book her work in in future so I could make time for her on my daily schedule. She agreed.

I wish.

This morning she rang me at 7.30 am to tell me she had just sent me a 20-page tender that needs editing. I was in the shower when she called and my heart sank when I played back my voice mail. I already have two urgent editing jobs booked in this morning, plus a chapter of a book I've been working on since March. The latter is less urgent but still needs to be done. I also need to start the copywriting for another client's website, as that has to be totally signed off by next Friday. And I still need to send out last month's invoices.

I was pretty pissed off. Somehow, I managed to call her back and talk to her without losing my temper. I told her firmly that this would be the last time I would reshuffle my work in order to fit her in if she doesn't give me advance warning. I insisted she call me in advance if she knows she has a job in the pipeline for me. She replied that she didn't always know exactly when something would be ready, and I countered that if she knew it would be between x and y dates that would be fine, as long as I had a rough idea of a window in which to squeeze it in. It turned out that she had this particular job ready to send last night, but she didn't bother to call me and ask if it would be possible. I told her that even last-minute jobs can be handled with some warning, even if I have to subcontract to another editor and check it over myself before it goes back to the client.

She wants the document back by 10 am. I told her it would be 12 noon. I hope the message has finally got through to her today that I am not a slave at her beck and call.

I'm very well used to turning around jobs at short notice - I used to work as a financial editor at a major investment bank, where everything was deadline-driven according to the demands of Europe's stock markets, and all the reports were written by non-native English speakers. It was damn tough, especially when you add in the need for absolute accuracy in such an environment.

But I work for myself now and I set the rules. My clients know I am very flexible but on the whole they understand why they need to book their work in with me.

Now I have to re-plan my morning completely and find the time in which to do her work.

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