07 August 2006

Available 24/7? I don't think so...

As a freelance, I’m often available at short notice for clients, whether they are longstanding favourites or new ones. Providing a fast turnaround is something I can offer most of the time because of the type of jobs I tend to take on.

However, there are always some who seem to think that being freelance doesn’t entitle you to a private life.

For example, a couple of months back, a potential client rang up on a Sunday. I was out at the shops when the phone went so my beloved P took the message. I had contacted this person by e-mail first thing the previous Thursday morning and asked her to ring me that afternoon. She didn't, nor did she call Friday. As it was a bank holiday weekend, I like millions of salaried wage slaves – had no intention of working over the break. Especially as P works long hours and we like to make the most of our free time.

I wavered about calling back for an hour or so, then decided to after all. Guess what she wasn't there! Doubtless she was out enjoying the long weekend. So I left a voicemail, suggesting she ring me on Tuesday, when the nation’s workforce would be back on the job.

I don’t understand why clients assume that freelances are available 24/7. Granted we can work strange hours I know for a fact that many of my fellow freelances slog away at weekends to meet some outrageous deadline. I, however, prefer to keep to regular office hours, even though I work from home. I’m often at my desk early, usually around 6.00 or 6.30 am, but I tend to use that time to read the press online and catch up with personal emails. At 8.30, I start work and down tools around 5.30 or 6.00 pm. I do occasionally start work earlier, if I know a particular job will be arriving at 7am, say, and has to be returned by 10.00. I don’t mind doing this occasionally. For one-off clients, or a major job with a pressing deadline, I charge 50 per cent extra for working unsocial hours, such as evenings, and 100 per cent extra for working over a weekend or on a public holiday.

That particular Tuesday, the potential client never rang me back. And frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to call her yet again. I wasn’t that desperate for work. Anyway, that Tuesday was already looking horribly full. An early job to be done by 10.00 am, a telephone meeting at 10.00 am with a business contact, a call with the potential client who thinks it’s ok to ring me on a Saturday lunchtime, a book chapter to finish editing, a check-up at the dentist and a friend dropping by at 5.30 pm before we headed off to the pub for a regular monthly social night out.

My typical working week is equally crowded, with meetings, projects to be completed, clients to chat to, invoices to be mailed... That is why my weekends are precious.

You wouldn't call the council on a Saturday lunchtime to get them to do something, because you know no one will answer the phone. So please don’t assume that freelances don’t have a life outside work. Because we do.

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