21 June 2008

When a client goes bad

In three years plus of freelancing, I've probably been lucky in that I've had very few rogue clients to deal with. I've had awkward clients, slow-paying clients and fickle clients, but I very recently experienced all these in one package.

Back in late February, my Lovely Graphic Designer, with whom I've worked on many joint projects, introduced me to a company for whom he was building a website. They needed the copy to go with it. The MD duly rang me to discuss the job. I was under the impression it was somewhat urgent. The MD said he'd email me some blurb about the company as background.

A couple of weeks went by and nothing arrived. I shrugged my shoulders - many jobs never materialise. But next time I had my LGD on the phone, I enquired about the project. It was going ahead, he said, it was just unclear when. And so it was that eventually, in April, we all had a meeting - me, my LGD and the company. We thrashed out a brief and the MD said he would forward the stuff that had been promised in February. Normally, I ask clients to sign a contract, but I didn't in this case as the company was known to my LGD and everything seemed kosher.

It was another 10 days before I received all the background blurb and other info and waas in a position to get started. By early May, I'd made a first draft of the web copy, including all the meta tags for SEO. I sent it over to the company (to 3 different people) and CCd it to my LGD. My email made explicit that it was a first draft and that feedback was expected so I could make any requested changes. A couple of weeks went by and I heard nothing. I was busy, for one thing, and this company had not exactly been quick off the mark in the past.

Nevertheless, another week later, when I was chatting on the phone to my LGD, I asked about the project.

- Oh, he said. The website's gone live already. Have you not heard from the MD? He said he was going to give you a call.

I was stunned. I'd expected feedback first, then tweaks, then a proofread. But no, apparently, it had all gone live. I had a look at the site. Not all my copy had been used, but a lot of it had, plus all my tagging. I emailed my contact at the company who'd been my main liaison while writing, explaining I was surprised to hear the site was live but I assumed they'd been happy with everything. I mentioned I'd be sending my invoice.

There was a resounding silence until 3 weeks later (one week before my invoice final due date and 7 weeks since I'd submitted my first draft of copy). Then the phone rang and it was the MD. I knew immediately there would be huge problems. Sure enough, the MD's stance was:

- As we've only used some of your copy, we're only going to pay for what we used.

- But I still did all the work, I pointed out. It has to be paid for, even if you didn't choose to use it all. But more importantly, it was a first draft - why didn't you tell me if you didn't like what I'd done? I asked for feedback, after all. Why leave it for 7 weeks until just before the invoice is due to tell me you were unhappy?

- I've been too busy.

(But clearly not too busy to use my copy.)

- I would have happily rewritten any copy you weren't keen on, I said.

The conversation then went round in circles for 10 minutes, the MD adamant he wasn't going to pay my full bill, me insistent that I'd done the job he'd commissioned me for and that it was clear I was expecting feedback on the first draft. I worked hard at remaining composed and polite. I could sense the MD was on the point of losing his temper.

It was when I told him that under my terms & conditions, I still owned the copyright to my work until I'd been paid, that he exploded. He burst into a huge rant about how "bloody awful" my work was and then some, how I was too expensive, that he'd settle my bill but would never recommend me to anyone and then, just as I was trying to say there was no need to swear at me, he slammed the receiver down.

I was so shocked at the outburst that I just sat there, stunned and shaking, for 15 minutes afterwards. I cast my mind back over the whole job to double-check everything, looking at the chain of emails, the notes I took at the briefing meeting. I'd given them a verbal estimate of the cost, I'd made clear the process (first draft, second draft, proofing). I really couldn't see that I could have done any more. It is, after all, a two-way process. There's not much I can do in the absence of client feedback during the writing.

I'm now awaiting the cheque - for the full bill - and if it doesn't arrive I won't hesitate to start a small claims procedure to recoup my money. I'm confident I'll win, thanks to my paper trail and the fact they left it so long to complain.

Lessons learned:
1. Always, always, always get the client to sign a contract.
2. Follow up with a phone call after 2 days if no response to email is forthcoming after sending the copy, no matter how busy I am.

17 June 2008

Back in business

The eagle has landed!

The move went largely smoothly and I'm up and running. Sunday morning I was up very early, in time for Man with Van no. 1 to shift my office to Wordsmith Towers II. It took a little longer than expected to dismantle the desk and load the van. It was quicker at the other end to rebuild the desk and bookcase. MwV paid and gone, then it was down to me to set up the PC and install the broadband. That also took a while, but I'm delighted to discover I haven't forgotten how to wire up a computer, given that over the last 6 or 7 years I've always had someone else on hand to do it for me. I was chuffed to bits when I rebooted and logged on to the net. But, alas, I only had time to download some urgent email before it was time to dash back to my old house to finish packing.

By now it was 2pm (where did the time go? My MwV had arrived at 7.30am), and I still had to box up half my stuff . I spent the next few hours bent over boxes and walking up and down staircases. I swear if I'd been wearing a pedometer I'd have clocked up triple the recommended daily amount of steps. I collapsed into bed at 10pm only to wake at 1.15am, thoughts and lists racing round my brain. I tossed and turned until 3.30am before giving up. The alarm was set for 5 anyway.

Then it was on to finishing the packing. I was still at it, and totally stressed, when my van arrived at 9.30. The removal men were fantastic - the van was loaded within 90 minutes and they had completely finished here by noon. Then it was just me and a pile of boxes to empty. I have a functioning office and kitchen - the rest is cardboard city. The plumber who'd been installing a new bathroom over the last fortnight rang me on my mobile at 4pm to tell me there was no hot water because a valve had gone. Like I hadn't already noticed when trying to clean the kitchen cupboards...

I even did some work in between emptying boxes - just a spot of my daily copy-editing duties, but it proved that I'd been right to plan ahead and shift the office first.

By now, I'd realised I'd not eaten since 7pm Sunday night. And my landline did not appear to be working. Cue low blood sugar and a fight with BT. It took 6 calls on my mobile and speaking to 8 people to establish that one very tiny piece of vital information is not included in BT's home hub installation instructions. It was so damn easy to fix, yet I wasted 90 minutes and spent nearly £15 on phone calls in the process. I managed to get BT to agree in principle that my mobile costs ought to be refunded, but before anything could be settled, I was cut off. Typical. I shall pursue them today.

After that, it was time to collect my boy. He was pissed off at having to go into his basket and take a cab ride and even more unhappy when he realised he was caught up in a house move. There were several failed attempts to bolt out of the front door. After a Chinese takeaway and a beer (I was too knackered to open the champagne), I headed for bed - my yoga mat and a sleeping bag, until my mattress arrives next week. I managed 4 hours before my boy decided to audition for the ENO. At full volume. I know he was stressed but I was exhausted. At 2am, I was rummaging around hunting for that pair of foam ear plugs I'd once filched from a hotel and stuffed in my wash bag, on the grounds I might need them one day. That day was now. I think I'll use them again tonight.

Total hours of sleep since Saturday is about 8.

Here I sit now, contemplating starting on the living room. My hands are wrecked, criss-crossed with tiny slices from a thousand paper cuts caused by packing and unpacking. My nails, alrready ruined from 3 decades of bashing keyboards, are broken, split and flaky and I can't find the sodding hand cream.

But, hey, I can still work!

12 June 2008

Three days to D-day

It's been a case of controlled chaos this week. Monday I had a client meeting in another town, which necessitated my catching a train them the client collecting me from the station as their business premises is in the sticks(and with no car of my own I hadn't a snowball's of getting there solo). As luck would have it, my destination has two stations and the client, you guessed it, went to the wrong station to meet me, even though I'd stressed in the email to pick me up at the other one... So I got off the train and waited. And waited. And waited. Foolishly, I'd set out without the client's office number on me and the client didn't have my mobile number. After 25 minutes, I was fed up and the return train was due to depart in 2 minutes so I turned tail and headed home to find a message on my voicemail asking where I was...

The meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday lunchtime, this time with contact numbers being exchanged. Not sure I have the job, but I'm fairly heavily booked anyway over the next fortnight. In the interim, I edited the book on murders and spent ages on the phone booking "man with van"s to shift my stuff, and ordering goods online (dull stuff like a fridge and pedal bin - I lead such an exciting life).

I finally finished this week's work yesterday evening at around 7pm. I put the finishing touches to the book I'd been copy-editing then emailed it back to the author. All that remained today was to bill 3 clients, including my author. The decks are now clear to move...

On Saturday evening, I'll be dismantling the desktop PC as Man with Van no. 1 arrives early (and I do mean early) on Sunday morning to transport my office to Wordsmith Towers II. Once he's rebuilt my desk, I'll be setting up my router etc so that I'll be online asap in my new workspace. Back at Wordsmith Towers I, my laptop will keep me connected to the outside world...

Man with Van no. 2 arrives Monday morning with a set of muscle do the main removal (no. 2 being a proper, insured removals outfit). The moving kit I ordered (boxes, tea chests, packing tape, etc) arrives here tomorrow, meaning my weekend will be spent packing up. Of course, my office should be up and running by then, all being well. It's all going hideously smoothly so far. Which means things are likely to go tits up at some point. I hope not, as I'd like to be working again on Tuesday.

I'll try and blog again before the big day, but don't expect miracles!

11 June 2008

Watch the birdie

Since Sunday, my attention has been distracted by the pair of blackbirds building a nest in the shrub outside my office window. Every few minutes, one or other flies past, twig in beak, and I have watched, fascinated, as homing instincts kicked in. On Sunday, Mr Blackbird sat in said shrub for long hours, no doubt assessing its suitability as an abode safe from marauding cats and other dangers. Mrs B. then began ferrying twigs. By Monday lunchtime, the nest was almost complete. If I stand on my desk I'm eye-level with it, although no eggs have been laid yet. By the time they are, I will be nesting elsewhere.

The move to Wordsmith Towers II continues apace. The phone and broadband are on, the plumber is busy installing a new bathroom and I, well, let's just say I've been working 15-hour days clearing the decks of current projects so as to have some time to pack up.

Packing starts in earnest by the weekend and I hope to be offline no longer than 2 days and up and running again in one week's time.

I'm woefully aware that this blog has been neglected. The media diet is at least a month out of date (although, frankly, there's not much to report). I'm too preoccupied with moving and keeping the freelancing running smoothly. Normal service will be resumed asap. I promise.

01 June 2008

Weekend work

I've long been an advocate of keeping my weekends free of work. Ever since I turned freelance, I have striven to keep to "office hours", just like an employee. With an other half in tow who also worked long hours during the week, weekends were precious. Time to be spent with the OH or friends and not earning a crust.

Time change, though. Astute readers may have noticed it has been an awfully long time since I last mentioned the OH in despatches. And so it came to pass that we are Together No More. Hence the imminent move to Wordsmith Towers II.

As I mentioned previously, I am inundated with work. And have since taken yet more on. In fact, when I look at my diary I can see I am fully booked until September now, excluding any successful pitching to the press. I have taken on a very large writing contract for a major publisher, two copywriting jobs (one of which should be ongoing), a non-fiction book that needs some serious copy-editing, plus back-up coverage for an editor colleague working solo in-house at a foreign investment bank but who needs back-up when taking holidays. On top of that are my regular copy-editing jobs for long-term clients.

Then there are the blogs. Six at the last count and I'm about to take over a friend's blog with the aim of keeping it going and earning some money.

Being newly single will have its advantages though. No longer am I obliged to keep weekends or evenings free. I shall have more flexibility over my working hours now. And as long I have time to watch EastEnders and keep my boy happy, I can work when and how I choose. Indeed, this weekend I have chatted to a client about his book, typed up and posted several invoices, emailed several clients, written a feature for a newspaper and interviewed a case study. And I still had time on Saturday night to go out on the razz with half a dozen friends (after watching Doctor Who, of course).

Working life is suddenly shifting shape. And you know what? I rather like it!