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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Open For Business 25/8

I don’t know about you but I just love it when a client calls at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday to “run some ideas past you.” After all, freelancers don’t need no stinking “sleeping in” on a romantic, rainy Sunday. Sleeping in only results in spontaneous sex. Better to lie beside your spouse and listen to a conversation about distribution quotas while you quietly seethe. That will bring the population growth down.

I also love it when clients call in the evening, during a movie. Do you answer? Yeah, so did the guy in front of me in the multiplex last night. First he tried whispering. Then he got “stink eye” from his neighbors. When someone beaned him with a wadded up napkin, he left the theater talking all the way. You could hear the conversation. It was about a deadline that had been moved up. (Why are deadlines always moved up? Why are they never moved back to give you some breathing room? Why is that?)

I suppose he could have ignored the call but my experience tells me that if you don’t answer, they will just text you. Over and over again.

Why are we allowing ourselves to become on-call slaves? Because we live in the age of instant gratification. Early morning; late at night; weekends; holidays. BTW, what are holidays? I haven’t seen a holiday since 1972. And I live in Hawai‘i, the state that has more official holidays than any other state in the union. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, Prince Kuhio Day, King Kamehameha Day, Independence Day, Statehood Day (which is celebrated by native Hawaiians by displaying the flag of the nation of Hawai‘i upside down – the international distress signal) and all the rest. Oops, did I accidentally say “rest?” Ha, ha! That was a joke. The only people who get to rest on most holidays are state workers. For everyone else, it’s just a day in which the busses don’t run as often (for our convenience).

And it’s not just clients who are guilty of this behavior. Suppliers also call whenever the muse is upon them. Because we’ve all become accustomed to being available not just 24/7 but beyond 24/7. I once wrote about the appalling statistics of American workers in comparison to those of other developed nations. We suffer twice the rate of clinical depression as our European counterparts. And we’re literally killing ourselves – in 1980, we ranked 11th in the world in life expectancy; we now rank 42nd.

I have a plan. (You knew I would.) This is a shocker, so you may want to be seated for this – freelancers and entrepreneurs could declare their business hours and then stick to them. Out there in the real world of non-freelance (aka “paid”) work, businesses actually post their hours right on the door. They do. Then when the end of the day comes around, they lock the door and they leave.

I realize that this is a far fetched concept. But think about it:

  • · When you call your bank after hours, does the President of the bank interrupt his dinner to answer your call?
  • · Would you expect your hairdresser to meet you at Starbucks on Sunday morning to review some pictures of hairstyles that might look cute on you?
  • · Do you wake your butcher up at 11:30 at night to tell him about your upcoming dinner party and get his “feedback” on entrée choices?

Let’s try, shall we? Let’s tell our clients right up front, in writing, the hours that we are available for meetings and phone conversations and then (gasp!) turn off the phone. Unless you are a trauma surgeon, let’s pretend that no one will actually die if we don’t take this call. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Some unexpected sex? I don’t know about you but I could live with that.

Are we having fun yet?


  1. My late client Frank E. Sullivan was the quintessential Notre Dame alum and probably the best life insurance salesman the world had ever seen. He was also the most disciplined executive imaginable.

    Frank thought that the telephone was the most intrusive instrument ever devised by man. He established a hard and fast policy. He took no calls. Everyone knew it. If you wanted to speak with Frank Sullivan on the telephone, you left a message and he returned your call between very specific hours that were widely known. If you were going to converse with him, you had better plan to be at your phone when he called. It would always be at the prescribed time.

    Interestingly, this never seemed to irritate people; they just adjusted to Frank's schedule.

    I don't know what Frank would have done with the digital wizardry we have today. He died in 1993, before the world went crazy with instant communications. But I'll bet he would have controlled the technology and not let the technology control him.

  2. Funny and thoughtful as always, Kay! I've been out of the business world for a decade but remember even as an employee being on call to upper management and clients 24/7 (calls to Hong Kong at 3 a.m. when you have to get up at 6 to get your kids to school is no fun at all). Education has it's own issues, but one thing it does have is set hours. Granted, I don't know one teacher that doesn't prep and/or grade on their own time BUT it's at their discretion not the boss or client's whim. I have yet to take my grading to a movie theater ... although I know many a teacher who works in Starbucks!

    I think you'll get more respect than anger if a freelancer takes the approach you suggest. Would love to hear from anyone who's brave enough to do so!

  3. That's a great idea Kay.
    I never answer phone and don't even own a cell/mobile phone. I let the answering machine pick up and if the call is important I will call back or Skype when it's convenient for me. People today are so obsessed with their cell phones it's as if they have nothing else to do.

    I admit it can be convenient at times when your in a car or at the grocery store and you need to inform someone about your arrival or a special on nuts.

    Aren't people told before the movie starts to turn off their cell phones?

  4. Right on Kay for telling it like it is! People think because you have a cell you should answer whimsical calls, texts and emails immediately!

  5. Hi Kay: I think it is indeed a good idea to declare your normal hours of operation when you sign on a new client. That way, they know what they can expect and not. And tell them that if a project requires you to work outside of your normal hours of operation, there may be a premium rate charged for your time. That way, they are likely to be more respectful of your time.

    I've been freelancing for 19 years now and haven't let it take over my life. It is a job, and it is up to us to set the parameters. If you're having lunch and the phone rings, don't answer it. And personally, I wouldn't engage in texting with a client. I really think that opens the door to be on-call at all hours.

    Doreen Pendgracs
    Manitoba, Canada

  6. This was a lesson I had to learn when I started my own business. I felt guilty for telling people no or I would not be able to do it. Two years in the game and keeping my piece of mind means much more. So I definitely understand your post. And it is okay to stick to your operation hours.

  7. You go girl and I am right there with you. It is frustrating when that happens, but I only have myself to blame. When my husband is guilty of the same thing, it can make for a less then harmonious household. Love the post and the idea. I will need to make that happen. When should that be? ... humm ... let's see ... that would be now. :-))), Susan Cooper (from California),

  8. Well to say you have created a good article is a bit of an understatement, but also it is one that I have heard many people especially freelancers talk about, more than once and in very similar ways.

    I feel that for many people, they have this imagery of what a freelancer does or doesn't do and to many that is a person who has this flexible schedule who is at the beck and call of the client whenever the client calls ( it really is not a new story, sorry to say. I would suggest that people need to set very firm boundaries regarding work and life and start taking back what is yours..your life.

    I have a friend who does freelancing and what she does is at the beginning of any contract she sets firm limits of when she can talk or otherwise be with the client and she puts it in her contract, it has worked for her to such a degree that she is getting more work than she can handle...funny how it works.

    1. Oh by the way and forgot to add ( an oops) I am Canadian, living in Alberta and the issues you are going through are the same all over the globe

  9. Speaking of spontaneous sex...how about going for a little end of the weekend Sunday night action and the BlackBerry starts buzzing with the boss trying to get a jump on the week ahead. Then he wonders why I'm cranky Monday morning!

  10. Love this! People take "freelancer" to mean "free to handle your business needs at all times." As a newbie I felt like I had to take those 9:30 p.m. phone calls or risk losing business. I realize now that more often than not I set the expectation for my clients and if I seem available at all times, they will contact me at all times.

  11. Kay, I am late a few days to read your new post. I work for a dentist. I got a call few days before in the morning, on my off time at my home. The boss wanted to tell me to watch the you tube videos about "How to be an exceptional receptionist", whenever I get a chance. Amazing, isn't it? What a wonderful "paid" job!!!!

  12. I'm a fairly recent convert to the cell phone. Why? Because I once had a boss who called while I was in the rest room and the gentleman who took the call started pounding on the door insisting that I take the call. When I came rushing out to see what the emergency (as if!) was, I asked my boss, "Really? This couldn't wait until after I finished peeing?" His reply: "Ummm. Sorry!" By the by, this same boss (division president) had a boss (CEO) who required his underlings take a satellite phone with them on all vacations. Why? One underling had the nerve to climb Mt. Everest just so the CEO couldn't reach him on vacation.

    1. Liz, years ago I was producing a show in Hollywood and one afternoon during a video edit, I ran to the bathroom. And I didn't take my phone with me. I just ran down the hall to pee, for Pete's sake.

      When I returned, there was a hugely nasty, screaming phone message on my cell phone. It was a producer from..... never mind what network. When I told him that I was in the john it turned out that he didn't give a rip about that. "Your bodily functions shouldn't be an inconvenience to me." I think those were his exact words. Now I realize that in Hollywood the egos are out of control but still......

      Talk about demanding immediate gratification! Good grief.

  13. Love your article Kay!

    Once when I was living in London (UK) Telephone Corporation of Thailand had got hold of my private number and called me in the middle of the night.

    When I lived in the Middle East and had my Blackberry I just switched it off. There is no way I'm going to be available 24/7. Am used to working 7 days a week but when I sleep or am doing something else I don't want interrupted I just switch off.

    Not sure the best idea is to tell people our working hours. You can always say you were flying at the time:-) Whatever that means...:-)

  14. Kay I totally agree. I was woken last week at 7am on Sat morning. It was our telephone provider to ask if our phone line was working. I managed to speak politely and left the obscenities until after I put the phone down. We usually switch off all our phones because our boss has a nasty habit of calling us early on Sunday mornings. My Mom always had a rule no calls between 9pm and 9am. I wish other people could follow this rule.

  15. Great title Kay! I may be in the minority here but I use my cell phone for business and when I'm not working . . . I turn it off. It's that simple. All of my clients know that I work odd hours and odd days of the week. In case of emergency, their best bet is to email me. I'm much more likely to sneak a peek at my email while I'm sipping a glass of wine, surfing the net and watching TV (who said I can't multi-task?) than I am to answer my phone. Leave a message at the sound of the beep and I will get back to you. (BTW - I still have a home phone but I don't give out that number to clients, vendors or people I don't want to talk to. :) )

  16. I was getting ready for eye surgery (I am recovering post surgery right now and your's is the only blog, I've permitted myself to visit. I am allowed only a wee bit of surfing time, these days).. coming back to the point, I had to switch off my blackberry to avoid eye strain, during the pre surgery phase. Did things go topsy turvy? Not really, it was just me who felt uncomfortable for not replying to a client immediately. Actually, it was possible for the email reply to be sent the next day (ok, I admit it, the 24 hour deadline within which to reply remained).
    But at times, even if we have a 24 hour deadline, we cut it down to an 'immediate' deadline.
    I am at home now on leave, and as of now, it is colleagues who don't seem to understand that having eye drops put in every hour, swallowing antibiotics and generally suffering from various side effects is no fun and possibly, I would sleep in late? So yes, after reading this post, my mobile shall remain switched off at least till 11 am in the morning, when I am less groggy and prepared to face the world.

  17. Hahaha. I love your style, Kay. You have a wonderful sense of self and your immediate environment. Your post resonates so well with me: I have lost count of the numerous calls from off-shore call centers after hours and over the weekend...lol. The icing on your post, however is definitely your sense of humor - fabulous entertainment! LOVING IT!

  18. Great log Kay and apologies for late comment - leave your blog name with commentluv on site when you comment. I've said more on LinkedIn. As to this post I think it's a great idea. I was self employed for over 20 years and made a point of keeping 'hours' - though I'd meet people in a social situation & they'd start talking business - great when all you want is a night out! I wouldn't dream of contacting a business acquaintance on a Sunday - hey my family are lucky if I pick up the phone. So I say yes! definitely go girl. Plus unexpected sex is welcome anytime. I love your style. We could do with more of it