There’s only a few things in life that are a guarantee. One of them is time, although unfortunately we have no way of knowing how much of it we’re going to be allotted. Reality: I could live to be one hundred, or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Our time is the most important thing we have on this planet. Every minute, hour, and day that you waste: *poof*, kiss it goodbye.
I feel like I’m starting to sound like a preacher.
My point is, how you manage your time, especially in regards to your business, is critical. Not only in terms of your own sanity, but also in order to expand.
Now I probably shouldn’t complain about a ringing phone, because it usually means there’s a paycheck on the other line. But when I’m in the groove of building a website, a phone call, especially a long one, can completely throw me off balance.
This still happens to me all the time:
*productively working on website*
*phone rings, answer*
*have a 20 minute phone call*
*call ends, but now there’s several new emails to “quickly” tend to*
*crap, it’s already lunch time*
…before I know it, it’s 6pm, and that website I was working on pre-phone call is going to have to wait till tomorrow… that is, if the cycle above doesn’t repeat. But it usually does.
So why not hire a secretary? Or simply put your phone on silent? Well smartass, the former is certainly an option if you can afford to do it legitimately. It’s not exactly in the cards for a freelancer in a home office (and unfortunately the legalities of hiring employees is extremely cost prohibitive to small businesses, at least in Maine).
Putting your phone on silent is of course an option too, though risking missing out on a new prospect.
There are though, a few key ways to do some damage control with your time-wasting parasitic scenarios:
1. Pin point what types of calls you’re getting, and blueprint a plan of action. If you’re actively seeking new clients, it’s never a good idea to let the call go to voicemail, so you’re going to have to suck it up, entertain new leads, and stick it out until you’re in a less compromising position…
If your calls are coming in for hosting related issues, switch your hosted clients to a platform that has less issues. My favorite hosting platform is WPEngine. They’re not the cheapest by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll experience rock solid up-time, which translates into less phone calls/support time.
To no surprise, the more solid of an infrastructure I have, the less time I’m spending doing things that are a distraction to the bigger picture.
Another example: I grew insanely fed up with diagnosing client’s email issues. Sending instructions to clients on how to put the correct settings in the Mail app on their iPhone, configuring Outlook, etc. It was never what I signed up for and usually had little, if anything, to do with web development. Now when I’m taking on a new client I stress that email is not something I support… and I don’t think I’ve lost one lead because of it.
2. In the early stages of your business partnerships, or preferably, before it even gets to that point: stress your primary means of communication and don’t be afraid to put it in your contract. I always stress that email works best because everyone can do it at their own convenience, plus it leaves a backlog i.e. it helps eliminate the he said/she said scenarios.
Even when clients insist on phone calls, I usually end the call with “okay, I’ll shoot you an email once I’ve had time to go over everything.” This way nothing is left open to interpretation – it’s all laid out in plain text, eliminating any conjecture.
3. Set support hours and stick to them. Stress to clients that unless it’s an emergency, it’s not okay to repeatedly call you. Tell them to leave a voice message and you’ll get back to them within ___ amount of time.
Don’t ever answer your business calls or emails during off-hours, unless it’s an emergency. I still make this mistake a lot, and it sets the tone to your clients that you’re accessible 24/7. I use to take some pride in that, but nowadays I enjoy some comforts in life, such as trying to unwind and crawl into bed before 1am.
4. Gracefully cut ties with clients who refuse to communicate via your preferred methods. A bit harsh? Maybe, but unless you’re just starting out, you need to do what works best for you as far as efficiency and time management. If a client is not respecting your way of working, it’s okay to move on. Note: if several of your clients are taking issue, you may need to revaluate and make sure the problem’s not you.
5. No one likes working for the weekend, except maybe the dudes in Loverboy:
In all seriousness, I’ve found that Saturday and Sunday are some of my most productive days to build websites.
Not really out of a burning desire to stare at a retina screen for 12 hours straight while normals enjoy a relaxing weekend – no one likes to work on the weekend – but those are the times when my phone (and inbox) is the most quiet. When it’s actually possible to get things done without constant distraction.
The Bottom Line:
Everyone has their own preferred method of communication, including your clients. But it’s critical that your work flow isn’t constantly hindered.
In the early stages of building your business, when you’re still trying to make a name for yourself, you may need to step out of your comfort zone. In person meetings can be a necessity. Adapting to a communication method that what works best for your clients can be a necessity…
But after you’ve established yourself, and found out how you operate best, develop a fair set of rules/standards, and stick to them. A good client will respect it. The ones who don’t, or won’t, you probably don’t want to be working with anyway.