Freelance Writers: Are You Making This Costly Mistake?

You answer emails within five minutes of them hitting your inbox.

You race to pick up the phone by the third ring, no matter what you’re doing (or writing.)

A client emails you Saturday night at 10:45 and you immediately return their note. Even if that means taking time away from your family.

And you’re always exhausted and wondering how you can work an 11-hour day with nothing to show for it.

Sound familiar? If so, quit it! You’re hurting your productivity by being so available (and hurting your business, too.)

Here’s why:

If you don’t value your time, why should your client?

Have you ever experienced the Friday “drop and go?” This is when a client emails you late on a Friday and writes, “I’m heading out for the weekend, but I need this first thing on Monday.

Ouch.  Suddenly, you realize that your weekend plans are now on hold until you can get the client stuff squared away.

No fun.

I’ve gone through this before. I actually had a prospect demand a proposal on Christmas Eve (really!). Did I do it? Yes. And the client didn’t look at the proposal until mid-January. Yeah. I learned my lesson.

The truth is, we train our clients how to treat us. If we’re always available and accommodating, it’s not the client’s fault for thinking we could handle a weekend project. Or a rush job. Or we’d drop everything so we could complete “just this one thing.”

That’s why setting client boundaries is so important. Yes, be available within reason. And yes, there may be those times when you do work a weekend to take care of a good client. But it shouldn’t be an expectation.

Being overly available kills your productivity

“I can’t get everything done” is a common freelance writer frustration. If this is a frustration of yours, here’s a reality check:

If you’re bouncing from email to client project to phone calls, you’ll never have enough time. It will take you ten times longer to finish a fast project. You’re doing it to yourself – even if it feels like it’s being done to you. You’re multitasking yourself into an unproductive frenzy. 

So here’s what to do about it:

1. Train yourself to NOT respond every time you hear the phone ring or your email ding. Turn off the ringer. Mute the notifications. Close the door. Do everything you can to give yourself some uninterrupted work time. It’s OK. People will leave a message. You can call/email them back.

2. Tell your clients when you are available.  Most clients don’t require (or expect) an instant response. They just want to know that you’ll get back to them within a reasonable amount of time. It’s even OK to write, “I received this and I’ll look into it later today,” so they know you’re on it.

3. Practice saying, “I’m happy to do this. There will be a rush fee of X.” It’s amazing how clients will suddenly value your time much more when they know there’s an extra cost involved. :) Plus, if you do work a rush job, you know you’ll be well compensated for your time.

Try implementing these strategies. I guarantee you’ll feel more centered, energetic and focused during the day. Plus, you’ll probably see a nice productivity spike – which could mean more money in your pocket. Bonus!

What do you do to keep yourself on track? Please leave a comment with your favorite boundary-setting strategies!

17 replies
  1. Craig Martin says:

    Sadly enough, this is SO true.. especially for anyone who has adapted to the “hurry up and wait” process of civil service.

    If you don’t value your time — as well as your dignity, self-respect and so on — no one else will!

    Great post, Heather!

  2. Julia McCoy says:

    This is SUCH an excellent point. Five years ago, I made all these fundamental mistakes, and trust me I had to change my cell phone number in the next 12 months. It wasn’t good when I got (and sent) calls during all hours of the day. Teaching your clients to work on your time is essential to a freelancer’s work flow.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi Julia!

      Ouch. I feel your pain. It’s easy to get caught up in being “too available.” We think that’s what we’re supposed to do – after all, customer service is important.

      But wow, the burnout rates are high. And changing your cell # couldn’t have been fun.

      I’m glad things are better now. What prompted you to make the change?

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Susan Childress says:

    I’m just getting started with freelance writing and will look forward to when my phone does ring. Until then, I’m researching everything I can about writing/editing and SEO.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, Susan!

      Thanks for your note.

      The phone will start ringing – trust me. Especially if you have a strong business plan and go out there and market yourself. You’ll be able to find a lot of writing (and business-building) tips on my blog. I hope they help!

  4. Nolan Wilson says:

    Setting boundaries is one of the most difficult thing as a freelancer. It is so easy just to say yes and then work well past 5pm, especially if you work from a home office. It is important to establish a work/home divide or you run the risk of feeling like all you do is work.

  5. craig wright says:

    Beware the burn-out. It won’t just take you a few days off to recover from. Even worse, it can affect the quality of your work, and if left to fester, can make you start hating what you do and resenting it for taking over your life.

    Be prepared to let some clients go. It can feel wrong when you are just starting out, but you need to do it for your own sake. You’re unlikely to keep the client happy if you are working begrudgingly anyway. But as Heather says, if you do need to work a weekend for them, make them pay extra, and don’t make a habit of it.

  6. Geraldine says:

    Great blog & interesting comments! I definitely have to try to be more disciplined with this as find myself jumping from one task to another if an ‘urgent’ email comes in. When I remember to actually turn my email off for an hour or so to focus on a piece of writing I am far more productive.

    But I would argue that it’s not always relevant to charge extra for evening/weekend working as I sometimes choose to do so because I’ve given myself time out in the working day for a girlie lunch, Pilates class etc. Different matter if you’re expected to do so!

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, Geraldine!

      That’s true – if I go to a Pilates class in the middle of the afternoon (yes, I do Pilates too!), I may work in the evening. That’s OK. I’d never bill a client extra for that. I was referring to clients who expect (and require) evening/weekend work. That’s a slightly different story. :)

      (And as I write this reply, I find myself jumping from a chat window to email to writing this note. Argh! Must. Stop. It!)

  7. Sue says:

    Hi, my name is Sue and I’m a recovering codependent freelancer…

    I’m not kidding. Craig is right, beware the burnout. You can make yourself really sick stretching yourself too thin for long periods of time.

    For me, the best time to answer email is after I close for the day. What I do (now) is use Outlook to schedule my replies to go out the next day after I open. That way, my clients don’t see me working late and expect me to be available around the clock.

    There are exceptions. If I’m working late on a rush job, I answer/send email at any hour.

    Even though I worked out this system, I still get distracted by email. As soon as I open Outlook to send a question to a client, all those pretty ding, ding, dings grab my attention. (Which is how I ended up reading this blog post right now!)

    I also turn off my computer and keep my home office door closed when I’m done for the day and on weekends. That helps me feel like I’m off work so I can enjoy my time off. Otherwise, I can hear my desk calling to me and I end up working all hours of the night and on weekends.

  8. Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    Hi, Sue! ;)

    I’m impressed – you answer emails just once a day? That’s fantastic! I get into inbox-cleaning mode and feel compelled to answer emails a few times a day – which always takes longer than I think it will!

    Heather – good tip about the DND feature. I had forgotten about that one…


  9. Paul says:

    This is something that most of us have to deal with on a daily basis. I have seen me set up an out of office reply on e-mails if I know I am not going to be able to get back to people because I am working on something that is going to take up a lot of time. I have also saved a text message response which I can forward to people if I am to busy to reply properly to a text. I value my ‘free’ time and I have learned from past issues not to always put the client first, but to make sure they know that you have heard them and will get back to them.

  10. farhan says:

    Hi Heather,
    Yup this happen quite often everyone run after a clients whether it is Friday night or Sunday morning. But it make sense internet is a place where competitor is just next door. It is very important to value your time and you have to keep this is mind that delay an email can take a potential client away


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