Saturday, 18 August 2018

Don't Get Too Tied Up in Your Current Project. At Least Respond to Quotation Requests.

Some of us are great multitaskers, some aren't.

Have you ever been so tied up in your current project you forgot about everything else, including your next project? Or your last project, for that matter. And how many times did a lucrative project miss you because of that? Potentially way more lucrative than whatever you were doing that prevented you from picking up the phone?

So let's not get sucked completely in like that. Or hire an assistant — and virtual assistants can be hired for short durations on a B2B service basis — if the practice can afford it.

Either way, those calls must be picked up, mail must be checked, invoices won't write themselves, and clients have no way of reaching us when we're isolated inside our own little worlds.

So let's not make our focus on the current task more exclusive than is necessary.

A lot of this is in the head. There's no law that says we can't. Nor a law of physics that makes us unable to. The blocks are real, but soft. Just like any other soft block that exists in one's head.

So without delving into 'mindset' nonsense, a freelance professional needs to learn to take breaks and check mail and at least return calls. Better still, make sure the phone is charged, not muted, and lying nearby and your clients know to call you the old-fashioned way when something is really urgent or a quick decision is needed — and mail you and wait an our or two or three if it's not.

Some things to consider:

  • separate number and address for returning clients (versus general inquiries)
  • separate address for specific quotation requests such as those sent through the quotation form & file upload on your website (versus general inquiries, broad RFPs etc.)
  • separate number and address for urgent cases, i.e. a hotline established for those clients who may need some ASAP post-delivery service
  • separate address for subscriptions, memberships, etc. (versus signing up with your main business address)
  • separate monitor to keep your mailbox open at all times
  • forcing yourself to learn to fish out the most important stuff and let go of the rest until its time finally comes

It's worth noting that the last item on the list — the one about having a filter in your head — is a classic management exercise in prioritizing. It's a skill everybody needs to pick up at some point on the path of professional if not personal growth. The sooner, the more practical.

While perfecting the art by trial and error may take some time, you're probably better off developing some routines before you actually have to use them. Simply put, it's easier to stick with existing just-in-case procedures, however imperfect they are due to their untested status, than invent them as you need them.

Hence, just spend some time thinking about what filters to use when you have the luxury of sitting back with a cup of tea instead of having to think on the spot. Just don't overplan it and don't become too rigid.

Think about questions to ask and ways of getting to those questions fast. Think what sort of mail needs what sort of reaction time from you, assign the priority, compare it to the priority of whatever you happen to be doing right now, and so on.

Example 1:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You can afford 10 minutes, but not 30.

A prospective client sends you a request for quotation for a specific service on short notice, and a broader inquiry about possible collaboration.

What can you do?

Surely you can't or at least shouldn't jeopardize your current project. As a professional, your word is your bond, reputation is everything and so on. Hence you won't be replying to all those questions about hypothetical collaboration right away. And you don't want to, anyway. But this doesn't mean you can't try to get that specific project your client also mentioned. So send a quotation for the specific project and promise to get back to the client within a specified time-frame about the rest. Make sure you'll really be able to write before, and not after, that self-imposed deadline. Underpromise and overdeliver, not the other way round.

Example 2:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

Your other client calls, starts asking, it's all vague. You don't want to be rude, but you can't sense much potential either, and the clock is ticking, while your client keeps talking, and talking.

What can you do?

Wait for a pause (few people can entirely avoid one for longer than a minute), then go in for the kill. Make it a swift kill, you may not get one more chance. Say you're happy to hear from them. Of course you're available. Of course you can do it (if you really can). Your fee would be such and such. Please call when you have more specific information, now I need to get back to some really pressing stuff, or it's gonna cost me my head, thank you for understanding. Bye.

… And go back to work, focus on it, finish it, send it back and make sure you did (e.g. attachments really attached, you really hit the send button, etc.), then call back that other client. Start from thanking them for their patience and understanding. You may even have some time to chat at leisure, ask about their kids, whatever, show you care, show they're imporant to you.

Example 3:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You get a call or message, there's some large and somewhat complicated request. And they want a specific time-line and fee estimate on it.
And it's the same client.

What can you do?

Obviously, you can't just be late on your first project and probably don't want to ignore the other inquiry, either. So? Defer to your client. 'Do you prefer me to finish X first or should I put X on hold and get you a quote on Y first? What's more important to you?'

Example 4:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You get a call or message, there's some large and somewhat complicated request. And they want a specific time-line and fee estimate on it.
And it's not the same client.

What can you do?

Obviously, you can't just be late on your first client's project, and you probably don't want to ignore your second client, either. But it is equally evident you just have no space to prepare a comprehensive quotation right now.

So what can you do?

Excuse yourself, saying there's a project you must be finishing very soon, in fact there are only 3 hours left on it. Your client will feel appreciated you still took the call or checked the mail and actually replied. Inform the client about the general rules you'd be applying to the quotation, without calculating the application to the specific case — that's something the client more or less can do. If not, the client can get a general feel of whether your rates are fair and reasonable and within the client's budget, or just what they are, give or take some, so there's something to tell the boss (or the client's client).

Or give a ballpark figure. Or an upper limit. Discount it a little if you think that's what it takes to avoid overcharging.


As you can clearly see all these examples typically result in some degree of panic if you aren't prepared. On the other hand, they are far from hard to think about in advance based on your own experience to date and your imagination.

So sit down, think for a while and come up with some such approximate procedures on a less busy day, like this Saturday was for me.

Bonus: Clients tend to appreciate preparation, confidence and calm. All of these project experience, professionalism, security and control. And these, in turn, put your client's minds at ease by demonstrating they've come to the right place.

The above remains true even if they also appreciate someone whose main asset or advance is flexibility and improvisation, as tends to be the case with freelancers, solos and small business operators.

You can in fact combine the best of the two worlds, and the way to do so is by pencilling in some basic scenarios in advance and developing on them as you go, on a case-by-case basis.

Those practical ad-hoc case-by-case decision-making skills which you need will still improve from considering theoretical scenarios. The more situations you consider in advance, the less time it will take to assess new situations as they pop up.

Of course, you can always analyse what you could have done better in this or that case, from an ex-post perspective — but obviously for the sake of learning only and not beating yourself up over it.


And one thing I almost forgot: Don't come up with ridiculously short deadlines. Don't make them shorter and shorter. Probe your client. Find out how urgent the job really is — which is also important in terms of, say, unnecessary rush fees that you may have a professional duty to help your client avoid (as tends to be the case in regulated professions). Make sure you have the time to do the job properly and without dropping dead at the end, and without becoming absolutely unable to pick up the phone before you finish.


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