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Should You Reserve Your Time for a Freelancing Client?

by Laura Spencer

on December 27, 2013

in Freelancing Life

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“Are you available to work on my project in three weeks? I have a project starting then and I know that you’d be great for it.”

When I received this email from a former client, my current projects were scheduled to end after two weeks. So, I sent back my response. “Sure, I can start a new project in three weeks.”

Great,” came the reply. My contact also said: “This is a huge project and you were my first choice. It should take up most of your time for the next month.”

I finished up my current work, breathing a big sigh of relief that I would soon be busy again and on a very large project. A few days after I finished the project I had been working on, I received an inquiry about work from a prospective client. I turned that down–believing that I would be starting the huge project from my former client in just a few days.

The three week start date came and went. There was still no word from my former client. I was forced to ask, “When will the XYZ project start? I excited about working on it with you.”

No worries,” came back the quick response. “We’ve just had a slight delay is all.

Another week passed. By now, I could have finished the work from the prospective client that I had turned down. I was beginning to wish that I had accepted it.

“How are things going? I’m ready to start.” I asked the former client.

The response was a little delayed.

We’re not quite ready. Just wait until you hear from us.

That was not the response I wanted to hear. Another week went by and I sent another email asking about the project again. This time there was no response. In fact, I never heard about the project again. A few months later, my contact left the company.

If you can relate to that story from my early days of freelancing, this post is for you. It deals with the question of whether you should reserve time in advance for a client.

If you liked this post, you’ll probably like 10+ Tips to Help You Close the Freelancing Deal.

Why This Happens to New Freelancers

My experience is a fairly common one for new freelancers. Typically, a new freelancer is so excited about the possibility of a good project that they drop the ball when it comes to finalizing the deal.

Add in the fact that it’s often an existing or former client, usually one we like and trust, who asks the question, “will you save time on your schedule?” Naturally, our first impulse is to agree without asking too many questions.

In my case, I do believe that the client actually intended to hire me. However, what I couldn’t know was that the company was going through some internal turmoil. That was why my contact eventually wound up leaving the company.

As freelancers, we are usually unaware of the internal workings of the companies that we do work for. In fact, from our perspective as solo professionals, it’s easy to forget about corporate politics entirely.

But just because we’ve forgotten about corporate politics doesn’t mean they don’t still exist. They do and sometimes our freelancing projects get caught in the crosshairs.

How I Should Have Responded

In retrospect, I realize that I should have done a better job of closing the deal.

Here’s how I should have responded:

“Great to hear from you. That sounds like a terrific project. I’d love to help you with it. I’m busy now, but my work is scheduled to end by your start date. However, I constantly get requests from new clients and I can’t guarantee I’ll still be available.

You can lock that start date down with a deposit. Why don’t you send me some details and I’ll put together a project estimate for you? If you like the proposal, sign it, send me the deposit and I’ll reserve the date.”

Of course, you could (and should) tweak the proposal so that the initial deposit at least covers the time that they are reserving. I’d also explain that you can’t hold the date indefinitely. Finally, explain that the deposit pays for the time they are reserving–whether they use that time or not is up to them.

Had I done this, my contact would have been forced to get approval for the funds. One of two things would have happened:

  1. The company would have approved the funds and paid the deposit. Having approved the funds, it’s much more likely they would move on to complete the project. Even if they didn’t, I would have the deposit as compensation for the time I waited.
  2. The company would not have approved the funds. Perhaps they were never really serious about the project in the first place. However, since they didn’t approve the funds, I wouldn’t have reserved the time for them and would have accepted the other project I was offered.

As you can see, both alternatives are better than what I actually did–which was wait for the work to start.

Your Turn

Has a client ever asked you to “reserve” time for a future project? How do you answer such requests?

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About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy LauraĆ¢??s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.