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As external freelance I manage/update a web site for a client, they have a small internal department who follows the marketing part and social networks.

They often send me emails (often in lunch time pause or friday evening) like: "update this site with this product right now because in a matter of one hour we will send a newsletter", "do that by tomorrow morning because there will be this event...", or similar requests.

I really feel not respected at all with that behaviour. I am not their employee and I am a "Company" as they are, I have other clients, appointments and other deadlines too.

Usually I get upset then I calm down and I do the work as soon as I can to not create problems to the whole company, but when that happens I have the instict to voluntarly don't do what is asked and then answer: "I'm sorry I was out of office for an important meeting, I will do that by tomorrow as soon as I can", or something like that.

A couple of times I talked with the boss about that, he says he understands and he told me that he would talk to them, but then that behaviour often happens.

I understand that there are urgencies sometimes, but if you plan to send some newsletter or some event, you know already that at least days before, why send me work to do in 1 hour of time?

Do you have similar clients too with similar behaviours? How do you act in this case?

  • Either you accept this behavior because they pay the bills, or you don't. If you don't accept this behavior any longer communicatie your delivery times clearly and stick to them. E.g. 48 hours in advance. – user3244085 Dec 21 '16 at 20:45
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    I just always say "No. The best I can do is have it to you by XXXXX" if expectations are unreasonable. After a few times, they learn to give me adequate time if they actually want things completed. – Scott Dec 22 '16 at 1:00
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The easiest way to handle the short-notice work is to set up a Service Level Agreement (SLA). You can document how much notice the client must give, and how soon you will act, with financial requirements in each direction.

Get this agreed, signed by management. Implement a basic ticket handling system and boom, you can bill extra for the urgent stuff.

That said, make sure you include sections for out of hours cover, holiday cover and other potential breaks. The agreement will only work if it puts a requirement on both parties.

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YOU are in charge of how the client (or their staff) treat you. People will walk all over you if you allow them to. But they will also learn to plan better if you refuse to let them. So it's your choice how you want to "train" your clients.

During initial exploratory conversations with clients, I make a few important facts as clear as I can:

  • I do NOT, by default, work weekends. At no time should the client anticipate or expect that the coming Saturday and Sunday are working days for me. The only way I may work a weekend is if arrangements have been made prior to Thursday of that week... and even then, I may not be available for that particular weekend.

  • I never accept "overnight" projects without additional rush fees. If there's a typo or error on something, I'll fix the error as soon as possible, which may often mean same day/overnight. However, I do not ever initiate a standard new project for an expected overnight delivery. At a bare minimum I require 36-48 hours notice for anything. And that does not ensure I can complete things within that 36-48 hours. It merely ensures I'm aware that the project is needed rapidly. A rush fee may be available depending upon my current schedule if a project truly is needed. This may mean overnight delivery, if the scope of the project makes it even feasible. (I can't do 40 hrs of work "overnight")

  • The only thing I can't change are the amount of hours in a day. I have other clients and other projects. My time is a limited resource and I must schedule things appropriately so that expectations of delivery are possible with all my clients. As with any business, I constantly market myself and constantly acquire new projects. Things are completed on a first-come-first-serve basis. Understand that I want to get everything done as soon as possible. However, that is not always achievable due to physical demands such as sleep, food, etc.

  • I don't answer calls or respond to emails after standard working hours. If there's truly an emergency, they can call and leave a voicemail. I may check voicemail after hours and be available to address something which is actually an emergency. However, emails may not be seen until the next business day and voicemails not referring to an actual emergency may not be addressed until the next business day as well. This holds true for weekends as well... I may check voicemail over weekends, but I probably will not be checking emails.

99.9% of my clients understand all this and really just see it as common courtesy. They may tell me they needs something "NOW" but they all understand that their "now" means "as soon as I can" for my business.

There's an old saying, "An emergency on your part does not constitute one on my part." Now, I don't actually recite that to clients, but that's what I think.

If a client asks for something which is not feasible, I just reply with "Sorry, I've got a lot on my plate at the moment. The best I could do is get this to you by XXXXX. I understand you need it as quickly as possible and if I can deliver it sooner, I certainly will. I just don't see how I can get this done by XXXX due to prior commitments."

Almost without fail, the client understands. However, If that statement causes issues, then I explain that there's little I can do. And while I realize that something is imperative to them, I have additional responsibilities which are important to my business. I can't simply drop everything to complete their project.


Sidebar... if I'm being repeatedly pushed by "employees" or "staff" of my client and I've already reached out the client about problems with demanding deliveries from staff, then I'm just formal and blunt with the staff... "No. I can't do that. The best I can do is have it to you by XXXX." If they argue, I merely state... "Sorry. My schedule is booked. If there's an issue with this please have [the Boss/My client] contact me to discuss possible escalation incurring additional rush fees." I've lost track of how many times the "expected delivery" has changed to a more reasonable timeframe after such exchanges.

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