When your clients are always late.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Detective Casey Gunn aka Anonymous. They say:
“What advice do you have when your clients habitually deliver things late which then completely messes up your planning and diary?
For context, I’m a social media manager. I have three big clients — all contracted for minimum three month periods — and two of my three clients do this! Usually, these clients are good — we have a good relationship, they pay on time (ish), pay a rate I’m happy with… BUT the constant lateness is making things really tricky for me.
My diary gets booked up well in advance (especially at the moment with no childcare!) and their lateness means I have to cram work into already scarce time. I can’t just move the work until when my diary clears, because then the campaigns I’m working on for them become irrelevant as often they are attached to a particular calendar event.
I build in ‘wiggle room’, send reminders and prompts but…. NOPE, still late. I don’t know what to do!!!
Do I charge more if work has to be completed post-deadline? Like, the equivalent of ‘overtime’? How do I protect myself from this situation in my contract?
It means that next week, for example, I have to build three advertising campaigns (when my planning says I was supposed to only be working on one) and write two campaign analysis reports, alongside my day to day duties with another client… oh and homeschooling my two kids aged 6 and 8 because — PANDEMIC.
Basically, I’M FUCKED AND I WANT TO CRY. End.”
• • • • •
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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:01:49] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:01:59] – Steve
Hello. Yes. Each week we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it. I say ‘each week’ — at the moment, we’re doing it every other week because of lockdown life. Although the kids went back today.
[00:02:13] – Frankie
[00:02:14] – Steve
Appreciate not everybody’s kids went back today.
[00:02:17] – Frankie
Yeah, let’s not celebrate too hard, that’s a fair point.
[00:02:19] – Steve
But nevertheless, if we sound a bit perkier than normal, that will be why. So, yes, we start each episode by looking back at the last episode. Last episode, we were talking about…
[00:02:30] – Frankie
Dave scaling up his podcasting business.
[00:02:32] – Steve
Karina Perdomo got in touch,
“Steve’s recommendation about having a handover document is…?”
[00:02:38] – Frankie
High five emoji!
[00:02:42] – Steve
Oh right I was gonna say, I don’t know, is it high five though? It’s like a high ten.
[00:02:44] – Frankie
Well it’s two hands, isn’t it? Yeah, I don’t know.
[00:02:46] – Steve
“We managed a project last year that would not have been possible without having some collaborative systems in place, and it didn’t feel like I was anybody’s boss. We were all on the same page, team of four, working towards the same goal, and we got a warm, fuzzy feeling, too, paying it forward. Like Frankie said, it was ace”.
[00:03:04] – Frankie
Love it, Lillian Call-ah, Caller?
[00:03:08] – Steve
Call her? Ask her? Oh, my God it writes itself. Text her.
[00:03:14] – Frankie
Lillian Caller says:
“This is so timely for me. More and more I’m working out what needs delegating and I was just in the middle of a conversation to delegate out a job when this popped up. Needless to say, that job is now well and truly outsourced!”
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:05:58] – Frankie
Right. This week’s question is anon, anonymous.
[00:06:01] – Steve
Okay, hang on. Let me… do you want to explain?
[00:06:05] – Frankie
[00:06:05] – Steve
I’ll get the website.
[00:06:06] – Frankie
If you’re new to the podcast — if we get an anonymous question (various reasons why you want to be anonymous) we decided to give you a slightly silly name and we settled on detective names because they sound mysterious.
[00:06:19] – Steve
They sound mysterious enough, but realistic enough.
[00:06:27] – Frankie
[00:06:28] – Steve
[00:06:32] – Frankie
Show us your guns. Casey Gunn.
[00:06:34] – Steve
[00:06:36] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from Detective Casey Gunn.
“What advice do you have when your clients habitually deliver things late, which then completely messes up your planning and diary?
For context, I’m a social media manager. I have three big clients, all contracted for a minimum of three month periods. And two of my three clients do this. Usually these clients are good. We have a good relationship. They pay on time (ish), pay a rate that I’m happy with, but the constant lateness is making things really tricky for me.
My diary gets booked up well in advance and their lateness means I have to cram work into already scarce time. I can’t just move the work until when my diary clears, because then the campaigns I’m working on for them become irrelevant as often they’re attached to a particular calendar event.
I build in wiggle room…”
[00:07:22] – Steve
Wiggle it, just a little bit!
[00:07:25] – Frankie
“…send reminders and prompts, but nope, still late. I don’t know what to do.
Do I charge more? If work has to be completed post deadline, like the equivalent of overtime? How do I protect myself in this situation? In my contract?
It means that next week, for example, I have to build three advertising campaigns when my planning says I was supposed to be working on one, and write two campaign analysis reports alongside my day to day duties with another client.
Oh, and home schooling my two kids aged six and eight because PANDEMIC.
Basically, I’m fucked and I want to cry. End.”
[00:08:00] – Steve
Have we all got our chewing over and done with?
[00:08:03] – Frankie
No, sorry. Quite a few nuts on this cake…
[00:08:10] – Steve
This is an interesting one.
[00:08:12] – Frankie
[00:08:12.940] – Steve
This would drive me insane. It’s clearly driving you insane. I don’t blame you for your frustration. How bloody annoying.
[00:08:22] – Frankie
Like, habitually as well. That’s the word, isn’t it?
[00:08:24] – Steve
Okay, so we’re going to throw some ideas at you. Unlike your clients, hopefully we will turn up with something!
[00:08:29] – Frankie
[00:08:30] – Steve
I think a bit of analysis needs to go on here. We can’t really do this. You have to do this yourself.
[00:08:34] – Frankie
What a cop out.
[00:08:37] – Steve
Well because Casey’s not said why they are late?
[00:08:40] – Frankie
Maybe he or she doesn’t know.
[00:08:42] – Steve
But this is what I mean. Like, why are they late? Maybe there is some sort of fault in the process. But you know humans are humans nevertheless. Usually with processes we can try and iron out human flaws, even our own human flaws, to try and get what we need. So there must be a way of doing this, right?
[00:09:03] – Steve
Yeah. How are we getting this information? Is it just an email? Can we use a tool like Asana? It may well be that you already are.
[00:09:12] – Frankie
How would you use a tool like Asana? Because I don’t…
[00:09:14] – Steve
Because some tools are designed to be used with teams, and therefore you can set a task i.e. I need this image by this date.
[00:09:24] – Frankie
Right? And it would like remind them, would it? Or would it go to the top of the list, kind of thing?
[00:09:27] – Steve
I would be very surprised if you couldn’t set it up to send reminders to that team member. So even though they’re a client, they can be part of your team to do that thing. There are even tools designed specifically for the idea and the problem.
Hey, you’re not the only one because somebody invented a tool. Content snare? Something like that. It’s like a mixture of using Google form type stuff so that the client can upload text and also the file that you need, but you can also set restrictions to it. So let’s say you need only 40 characters worth of text, can set a limit to a text, to be exactly what you need, and then it will send them reminders.
As with any of these things, it only works depending on the information that you put into it. But also still, the client’s willingness. Like people ignore reminders, right?
[00:10:23] – Frankie
Yeah. It just feels like… And I’m sure Casey’s doing this already… But writing out a schedule of the project right at the beginning that everybody signs off and agrees to. Once you’ve done that, checking in regularly, “hey, we’re expecting this thing on Thursday. Just checking everything’s alright”.
And we talked about this in other episodes, but if you’re not comfortable doing that or you feel like you’re becoming irritating or whatever, then you could do the old admin@ email address or, you know, create a fictional person to do the chasing for you, or yeah. using a tool that will automatically send them reminders so it’s not coming from you directly but they’re getting constant nudges.
I wouldn’t be afraid to be, like, relentlessly hassling them. In the nicest possible way.
[00:11:10] – Steve
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s a bit like with your child constantly going, “hungry mummy, hungry mummy!”
[00:11:16] – Frankie
[00:11:17] – Steve
It’s a bit like that. It’s such a bad way of working, isn’t it?
What other things can we do to try and get around it?
[00:11:24] – Frankie
Casey mentions some of those things. One way to get around that is for there to be a negative consequence for them not delivering on time, which in this case as he or she mentions, is like a late fee, overtime fee — a monetary impact. Their budget will be bigger if they show up with stuff that’s late.
[00:11:43] – Steve
I know it feels like you’re adding this negative feeling into the client relationship, but hey, screw them. They’re adding the negative thing into the working relationship!
[00:11:51] – Frankie
She’s got other stuff booked in.
[00:11:53] – Steve
There’s nothing wrong with like going back and revisiting those terms. Otherwise, with a retainer, you can feel imprisoned with it for years.
[00:12:01] – Frankie
Yeah, so true. It’s a danger when you work with somebody a lot — it can feel very hard to change stuff. But a bit like the putting your rates up thing — whether it’s January or the end of the financial year which is coming u — there are opportunities to say, “It’s a new financial year, I’m looking at my own processes and my relationship with my clients and I’m going to be introducing these things”.
[00:12:18] – Steve
Casey says that it’s minimum three month periods. Right. So every three months?
[00:12:24] – Frankie
Quarterly — yeah, yeah yeah.
[00:12:26] – Steve
I wouldn’t be afraid of having a conversation. You can’t be wishy washy about this. You need to explain to them — “Can we have a meeting to discuss the impact that this is having and ways that we can work together to make sure it doesn’t happen?”
[00:12:39] – Frankie
It should not be a throwaway comment at the end of an email. As part of this project, you need to go out of your way to communicate that this shouldn’t happen.
[00:12:47] – Steve
Because this isn’t a one off. This is happening again and again and again.
[00:12:51] – Frankie
Exactly, It’s like, if you allow it to happen, then it’s only going to ever continue. That’s the way they worku you know?
And I don’t know if this is the right moment, but bear with me one second… Sorry, I’m just retrieving a massive chip on my shoulder, which is…
[00:13:07] – Steve
That was the most elaborate… oh my god!
[00:13:12] – Frankie
I was also picking up some icing off the cake that had fallen on the floor, which I did not know was there…
[00:13:18] – Steve
Did you eat it?
[00:13:18] – Frankie
[00:13:18] – Steve
You say that like you wouldn’t.
[00:13:20] – Frankie
Yeah, like I probably do have a chip on my shoulder about this. Particularly when I first started out, I had some clients that treated me like shit, frankly. You know if there was a deadline of X date, say X date was a Monday — they’d send it to me at like 8pm on a Friday and just expect me to carry the batton through the weekend because I’m a freelancer. Do you know what I mean?
This attitude that like when they clock off at 5 o’clock, that’s when I start working. In some situations, with some types of client, there is an attitude about freelancers that is not positive and if that is then impacting on, frankly, it sounds like your mental health at this point… What did she say? “I’m fucked and I want to cry”.
Like, you don’t want to be in that situation. You shouldn’t be in that situation. So yeah, I think a lot of the time it’s about addressing some of those expectations. Otherwise they’re just going to continue to feed you stuff and assume it’s okay because you’re doing it.
[00:14:14] – Steve
There can be an element of that, but it can also be an element of not understanding the job that you’re hiring them to do. So, in this instance it is social media management. They know it’s a thing they need. Maybe they value that thing. But they don’t necessarily understand what’s involved in putting that Facebook ad together or whatever it is that Casey is doing.
It might not necessarily be a slight on freelancers, but it can be not understanding what’s involved in video production, what’s involved in designing a logo… They don’t know. That’s why they’re hiring other people to do it for them.
[00:14:49] – Steve
Because the thing is, as you point out Casey, that you have a good relationship.
I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like they’re doing this to piss you off. It just feels like they’re busy enough doing their own thing, but they’re not valuing this. And somehow you need to work together to find a way.
[00:15:03] – Frankie
Part of me is like — is the relationship that good? Because I’ve got friends, right, that always show up fucking late, okay? I said I’ve got friends. I had friends who always showed up fucking late.
And maybe I’m being over the top, but if it’s habitual, which she says it is, it’s a lack of respect for the person that’s showing up on time. Elements of this, like Casey says, “It’s a great relationship. It’s a great relationship. They do all the things, but they’re always late”. It’s like, well, yeah. Is it a great relationship?
[00:15:33] – Steve
Sometimes people don’t necessarily mean to turn up late. Yes, Frankie.
[00:15:39] – Frankie
Yes. But if they’re always late, she says they are not always… a lot of the time.
[00:15:43] – Steve
That still doesn’t mean that they’re disrespecting you.
[00:15:46] – Frankie
[00:15:46] – Steve
No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. You’re taking it to heart when you don’t need to.
[00:15:51] – Frankie
Fine, but she could treat them like a friend that is always late. You want to meet them at 7 o’clock? You tell them half six.
[00:15:56] – Steve
Yeah it’s a good point. If she needs it by the Friday, she tells them, “I need it by the Wednesday”.
[00:16:01] – Frankie
Yeah, a deadline is never a deadline.
[00:16:03] – Steve
If they are always two days late. Make this deadline two days earlier than you need it.
[00:16:06] – Frankie
This is literally what I’ve done with certain friends in my life. It works most of the time until they catch on and then…
[00:16:13] – Steve
…until they turn up early and you’re not there. And then they’re like, “Frankie is always late. She really disrespects me. Half an hour late every single time”.
Do you know one thing we haven’t mentioned? How are you requesting it? Basically, when things are easier, we tend to do them…
[00:16:29] – Frankie
Yes. So make it easy for them. That’s a great piece of advice. That’s what essentially what you’re saying, make it easy for them.
[00:16:37] – Steve
So it might be the fact that instead of quite a long task, it becomes a small task. It was spread out in different days. Or that some of the information is pre-filled for them and they just need to tick a box.
But, yeah, when people ask me to do things and it’s easy, I’m like, “Oh, I can tick that off!” And then I do them.
[00:16:56] – Frankie
If it’s like a four page word document that you’ve got to fill out, it might not go to the top of the pile. It’s a really good point.
Treat them like a toddler. “If you don’t eat your broccoli, then no, you can’t have another Jaffa Cake. The Jaffa Cake is gone. I ate it.”
[00:17:17] – Frankie
And maybe I am being over the top and carrying this massive chip, but I do think — don’t let them do that to you again and again. That’s a problem. This is a really massive issue. When you have small children, particularly, and you’re working in very limited windows of time.
You know, to have people persistently show up with stuff late is a massive problem when you’ve only got X amount of hours a week to do your job. And the impact of that is big. As we’ve talked about a million times — it’s a podcast about being freelance with kids! — if you’ve got this really tight ship of time and these really tiny opportunities to work, then one thing goes wrong… Whether that’s your kids sent home or a client is late. The impacts of that, the wave, the tsunami of shit that comes off the back of that is quite large. Either sort it the fuck out with this particular client or do you know what? If you can — ditch ‘em.
You know — shape up or… what’s the phrase?
[00:18:16] – Steve
Shape up or ship out.
[00:18:17] – Frankie
[00:18:18] – Steve
Shape up. Keep up. Bugger off.
[00:18:20] – Frankie
That’s the one.