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Freelancing: Handling the Midnight Client Call

By Toby Somerville

One point that came up from my last post (3 Golden Rules For Working From Home) was; how to handle phone calls during and after normal business hours, whilst working from home. There are three basic scenarios:

1. Client call during work hours

Pick up the phone. Using voice mail has its place after hours, but during work hours: pick up the phone. An answering machine says to a client – I’m not here and that (in a client’s mind) can translated to, you being unreliable and you don’t care about their business. Think of it this way: a client takes an extra (perceived) risk using you — a freelancer — as you are not as ‘safe’ to use as a company. Therefore, it is vital that the client ‘feels the love’ and can speak to you during business hours. This helps to reassure them that their business is safe in your hands and you are not some ‘fly by night’ amateur.

2. Personal calls during Work hours

It is pretty standard for your mates or family to call you during work hours at home, and it is an issue you will need to deal with sooner, rather than later. Friends and family need a bit of ‘education’ on your work. During normal working hours you are working — full stop. A polite can’t talk now, flat out busy working – can I call you later tonight?, will usually do the trick. It doesn’t hurt to drop a subtle reminder about, how busy you are during work hours and that you can talk more in the evenings.

3. Client call out of work hours

It is not unusual to get client calls outside of normal business hours (I’ve had a late night call on a bank holiday). This is generally unacceptable, unless you provide 24/7 support.

The only acceptable time to call outside of normal working hours (IMO) is if there is a critical business issue i.e. Help. My site has been replaced by a pill pushing porn site or Help. My site is down -– those are critical issues. I can’t remember how to create a link or I’ve forgotten my password, are not critical issues.

So how do you deal with it?

  1. My strategy is a simple one: if it isn’t a critical issue, then explain that they have called outside your normal business hours and that you will look into it the next working day. Be polite, but firm. Explain that if they want support outside of business hours, then there is an extra charge. In 99% of cases, the client will respect your privacy won’t do it again.
  2. The next working day, address whatever the problem was, and then let the client know by email what you’ve done and restate your support hours.

As you might already have gathered it is all about communication. Let people know when and what it is acceptable to call you about. TTFN.

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