By Miles Burke

The Festive Season and Client Demands

By Miles Burke

As we all enter the silly season, with family events, social evenings and all the fun of Christmas, it’s a pertinent time to reflect on how you deal with client demands.

When I first started out on my own, I worked whenever I could – more so, I worked whatever hours clients demanded of me. This often ended up evenings and weekends, and I started to believe all client work was important and urgent, and it had to be done right now.

Then, after a year, I reconsidered having my mobile number on my business card, and dropped it with the next print run as a test for both clients and myself – would the barrier of not having it close to hand dissuade them from calling on Sunday mornings?

I was relieved to find it did, and more importantly, hardly any of my clients complained. Those that did complain had become accustomed to having me at their beck and call seven days a week. Sure, I could blame them, but I had also trained them into believing I was, so I was just at fault as they were, if not more so.

Now, five years later, none of my staff advertise their after-hours details, and nor should they. In fact, we close down next Friday right through until the first day back in 2008. By allowing clients to remove the wall between business hours and all hours, we train them into believing that we’re happy to take their evening or weekend calls.

Just because your clients don’t have the self discipline to keep to a consistent time schedule, doesn’t mean that you need to, as well. Rather than asking them not to call, simply don’t answer the call and let it go to voicemail. Call back in an hour or two, if it sounds urgent, otherwise wait for the next available business day and return it then.

If you work from home, organise a second phone number or line, so you can distinguish between personal and business calls – if you don’t, you’ll end up spending your life working, and having no clear division of ‘work time’ and ‘personal time’.

Christmas should be a time of relaxation, and to enjoying the success of all of your hard work the other eleven and a half months. Encourage this philosophy within your client base, and claw back your personal time.

Have you already done this? Good work! Tell us how you went about it, in the comments section below.

I wish you a safe and enjoyable festive season, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and listening to yours, over the festive break and into 2008.

  • madpilot

    Skype can make a fantastic second phone line – it’s cheaper than a real phone, and when you shutdown your computer at the end of the day – it doesn’t ring at all! Setup voice mail and you are sweet.

  • Don’t use the same mobile number for personal and business! It doesn’t mean you have to have two phones – although that would be better than nothing, but you can on some phones have multiple incoming numbers/lines .. do it.

  • Mind you I have found over the few years I have been doing this gig, that the start of new projects does tend to slow down at this point of the year. So it all works out good, as the work level slows for a few weeks, hen come Jan 1, its back with vengeance.

    I also have a habit of putting the mobile phone on silent and leaving it on silent long after its required to be socially in that mode. This means if client do ring they get the message service. Mind you I have not had any in a long time.

    The one time I have had a client ring me after hours was when their service provider was hacked (in a major way). Not much we could do, but they panicked, understandable.

    @madpilot I like the Skype idea.. thats even cooler. But I would forget to enable Skype..:)

  • I set the phone on silent when I’m off work, and check the phone now and then. I have some customers who pay for every minute work, also on phone. Then it’s ok to answer or call back. But for the customers who don’t pay for help, I call them back in the morning, and everybody thinks this is ok.

    This make me hard to get, because I don’t want to answer unknown numbers, but I got some spare time!

  • TrainPro

    It really is up to the consultant to set expectations with the client… when you’re an internet entrepreneur, you’re also the web designer, programmer, marketing executive, and sales person.

    I used to complain that there were only so many hours in a day. I now say that there are only 8 hours in a work day. I refuse to steal time away from my wife and daughter. I have a successful business – but, more importantly, I have a happy family.

  • MikesBarto2002

    It is always amazing to me how I will get at least one or two Bah Humbugs who will call me on Christmas Eve asking for immediate updates to their site. I use my cell phone for personal and business use, so I have to screen my calls.

    One thing I would suggest is the mass email to all of your clients stating exactly when you will not be available, as well as giving them an option to get things done before the holidays begin.

    “I will be out of town from DATE to DATE, and will not be available to my computer. If you know you are going to need updates during this time, make sure to get me those updates before DATE and I will have them up for you before the holidays.

    Wham bam, thank you ma’am. This way, if they throw it back in your face, you can just reforward the email to them to prove you’re not crazy!

  • Hey thanks everyone, for all the good suggestions. I like to see that there are others also working on creating boundaries for persistent clients. Here’s wishing you all a safe (and client interruption free!) festive season!

  • Aaron Riddle

    Very nice article…a nice reminder of how important it is to separate work from life.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.