I was asked by an aspiring copywriter the other day how to go about scheduling work. She was concerned with “ok, I tell a guy I’ll write for him this week… then I get more e-mails all wanting work… they all need a response…. one wants work now, another by Friday, three more need stuff next week… how do I schedule everyone?”
Now, I never really thought much about scheduling before, but she had a point – depending on the week, the above can/does happen. So maybe by listing how I schedule work, I can help a reader or two. By the way, the following is how I do it for my business, but the same rules can apply to almost any home-based business or service-type business:
All inquiries get a response within 1 working day. I’ve learned to check my e-mail less often, as it can be maddening to get e-mail after e-mail as you are working. I’m still working on this, though, as I have a bad habit of checking e-mail more than I should.
I have an information sheet I attach to the first response to everyone. This sheet has info about me, my business, links to samples, and basic prices. It saves a ton of time, because it answers two big questions: “can I see some samples” and “how much?” Now, the prices on it are generic prices, but they immediately cut out the “oh, I was hoping you’d work for $10 an hour” guy (believe me, they do exist.)
I never put anyone new on my schedule without money. Never, ever ever ever. EVER!! Man, If I had a dollar for every time someone said “yea, let’s do this”, then when it came time to do it, said “nah”, I’d be a rich man. Money gets you on my schedule – everything else is just talk. Seriously, this is the biggest, best piece of scheduling advice I can give – you do not exist on my schedule unless I’ve collected a 50%, non-refundable deposit (or 100% prepay if the project is under $750 or so).
Newbies have a real hard time with this rule. One of the hardest things to do when starting out in business is to ask a client for money. But you have to do this. I know it sounds a little harsh, but if you do not do what I advise, I guarantee you will get burned. A lot. There’s nothing worse than losing other business because you held time for someone, and when the time came, they bailed.
In relation to the above, it’s first-come, first-serve. Say I have two weeks from now open on my schedule. I will tell everyone that’s when I can start their project. First one (or two) with the cash gets on my schedule. Stragglers get bumped. This is clearly spelled out in my proposal form, and also by me in our communications. I have had situations where someone took a week to get in their deposit, and they got bumped. It’s never been a problem, because they understand – I can’t “hold” time for anyone.
Plus, I’m well worth waiting for 😉
I do not typically agree to “hard” deadlines. Most deadlines are completely arbitrary. In the case of advertisements and magazine articles, yea, ok, I realize a very real deadline exists, and I’ll promise (and make) the deadline. But otherwise, I’m not going to do a rush job just because the boss said “I want it by next week”. Again, most clients totally understand this.
I generally schedule work by the week. Generally, I say I will start a project “the week of xxx”. And time to completion is usually “1-3 weeks” (for most things). This gives me a ton of flexibility.
In regards to timeframe, I’m almost always finished early, by the way. But doing it the way I do allows for emergencies, overlap, etc.
In my years of doing this, I have found my way to work very well. I realize the above sounds a little “firm”. It is in a way, but you kind of have to be. Trust me when I tell you: good clients do NOT have a problem with the above. Professionals know this is how business works. For example, if someone has a problem giving me a deposit to block out time for them, trust me, I know they aren’t a serious client.
Now, I’m also flexible on the above for many returning clients. If we have a good relationship, I’ll squeeze you in, get it done by Friday, forgo a deposit, etc etc. That’s also good business.
Hope this helps someone. And if you take just one thing from this, take the “get the money to schedule someone” part – it’s easily the most important part of how I do things.