When you are talking to a client (either a new one or someone you have worked with before) about a gig, the question of a deadline and your schedule is going to come up. Some clients keep it really simple and will explain that they need a particular job done by such-and-such a date and ask if you are available. In that case, you can either say yes or explain that you can complete the project by “x” date instead and ask if they have any flexibility with the due date.
Unless the job is something that you have absolutely no interest in doing and you aren’t at all worried about offending the client, I wouldn’t recommend just saying No. A better response is to politely explain that you aren’t available and to thank the client for thinking of you or considering you, as the case may be. (It’s the professional equivalent to saying, “Gee, I’m really flattered but….” when you are asked out by someone you aren’t interested in dating.)
It’s a bit trickier when a client is asking more general questions about your schedule and how busy you are. “Are you busy?” can be an awkward question to answer.
When it comes answering questions about your schedule, a better approach is to answer the question the client is really asking, which is whether you have time to give their project the attention it deserves. Explain to the client that you always have time to talk to a client about their needs and that once both of you agree that you want to work together, that you will discuss the schedule for the project.
Talking about scheduling too soon is like sitting down with a prospective employer at a job interview and bringing up the topic of vacation time right away. It’s just not a good idea. If you commit to a deadline without knowing exactly what the gig entails, you may find yourself going without sleep or not giving the work your best effort because you are pressed for time, and neither scenario is a really good one.
How do you handle the issue of a client who wants to talk about scheduling before they have committed to hire you?