What's Your Response Time?


Deb Ng

Congratulations. You landed a new gig with a terrific client who is not only easy going, but has the promise of a lot more work in the future. Many of her projects are small, but plentiful. You promise to get right on it and set a date for the first’s projects completion.

Deadline date comes and goes, and your client doesn’t hear from you. Two days later she sends a note asking how it’s going. You assure her things are going smoothly and your project will be done by that evening. A few days later she checks on you again and you promise completion by that evening. You contact her the next afternoon to tell her the project is ready.

Life goes along this way for a while. Your client asks you for stuff and you disappear for a while, surfacing only when she asks you how it’s going. It takes you days instead of hours to respond.

Don’t Be That Guy!

Do you know what’s happening now? Your client is worried and frustrated. She has so much to get done but now she’s not so sure you’re the right person for the job. A relationship that showed promise in the beginning is now …not so much. What happened? Poor customer service. Now your client has to choose between going with you, and worrying about whether or not the job is getting done, and having to search for someone else all over again.

If I had to choose the one trait a freelancer has to have to succeed it’s the ability to communicate, specifically, a good response time. If you promise work for Wednesday, turn it in Wednesday. If you can’t turn it in on Wednesday, contact your client to discuss why.

Your Client Wants to Trust You

Response time is important. No one wants a micromanaging employer, but trust isn’t immediate. You won’t earn your client’s trust if you disappear for days without a word or leave incomplete projects hanging without an update.You might think she’s a pain in the butt, but she has a business to run. How can she do it properly without knowing what’s going on with her project(s). Don’t. Leave. Your. Client. Hanging.

Avoid this by:

  • Responding to your client’s questions and comments within a timely manner. Best case: within a couple of hours to 24 hours. Taking more than a day to communicate tells her you don’t care about her or her projects. If your going to be away and can’t communicate for several days at a time, your client should know this.
  • Completing all projects within your deadline. It doesn’t matter if your client set a deadline or if you offered to have a projected completed by a certain day or time. It’s unprofessional not to meet deadlines regardless of the situation. If there’s an emergency or the deadline is honestly unrealistic, contact your client and talk.
  • Having good communication regardless of whether or not your client contacted you first. Don’t wait for your client to ask questions or wonder what happened to you before offering an update. Let her know where she stands on a regular basis and she won’t wonder if you’re out having a good old time on her dime.
  • Always follow up. After you complete a project, contact your client and ask how everything is working for her. Offer to make reasonable changes at no charge and ask her to please keep her in mind for future projects. If she likes her experience so far, she’ll no doubt become a regular client.

There’s no reason any client should wonder what’s going on. Always respond to questions in a timely manner and make good on all promises. Good communication and good follow up can mean the difference between lots of gigs and referrals, and, well, the opposite.






6 responses
  1. BobbiC Avatar

    Thanks, Deb–
    I really like this column and your Web site in general because it’s like a mini-school for freelance writers.

  2. Jennifer Wingard Avatar

    Great advice! It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of non-social behavior when you’re alone all the time and enjoy that solitude.

    What is your advice for the opposite situation where the employee keeps in contact, but the employer goes missing for days or a week when a deadline is looming?

  3. Phil Avatar

    I wish my kids understood deadlines. My oldest was born 17 days late and hasn’t been on time since. If one wants to learn deadlines, work for a daily newspaper.

    I lost out on a job once because interviewer asked: What happens when you miss deadlines. My response: “I don’t.” I wasn’t being flippant, it doesn’t happen. But he didn’t like the response.

  4. Sue Avatar

    Deb – Excellent post. I used it as a foundation for writing one having more to do with teaching (http://rhetoricalqs.blogspot.com/2008/12/can-my-students-trust-me.html), but I think all of your principles hold up very well in that context. It is always good to be forced to consider the way OTHERS feel about the job your doing, as I’m often focused on how I am feeling about the job I’m doing, but I lose sight of what messages I am sending to them. So, it was a great way to reflect on some of my habits and ways I can improve my actions to get better responses.

  5. H.T Lewis Avatar


    I think that this article should be printed off by each freelance writer and stuck to the monitor where they work. The advice in this article is so obvious yet so vital.

    Be vocal, be available and be reliable. These are surely not so hard for freelancers to be?

    Check out my blog for more insight – http://writingmercenary.blogspot.com

  6. Jennifer Avatar

    Phil wrote, “If one wants to learn deadlines, work for a daily newspaper.”

    Boy, no kidding! That, or work for a wire service!

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