Unhooking the Time Suckers

What I’m reading:: The Johnstown Flood by David McCollough

Tomorrow is the wedding! I can’t wait. The chapel sits on the coast in Boothbay Harbor, and the weather is supposed to be gorgeous. Today is rehearsal dinner, which is a barbecue with what will be a rousing game of corn hole. If you’ve not played, you’re not addicted yet.

I was thinking last week (when I wrote this post) about all the things that intrude on a writer’s time and energy. Some are manageable, such as chores and phone calls and emails, etc. But what if the time suckers are your clients?

There’s a fix for that, too.

It does depend in part on what kind of time suck it is — necessary, extraneous, frivolous, or ludicrous. Necessary time sucks, in my mind, are large projects that require it (and for which you’re adequately compensated. Extraneous are those time sucks that happen when you’re working on a project that’s usually easy, but has complications, like additional information needed or your inability to get people on the phone or responding in some way. Those happen.

Frivolous? That’s when someone pesters you unnecessarily for information or freebies or additional work that wasn’t part of the agreement.

Ludicrous? Projects and clients that aren’t worth your time.

Most of your clients are going to have necessary needs and even some extraneous needs. There’s not much you can do (or should do) about that other than maybe limiting the extraneous communication to one email or phone call instead of seven. It’s those other two that are going to drown you if you’re not careful.

Here are some cures for each affliction:

Charge per request. Nothing stops the frivolous requests from piling up like a price tag on the front of it. When the client starts demanding more attention and more of your time, start charging a consultation fee. Better yet, let all clients know upfront that any additional conversations will be billed hourly.

Deliver a new contract. Frivolous wastes of time are often just a nervous client wanting to be sure everything is okay, or it could be a client who’s hoping to tack on a little more work for the same price. If you offer a new contract once the topic strays to another project, you’ll either secure the work and get to a more detailed conversation or you’ll make the client rethink why so many questions. While it’s commendable to help your client work out their thoughts, it should be time you’re compensated for. Otherwise, you’ll be six hours in and have nothing to show for it. And they may come away with the impression that you’re not charging for additional work.

Lose the low-paying stuff. What sucks your time more than a project that requires a ton of time without paying you a ton of money? In almost every case where I’ve not been paid well, the client was hyper-demanding and just as picky. Plus I wasted a ton of time justifying every nickel instead of getting paid. You don’t need that hassle, nor do you need that kind of client. Aim higher.

Stop justifying. This goes along with what I just said. Lose the low-paying stuff. Stop telling yourself you’ll hang on to it until something better comes along. Lose it now — you’re not able to look for better stuff with all that energy going into earning crap. Stop hanging around with people who make frivolous demands on your time and talent and start finding people who value your skills.

Lose the high-maintenance clients. I had a few over the years who paid well, but drove me up a wall with their constant changing of the parameters or, in one case, the inability to get the project finalized even after six rounds of edits. If the money doesn’t assuage the stress, dump the gig.

Have you dealt with a time sucker before? Were you able to create a balance between the demands and your time? How did you handle the client effectively? What could you have done differently?

About the author




  • Cathy Miller June 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    My biggest time sucker was the client who kept setting up hour-long calls to pick my brain. When I attached a fee to that, they stopped.

  • Paula June 21, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I set limits for one client that's prone to scope creep. I keep saying things like, "That's a lot to ask for what you're paying, so you'll need to rethink your plans."

    I set my own limits on smaller jobs so they don't eat up too much time. Maybe it needs to be done in one hour or less, or half a day – just as long as it doesn't cut into the rest of the workday.