Being self-employed – a couple of thoughts

Today’s post is something slightly different. While, usually, I offer some tips for those of you in the midst of a PhD, or we delve into a fabulous book in the Nineteenth-Century Book Club, today I have something I need to get off my chest. I promise not to get too negative or whiny, but here goes.

As a self-employed person, trust figures pretty heavily in my day-to-day working life. Those who ask me to work for them have to be able to trust me to complete the work on time, and to the best of my ability. Equally, I have to trust those I am working for to stick to the terms of our agreement, and pay me on time for a completed job. It’s a two-way street. Lately, I’ve experienced a couple of issues with one side of this street.

I am not naïve, I understand that in every walk of life, things don’t always go to plan. There will always be some disappointments, no matter what we do for a living. As a new small-business owner, I know I will come up against these stumbling blocks along the way, and I accept this. Let me add here, too, that the majority of people I have worked with so far (granted, I’m new, so there hasn’t yet been that many), have been wonderful. We have communicated throughout the process, they have been happy with the finished product, they have paid for their work, and they’ve even come back for more. To those people, I say a heartfelt, ‘thank you’. Your business was, and is, very much appreciated. Unfortunately, in the past couple of weeks, I have also experienced the not so nice side of things.

Most recently, a prospective client contacted me, requesting the editing of a substantial piece of work. As any new (and I’m sure, established) business owner will tell you, it’s pretty exciting when someone requests work. It means your business is real, and official. I was very happy to take on this work, so I sent a quotation and was thrilled when it was accepted. As this was a substantial piece of work, likely to take time, I scheduled it into my diary, and was careful not to take on anything that might impede its progress. I sent an email to the client, asking them to confirm both their deadline and, once again, their acceptance of my quotation. I was thrilled when all was accepted, and I completed a short sample, to ensure we were on the same page. Days went by, and I started to feel something wasn’t quite right. Though the deadline was a while in the future, I still wanted to get started. I decided to send a gentle reminder, asking the client to let me know when they were ready to begin. Much to my disappointment, I received a reply from the client the next day, telling me that they had decided to take a cheaper quotation and no longer needed my to complete the job.

While I completely understand that no client is ever obligated to me, and it is completely their choice whether or not they choose me to complete their job, I really do feel that, once my quotation and terms are completely accepted, it is unfair to then back out because they find something cheaper. By all means, shop around, but once you agree to a quotation, and you accept it, please try to remember that I schedule in your work. I make time for it, and I give it my complete attention when I work on it. I may even turn down other work as a result. The money I earn is my income, and I rely on it to pay the bills. Please do keep in my mind that, if you book me, I will schedule in your work, so it is frustrating to say the least when I am let down at the last minute.

Equally, it is important to remember that completed work requires payment, in the same way you would pay any other tradesperson. I have quite a comprehensive set of terms and conditions regarding payment, but on one recent occasion, I was forced to contact a client to ask when I might receive payment. Their completed work, and subsequent invoice, had been left unacknowledged and unpaid. I completely understand that sometimes finances can be very difficult, and I am always very happy to discuss payment terms. Ignoring me, however, is not helpful. The work I send represents hours of my time and effort, and must be paid for as you would pay for any service.

As I have said, on the whole, my clients have been wonderful. In the current state of things, I know I am very lucky to have any work at all, and I genuinely appreciate it. As a self-employed person, I would just like to highlight the importance of trust, and, if you request a service, please remember that there is a person at the other end of the email, waiting to do the work, and relying on your confirmation as the go-ahead to commence.

So, that’s it. If you have read to this point, thank you very much. I promise next time will be a return to lighter, brighter business! Until then, happy writing (and reading) and I’ll see you soon.

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