An American Editor

April 9, 2018

On the Basics — Freelancing Means Many Bosses

Filed under: On the Basics — americaneditor @ 5:50 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Editor in Chief

Many colleagues go freelance to get away from a difficult in-house boss, and certainly one of the pleasures of being a freelance editor is being your own boss. What many of us don’t realize when we go out on our own is that being a freelancer means having many “bosses” — and learning how to deal with the variety of behaviors or quirks that can involve.

When I’ve mentioned this in presentations or group discussions, by the way, some colleagues have objected to the word “boss.” I’m not an employee, because my client relationships do not fall into the guidelines established by the IRS that define an employee vs. an independent contractor and I don’t work only for one client, but I do think of my various clients as being my bosses in a way. While we don’t work together onsite every day, they set out the nature of an assignment or project, and I am expected to respond to their preferences and requirements. I don’t see the term as negative. However, if it makes our readers more comfortable, please feel free to substitute “client” for “boss.”

The Time Challenger

I still remember someone I wrote for years ago who called me at about 9:15 in the morning of the day a current assignment was due. I thought I had until 5 p.m. — close of business — on deadline day to send her my article, which was how my other clients operated, but she defined the deadline as first thing on that day. I didn’t realize that until I was running late according to her clock because time of day hadn’t come up in our conversation about the assignment.

Luckily, I was almost done with the article and just proofing my work, so I was able to send it to my client within the hour and be done well before the end of the day. I would have liked to give it more time, but we can’t always control these timelines.

Lesson learned: It isn’t just that some “bosses” expect to receive freelance assignments at the start of the deadline day, while others don’t care as long as your work reaches them by close of business on that day. It’s that different bosses/clients have different work and management styles. One aspect of succeeding as a freelancer is figuring out the work styles or preferences of everyone we work for, so we can head off any problems or conflicts that could arise in the process of handling a project. And you thought it was a challenge understand how your last in-house boss wanted things done!

What are some other client personalities, and how can you deal with them?

The Micro-manager

Just like a supervisor in a full-time workplace, a freelancer’s client — boss — can be a micro-manager. That kind of client is constantly in touch about the project, asking how it’s going, second-guessing your style decisions (and sometimes contradicting them), and otherwise halting your momentum.

You can’t change that personality, but you might be able to reduce the stress it creates for you. Try to set limits on interruptions. Use Caller ID so you can let this boss’s calls go to voice mail. Let the client know that you’ll be turning off e-mail at certain times so you can focus on the project and do your best work on it.

The Scope-creeper

Some clients are poster children for scope creep — when the nature of a project keeps changing. They send new pieces to add to a manuscript, change their mind about the direction or voice of the document, ask for more sources or other material, and otherwise mess with the scope of the project. What starts out as a straightforward copy edit turns into a substantive or developmental edit that will take you far more time than expected and could actually cost you money.

You can’t make someone rein in themselves or their projects, but you can take steps to protect yourself. First and foremost, you can include “anti-scope creep” language in your contract or agreement before you even start the project. Try something along the lines of “This rate/fee is for the project as described. Additional requests or requirements may result in additional charges.”

If scope starts to creep, with or without such language in your agreement, speak up immediately. Let the client know that a request (or demand) is beyond what you originally agreed to do or charge, and that you might need more time and/or more money to accommodate it. Say that you prefer not to go beyond the original scope without the client’s confirmation that the change will require more time and additional payment.

The Disorganized

Then there are the “bosses” who are so disorganized that you can’t count on a genuinely final manuscript to focus on and actually edit. They change their mind about style details or even the style manual to follow. They might send you the wrong version of the project and not realize it until you notice that it is not really ready for you to work on it or you send back your edit — or at best, are halfway through it. They revise material while you’re still editing what they sent you. Such a boss makes every project a nightmare.

There is little we can do about a client who is so disorganized that we can’t even assume we have a workable version of a project. It helps to skim all the way through the manuscript before starting to edit it, so you can see major problems as early as possible and confirm that you have the right version to work on. If the client continues to chop and change while you’re trying to focus on getting the work done, you can aim for developing tactful language to nudge the client back on track.

If all else fails, be sure to keep a record of requests and changes so you don’t get caught in a crossfire or held responsible for deadline delays that the client has caused.

Have you encountered challenging “boss” behaviors or personalities? If so, how have you dealt with them? What worked — and what didn’t?

2 Comments

  1. I’ve done well with a contract that states exactly what I’m going to do, for how much, within what time frame. Occasionally scope creep comes in, but because of the contract there’s something to refer the client back to, which keeps things in check. If necessary, we recast the agreement to accommodate the change in scope. My biggest problem is clients who don’t respond to e-mails, either in at all, or in a timely fashion. I’m very averse to chasing them down by phone, so try to weed out those types early. If they’re unreliable communicators during the deal-making part of the program, they’ll probably be unreliable for the rest — cueing me to decline. Doesn’t always work that way…they might be zippy on the setup then draggy once things get under way, in which case I’ve got to bark and chase to get things wrapped up. Very few clients actually do that, thank goodness!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Carolyn — April 9, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

  2. Excellent article! In most cases, we can find ways to work with clients so that our projects hum along to a successful completion. I recall one micro-manager who called daily (and sometimes several times a day), which interrupted my workflow. I decided to call him each day to provide a status update. This worked like a charm.

    Like

    Comment by Judith Shenouda — April 11, 2018 @ 7:37 am


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