You’ve heard it from your parents, teachers, and many other authority figures in your life. “Patience is a virtue.” However, there seems to be no context as to exactly what situations merit patience being a virtue. While there are many situations in which being patient can help you get results, I believe that for freelancers, this sort of thinking is detrimental to our earning power. Our earning power is essentially unlimited and not constrained by another person’s ability (or lack of it) to manage a budget. We set our own hours and we set our own budgets. We take on work from as many clients as we can handle in the limited time that we are given. Hence we ask the question, is patience really a virtue? Here are some reasons why for freelancers, it should never be considered a virtue:
Time is money
This is another cliché quote that has been thrown around for many years, but in the context of freelancing, time really is money. Whether you’re on a retainer or get paid per project, it is essential that you get jobs done as efficiently and as quickly as possible so you can keep your cash flow going and your portfolio current.
I mostly communicate via email with my clients. Writing those emails and carefully crafting them to make sure I can get the best response possible costs me time, which, in turn, also costs me money. I make it a personal goal of mine to check my email every half hour, namely because I respect the client’s time as well—they’re trying to make money too—and get back to them with the latest update on the project.
One of the things I would like to market to current and potential clients is that I am obsessed with finding the perfect balance between quality and speed. The failure to answer an email in a timely manner means that I am missing an opportunity to build the relationship with the client. This goes the other way as well. I often find myself sending the potential client my portfolio and experience, and sometimes I wait days (or even months in some cases) for a yes or a no answer from them.
This is not something we should be doing in an era of instant communication, where we can talk to anyone in the world, whether they be 50 or 5,000 miles away, with the least effort possible. There is an entire market of applications out there dedicated to collaboration in a virtual work space. This should not be an issue in an era of smartphones and laptops. While reviewing the portfolio and details may take a day or two (possibly less if you can speed read), it should not take longer than that at all. If a project is in the pipeline, I give my word to the client that I will complete it within the next two to three days, even when other projects are going at the same time.
I value each and every client, and to do that, I have to value their time as well. Time is a scarce resource that is essentially money, as I have mentioned before. This is your earning power. In my emails, I am always asking for a timeline as to when work will start and how long they expect me to work on each project. Having definitive timelines will help me serve clients better.
Cutting the lines of communication distorts the idea of patience
I recently had a client request a project. I completed the project within a day or two and suggested that they add testimonials from their current clients (which I do not have access to, so this is something only they could do) so their email campaign would essentially be more effective. They were going to use this material to market their business. They did not respond for several days and then gave a vague answer to cancel the project. They said they had to move. I asked them if the project was still a go. Almost three weeks later, I contacted them (holidays and all) to see if they were still interested. While the answer might be a no, it served as a huge lesson.
Cutting the lines of communication is the worst thing any freelancer or client can do. This distorts the idea of patience being a virtue because patience is a two-way street. With the lines of communication cut, there is no clear end to the situation. The idea of being patient is conflated with the idea of waiting for someone to contact you, which should never be the case. I try to follow up at least once a week, but sometimes the client’s idea of time is far different than my own. I would prefer that we can at least keep the lines of communication open, or at least tell me they are no longer interested (which many people fail to do because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings).
The verdict: Patience is NOT a virtue
Patience is not a virtue for the freelancer. It is possibly one of the most dangerous vices. Waiting around for a client to respond is a missed opportunity. In an era where we seek to do things faster and our clients demand things on tighter deadlines, it is important that we get away from this mentality. Don’t be afraid to respond to emails. Don’t be afraid to follow up. We want to help you improve, so please respect our time as we respect yours.