Doing business as a creative

marketing time-management money

This job would be great, if it wasn’t for the customers.
- Clerks

As a maker, you will function much better on a maker schedule, which basically means you schedule large chunks of time to focus on your work in an interruption free, unstructured approach that is much better for creatives to function in.

See: Time Management for Creatives

In this article I want to discuss managing clients

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. Unknown

What it costs to say Yes

When you are an sole trader and a creative, dealing with clients and administrative tasks is just something you have to do.

Step 2: Define your hourly rate

Unless you want to be homeless, being able to pay your rent and bills is kind of important.

So inspired by the principal that you should only spend about 30% of your income on housing, here is a quick way to work out the minimum hourly rate you need to be charging.

What is your weekly rent / home repayment?
(If you already own your house, look up the average rent for a house similar to your own in your area and use that.) Divide that cost by the number of working adults (including yourself) in the house. $250

Multiply by 4.65 ( this is equivalent to weekly rent x 3.3. That result x 52. That result / 48. That result x 1.3)

$1162 ← that’s your weekly income target! Congrats if you’re already exceeding it.

You NEED to be averaging $1162 each week (48 weeks a year).

From the previous exercise, what was the number of Billable hours you can do a day?
25 hours a week.

Half that time, 12.5 hours

Divide your weekly income by 12.5 (OR take rent and multiply by 0.38) So $93 per hour (inc GST) is the lowest hourly rate for your time that you should use.

Remember, this is the hourly rate you need to be charging in order to pay your rent!

If this amount seems to low, raise it! Just don’t go below it. If this amount seems to high, the only way you can only reduce it is by increasing the number of billable hours you work.

Step 3: Define your Rules of Engagement

I have found the main reason many projects fail is a lack of communication, and not setting expectations.

I am a sole trader.

I work Monday to Friday. Deep Work hours: 9:30am - 2:30pm Office Hours: 3pm - 5:30pm

During Deep Work hours, I am unreachable for all but urgent requests.

There is a non-refundable* fee of $35 to reach me outside office hours. The fee does not apply if you contact me during office hours

I do not work: Outside business hours On Public holidays. On vacation.

About Vacations: I do not do any work on vacation. This includes urgent requests. I do not release any projects 7 days before I go on vacation. You will be notified early and regularly if vacation time could affect your project.

Priority You are not my only client.

I have other clients who have already booked work with me.

My project management system uses a formula to set the priority of tasks I work on.

It is possible to have your project prioritised over an existing project, but the surcharge can be unreasonably expensive. This is on purpose, because I don’t want you to ask for priority.

If another client does pay the unreasonably expensive surcharge to get priority over your job, the profit made from the surcharge will be split with you in compensation.

The more time you allow for a job to be completed, the more expensive it will be for a client to buy priority.


I don’t do urgent jobs

Urgent Issues An urgent task is a temporary repair to existing work that is not performing correctly, which impedes a user from being able to complete mission critical functions. Things go wrong, and urgent issues do come up from time to time

BUT any work done on an urgent task is just a band aid that offers a work around until the problem can be scheduled to be corrected properly (if the band aid isn’t all that is required)

Urgent Work I don’t do urgent work. Urgent work is any work that needs to be completed within a tight time frame (eg, within 24 hours to 48 hours)

The soonest I can start on any new work is tomorrow, but it could be unreasonably expensive, and does not guarantee urgent delivery.

A client needs to learn they can’t ask you to do something at 5pm, and have it done by 9am the next day. For several reasons: Other clients are already booked. You don’t work 24 hours a day.

Failure to plan on someone else’s behalf should not create an urgency for you.

Testing Work is uploaded to a test server for your review New functionality can sometimes cause unexpected changes to existing functionality, so it is important that you check the overall functionality of the app, not just the additional functionality Because I am the developer, I will test the way I expect things to function. This can cause blindness to bugs that have crept in. It is important that you take the time to test before marking a sprint passed


I usually check email once a day around 3:30pm.

I delete emails after I read them. That email you are referring to that you sent last month… It has been deleted, please don’t send it again.

Where possible I try to keep email responses short, regardless of recipient or subject. I promise I’m not being curt.

Goal Dates The estimated delivery dates are referred to as goal dates and not deadlines. We try to estimate these dates as well as we can, but challenges with existing projects can push these dates around. We will immediately inform you if this is likely to happen. If a goal date is missed, the priority of your project is made impossible for anyone to push in.

Priority The priority formula is designed to Encourage and reward clients to allow ample time for quality work to be completed by making it more expensive to push ahead of them Discourage clients from requesting priority

Projects are scheduled based on a priority calculated using the project start date (deposit received) and the goal date. It is possible for goal dates to be pushed back if another client is prepared to pay a substantially higher rate. The more time you allow for a project to be completed, the more money it will cost for another client to push ahead of you in the priority queue.

Our priority formula is designed to encourage clients who allow ample time for quality work to be completed, and discourage clients from pushing in by making it unreasonably expensive.

How unreasonably expensive? 2 clients. Exact same job. It would cost $1010 for the second client to get priority over the first client other clients who had paid $100 and 10 days notice. We split the surcharge with the client you are pushing back.

Step 4: Finding Clients You aren’t going to work that many hours when you are starting out. When you aren’t working, the rest of your Billable hours will be spent on marketing activities. Networking Facebook The easiest way to get work is by finding business groups that deal in your niche. - but be strategic about it

Step 5: Hiring Clients

Initial conversation Find out what is needed. What is the vision. Identify and set expectations. Decide very quickly if this is something you want to be working on.

If you’re interested in working with the customer, get them to sign your Terms and Conditions NOW This is the start of formally setting expectations. Walk away from clients that bork at this point. Terms and Conditions is a good litmus test.

Set expectations and communicate clearly

Planning Sessions Clearly define the end goal. What does “done” look like.

If the words “LIKE does” establish if the user should just be using that product, instead of reinventing the wheel.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

Collect sketches of what it would look like from the customer.

Use standard user interface elements that are easy to implement.

Under-promise and deliver what you agreed on. There’s a saying. “Under-promise, over-deliver.”

Don’t do that. Under promise and deliver what you said you would. Over delivering just leads to devaluing yourself making it difficult to increase your fees later. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. If you can see things that could or should happen, suggest them - but I guarantee that the client will shrug their shoulders and say “Meh” 80% of the time.

Don’t quote hourly rate if you can help it. Do say “which allows for up to X hours. If I start approaching that, we’ll need to discuss costs”. The client will immediately take cost and divide by hours and use that as an hourly rate.

Double any of your delivery time estimations.

How long will it take you to do this job? The actual question being asked is “when can this be done by”

The job might only take 15 minutes, but you can’t even start the job for 2 weeks.

Your answer is: “I don’t have enough information to answer that question”

OR, if you have enough information, then answer is The date I can start the job, plus the amount of time it will take.

Client retorts: It won’t take you long - can’t you squeeze it in? Try asking a doctor at an emergency department if they can squeeze you in.

Communicate regularly.
Concisely. That unexpected challenge that you’ve bumped into while doing that project containing unknowns that has thrown everything into disarray. If you think it’s going to be difficult explaining what’s happened to the customer now, it will be ten times worse if you don’t indicate there is a problem and have they customer asking what is happening.

Give clients as much notice of holiday as possible. The moment you’ve decided it is happening let them know. Schedule all your work as per normal, in normal working hours. Have good test processes in place Don’t do any new feature releases in the week before your holiday. Work on existing projects that have a delivery date AFTER you return. Is there someone who can deal with issues?

Step 5: Admin Work Process incoming emails, letters,

Step 7: “Urgent” Work

When you are in billable work mode, you’ve turned off interruptions, so you aren’t going to know about urgent work.

Legitimate “Urgent” interruptions will happen.

Set up something so people can pay to get your attention while in billable work mode. It shouldn’t be extortionate. Just something to show people are serious about the need to talk to you now, and that they understand they are interrupting. The fee should be waived if you can’t respond promptly. It is non refundable if you respond, regardless of if you choose to fix the problem or not.

An urgent task is a temporary repair to existing functionality that is not performing correctly, which impedes a user from being able to complete mission critical functions. It is a band aid that offers a work around until the problem can be corrected.

Think when you get a flat, you switch your tyre to that temporary spare so you can drive to a tyre shop and get the tyre repaired properly. But sometimes when you break down on the side of the road, the car needs to be towed to the mechanic and then scheduled for an appointment so it can be looked at and fixed properly.

Clients should be understanding and cool with this, they just need things up and running. If they aren’t - fire them, because doing anything other than applying a band aid to urgent tasks affects your ability to do quality work for ALL your clients.

An urgent task is not “I need this thing done now”. Someone else’s failure to plan should not create an urgency for you. They can pay more for priority in the queue, but it’s not going to be looked at until tomorrow, and will probably cost way more than is reasonable.

Provided that you: do not skip the Testing phase of any release use version control Back up regularly

any urgent fix should have minimal time impact. But it will have a context switch impact.

Decide what category and fee

Add it to the project manager. See what task.

Charge for your time.

Step 9: Taking a Holiday Holidays are horrible ideas if you are the only person in your business.

Murphy’s law always looms. Something threatens to go catastrophically wrong, usually when I am not in a position to fix it. Holiday ruined.

Have a strong testing component for releases that require customer involvement. The client must sign off on releases acknowledging that they have reviewed the release and are happy that there are no issues that would impact the app from functioning in a capacity that doesn’t hinder their business.

I would rather delay the release of buggy software

Schedule the holiday into the project management system as soon as you can. If it affects any deadlines, see if that can be reasonably rectified with a little overtime, but if not, notify customer.

Have a buffer of one week leading up to holidays in which you don’t release any new work, and don’t set any goal dates.

Notify customers of your holiday plans as early and frequently as possible.

Note: We will be away from 7th - 14th of Smarch. 1st of Smarch will be our last release date. Releases will recommence starting 15th Smarch based on project readiness. No work that affects functionality in any way (no matter how trivial) will be released between those dates.

While on vacation I will not be doing any work. Don’t ask me to work on vacation, no matter how urgent the issue. Refusal may offend.

I am on vacation. I am not doing any work. Don’t ask me to work on vacation.

Finally Be strong. NO CLIENT is worth burning out and losing your business, or will to live. Just say no to clients who push you Fire clients who

When you return

Put aside the first day for follow up and admin only.

Process your inbox. Do some automatic searches to clear up your inbox. If those searches happen to delete some important emails, don’t worry.

Sort your inbox by oldest email first, and work through it Add each client that has emailed you into your admin tasks for follow up, filing any information where appropriate so you can archive the email.

Things fail all the time - sometimes clients don’t notice for some time. If you’ve telegraphed that you will be away