I’ve been freelancing for over 8 years, and over those years I have been constantly fine-tuning and adjusting the way I run and conduct business in order to:
A. Provide my clients with the best possible service.
B. Maintain some life balance for myself.
C. Be as efficient as possible without sacrificing A or B.
The single biggest decision I made, some years ago, was going to email only.
Yes, I do ALL consultation and correspondence by email.
No phone calls. No meetings. I knew it would drive away some potential clients, and I was prepared to change my mind if my business came crashing down because of it. But I was pleasantly surprised: very few people ended up being driven away (and several of those who did actually came back after unhappy experiences with the designer they had hired instead), and far from crashing down, my business grew exponentially.
Why? Because it works. At least it works for me.
You see, I love what I do. How lucky am I? I love creating beautiful, functional web sites. I get a thrill out of taking some bits and pieces from a client, and turning them into a web site that is just right for them. But before I went email only, I was spending very little time doing what I loved, and a whole lot of time sitting on the phone, returning calls, going to meetings, following up from meetings, on and on. As soon as I got going on something, the phone would ring, or it would be time to head out the door again.
I had a job I loved, but I didn’t actually get to do it very much. And those phone calls and especially those meetings did not accomplish much for all of the time and energy I was devoting to them. So I decided to stop putting my energy there, and start putting it into the actual work.
How it works
I don’t think this method would work for just anyone. It requires being very very organized, and very very punctual. I think of my email program as my second brain, as it stores up every single little tidbit of information from a client, and every single tidbit of information I have sent them—except that this second brain is much more organized and much better at recalling things than my organic one.
Every single client and potential client has their very own box in my email. When an email hits my inbox, I read it almost immediately. If it is a quick question I can answer without thinking about it, I usually reply right then, and then file the email into that client’s box. If it is an emergency email—the web site is down, something is broken that has to be fixed urgently—I stop everything, deal with the issue, reply, and then file it. If it is an email that will require a little more thought than I can give it in that moment, it stays in my inbox until I can answer it – that day if at all possible. If it is a request for edits to a web site that are not urgent at all, then I move the email to a “Do Later” folder.
When I get to a stopping point in my current project, am waiting for feedback on a design, anything that gives me a break for a while, I go back and answer the remaining emails in my inbox and knock out as many of the “Do Later” edits as possible. As each thing is done, its email gets filed.
Nothing leaves my inbox or “Do Later” folder until it has been dealt with. This prevents things from falling through the cracks, getting forgotten, getting delayed for longer than necessary. I don’t have 4 thousand emails sitting in my inbox—I only have things there that still require my attention.
I know you have had the experience of working with someone who took forever to answer their emails, and this can make you nervous about only being able to reach me this way. I am not one of those people. I know that this only works if I am more responsive than you expect me to be.
How it helps
Having everything in email means I can’t forget a detail you have provided me. It means that if there is a dispute about what you asked for, I can find your (and my) exact words to clear it up quickly and without tempers rising. It means that I can give thoughtful answers complete with links to more information and resources rather than off-the-cuff replies. It means during my work hours, I am actually working. It means that I can get much more done in much less time.
I can’t even count the number of times a client has come to me after spending months with another designer, going to countless meetings and sitting through numerous conference calls—and they still don’t have a web site to show for it. I am able to give them exactly what they were looking for in a fraction of the time.
Isn’t email sort of impersonal?
I don’t think so – some of the most hilarious conversations I have had have been by email. I have ended up being real-life friends with several of my clients. But at the end of the day – you are not hiring me to be your best friend, or to have drinks, or to share our lives – hopefully you are fortunate enough to already have people who fill that role for you. You are hiring me to create the perfect web site for you. Meander over to my portfolio and you will see hundreds of web sites – each unique and custom designed – done without the client ever hearing the sound of my voice.
That’s ok. If you really need to meet with someone, then you need to hire someone who can do that for you. It won’t hurt my feelings. But you might just ask yourself – what can I accomplish in a meeting or phone call that I can’t accomplish in an email? Seeing what the designer looks like? Ok, here’s a photo.
Is it worth it to potentially pay more and wait longer just to be able to hold that meeting or make that phone call? Or would you rather your site get done more quickly and more efficiently?
If efficient sounds good to you and you are ready to get started, contact me! By email, of course. 😉