I often get people asking me for a freebie or a little bit of extra service, and this is starting to happen so much that it has become a problem, so I'm addressing it here. To you, your request may seem small: "I just want you to look at this bio that I wrote. It'll only take five minutes". or "I just have one question", but I get lots of requests like that. You're one of many people making similar requests, and they add up to a lot of time. If I spend time looking at your writing for free, it would only fair that I do the same for everybody else who asks the same thing.
Please try to understand. I am TCC's tech support, marketing and PR person, administrator, customer service rep, manager, and I complete all of the orders. I am very busy on an ongoing basis. That means I have to be strict with my time-management and that means managing your request and the time it takes to fulfil - plus managing the requests of everyone else who has "just one little request". It adds up.
I already go the extra mile with my TCC work: many No Frills take far, far longer than the 6 hours I generally allot to them, so that I often find myself effectively working for less than minimum wage. I incorporate a bit of worldbuilding or species work in character work just to help the finished profile make sense, even though the client doesn't pay any extra for this. I also handle the occasional question outside of consultations or other commissions.
All of this takes time, which means that I have to prioritise what I do spend time on and what I don't.
I need to use that phrase, "please try to understand" again. I am running a business and working hard to maintain and grow it. When I get a new client I build a relationship with them, but this is not, and cannot be, the same as a friendship.
This is where some clients come unstuck. I am passionate about my clients' worlds and show concern about any issues they may raise about their lives outside of their creative work (for example it seems callous to me, to ignore a person when they tell me that they're stressed about their exams, so my first instinct is to answer), but this is not the same as a friendship. Instead, I am networking with you to build a better relationship to help ensure an income stream for my business.
This is not a personal attack against you or an attempt to 'throw you out into the cold', it is me trying to make my business succeed, on the understanding that there are other people in the world who you could develop friendships with, instead of me.
Some of my clients seem to get networking and friendship mixed up. When this happens the client chats casually with me for hours, and perhaps also invites me to their Discord server and invites me to chat with their friends there. I cannot spare the time to do this because I have to time-manage conversations just like any other task. It's sad to not be able to chat without keeping an eye on the time, but that's how it is for me.
When I eventually fail to continue chatting with them or their crowd of Discord friends, a mood seems to cloud over the relationship. This client may start to believe that I don't like them or that I'm arrogant, and I fear that they might withdraw their custom. It's an unpleasant situation for both of us, and one that I'm hoping to avoid by writing this article.
Letting people down can be a delicate business, especially if they are persistent. These are clients who believe that if I can't talk with them today, then "maybe next time".
I'm sorry - there can't a time when I'm free to chat. Running TCC keeps me very busy on an ongoing basis. That is true today, and it will be true in two or three days time too. I spend so long on the computer that I spend my genuine time off away from the computer.
One subset of this problem is the forgetful client. I have had multiple clients who I have explained my time-management problem to, and they have ended the conversation to let me work on other things. A few days later however, they forget that I have to time-manage and start a brand new casual conversation. I'm not sure what solution I can suggest to this, but please try to remember what I told you before. I'll explain why in the below section, "Letting People Down Multiple Times".
I subset of that subset is clients who are frequently in distress about one issue or another. With these clients I find that if I turn them down for a chat on one day, the next day they come to me with an even worse problem (or the first problem has gotten worse), so they feel they absolutely must talk to me this time. The implication here seems to be (but as yet has never been explicitly stated) that I owe them a chat this time because I declined last time. I cannot accept these terms.
I understand that life can be hard. However, I also understand that as a trainee therapist I look like a good candidate to speak to about your woes. Regretfully, I cannot do this. There are therapists out there who have the time to talk. Alternatively you may be better off finding a good, supportive friend to talk to.
I try to let people down gently, but sometimes I don't succeed quite as well as I intend to. Once again I need to ask, "please try to understand".
A direct approach can be helpful in many situations, so I sometimes use a simple, "I'm sorry, I can't talk with you about this because I'm busy with other things. I need to focus on my work now." It is intended as a time-efficient way to remove a drain on my time, not as an effort to be hurtful.
When a person responds to this with the "maybe next time" approach like I described above, or if several people have tried to initiate casual chat with me in one day, or if several people try to use time they haven't paid for, I can become abrupt. I don't like to to do this, and I know you don't like it either, so I want to prevent that by asking you to please be mindful. I can't tell whether a person has genuinely forgotten that I don't have time to chat or whether they remember perfectly well and hope that I'll feel obliged this time. All I can do is respond with a clear message of "I can't talk at the moment.", so that is what I do.
No. Not every chat with every person ends in an order - not by a long shot. But this is a conversation worth having, so here are my thoughts.
I understand that talking with you may help you decide whether, and what, to order, and I am open to conversations for this reason. I just need to draw the line when a person wants someone to shoot the breeze with or wants me to work for free.
Please note that when somebody talks to me I may take a while to assess whether they intend to buy or not. I'm not trying to confuse you, I just need to take a little while to work out what's going on in the conversation.
Once again: no. Like I said before, I prioritise my time. If somebody wants to casually chat, I place that low on my list of priorities. If they have an order, I place that high on my priorities list. I could tell you 10 times in a row that I'm too busy to look at your cat pictures, help you feel less scared of your final exams, or share memes with you, but if you place an order, then you are paying for the very thing I prioritise over said cat pictures.
So that's been a lot of talk about the problems. What solutions can I suggest? Here are some that both of us can do to help each other, and I'll start with the ones I can do:
For Critique / Feedback on Small Works
If you've just got a little thing to show me, I have a low-cost Patreon tier that caters for precisely this! Go to my Patreon page and pick the Character or Story Critique for $6. There really is no job too small here. If you are adamant that you don't want to spend the money on this, then perhaps somebody else will be better-suited to offer you critique and I urge you to find them.
For Questions Outside of Consultations
Consultations have a way of opening up new lines of thought about your work, so I understand why questions arise as a result of consultations. If you get any, keep a word-processing file or a scrap of paper by your computer, write your question down, and refer to it during our next consultation.
For Emotional Support
As a trainee therapist I have certain responsibilities (and, until I qualify, restrictions) when it comes to providing help. Here's a journal entry I made on Deviantart about where and how you can find emotional support.
Because a small number of people have already asked this: no, I won't personally talk you through that journal entry and explore the options with you. It's written so that you can do that yourself. Thank you for understanding.
For General Chat
My Discord server is full of good chatting buddies! Why not join?
Since I'm asking you guys to adjust, it's only fair to agree to some adjustments of my own. I will:
I will communicate clearly if I need to do end our conversation, with the understanding that I am looking after my needs so that I can better serve all of my clients.
Answer 2 Straightforward 'Consultation' Questions
I understand that when you have consultation time with me, new thoughts and questions can bubble up in between the last session and the next one. I am prepared to give a little bit of leeway here and will answer your first two questions outside of consultation hours - so long as they are simple to answer. For questions that need a detailed answer or further investigation, I will recommend that we discuss it during our next consultation.
Use Discord's Availability Indicators
I will do my best to remember to use Discord's Green / Amber / Do not Disturb / Offline buttons to signal whether or not I am available. Please note that Green still doesn't mean I'm around for general chat, it just means that I'm not concentrating on anything particularly difficult at the time. If you approach me and I am busy and have just forgotten to change my Discord availability, then I will explain the situation and adjust my Discord button accordingly.
Use Discord's Custom Status Option
Nowadays Discord users can use the custom status option to write a short description of what they are doing, which appears beneath their usernames. I will use this function as often as I remember to. If I appear to be available and you approach me but I'm busy with something specific. Then I will explain the situation and adjust my custom status accordingly.
Check @everyone or @here Pings on Discord
I will check these in any servers I belong to. Please note that if a lot of them regularly occur within a short space of time (for example, two or three per week) in a server that I am not / do not expect to be come active in, I may eventually leave the server to reduce distractions.
And that's it! I hope that the above helps to clear up any misunderstandings, explain where I'm coming from, and to help you find helpful solutions. Be well, everybody, and stay safe!
Title image by mmp-stock and used with their kind permission