The Travelling Freelance

Road Through Great Smokies

If it interests you, go with it… you never know what’s around the corner.

 

I’ve just had a day away. Because of where I am located it can be difficult to have client meetings – unless my client is local, a meeting usually involves at least a five-hour round trip. I had a very productive, but rare, face-to-face meeting and despite being stuck behind a convoy of extremely slow moving vehicles on the road down, I feel that my time away from the office was well worth the journey.

The whole ‘travelling 2 ½ hours there and back for a one-hour meeting’ thing did get me thinking though – how far is too far?

Yesterday both of us travelled the same amount of time, we both found the meeting productive (well, at least I hope we both did) and I’m glad we met up. It’s so much nicer to meet someone in person. You can bounce ideas off each other, get a feeling for the other person and just generally converse much better than over email or even through a telephone conversation (I’ll let you into a secret here – I absolutely hate talking over the phone to someone I don’t know. I’d rather stand in a room full of strangers than talk to one unknown entity over the phone). The only downside is trying to figure out my scribbled notes when I get home (or a potential coffee hangover if the meeting is a long one).

So a meeting like the one yesterday can be both enjoyable and productive.

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However, what if a potential client wants to meet up and you are miles away? How far is too far?

I will occasionally go the extra mile for a client. If we work well, if the project requires it, or even if my interest is piqued I may take a trip. Sometimes it’s the only way to brainstorm. But if it’s a potential client, and work hasn’t been set, just how feasible is a day away from the office for a freelance? I have a feeling only those living in remote areas will really understand the problem properly. Just how many not-yet-clients will pay your day rate for a meeting? (Answer: I haven’t found one yet).

Say, for example, there’s a possibility of a meeting in Inverness (like yesterday). For a person, or business, who is deciding whether they need my services, it’s fine if I can add in another meeting, or if I need to do some shopping in the city. If I can’t do that I lose a day’s work. If I was to go to Aberdeen to meet a potential client (our nearest big city, where there are a lot of businesses that could do with my services), it’s a ten-hour round trip, or usually an overnight stay, unless I get the plane (but even then it works out as a very long day). Really, in that situation, unless the company is a large one willing to pay my day rate, then it’s best to conduct any business via email or *shudder* the phone. Don’t mention Skype, those meetings are terrifying.

On the whole, clients and potential clients (especially in Scotland) understand the economics of conversations taking place electronically. It’s not ideal, but it is financially sensible, and for many of my clients we are so far from each other that meetings are usually out of the question.

However, I have lost some potential clients through not being willing to travel. One in particular was interesting – I was requested to attend a one hour ‘interview’ in London. Yes, they knew where I lived (at the very far end of the country, not just the ‘north of Watford’ north), but they were seeing other candidates, and really did require face-to-face meetings (Skype was even dismissed out-of-hand). There was no way I could lose three days work and also pay over £500 pounds for the privilege (flights, accommodation, meals), so I had to politely decline. That one was a shame as it was well within my area of expertise and I would have loved the job. Does make me wonder though if the job was already taken? Hmmm. There was also another freelance gig closer to home, but would have also required a lot of travelling to the ‘interview’.  In the end, with that one, I received a lovely letter thanking me for my ‘interview’ even though they hadn’t actually interviewed me (polite emails were sent, they missed out).

I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that travelling to meetings can be a wonderfully productive way to engage business, but that we also have to engage in the communication systems we are lucky to have.

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So how far is too far? I really depends on the client (or potential client), the job and where the travelling takes me. If a client is prepared to meet in the middle, is a good client or the job is interesting then I’m more likely to say yes.

How far will you travel? Are you remote, and if so how do you deal with the subject? Have you ever lost out on a potential job because you decided not to travel a ridiculous amount?

 

9 thoughts on “The Travelling Freelance

  1. Always interesting, Sara. This has never happened to me because I live in the middle of a city, but even then it does amaze me a little how much employed clients complain about the number of meetings they have, but still call them with no evident purpose and sometimes even forget to attend them! I wonder if they would do that if meetings, plus preparation etc. were unpaid.

    • I very much doubt it. When you are an employee there are many ways to waste a few hours and still get paid for it. When you are freelance, every hour away from work costs you.

  2. Great post!
    As another rural freelancer from Wiltshire, I understand the issues. Having said that, most of my work is for large publishing houses based in Oxford/London, which is very commutable if a meeting arises. Sadly that happens less and less these days, and cost is probably one of the main reasons for that.
    I did have one rather painful experience recently – a Cambridge based publisher had seemingly been really keen for me to work on a large project for them and after a number of emails I was invited to their office for a meeting to discuss the work in more detail. A round trip to Cambridge from home means a really early start for the train to London, tube right across the city, then another train out, and the cost is well over £100. Fortunately I’d asked whether they would pay me for my time, or cover my expenses at least, and they agreed to the latter before the meeting. I decided to swallow the cost of a day’s lost income because the project would be a long-term one that would easily justify it.
    The meeting went really well and I set off on the long journey home thinking about how good it would be to have a new challenge. Imagine my disappointment then when no follow-up call came when it was promised, and everything went deathly quiet. The work never materialized, and although my expenses were reimbursed, I felt annoyed at having lost a day away from my desk.
    The lesson I took from that was always to check that expenses will be covered before setting off, if not your time, and if you’re not fairly confident of the work coming through, it might be worth the agony of a Skype meeting. I appreciate smaller clients may be less willing/able to come to an arrangement for much in the way of expenses, but it’s at least worth asking the question.

    • Oooh Skype calls. Hate them, but they do have their place. As long as you can clear space to make your office look less of a mess, do your hair and makeup and try to look presentable (or is that just me? 😳).

  3. Interesting article Sara. I had the opposite situation — I live in a small town and took on some work for a local company, located about 5 mins walk from my house, purely because I thought it would be nice to actually meet a client in person. However, they sent all the work by email and I never did get to meet them!

    • Oh no! That shows how people can differ. I expect they were so used to dealing in email that it never occurred to them to meet up. What a shame, they missed out there!

  4. I am a big fan of face to face meetings with new clients but there are simply weeks when the added stress of driving for unpaid time becomes just….stress. Enter phone, emails and whatever else. But nothing beats the in person first contact. I really dreaded a lunch last Monday with a new potential client but dragged myself nonetheless and was rewarded with being hired on the spot.

    • Aaaah well done! I do think that meeting face to face can be really useful. Non-verbal communication is something that electronic stuff really doesn’t get, and for me, reading a person is second nature. There are times when you just wouldn’t work with someone if you met them in person, and some who you’d be dubious about over email, but know would be great to work with once you met them.
      But, travel and stress really is a factor. Oh for a transporter beam 😉

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