Concurrent Clients

Question: As an independent contractor, I sometimes work with several clients concurrently. That’s how they appear on my chronological resume. Lately, potential clients seem to question my ability to serve more than one client at a time. I reply that doctors do it all the time. Has anyone else encountered this problem? How do you deal with it? Maybe there’s a more acceptable analogy I could use.

Here are how people responded to this question:

I think that’s the perfect analogy. Doctors are supposed to be professionals. So are technical communicators.
My experience has been that when clients make “noises” like that, they are really trying to tell you they want an in-house technical writer, not an independent contractor. However, I’ve heard a rumor that the courts are on your side.
We take the following approach:
We ask the client what result they want.
We ask the client what budget they have.
Then we explain that, during our process, we are likely to be onsite quite a lot to interview SMEs and attend meetings.
We then say that if the budget constraints are severe, it is more economical for the technical communicator to work offsite. While we are “captive”, we must charge for the whole time, but while we work offsite, we can interleave other work alongside theirs. Therefore, if they are down or inaccessible, we won’t have to charge them.
We then smile brightly and say that most of our clients like the cost savings, and prefer to focus on the result without paying for a “captive” onsite.
This has worked so well that I only have one client right now that needs to “see” our folks. And for them, it’s a culture issue – if they can’t “see” you, you can’t be working.
I work that way all the time and have gotten to the point where I talk about how I work (multiple clients, offsite, 1099) very early on in conversations with prospects. Unless a client is really looking for someone to be onsite and working full time (these are mostly through agencies), I’ve never had a problem.

I don’t use a chronological résumé. Most of the time, I don’t use a résumé at all. To my mind, a chronological résumé is for someone seeking a job. If you’re not seeking a job, try something that doesn’t look like a résumé, but still reflects your experience. I point folks to my Web site a lot where I have project summaries and client quotes.

Another thing that I’ll cover fairly early on is getting a feel for the size and timing of the project. Based on that, I determine if I can fit it into my schedule. Once I determine that I can, I tell the client that when I commit to a deadline, I’ll do whatever it takes on my end to meet it. (Of course, I also include caveats in conversations and similar language in my contract that all deadlines are dependent on receiving timely information, updates, answers to questions, and review comments). Their delays will cause the deadline to be pushed back on my end.
If a client wants me to be “exclusive”, I ask them to provide a retainer. If you have to sit idly by waiting for them to send you work when you could be making money with someone else, they should pay for it.
In my case, my contract with my major client states that I need to be available for 40 hours a week to service the documentation needs of four different computer systems in an IS department. That still leaves “nights and weekends” to take on additional work.

When another client approached me to write their user manual, I gave them the “nights and weekends” speech first. That was fine with them. So, both clients still are happy as long as I meet the deadlines.
I use a functional résumé . I then list my clients on a separate page with hotlinks to project descriptions where I’m allowed to discuss my work with them: .

I love being on retainer and usual have at least one, but that still requires the client to schedule their work with me in advance. I use retainers as an opportunity for my best clients to get access to me at my best rates, and for me to have a steady cash flow. One benefit that is important in my specialty is exclusivity, which only my retainer clients get. In other words, I agree not to work for any direct competitors while on retainer.
I refer people who have questions like this to my previous clients. You can also tell a client that tax agencies (like the IRS and, in California, EDD) generally view daily status reports, even weekly ones, as evidence of an employer-employee relationship. That should get their attention.
Whenever I work with clients, I talk in terms of “deliverables” and “deadlines” in an attempt to focus on results, not attendance. Like others on the list, I’ll work whatever time is required to meet the deadlines (subject to the usual caveats of the client having info to me in a timely manner, of course). If the client is willing to pay a healthy per diem for me to be exclusive and work on their site, I’m happy to take it, although I try to discourage it (I am incorporated so the employee-contractor issue is moot). If I have projects underway when we agree to this, I do disclose the situation along with a forecast of how long it will continue before I’m “totally yours”.