The 3 A.M. Call

Alarm Clock

My husband nudged me out of a deep sleep to say that my office telephone was ringing. I groggily rolled over, opened one eye, and took note that the bedside alarm was reading 3 a.m.

There is rarely anything promising about a phone call that comes at that hour. If you’re a parent, there’s the dread that one of your offspring has just been in an accident or is in jail. If you’re a business owner, the first thought is that there’s been a break-in at your store or a fire at the factory. If you’re the head of a country, it could mean anything from a terrorist attack to a giant asteroid plummeting toward Earth and anticipated to make impact in the next half hour.

Seeing as how I don’t fit any of these situational conditions – and also pretty sure that the lottery commission wasn’t calling to tell me I had this week’s winning numbers – I was hard-pressed to fathom who in their right mind was trying to reach me before the sun was even up. My husband watched as I padded out the bedroom door and down the hall. Whether as a show of support (in case it was a legitimate crisis) or just curiosity, he and the dog soon joined me.

The caller – one of my ghostwriting clients – was already leaving a peppy message, the gist of which was that he was working on his blog, got stuck trying to find the perfect phrase, and figured I could just give him one off the top of my head. Now it’s not as if this guy lives in – oh, say Holland, and that he didn’t do the time-zone math while he was having his lunch. We live in exactly the same time zone, which made his call all the more inexcusable. What possible urgency existed that he couldn’t have sent the same question via email to be opened when I was actually awake?

“So why didn’t you pick up?” my husband asked, recognizing I was peeved enough to deliver a well deserved earful to the caller for disturbing my slumber.

“Because I’m not due at work for another six hours,” I replied. And went back to bed.

When you’re a sole proprietor – and especially if you conduct the majority of your business from a home office – establishing and reinforcing boundaries is one of the biggest challenges. It’s not just about the need for a healthy balance between your personal and professional priorities; it’s about training your clients to respect that you’re not “on call” for them 24/7. In concert with this is a similar (mis)interpretation that “freelance” means you’re free day and night, weekends, holidays and even when you’re sick.

Granted, there’s going to be an emergency now and then that requires you to don your super-hero cape and go rescue someone. Readers be warned, however: the first time you bend your own rules, make non-emergency exceptions, and start answering your home office phone during dinnertime or at 3 in the morning, you’re giving your clients permission to devalue your time and services as well as your privacy.

Your business may not be brick-and-mortar but your mindset needs to embrace a steel resolve to keep it operating as professionally as possible.

Postscript: Within a few minutes of this post going live, I was asked whether I ever confronted the client about his 3 .m. call or just dismissed it. In no uncertain terms, he was firmly reminded of what my office hours are when I called him back. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be making that same mistake again.


Here’s this month’s line-up of guest blogs:

Marketing Lessons From My Dog – by Jan Dunlap

Marketing Through Word of Mouth – by Garrett Mehrguth

Webinars: Both a Marketing and Sales Solution – by Leanne Hoagland-Smith

How to Survive an Economic Down Turn – By Cina Coren