sat 05 jul 2008 12:38:31 witte de withstraat
tracking a flock of minigigs
friday at 15.00 i put in my weekly phone call to my client, and her voicemail said she was in the office today but couldn't come to the phone. i called back 15 minutes later and got the same message. at about 15.45 i realized that her voicemail always says she's in the office today but can't come to the phone. then i happened to glance at the time -- and date. it was the fourth of july. *nobody* in the united states would be coming to the phone that day.
which reminds me of things it's nobody's job to tell me, things i somehow need to track for myself.
anyone who knows me, knows that i'm used to working on one project, finishing it and starting the next one. so i've never been compelled to find a method for tracking and planning all my work in any kind of failsafe way. yesterday i noticed that i had ten projects open. "open" = not yet approved. some things i already did and submitted, but haven't got final approval.
lately i've been getting more mini-assignments, like "can you cut together some shots of [product] for our press kit?" or "can you write some cool text for three conference invitations?" this year, my biggest client (hereinafter "MBC") realized that the reason they keep borrowing text from my films for their print collateral, is because they just like my writing. so they've started asking me to write things. cool. and one friday i told my client that due to my current cash pickle, "i need all the work i can get."
but i should have said "i need all the work i can *do*." cuz it is possible for me to get more work than i can do, especially now that 3 different people at MBC may ask me to do something without knowing what the other asked for.
so yesterday i started to spec it all out and schedule it on my calendar. it's hard to guess how long it will take me to write something good. and i hate making predictions anyway. but i need to schedule.
billing wise: for the smaller writing gigs i am literally just tracking my time and billing by hours worked. for the big jobs i'm just working off the "i keep what i don't spend" theory.
but i'm discovering a complication with tracking the writing gigs.
when i make a movie, once the client approves, i ship the final fullres. then i know i have delivered the deliverable, so i can go ahead and send the final bill. moreover, if they want to change something, i will know, cuz they don't know how to make movies themselves.
with the writing gigs it's different. everybody has microsoft word. and there's no surefire way for me to know when the work is *done*.
so person A asks me to write something. i write it and send it. person A writes back "i think this is great! i'll show it to persons B C and D and we'll get back to you with any feedback." that possible feedback might result in one hour or two more days of work. cool. whatever. but then weeks go by and no feedback ever shows up.
we have not built in a mechanism to trigger feedback to the author. the reviewers may not realize i am only available for a narrow window of time. they may love my first draft, and not feel any urgent need to do anything. they may hate it, and decide to rewrite it themselves (they have the technology!). or if my thing only needed to be done before they move on to the next thing, whenever they're ready ... then they may just sit on it or even forget about it, cuz they have other fires to put out. this results in my having too many open projects.
you see, it's not each individual reviewer's job to be spontaneously considerate of my schedule as a contractor. they don't even know me. to them, i don't feel like a taxi ride, a haircut or a visit to a restaurant -- a transaction with a time limit. no, i'm just another somebody out there giving them homework. and it's certainly nobody's job at MBC to track all nine things i'm doing for them, and tell me when to bill for each one.
nope that's my job. the part i hadn't counted on. and this puts me in the unfortunate position of having to *pester* my client for updates on my own work.
how did i realize this is a problem?
last week somebody asked if i could revise that brochure i'd written for [product]. i'm like, huh? what brochure? i couldn't remember writing it. i looked all over my computer and couldn't find any such project. turned out it was a MS word doc hiding in a folder for a movie i was making about [same product]. i had delivered the text in february, but nobody upstream ever said anything about it. they forgot, so i forgot. and the work never got closed and billed. so there wasn't even a project file.
i can think of two possible solutions. one is that i become more of a deadline nazi and write more stiff milestones into projects. i don't like that idea very much, it takes all the fun out of being a writer. another option is that i start thinking of my work for MBC like dishwashing at a restaurant, ie, one big continuous open project that never closes, where i just send a bill every month for the hours i worked. for some reason i don't like that one either, cuz psychogically i'm accustomed to closure -- i did that, it's done, and now i'm doing this. so i need to think of the third solution.