Having lots of clients is the goal for any freelancer who’s serious about business. The money is always flowing, your clients are happy and you’re working hard to maintain your reputation. The problem though, is the fact you haven’t seen the outside of your office for weeks, you dream about the next email you’re going to send to your clients, and you’re constantly checking your phone for client replies when you’re supposed to be like, doing other things.
Being a busy freelancer is much better than being a bored freelancer, but like with everything, it comes with its own set of problems. How do you deal when you have several projects going on at one time, and several more potential projects in the works? Most importantly, how do you keep your sanity?
Learning To Schedule
Learning to schedule both your daily, weekly and monthly time slots is probably one of the most important business tasks you’ll ever need to do. It’s yet another skill you have to learn as you go along in day-to-day business. Mishandling this can cause late projects, late payments, no personal life–and the worst of all–angry clients.
Here are some tips that have helped me get a handle on scheduling:
- Find a simple app–I don’t believe in using project management software, especially as a freelancer. Those apps are often bloated, unnecessary, and they actually take more time to use than they save. You get more caught up in creating to-dos and details for your client than actually working. Instead, I would find a simple calendar app. Personally, I use iCal that comes free on a Mac, and I keep it on the monthly view.
- Look at your schedule in week chunks–The majority of my projects last a week or less. So, instead of worrying about a whole month, I look at my schedule in week-long chunks. When a client needs to schedule a project in, unless it’s a small revision, I’ll schedule them in for a Monday and for it to end on a Friday. This way, you’re not shortchanging your schedule or getting projects mixed up.
- Cut your schedule in half–It’s true I get more work done if I over-schedule myself than when I only schedule one client a week. However, I’ve found that it’s no longer fun to work from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed–which ends up happening quite frequently if you’re not careful. Take a look at your past projects and determine how many you can do in a week. I can normally take on about one to two full coding projects a week. Make sure to only schedule those one to two projects and no more. Believe me, you’ll ALWAYS have a client who needs something at the last minute–and if you’re already over-scheduled that means you could lose out.
- Tell clients no–I always try my hardest to fit clients in as soon as they need their projects. Currently, I have a very large name client that wanted a project done at the very last minute. What I thought was a week-long project has now turned into a month-long project–which means all of the clients I already had scheduled are getting pushed to the back burner. This also means I’ve been working from sun up to sun down and all the way through the weekends. I was so stressed out from trying to get both their work and my regular work done, that I finally had to tell them no. I told them I was leaving the office for the weekend and wouldn’t be checking my email. Don’t let clients dictate your schedule or you’ll never have a life.
- Don’t over promise your schedule–I used to tell several potential clients that I was open for week A, because it was almost always likely that only one or two of the clients would go ahead with their projects. Now however, I have a very low reject rate, which means if I have next week open for work, I can only tell one or two clients about it. If you tell six clients that next week is open and all six want to go ahead and get started – what would you do then? Don’t forget who you’ve already promised to schedule that week, by going ahead and putting them on the schedule even before they give the go ahead. You can always erase their names later and get a last minute project if they decide not to work with you.
In Times of Crisis
There have been times were I was too over-scheduled, tired or sick to finish a project that due a few days later. Thankfully, I have a large network of freelancers who are ready and willing to take on last minute projects. It’s good to network with a few other freelancers with similar skills to yours so you can always have a back up in times of need. Remember, there’s no such thing as paid sick leave and getting your work done on time or ahead of schedule if the #1 way to truly WOW a client. Yes, this means you’ll make less money on the project, but it’s a lot better than missing that deadline and ending up with an angry client.
There’s nothing wrong with hiring another freelancer to help out without you telling the client. Of course, if they ask, don’t lie to them and let them know you brought on another expert to help out. They’ll appreciate the honesty.
About the author: Amber is a freelancer with over 10 years of experience and specializes in clean, semantic and valid 1.0 Strict XHTML, CSS and WordPress development. She also writes a web development blog on her portfolio at www.amberweinberg.com and just launched a web app for developers at www.codesnipp.it.