One of the great joys (and curses) of freelancing is managing your own workload. You don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, but you still have to be accountable to your clients and adhere to their expectations of deliverables. Your responsibility for a workload is what makes you, and keeps you, successful.
As your freelance business grows, the issues around workload change and develop, from doing everything you can to gain more work, to staying in control of an increasing amount.
Stages Of a Freelancing Business
In the beginning stages of your freelance journey, the main struggle when it comes to workload management, is getting enough of it! You may have to spend lots of time looking for work and promoting your services, take on small projects that are not always well paid, and pretty much take whatever you can get. These stages shouldn’t last for too long; as long as you are skilled, the goal here is to build up confidence, feedback and portfolio items.
The ‘middle’ stage comes when you start to charge pro rates and find yourself regularly finding larger projects and repeat clients. You may still have to spend some time looking for jobs, but recommendations and more constant workflow from serious clients keeps you going in between. At this point, you need to keep it up and keep the work coming.
Once you are well established, with published work examples in your portfolio, and perhaps with your own brand developing, you will find that most of your work comes to you. Maybe you have ongoing work along with a few side projects.
This is really the stage where workflow management can become an issue. You have to be able to maintain quality whilst keeping up with the growing demands of your clients and your impending deadlines. Occasionally you might face bombardment from multiple directions, or life events cause hiccups that throw off your entire schedule. Deep breath…
Tips For Effective Workload Management
Don’t fret. You’ve worked hard to get to the point where you don’t have to spend half of the day looking through virtual job boards. All you have to do now is keep up with the demand that you have created.
Manage your time effectively. Dedicate time to work and time for relaxing. Develop routines that help you to be productive and happy. When you do feel at your best, maximize your output of work and get ahead. You can organize your workload with to-do lists or use tools like Trello. Prioritize your workload and be aware of deadlines. Work more when you are most productive, but understand that you need to force yourself out of an unproductive mood that lasts too long.
Communicate with clients
Email is likely your most common method of communication with clients. Everyone has their own philosophy when it comes to emails. I prefer to bulk check mine once a day when I log on, and then occasionally check in during work hours. Ask clients when they would like the deliverable and agree on a deadline. Let them know if any complications arise that will lead to late delivery.
Learn to say no
It’s always a shame to have to turn down a project, but it’s better than taking on work that you won’t be able to complete on time, or taking on so much that your workday becomes a constant battle. As an established freelancer, you have to learn to politely decline if you can’t take on work. If you are in high demand, you can focus on accepting work that is well paid and fits your knowledge and skill-base.
Scaling Up Your Freelance Business
A huge positive when it comes to freelancing is the ability to take on a greater or smaller workload according to the situation. I’ve done this myself several times in my life. For example, life situations change and you want to do less work for a while (and take the financial hit). You take on less side projects or a smaller workload. Or you want to work lots to get the bills paid, so you take on the maximum you can handle.
In this respect, you can scale a freelance business up or down, but only within narrow parameters. On one end is the minimum workload you can take on in order to survive and pay the bills. On the other end is the maximum workload you can physically and mentally handle.
There is a dilemma that faces nearly every freelancer. The truth is a freelance business is usually very difficult to truly scale up for one simple reason: clients are paying for you. Your communication, your quality, your deliverables. How does a freelancer step out of processes that entirely depend on their input? Well, they can’t, but that doesn't mean you can't hire others to strengthen your business and make more profit.
It’s important to be aware of crucial business skills at this point. You will need to negotiate with both freelancers and clients in order to secure deals. You will also need to understand and assess risk as competently as any poker player or stock market investor.
What you can do, if it is possible and appropriate, is hire or collaborate with other freelancers in a number of ways. You can work with those with a similar skill and develop a small team that can take on a higher bulk of work. You can hire freelancers with a complimentary skill to offer a wider service, such as a writer working with a web designer and SEO specialist.
Remember, bringing on more freelancers leads to a greater number of points of failure. It’s important to hire freelancers that you can trust and who can produce a high quality of work. If you do decide to outsource in any way, you absolutely must communicate this to existing clients, and take on future workloads as a team.