There are a lot of jobs that list “good balance” as a required skill. Pretty much anything that’s classified under the “circus performer” umbrella (or should I say tent?) – acrobats, tight-rope walkers, jugglers – as well as dancers, waiters/waitresses, and…freelancers?
Being a freelancer requires a very refined sense of balance. Especially if you’re a freelance juggler! (Kidding.) As a freelancer – no matter which career path you choose – you’ll need to balance your work, your life, your schedule, your income, and your clients; all without dropping them.
Let’s take a look at that last one for a moment: your clients. As a freelancer, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Never have just one client. It’s too risky! However, that’s not to say that having multiple clients at the same time doesn’t pose its own set of risks.
Have you ever invited a friend over for dinner? Of course you have. And you both had a great time, no doubt. But what about when you invited three friends over? It was a little harder to keep all three of them entertained, right? It’s the same when you’re catering to multiple clients. Keeping everyone pleased can be done, but it takes a little more effort and a lot more thought. You’ll need to:
Prioritize and Schedule
Create a list of your clients. Write down each client’s expectations, along with who needs what when. Mark your calendars and create to-do lists accordingly.
If you have more than one client with deadlines on or around the same day, you’ll need to prioritize them. Which client provides the work that pays the most? Or is the most rewarding? Who, if any, is the most lenient should you need an extension?
Give Yourself a Buffer
Of course, ideally, you shouldn’t have to consider the questions I mentioned above. Because, ideally, you’ll have given yourself enough time to perform each project, from each client, with excellence – even if an unexpected setback arises.
Before you take on a client’s project, figure out exactly how much time you’ll need and then add on a day or two as “buffer.” This will account for time needed in case of an emergency and will also allow you some wiggle room should any of your deadlines overlap.
Focus on One Project at a Time
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t multitask. The time it takes to switch mental gears is a waste of time.
According to neuroscientist Earl Miller, “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
Focus on one project at a time, even if it means only working on one project per day. If you have to choose between doing one thing very well or two things “adequately,” do one thing. Never sacrifice quality.
Never take on more work than you can realistically handle. We all have our workload limits, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. What’s important is that we acknowledge those limitations and work with them.
Yes, you can always practice and become better and faster; but that takes time. Be honest with yourself and assess yourself as you are _now – _as you really are. Never judge yourself by who you think you’ll be in the future or the you that you’d “like” to be. As freelancers, we’d all “like” to be phenomenal workers who can take on hundreds of projects per week and achieve perfection with relative ease. But is that the “you” you’re working with right now? Probably not.
You’re your own boss, but there are going to be times when you have to be “bossier” with yourself than others. When you take on multiple clients, the “boss” side of your personality needs to go into overdrive. Don’t allow yourself to slack off.
Work quickly and focus on maximizing your efficiency. When you work primarily online, it’s all-too-easy to “feel” like you’re hard at work when you’ve actually spent the last hour surfing the web. Just because you’re at your desk doesn’t mean you’re working – leave your tendencies to procrastinate at the door.
Allow Yourself Time Off
Don’t confuse not procrastinating whilst in the midst of working as not being allowed to take time off. Quite the contrary! Leave room for breaks/time off in-between projects. It’s an absolute necessity.
When you work for multiple clients, each with their own set of demands on your time and sanity, you risk burning out more quickly than you would normally. Burnout is the bane of the freelancer. Avoid it at all costs.
Even if you’re already a wiz at organization, don’t get cocky. Balancing multiple clients requires a higher level of organizational skills than working for a single client.
Multiple clients means multiple projects and deadlines to keep track of. Don’t count on your memory alone to be enough. Write everything down.
Have a Mix of Clients
Don’t let all your clients be “big” clients. There are only so many hours in the day.
In this instance, “big” refers to the workload involved. We all have that one client who requires more intensive labor than anyone else. Usually, they’re also the one who pays the most, but not necessarily. Sometimes “small” clients (those who require less of our working hours to please) pay very, very well.
Have a mix of clients. If you already have a “big” client who takes up the bulk of your time, don’t take on two more – you won’t have time to please all of them! Instead, look for “smaller” clients to fill in the gaps.
In order to successfully balance multiple clients, the key word to remember is balance. If you find yourself scrambling to keep up, then it’s come to cut back. Never sacrifice quality; sacrifice clients.
Freelancers often struggle with finding a proper work/life balance. But I’m here to tell you: there are things more important than money. And you’ll never get to discover those things if you’re buried until a pile of work.
Make a list of your current clients and the work you do for each of them. How much time do you spend on each client? Who takes up the bulk of your time? Do you enjoy the work you’re doing for them? (Or, alternatively, is the pay amazing enough to make non-enjoyable work “worth it?”).
Once you determine how much time is spent working, who it’s spent on, and whether or not you truly enjoy the work you’re doing for those clients, you can begin analyzing who should get sent to the chopping block.
Don’t be afraid of letting clients go, if you really need (or want) to. Not only will it free up your time to find better clients, should you want (or need) them; it will allow you to spend more time pleasing the clients you already have.
Maintain balance in your own life first. If you can achieve that, balancing multiple clients will be easy!