As freelancers we often face the dilemma of “feast and famine,” alternating between having too little work and too much. Here at Freelance Folder we’ve even written articles on how to avoid the cycle as well as help with avoiding the famine completely, but there will also be times when you are overwhelmed with work and more projects just keep falling into your lap.
Having too much work is a better problem to have than too little, but it is still a problem many freelancers face. With too much work, you risk getting burned out while working very long hours and not sleeping enough. You may start missing deadlines or be less accessible than some of your clients would like or need you to be.
So what do you do when your schedule is full to the brim, but clients keep calling and requesting new projects, updates or proposals? There are some simple steps you can take when you inevitably find yourself in this position.
Know When to Say “No”
As a freelance worker, it is sometimes difficult to tell a client that you are unavailable for their project. There is always a bit of doubt about whether you can get a new project when you need it, so there is a strong temptation to take every project that comes your way. Resist that urge. When your work schedule is already full and the phone keeps ringing, carefully evaluate new jobs and make informed decisions to accept them or pass on them.
With some of your larger clients, it may be worth it to say “yes” just to keep your client happy and coming back to you for more. With a brand new client that you are looking forward to working with, you may want to make room in your schedule to make a good impression. However, with new clients that seem like they will need constant meetings, consultations and endless revisions, your busy schedule provides the perfect opportunity to pass up work from an imperfect client.
Warn Your Clients
Freelancers almost always benefit from a little bit of transparency in their day-to-day operations. Telling your client that you are overwhelmed with work at the moment may prompt them to delay their project until you are ready, or they may be a little more courteous with deadlines and constant phone calls.
Sometimes your clients don’t much care about your schedule as long as their projects get done on time. However, even knowing this about a client is valuable information as it helps you prioritize your work.
Tell Everyone Else How Busy You Are
Transparency isn’t only valuable to use with your clients, but also with your friends and loved ones. If you’re married, your spouse is probably already used to the ebb and flow of your work and knows what to do when the busy times strike. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re feeling and ask for help. Maybe they’ll help pull your weight when it comes to laundry, doing dishes or running to the grocery store. Just don’t forget to return the favor when the slow times hit!
You’ve already warned your clients that you’re busy. You likely got a range of responses that should help you figure out which projects can be put on the back-burner and which need to be moved to the forefront. Some of your clients won’t mind a delay in the projects, but some will be very upset if their projects are postponed.
You may also have some projects that will take weeks or months to complete, but others that will only take a couple of hours. It sometimes helps keep you motivated if you can start crossing off some of those quick projects and getting them off your plate.
Find Extra Time
Finding extra time in your day may be one of those things that is easier said than done, but if you know which opportunities to look for you may be able to squeeze in some extra work time in your day.
Does the lawn need mowed? How about paying the high schooler next door a few bucks to do it for you. House need cleaned? Check Craigslist for a cleaning service. After all, you’re so flush with cash from your busy times that you can afford to pay someone to handle tedious tasks for you. Just make sure that your hourly wage for working is considerably higher than the hourly wage you’ll be paying someone else to do your chores and you’ll get the benefit of not having to do them and making money instead.
If outsourcing all your daily chores and errands doesn’t buy you enough time to get everything done on schedule, it may be time to look into outsourcing some of your work. For more information on this, check one of Freelance Folder’s previous articles.
It’s important to remember that when you send off your work to another freelancer, you make the switch from “service provider” to “client.” You are responsible for prompt payment, clear direction and more. You’ll be running interference between your client and your freelancer, making sure deadlines are met and avoiding the dreaded scope-creep. Weigh out all the pros and cons of each project before deciding which projects to send out.
Be sure to find a freelancer you trust. If the person you’re outsourcing to doesn’t do a good job or misses deadlines, you’ll end up looking bad in your client’s eyes.
Whatever It Takes
When it comes down to it, you have a certain amount of projects and deadlines for each. It is your responsibility to maintain as many client relationships as possible while hitting as many deadlines as possible. Using a clever combination of outsourcing (either work or various errands), prioritization and turning down new work, you should be most of your way into a sane working schedule. If you find that you’re still overwhelmed, it’s time to use the “whatever it takes” strategy. This may mean setting your alarm an hour earlier every day, skipping your favorite TV show or trips to the gym in order to hit those deadlines.
Just like in most careers, freelancing sometimes requires mandatory overtime. Most of us got into freelancing looking for a little freedom in our lives and schedules, so it’s not always easy to accept that we need to work late to complete a project on time. Take comfort in the fact that you’re still making your schedule, and you can still take a long break in the middle of the day if necessary. Just keep your eye on those deadlines.
The most important part to remember is staying sane throughout the process. Working 18 hours per day for a week straight is a good way to send yourself straight into burnout mode. Find out what it takes to keep yourself sane and indulge yourself. That may mean keeping your daily walks with your dogs, or finding a way to spend time with your spouse.
Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with too much work?
Top image by dylanroscover