If you are a freelance writer, web designer, or software developer, you probably know that managing freelance gigs can feel a lot like juggling. When you are not busy writing, you're on websites trying to find freelance gigs to cover your bills, updating your portfolio on freelance platforms with your latest work, and trying to keep your many clients happy while turning in your projects on time. So how do you land jobs, update freelancing sites, and ensure that your work is completed on time when you are managing dozens of projects at the same time?
The good news is that there are plenty of project management tools out that will help you keep track of all the jobs you're working on and free you up to spend the time you need on freelance websites to find your next gig and apply for the latest job postings.
Why Is It So Hard to Manage Freelancer Projects?
You probably started freelancing because you wanted more freedom and flexibility in your working life. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. Freelance jobs can be highly demanding. Sure, freelance work comes with flexibility and choice, but you always spend a lot of your weekends and nights working on projects and churning out content. Once you've landed a job and made your clients happy, they want to expand their projects and start referring you to others. As you get experienced, the freelance jobs get bigger and bigger, and you start running into supply and demand issues.
Unlike a company where your workload is managed and overseen by a single boss or manager, your clients don't know or care about your other obligations...only that you've committed to their writing jobs or graphic design gigs and need to deliver by the deadline.
Having a lot of work or consistently landing gigs on the job board isn't a bad thing when you are an entrepreneur. But if you get overwhelmed, you could burn out very quickly or start delivering poor-quality work, which can affect your relationships with clients and your reputation.
If you take a freelance job, or make freelance writing, web development, or design your full-time career, you need to have a game plan, including:
- Learning to Say No
When you take your first freelance job or pursue a full-time freelance career, you don't want to say no to anyone because your income is dependent on the jobs you land. Piling more on your plate than you can handle is never a good idea, so learn to firmly and respectfully say "no" or ask for the due date to move. The most important thing here is to set expectations at the beginning - don't take on a great freelance job knowing you can't realistically meet your deadline. Instead, simply say something along the lines of, "I'd love to take on this logo design/writing project/data entry gig for you, but I'm fully booked until the 22nd. Would a deadline of the 25th work for you?"
Most clients will be willing to negotiate with their freelance talent if they are happy with their work.
- Having a Back-Up
If there is no saying no, you should consider building up a network of general or creative freelancers with an impressive portfolio to assist you in a pinch. While you don't want to refer potential clients to your direct competition, you should have someone on hand to assist you so that you can outsource projects to them. You can act as the client liaison, pay the freelancer, and grow your business at the same time. That way, you don't lose all of the revenue and can scale up your freelance business if you're ready to. If you do hire freelancers to help you out, make sure that they undergo a screening process and that their work is up to your standards. you should also ensure that you have project management tools in place to keep them on track. (We'll delve into outsourcing a little later on in this article, so sit tight if you need more detail!)
- Plan Your Rest
When you start working as a freelancer, those freelancing websites can become addictive, and you'll spend a lot of time looking through the latest job listings and gigs..especially if you've quit your day job to freelance full-time. You may spend your nights and weekends slogging away at your computer. Again, you don't want to burn out, so learn to plan your rest. Plan your working hours as far in advance as possible and try to keep weekends freed up. If you want to take a break over the holidays, make sure that you schedule work in such a way that you have genuine free time to enjoy and rest. If necessary, look on your freelance marketplace of choice and hire a virtual assistant to handle calls and flag issues for you if they crop up while you are out of the office. Learn to be protective of your free time and personal life to avoid becoming stressed out and overwhelmed with work.
- Plan a Pipeline
You've probably picked up that it's easier to find freelance jobs than ever before, but good freelance opportunities are still hard to find. Many freelancers are cheapening the industry by lowering their rates, an effect which is compounded by the number of global freelance workers on the market that can offer highly competitive rates due to a lower cost of living in their market. While you don't want to take too many jobs on board, keep your eye on the best freelance websites, LinkedIn job postings, and online job ads at all times for the right opportunity. It's a good idea to keep a pipeline of potential clients going so that you have options if your current opportunities run out. Try to keep your calendar filled a few months ahead of time. There are more freelance jobs available than in the past, but you still have to hustle if you want to land the best freelance jobs.
- Keep Lines of Communication Open
Things will go wrong from time to time, and when you are a new freelancer, you might underestimate how long it will take to complete a project. If you fall behind at any stage or see that you might not be able to make a deadline for whatever reason, let your clients know. That way, you can negotiate new terms and manage expectations by setting a new deadline. It's much better than leaving them wondering what went wrong.
- Set Realistic Deadlines
If you've ever browsed a freelance website, you'll quickly spot how many freelancers promise "quick turnarounds" in their profiles. Quick turnarounds are great, but you don't want to put too much pressure on yourself. Aggressive deadlines cause stress and put you at a higher risk of missing a deadline and losing a client down the line. You need to set realistic, generous deadlines because things can go wrong at any time. Your computer might break, you might get an important (and lucrative) rush job from a big client, or you might come down with flu at the worst possible time. Don't overextend yourself. Always ask for more time than is strictly necessary. It's much better to surprise your clients with early delivery than missing deadlines or working through the night and exhausting yourself.
How to Manage Multiple Freelance Projects at the Same Time
When you start your freelancing career, you have to find a balance between taking on the quantity of work you need to pay your bills and grow your business while still delivering the quality of work that your clients expect from you, on time. You also need to maintain a good work-life balance and avoid burning out. If you want to work freelance, you should find the right tools to manage your time, jobs, clients, and accounts.
Create a Schedule
Keeping your projects in order and on deadline is a challenge, and you'll need a plan of action. Set aside fifteen minutes in your diary at the beginning of every week to create a game plan for the week ahead. Use this time to review your upcoming task list, then break it down day by day if you can. Make sure that you leave enough gaps as a barrier to safeguard against things going wrong.
If you don't have a plan of action, you'll soon end up mismanaging your time and missing deadlines, leading to unhappy clients. The best way to manage your time is to get a simple calendar for your freelance gigs. If you have a day job, get a separate calendar just for the freelance jobs on your books.
Then create an outline for your days based on a realistic working schedule. If you work from home, try to include pockets of time for running errands as well - it's only human to get distracted otherwise. Next, stick to your schedule! Sure, you may have to move things around if an emergency pops up at home or if your favorite client comes back with a rush job that has to be completed, but try to keep to the hours you've set. Freelance jobs require time and task management skills.
Manage Your Time
Some freelance jobs are paid based on deliverables, like graphic design projects, academic writing projects, data entry, and more. Others, especially web developers, software engineers, editors, and virtual assistants, bill per hour. You might think that only the freelancers that charge per hour need to track their time spent working, but in reality, everyone has to. Let's take freelance writing, for example. You could take on two or three big corporate clients that pay 30 cents per word and spend a few hours a week delivering their content or work for a content mill that takes up eight hours a day and pays 3 cents a word. Unless you are tracking your time and your earnings, you won't be able to determine the most profitable and beneficial path to take.
Tracking your time is also an important part of understanding your personal capacity for delivery, which can help you schedule your time and keep your projects running according to schedule. Knowing where and how your time is being spent on every freelance gig is the best way to make strategic decisions about your business and your projects. You could probably do this manually, but an automatic time tracker is much easier, especially if you are billing clients by the hour. Clients might ask you to deliver proof of the hours you've billed and software is the best way to prove that you actually put the time in that you say you did.
Break Work Up Into Tasks and Use Task Management Tools
So, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, guys...It's a corny analogy, but one that really works. Work can feel overwhelming at times, especially when a number of big projects roll in at the same time. Try breaking each project into a series of smaller tasks and tick them off the to-do list as you progress.
Task management software is the best tool for the job. It can help you manage your day-to-day tasks, estimate the time it'll take to complete your current workload, track dependencies and bottlenecks, and even set satisfying milestones to keep you on track. Best of all, you know you won't forget anything else if you use it!
There are hundreds of task management software tools on the market, ranging from highly complex and very expensive enterprise-grade tools, to very simple to-do lists. You probably don't need anything too fancy for freelance work, but the hallmarks of a good task management tool are:
- the ability to manage all of your tasks from a single screen/place
- the ability to prioritize tasks by order of importance
- the ability to access your data from anywhere, any time
If you work in a team context, you should look for a tool that allows you to manage data in a collaborative way and delegate tasks to one another.
Make sure to check in on your task list every morning and at the close of business every day. There's nothing more satisfying than ticking an item off your to-do list!
Batch Your Time
Have you heard of batching? This one is pretty common for freelance writers, but anyone can use time batching to stay on top of their game. You probably already know that there's a cost to task switching. If you're busy with work and are interrupted, it can take up to 23 minutes just to regain your focus and become productively engaged with your task again. You are consuming more time than you would if you batched similar tasks together. So let's say you are busy with a series of freelance writing jobs for social media that requires copy and image sourcing. If you're switching between sourcing images and writing copy, you lose focus and get distracted easily. Try batching the similar tasks across your clients together instead, e.g., posting to social media, writing copy, sourcing images, or liaising with graphic designers. It sounds strange, but it actually keeps you focused.
Create Templates for Client Communication
You probably already know that as a freelancer, you're constantly fielding inquiries. Freelance job sites invite you to interviews, clients come back with requests for samples or quotes, or ask for updates about freelance jobs you're busy with. If you spend just two or three minutes crafting a personal response to each query (many of which will lead absolutely nowhere), you can easily spend an hour just typing away at your emails. You can cut down on non-productive time by crafting professional and informative template responses to common queries. There are plenty of free message templates you can use to respond to common emails like introductions, requests and follow-ups for payments and briefings, client check-ins and reminders.
Start by making a list of common questions and requests you receive (or send) and create easy templates that you can access when you need them, e.g.:
- Requests for samples of your previous work/references
- Requests for deadlines/delivery dates
- Introductory emails and job pitches
- Requests for more information about rates or projects
- Responses to jobs posted on an online job board or freelance platform
- General follow-ups on payments
- General check-in to find out if more work is available
- Response to accommodate a proposal, contract, or invoice
Optimize Your Workflow Through Automation
Here's the downside of every freelance job. There's only so much you can do on any given day. You are the sole producer of the content and work clients order, and you can't scale up without hiring other job seekers or freelancers to help you out, which cuts into your profits and takes a lot of the control out of your hands when it comes to client service, quality, and delivery. The only way to really scale up without hiring more hands on deck is to become more efficient in the way you manage your time and your business.
If you are serious about your freelance job, you should look for freelance sites that offer the tools you need to streamline and optimize your workflow. For example, you can use WeAreIndy to create professional proposals that can convert into signable contracts that can turn into clear and concise professional invoices. That way, you are spending the time that could be used pitching freelance jobs websites and clients or actually doing client work on administrative tasks and manual inputs.
You can also use tools like the contact form to screen and qualify new clients or gather more information about the freelance work they're offering.
There are other benefits as well. Proposals are the most important document you'll send as a freelancer because that's the one document that can turn a lead into a paying client. Contracts and invoices are the key to getting paid on time. If your proposals, contracts, and invoices are clear, professional, and concise, the administrative side of your business is well taken care of.
Keep a Paper Trail/Back-Up of Documentation
If you work in mobile app development, software development or in a number of other creative jobs, you probably know how important keeping track of changes and documenting steps in the development and design process is. The same is true for all general freelance jobs. A client might come back in a year's time and ask for "something similar to the work you did last time", or tell you that they've lost the work you did a few months prior and ask for a backup. Or you could face your worst nightmare and lose your laptop due to theft or water damage (and all your work along with it). Suffice to say, you need to back up your work at all times. Not just your creative work but your invoices and proposals too.
As a freelancer, you should get a cloud-based file sharing and storage system in place right away. This will not only protect your work in the event of a data loss, but assist you with version control and serve as a reference for future work, especially if you plan on delegating some of the work on your plate to another creative talent or freelancer down the line.
Make sure that the file sharing and storage system you choose is secure and accessible from any device (with the right security checks in place). You should also look for a site that offers permission management and the ability to assign roles to collaborators and clients. That way, you can share a document or file with a client, who can give you feedback directly on the file in the cloud. You can then make the necessary revisions and send it back to them. It's much easier and more secure than emailing files back and forth every day.
Optimize Your Freelance Jobs Sites and Platforms
When you start your freelance career, you are tempted to apply for every single freelance job and work in every single field you possibly can, but that's not always the best approach. As you build up your portfolio, you'll quickly realize which job postings pay the best and which specialization is the most profitable or popular. If you are registered on a freelance website, modify your profile to attract clients to your most profitable niche. Freelance designers who specialize in HTML or web design can charge more than a graphic design freelancer who only wants to do logos. Freelance writing with a technical angle can earn more than freelance writing jobs for general blogs. Make sure that the profiles you have on freelance sites and social media are designed to attract the job postings you want. If you are going after a specific and very lucrative client, you may want to go even further and tailor your profile to pitch to them (and no one else). Sure, you don't want to limit yourself, but you also don't want to plug away at unprofitable, time-consuming jobs every day either. Some of the best freelance jobs websites also have options where you can indicate your current status (e.g., "actively looking for work,” "fully booked,” "available as of March 2022") so make use of those options. You'll still need to juggle multiple projects, but you can focus on high-value projects with a low time investment to make the most of your time.
You might think this one is obvious, but you need to set reminders for everything you do. Sure, maybe you're already doing this for jobs with hard deadlines, but are you doing it for everything you do? Yes? No? Think about it. Have you set a reminder to check in with your favorite client who hasn't given you a job in a while? Or to check in on payments? Have you set a reminder to browse job listings on LinkedIn or your favorite freelance website? Have you set a reminder to update your profiles with your latest work? Those tasks are every bit as important as the projects you're running and their due dates, and the tasks that are most likely to slip through the cracks when you're juggling too much at the same time.
Try setting reminders for:
- All due dates and deliverables
- Networking days
- Irregular but important tasks like filing your taxes or invoicing clients
- Regular check-ins with clients
- Milestone reminders (e.g., "You should be halfway through the web design gig for XYZ company by today")
Bear in mind that your memory is fallible, especially if you are juggling dozens of clients and jobs and tasks at the same time. Just putting a reminder called "follow-up" or "meeting" isn't going to be helpful in three months' time, so include as much data as possible. Include a link to the relevant documents (like an invoice) if possible.
Build Up Your Network
Here's the bit we promised to come back to: outsourcing freelance opportunities to others. Turning down money is hard when you are a freelancer. Freelance work can be a feast-or-famine career path. Sometimes you won't have enough work to fill your days, but at other times, you simply have too much work coming in to handle. You've worked hard for those clients, so you don't want to give the work away. What do you do? You need to outsource!
This doesn't mean giving your jobs away - it just means asking another qualified freelancer to do the work for you while you focus on the work at hand. You can approach outsourcing in two ways:
- Paying the freelancer the full fee you would've made on the job. Sure, you don't make any money, but you won't lose the client and can hopefully get some freelance work from them in the future.
- Paying them slightly less than you charge the client. You'll make a small profit and keep the client.
Which method you use might not be entirely up to you - the other freelancer might not be willing to adjust their rates for you.
There's another risk to consider. Will the freelancer deliver the same quality of work you usually deliver? If their quality doesn't match your own, you may end up scrambling to find someone else to redo the work (or try to fix it yourself). Either way, you'll lose money and disappoint your client.
It's a good idea to get to know your network. List a few job postings on your favorite sites and review the applications and portfolios carefully. You might even want to create a few dummy tasks for the freelancers to complete for a small fee to test the quality of their work. Don't leave this until the last minute - prepare for the eventuality that you might have to outsource some work by building up a network of good-quality freelancers from the start.
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You got into freelancing because you like working for yourself, you like control over your income, and you love the flexibility of working from home. The only way to enjoy those perks is to become an expert planner and organize your many projects in an efficient and easy way. Make sure that you keep on top of your tasks and clients (and your invoicing!) by adopting the right tools for the job. WeAreIndy.com is one of the best freelance platforms on the market, with all of the tools you need to run your freelance career from start to finish. Make sure that you are preparing for anything and everything by equipping yourself with all the tools of the freelance trade.