Being freelance can be wonderful. It can be liberating, flexible and fun.
But it can also be difficult. Being freelance can mean long days, working weekends and needing more than 24 hours in a day.
One of the problems that most freelancers face at one time or another is having to juggle multiple jobs and timelines. It’s not easy. You can decide to only work on one project at a time, or you can fill your calendar with multiple jobs in the same time-slots… everyone works in a different way and as a freelance consultant your time is your own to structure as you wish. However, sometimes things slide and work becomes complicated. For instance:
- You decide to take on one job at a time, and job A comes through late, which in turn impacts on job B. This can lead to week 1 becoming slack and week 2 has you playing catch-up. If you are working for a regular client in week 2 you may be able to explain the situation and perhaps extend the deadline, if it is possible, but more often than not you are going to have to sort out the problem yourself.
- You decide that you can comfortably handle multiple jobs at the same time, often a mix of short jobs and larger ones. This makes for interesting work as you can feel refreshed by moving from one project to the other. But when a job stalls the same problem can occur: you may still have another project to work on, but the late job will impact on the next line up of jobs you have, which may or may not have been as intense as the one you ended up working on alone.
- You have a job (or jobs) lined up in the few weeks before you are due to go on holiday (we can’t afford to take the month off before a vacation just in case of problems) and you are informed that a job will come in late. This can be a nightmare… do you cancel your holiday (as if, but I’ll bet some people have), do you cancel the job or do you hold your breath on the phone as you explain to your client that you don’t take your work away with you, and ask for an extension.
Realistically when late work impacts on your schedule you have a few options…
- Talk to client 1, explain that you are fully booked and ask for an extended deadline as they are sending the project in late. You will still have to juggle, and things will still be tight, but they will be slightly better than having to work 16 hour days to get the projects done. No-one is working at their best when they put in those kind of hours.
- Talk to client 1, explain that you are fully booked and renegotiate the fee. If the deadline can’t be moved, really you are the one losing out due to the sliding workload… it’s only fair that you receive some kind of compensation for the hassle and extended working days that will have to be put in. In the freelance world time is money, and that includes what should be your free time.
- Talk to client 1, explain you are fully booked and ask for both an extended deadline and a renegotiated fee. I suppose this option depends on how good you are at negotiating. If even an extended deadline means that you will be putting in late nights and/or weekends this is the sensible option… however, in order not to allow your quality of work to suffer the next option may be the better one.
- Talk to client 1, explain that you are fully booked and regretfully have to decline the work (while offering to see if you can find a freelance who can take the work on at short notice). This is always a tough option, and will feel like letting down the client (as well as losing you the fee), however it shows that you value your clients and would not want to risk substandard work if time really is too tight to do a decent job. This is also the option most likely to come about when a job slides just before holiday time, unless the client really can wait until you return to the office.
- Talk to client 2, explain the situation and ask if there is any wiggle room on the deadline. If they are a regular client, and their deadlines aren’t so tight, you may be lucky and find that they will give you some leeway… but it really isn’t their problem so I’d only approach this option if you know the client well and know from experience that their deadlines aren’t the tightest.
- Suck it up and work all the hours you can to get back on track. When you are starting out this may seem like the best, only or safest option… but you won’t be doing yourself any favours.
So, you see freelance can be a bit of a juggling game, no matter how hard you try to stay in control
How do you deal with sliding work calendars and multiple clients?