What's on the iPod: Last Time by Taylor Swift
I've been sending out LOIs to conference attendees in hopes of scheduling some work or picking up some projects. Twenty letters in, I had to cool my jets. The phone and email is full of inquiries, and I have been asked by a few regular clients to give a call for some project discussions. February is going to be busier than expected.
As always, I started sweating the timing of it all. I don't want to disappoint anyone, but I have projects in my hands now that have immediate deadlines. Time-wise, I just can't do one more fast turnaround. It's physically impossible.
So I took a deep breath. Relaxed my shoulders. Then I opened a Word document and prioritized. Okay, this one had to be first -- without a doubt. This other one has a deadline of Monday, but I can get it done by today. That leaves next week for the regular client and for the new stuff coming in. I have one new client call scheduled for next week. The other has been one of those hit-and-miss voice mail dances.
If you're brand new or still squeaky clean to freelancing, you'll be hard pressed to turn down or even postpone work as it comes in. Sometimes no matter how far along in your career you are, you just can't postpone it due to client scheduling issues. Still, sometimes you have to preserve your own sanity and give yourself ample time to get the project done correctly. Trust me. I had an instance of screwing a project up because I had six others going at the same time. You won't get a second chance if you muck it up big time. Give yourself ample breathing room and space to work.
Here are my commandments for keeping the workflow running smoothly:
Honor thy client's deadline. Even if that means you have to turn down the work or refer it to someone else, understand that clients have deadlines, too. However, if you get the sense that the deadline is arbitrary, it's okay to give a little resistance - "I don't have time right now, but I have Tuesday open. Can I get it to you by then?"
Thou shalt not overbook. I really did schedule seven projects at once. How dumb was that? One was a long (and getting longer) course I was creating from scratch. It overlapped with three articles, two client projects, and then that now infamous seventh project that came in without warning and with an insanely tight deadline. Instead of pushing back on any deadline, I worked 12-hour days. The result - one client (now former) who was unhappy with the results and didn't mention it until I asked for feedback a month later (when the dust had finally settled). What could have been a lucrative partnership went up in flame thanks to my need to please. Don't do it. Know your limits and respect them. Better to lose the gig than to screw it up.
Thou shalt not skip steps. One of the reasons I got into trouble with this project was I'd assumed it was an easy one. It was, but I skipped over the research a little and settled on one of the first statistics I found. Turned out that's what ignited the fire - the client's client was upset that the statistic was from a local group and not a national one. A small thing, but it was a deal breaker. If you take on the project, budget the time to include every step needed to do the job right.
Thou shalt say no thank you. Yes, you can turn down a project, especially if you have no time for it. It may not be the death knell of your client relationship, either. They may learn to come to you sooner, and your busy schedule may make them realize what a commodity you are.
Thou shalt not compromise thine own standards. You know when you have more work than you can do, yet you took on that new project, too. Why? Because you're a codependent do-gooder who wants the check and the client approval. I know because that was me a few years ago. If the projects you're turning out are not to your personal standards, don't turn it over to the client. Request more time to get it right. Don't expect them to be okay with you fixing it in revisions. You may not be given the chance to get to that point.
Honor thy need to charge for rush jobs. True, they need it now now NOW. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be compensated for their lack of planning. When they call Friday afternoon saying they HAVE to have it Monday morning, your response should be something like "Sure thing. My fee for rush weekend work is double my usual fee. Do you want to pay the deposit via Paypal?" In other words, get compensated for pushing other projects aside or giving up your free time.
Thou shalt refer. I used a writer friend as a subcontractor this past fall when my workload exceeded my time. I acted as project manager. The result - he was able to score some much-needed work (and cash) and I was able to get the job done without killing myself. Figure out now who among your writer friends would be good subcontractors should you find yourself with too much work to handle.
Thou shalt adjust the client's view of what's possible. It was a long project that would not end. They expected 400 pages of a brand-new course (plus a 100-question test) in four months. When I fretted to the husband, he said, "Then tell them it's not happening." He nailed it. I was sweating an arbitrary deadline that had too many unrealistic expectations. I told the client I couldn't meet the deadline. They were fine with it, too. If it's not possible and you know it, speak up.
Keep sacred the weekend. Or whatever day you normally take off. While it's super to have a ton of work (aka money) coming in, it's not good to overwork yourself. You need the down time. Unless there's no other choice, don't work seven days solid. You can't be your best if you're not rested and balanced in other areas of your life.
Thou shalt charge more. My husband has this way of stating the obvious -- often those things that should be obvious, but aren't. When I fussed once about being too busy, he said, "You need to be charging more." Wow. How brilliant is that? If you're too busy, you need to raise the rates a bit. That does two things -- it weeds out some of the work, plus it justifies your popularity with clients. And that popularity is your gauge for when the rates should be going up.
How do you handle an abundance of work and a shortage of time?