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Setting Your Freelance Client Workload

Consider this undesirable freelancing scenario: you’ve gotten to the level of success in your business that you have so much freelance/ contract client work that you can’t think straight and can’t get the work done. If so, then you need to manage your workload. Even if you’re not overwhelmed with work at the moment, setting good workflow habits now will save you grief later. Having work you can’t complete is probably worse than not having it at all – something I’ve had to deal with earlier this year, when my productivity slipped.

Knowing that you could handle more work if it came to you makes you more receptive to opportunities that do pop up. What’s more, if you have an efficient workflow, that makes it easier for you to outsource to someone reliable and be able to manage them. This sparks the beginning of a transition from freelancer to entrepreneur.

Project Selection
Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when you’re at the project selection stage.

  1. One client or several? It’s rarely a good idea to only work with one client. Sure, there’ll be transition periods, but you want to deveop an active list. The Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 or 70/30 Rule) could be interpreted to suggest that most (e.g., 80%) of your income will come from the fewest (e.g., 20%) clients. However, there’s the matter of the other 20% of your income, and what happens if your big clients drop out for a while or even permanently. What’s bad, too, is having just one client and worrying about that constantly.
  2. One project or several? This more difficult to answer and really depends on your work efficiency and ability to handle large projects. If you’re bad at breaking down a project into smaller tasks and systematically completing them, then you might be better off take more small projects. Personally, I prefer a mix.

Ultimately, what you pick (clients, projects) really depends on how you work and what type of work you do. For me, I prefer (or used to) more small coding projects but more large writing projects. (It’s hard to have to come up with lots of fresh writing content week after week. Freelance blogging is not quite as systematic as maybe technical writing.

Setting Project Priorities
Whether you choose lots of small projects, fewer large projects, or a mix, it’s important to set your task priorities. A task might be a complete small project or part of a large project.

  1. Prioritize projects by due date first.
  2. Then prioritize by size, not fee.
  3. Break large projects down into smaller tasks.
  4. Give each task an approximate value, whether it’s a whole project or part of one. This is very important for large project tasks, else it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

For example, if I have a $50 project and a $500 project, regardless of deadline, the larger one is going to be more intimidating. But if I break it into logical subtasks and assign a rough value (based on a fraction of the project rate), then its easier to be systematic. This is more important for freelancers, since we tend to have to work on many projects simultaneously. Keeping a clear list of achievable tasks and subtasks is key to managing a large workload.

Setting a Work Schedule
If there’s one luxury most freelancers have, it’s that of being able to choose your work schedule. If you want to work evenings, go ahead. Do what works for yourself and your clients. I prefer to code in the day and write on evenings and weekends. That’s not always the case, but it’s nice if I get to pick based on mood. Creative work is often affected by mood, so schedule freedom helps productivity.

  1. Choose your work session durations. Assuming for a moment that you’re going to put in a 40-hour work week, there are many ways you can split it up, depending on other demands in your life. It might also depend on the type of freelance work you do. Some people prefer to put in a 5-day week of 8 hours each. Others prefer a 4-day week of 10 hours each. For coding, I used to prefer 10 hour days. For writing, I like to split the day up into 2-4 three-hour chunks, depending on deadlines.
  2. Choose task order.  You do want to factor in time for research, interacting with clients, doing administrative tasks, and so on. My rule of thumb: if I’m feeling productively creative, I write. Otherwise I do non-creative tasks.
  3. Go with the flow. If you’re really efficient and come up with a killer workflow model that maximizes your personal productivity, go with it. However, if it starts to change, don’t be afraid to let it. My workflow models often change within a few months, based on the needs of the work i’m doing or my personal productivity level at that time.

Efficiency of work flow is often affected by personal life. If you have a strong personal reason for being efficient, you’ll find it. If you’re having trouble with workflow, maybe there’s an area of knowledge that you need to refresh or update.

Procrastination causes loss of revenue and is the often a manifestation of a problem with either (1) your workflow; (2) your choice of projects or clients; (3) a feeling of lack of knowledge; or (4) health issues or personal problems that need to be sorted out. These are issues that need to be dealt with, if you if you want to build up to an efficient workflow.

One Comment

  1. Luiz Lopes Says:

    this is a great post Raj. I recently started my own business, and I am going to put a workload schedule in place. Right now things are pretty slow, but I know that if I don't get into the habit of budgeting my time, in the long run I'll suffer from it. Thank you for the post.

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