Oddly enough, one of the biggest challenges for freelancers is what to do when things are going well and you start juggling multiple projects. Obviously, that seems like a good problem to have, but it’s also a good way to let balls drop – never a good idea with clients.
For instance, you may begin one project, but right in the middle you might be offered a more lucrative or interesting project from someone else. Should you tell the first client you can’t work with them anymore? Should you ask to delay the first project? As painful as it might be, do you stick to your commitment and turn down the new project?
Learn to juggle multiple projects – especially when a big one comes along…
I’ve spent my career juggling projects like this, and at Cooke Media Group, we’re working with 8-10 clients at any given time so this isn’t new territory for us. Over the years, we’ve discovered some good guidelines that hopefully will help you balance things and keep everyone happy.
1) First, having multiple clients and projects is a good thing. There’s an old advertising agency principle that no one single client should represent more than 35% of your income. If you only have one or two clients, and one decides to use someone else, you’re out of business. Your goal should be to have enough clients so that if you lose one (for whatever reason) it will only represent a small part of your overall income. Plus, there are times when projects get delayed, so being able to move to something else can save the day.
Sadly, freelancers break this rule all the time and it rarely ends well.
2) Know the number of projects you can juggle without being overwhelmed. Remember that clients are hiring you not only because of your talent, but because of your confidence. The minute they see you get nervous, they get nervous. Every project is a different size and requires different levels of attention, so think about your client/project mix, and learn how many you can confidently handle.
3) Have a network around you so you can farm out aspects of the project if necessary. As a producer, it’s my job to have a stable of talented writers, directors, and other crew members at the ready. If you’re a designer, have a few other designers you can send work to when you’re backed up. It’s the same for every freelancer – video editors, writers, producers, directors of photography, etc. They don’t have to be your full-time employees, but you need to know them, trust them, and know when to pick up the phone.
4) Always be communicating with the client. Keep them updated on your progress, potential challenges, and delivery dates. Return client phone calls that day if possible, and emails within 24 hours. When clients stop hearing from you, they start wondering what’s wrong (not a good thing) and start looking elsewhere.
5) Develop a system to stay on top of multiple projects. It may be a simple to-do list, a print planner, or a computer app – whatever, work it so you always know where you stand. Knowing the status of every aspect of a project really helps keep you on top of things.
6) Finally, trust the process, because even when projects start bumping into each other, most of the time, things work out.
Numerous times in your career, you’ll be in the middle of a project (maybe even a boring project, but you needed the money), and then a big opportunity comes along. I’m sure your original client is thrilled that you’re getting better offers, however, his priority is his project, and he or she expects you to finish it.
For me, integrity matters. Someone once said, be nice to people on your way up, because you’ll meet them again on your way down. The client behind your small and boring project today may bring you something really big next time, so it’s just not worth dropping the ball on anyone.
This article originally appeared at PhilCooke.com. Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a media producer and consultant to churches and ministries around the world. His latest book is “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.