For freelance web designers, finding a measure of comfort in our workload can be quite difficult. It seems like we’re either hair-falling-out busy or bored out of our minds. Happy mediums don’t really exist.
Then, there’s always that worry that comes along with not knowing what’s just around the corner. Just because we’re busy today doesn’t mean that we’ll stay that way for long.
It seems like this is at least somewhat instinctual, as we are keenly aware of what it takes for survival. That makes a lot of sense. With the wild rides we often take as freelancers, it sometimes feels like we’re fighting for our lives in the jungle.
That’s why one of the hardest things for us to do is to turn down a project. Even if we may not necessarily have time to take on more work, we still have that fear of missing out.
But, how rational is that fear? And, if we do take on the extra work, how do we manage it?
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Just Like the Sword of Damocles
Greek mythology was never my strong point in school, but for some reason the Sword of Damocles has stuck in my head. In my attempt at a very un-scholarly summary, it’s the story of a man who gets to switch places with the king for a day. As he sits on the throne, there is a sword dangling above his head quite ominously. At any minute, he could meet his doom. It’s all too much for him and he begs the king to switch back to their normal roles.
In its own modern way, the whole idea of freelancing can feel a bit like that. There’s so much uncertainty and you’re only a frayed thread away from failure. From my own perspective, the fear is both legitimate and rational – so long as you don’t take it too far.
If you spend your days moving from project to project, there is always that thought of “what if there are no more projects” in the back of your mind. While that’s natural, you also need to take a look at your situation as a whole.
For example, if you have at least some clients that provide you with steady income (like an agency), then you aren’t nearly as likely to crash and burn during a slow time. You’ll at least have something to help get you through until things pick up. That, in turn, could save you from taking on too much.
At the same time, you also need to ensure that your workload doesn’t come to a screeching halt. It’s a situation that requires a delicate balance, for sure.
Too Much or Not Enough?
One of the truisms of the freelance life is that opportunity always knocks at the very moment when we already have too much to do. It’s like booking two projects, waiting months for the clients to get their stuff together – only to have them both come in at exactly the same time. It just wouldn’t be life without this sort of hurry-up-and-wait dynamic.
Why does it always seem to work out this way? In my case, it seems to happen during certain times of the year when people are really focusing on their websites (after the New Year and again in the fall). But it might well be the randomness of the universe in a lot of instances. Either way, it presents another potential headache.
When an opportunity to book a project comes along, especially during a busy time, it’s important to look at it as calmly and objectively as possible. This is difficult because it can be so easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that you’re doing. But don’t despair – there are some things you can do to help you make the right choice:
It’s Just Another Project
The key is to try and weigh the benefits of each project as you would at any other time. Forget about your schedule for a moment and first determine whether or not it’s a good fit for you.
No matter how crazy your schedule looks at the moment, realize that it’s not going to stay that way forever. There are peaks and valleys when it comes to work. So it’s a good idea to try and look at the bigger picture when weighing your options.
Consider the Financial Implications
There’s an old saying that you should “strike while the iron is hot”. Turning down a project now doesn’t mean you’ll have a similar opportunity down the road. That could have a negative impact on your finances during a slower period.
Will It Be Too Much?
The best way to determine whether or not a project will be too much to handle is by studying not just the project requirements, but the client’s flexibility as well. It’s worthwhile to explain your situation and see if there is any wiggle room with the project’s deadline. If they aren’t willing to be flexible, then perhaps things just won’t work out.
In the end, it’s worth taking a bit of time to think about these types of opportunities. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you did your due diligence. And the potential benefits could be great.
The ability to juggle multiple projects is one of those things that freelancers seem to be born with. But even the best out there have a breaking point. When you face pressure from several different clients with upcoming deadlines, panic can start to set in.
So sure, why not add another project or two onto the pile? Kidding aside, making the best decisions for your business sometimes means having to take on a lot of responsibility. Managing it all is tough and requires a steady approach, including:
Accomplish What You Can, When You Can
Take some time each day to work on each project in your queue. And, importantly, don’t waste time. If you’re stuck waiting for a client to respond or provide you with assets, move on to something else. While it can be difficult to shift gears, you may just make some extra progress.
Say “No” When You Have To
Part of our job often requires responding to unexpected requests from clients. If you’ve taken on a good bit of extra work, you may have to decline or delay some of these tasks. Remember that you can’t be everything to everyone.
Find Some Quiet Time
I don’t often advocate working nights and weekends unless the situation absolutely calls for it. But there are occasions where being in front of your computer after hours can be very productive. It’s okay to do this once in awhile, just be wary of burnout.
Freelance Feast or Famine
The situations we face as business owners are quite different from those faced by employees. Instead of simply being assigned work, we often have to decide whether or not to accept work. That’s a lot to deal with. And, when business is booming, you might wonder how you’ll manage it all.
Of course, there are no easy answers for when you should take on a project or when you should pass. That’s really up to each of us as an individual. But one thing that should be universal is that each opportunity should be looked at based on its own merits. To just say that you won’t take on any new business means that you could be turning down something special.
Instead, take a look at the big picture. Then do what’s best for both your business and yourself.