The ability to successfully manage multiple projects is part of being a freelance web designer. And, while outsiders may think it’s a simple skill, it turns out to be incredibly difficult. It seems that no matter how organized you are a carefully-planned schedule can turn to dust before you can say “next”.
The truth is that scheduling design projects is not like serving customers in line at the grocery store. Designers can’t simply take care of one client at a time exclusively. Instead, it’s more like an ice cream truck that is overwhelmed by hungry kids on a summer day. In other words: It can be complete chaos.
So how do you control the crowd? How do you deal with projects that unexpectedly run long and overlap others? Let’s try and make some sense of this mess!
Websites Aren’t Cars
The first thing freelance designers need to realize is that building a website isn’t like building a car or any other mass-produced product. Automobiles benefit from an assembly line of workers and robots that carry out specific tasks. Therefore, a company can know exactly how long it takes to build each car.
Websites, on the other hand, aren’t so cut-and-dry. Besides the fact that most of us don’t have an assembly line on our side, each website we build is at least somewhat unique. Sure, things like themes, plugins and frameworks can help to speed up the process. But a website is still a one-off kind of product.
This means that projects are inevitably going to run longer than we expect. Sometimes it’s because of a bug we can’t seem to squash or a client that keeps changing their mind. It can also be that the client is slow in getting us the resources we need to finish things off. When you think about it, there are a number of things that can cause a project to drag on. It’s actually amazing that we get anything done at all.
Knowing this helps us come to terms with the fact that web design is a fluid process that can change at any moment. So we shouldn’t be too surprised when a project runs long or that we all-of-the-sudden hear from that client who’s in a hurry.
There are certain things we can’t control. That means we have to accept some level of flexibility in our schedules.
It’s About Expectations
Now that we understand the predictably unpredictable ways of freelance life, we can have a better grip on how we do things. We can build in some extra wiggle-room when scheduling projects – preparing for the worst-case scenario.
But that’s only half the battle. Clients are thinking about their own challenges and may not have much of an idea about the ones you’re facing. All they know is that they need their website as soon as possible.
That’s why it’s important to set the level of client expectations from the very beginning of the process. We need an open and honest line of communication about what we can and can’t do, along with a realistic timeline for getting it done. It’s also worth noting that any delay on their part can throw a major monkey wrench in your schedule, as well. Working together is a two-way street, after all.
This discussion can be difficult, as we want to make sure that everyone’s happy and well taken care of. You never want to disappoint a client. From my own experience, I’ve tended to stress myself out over having multiple projects that seem to collide simultaneously. But things are far better when I can get a little breathing room regarding deadlines. The only way to achieve this is through communication.
Then there’s also the risk of missing out on a potential project because we can’t reasonably meet someone’s desired timeline. Not everyone will be empathic of your schedule, but that’s okay. Offer as much flexibility as you can. If a client can’t accept your terms, then maybe moving on is for the best. Still, you’ll find that most people really are understanding and are willing to work with you.
In the end, all you can do is provide an honest assessment of your schedule. More times than not, that should help to quell some of the chaos.
Write it in Pencil
I admit that I’m the type of person who hates unexpected changes to a schedule. When things don’t go the way I’ve anticipated, it’s incredibly frustrating.
Unfortunately, that’s the way the world works – whether any of us like it or not. No matter where we work or who we work with, things are always subject to change. So it’s best to take this into account when scheduling projects.
So, rather than have a dyed-in-the-wool schedule mapped out, it might be best to write it down in pencil (or erasable marker). Anticipate that not everything will go exactly as planned and that there will always be issues that pop up unexpectedly.
The bright side of it all is that, even though we can’t bring absolute certainty to our schedules, there are things we can do to alleviate the worst stressors. Have policies in place and make sure that clients are aware of them.
The other key element is to understand that running a web design business is different than your typical 9-5 job. That will help you cope when your plans inevitably turn to dust.