The beauty of being a freelancer is being able to work on multiple projects with multiple clients. The challenge of being a freelancer is, you guessed it, managing multiple projects and multiple clients.
Many freelancers start out hungry for clients, then risk taking on too many later in their careers when their work is more in demand. But having a wide range of clients is a good thing when you know how to find the right clients to work with. This freelance guide to multiple clients will cover the benefits and pitfalls of working with different companies, tools and tips to manage multiple projects, and strategies to help you grow.
Why should you have multiple clients?
It can be appealing to work with just one client at a time—and for some freelancers, that approach is perfectly fine. However, there are some major personal and financial benefits to expanding your clientele. Consider these perks as you consider the pros and cons of taking on more clients.
1) Work on different types of projects to expand your skills
If you’re anything like me, you probably get bored of having just one repetitive job. The wide variety of projects helps to ensure I’m continuously learning, and has often served as my foray into new projects that expanded my skillset. Rather than working on one project for one company, I’m exposed to a variety of different tasks, teams, and perspectives.
In my experience, even if you’re hired for the same job title, your role will look different from client to client.
For example, let’s say you’re hired as a marketing consultant for a startup and a medium-sized business. At the startup, you may be laying the groundwork: branding strategy, buyer persona creation, and website updates. At the medium-sized business, you might be focusing on more analysis and refinement: new market research, an SEO audit, and A/B testing your landing pages.
Having multiple clients allows for this type of diversity in your day-to-day work.
2) Context switch to boost productivity
Related to the point above, different clients and projects also mean different levels of strategy, mental gymnastics, and speed at which you can complete a task.
In school, I used to take breaks from big projects by switching to smaller, more manageable projects. This helped me avoid getting burnt out in one subject, while also knocking out another item on my homework list and feeling productive and accomplished.
I do the same thing when working with multiple clients. Context-switching between clients can stimulate great new ideas and provide a respite from intense projects when I’m feeling mentally drained. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from an intense, high-strategy project to get a quick dopamine rush by writing an article on an industry I know like the back of my hand, and checking it off my to-do list.
3) Earn more money
To state the obvious, more clients means more opportunity to earn. Each client has their own unique needs and budget, and you’re more likely to keep your pipeline filled when you’ve got multiple accounts reaching out for help.
I’ve freelanced most of my career, but there was one point I focused heavily on one client, so most of my income came from them. When I switched back to “balanced” freelancing after this phase, I doubled my income within the next two months.
This is also a great way to prevent over-reliance on one client. As you’re probably all too aware, a freelancer’s income can fluctuate drastically from month to month. However, if you have multiple streams of income—especially ones that are tied to long-term contacts—you can better protect yourself from sudden dips in revenue.
4) Build a diverse and robust portfolio
Great work speaks for itself—and one of the fastest ways to build up your portfolio is by working on multiple projects. Whether this means taking on an array of short-term projects or a few key accounts, you get ample opportunity to add more achievements under your belt.
Remember to showcase client logos, quotes, and success metrics (with permission). These are all valuable proof points that show prospects how you’ve made an impact in the past. That way, you can spend less time convincing potential clients of your credibility, and more time exploring whether or not there’s a good fit.
5) Expand your network
Some of my favorite clients have come through referrals. A referral comes on the heels of a great client experience, so it serves a few different purposes. You know you’re on the right track with that client, and your new potential lead already has some confidence in your capabilities since you came recommended.
By working with more people in your target industry, you can gradually grow your network and increase your odds of being referred to other clients. Keep in mind that to earn a glowing referral, you’ll need to exceed client expectations. This means that you shouldn’t overextend yourself while trying to work with multiple clients. Be realistic with your time and always aim to under-promise but over-deliver.
6) Discover people you love working with
As a secondary benefit of growing your client base, you may meet other contractors (and employees) who deliver phenomenal work. This was a pleasant surprise from working with so many different companies. I’ve worked with amazing designers, developers, editors, data analysts, SEO consultants, and more thanks to my clients.
As your client list grows and you receive more work than you can handle, you can loop in another freelancer to help you out. Or, if a project requires additional skills, you can recommend another freelancer who compliments your skill set—delivering even more value and end-to-end work for your clients.
Tip: If you are looking for a great freelancer, reach out to me for a recommendation, because I’m sure I’ve worked with someone who can help!
Six challenges of managing multiple clients
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the common pitfalls of juggling multiple clients, some of which are more obvious than others. Keep your eyes peeled for the different issues that can sneak up on you.
1) Scope creep
It’s a freelancer’s dream to be able to perfectly predict project timelines and scope 100% of the time. But the reality is, projects can often get stuck at the review stage or wind up requiring more time than you planned for. This is relatively easy to handle when you’ve only got one main client. When you have multiple clients, urgent requests, and high-priority projects on your plate, it gets hard to mitigate scope creep before it happens.
There have been a few cases where long-term clients have slowly expanded services and moved to larger retainers over time. Since we had good rapport, we stuck with the initial contract and went from there (after all, who has the time for more paperwork when there’s the next project to start?).
If this happens to you, be sure to keep an eye on your bandwidth as the work comes in, not as it’s written down in a contract.
2) Time management
Deadlines can pile up quickly when you’re a freelancer, and it’s entirely on you to be able to manage them and set the right expectations. Deliver late or shoddy rushed work and you risk tarnishing your reputation and losing valuable business.
For those who like to follow processes rather than build them, prioritizing deadlines can be particularly challenging because you have to stay flexible while being protective of your time.
Tip: Find a Trello board template for content projects in my resources section. If you’re in charge of an editorial calendar and guest post exchange program with multiple moving pieces, this should help you keep everything on track and on deadline.
3) Managing up
Working with different clients means knowing how to manage up so that your job makes your clients’ businesses better, and their jobs easier. This could mean sending in a review request via three different channels to make sure it gets seen, setting up weekly 1-1 video check-ins with five different stakeholders just to keep a project on track, or justifying why someone whose metrics are unrelated to your projects should invest their time to unblock your work.
Managing up is a challenge, because you need to know what makes someone tick, and use that to get them to take action and push the project further. For many of my clients, I work directly with co-founders and business owners. These are the people who are heavily invested in the business’ success. Though they’re time-poor, they’re also easy to motivate by proving how a project can grow the business (or profits).
For other clients, I’ve worked with marketing directors and general managers. Getting buy-in, especially from someone other than your person-of-contact who hired you, can sometimes be tricky. How do you get a data analyst to create a report that you need to track your success, when none of their metrics involve your department at all?
Everyone has different motivators, and it can be exhausting to juggle multiple clients with multiple team dynamics, and have that uphill battle to manage up just to get reviews and approvals.
4) Tackling every problem
Picture this: One of your favorite clients is facing a problem you find fascinating. It’s not your main role at the company, but it could be related, and would definitely be a good learning experience. So, you take on the problem.
Then, the same thing happens with a different client, and a different problem.
If you choose your clients well, all of them will be a pleasure to work with, and all of them will have interesting problems to solve. You won’t be able to solve all of them.
But you’ll want to.
5) Different setups and styles to adapt to
Everyone has different communication preferences, styles of working, and levels of organization. Every company has different internal processes, brand guidelines, and business objectives. Those are a lot of variables to mix and match.
For every client you work with, you’ll need to learn and adapt to a different set of rules and norms. That can be a little difficult, because you need to remember each client’s expectations so that they don’t have to keep correcting your work or process.
6) Saying no
It’s easy to overcommit when you’ve built good rapport and want to go above and beyond for your clients. However, this can quickly lead to burnout. You’ll have to learn how to balance your desire to help your clients with your physical limits, and practice turning clients down if you’re spread too thin.
How to pick the right clients to work with
On top of deciding how many clients to take on, you’ll need to decide who is the right fit for you. The below steps can help you whittle down your list of options and position yourself for success.
1) Specialize in a skillset or role
If you’re a marketing generalist, you’ll find yourself being asked to do everything from hosting events, to writing blogs, to running SQL queries. To avoid this, start honing in on what you want to specialize in. For example, do you want to present yourself as a product marketer, or content marketer? If content marketer, do you focus on strategy, execution, or both? Do you manage implementation, or are you strictly a consultant?
Commit to what you’re good at, and grow from there.
2) Specialize in an industry
Zeroing in on a particular industry can help you to work within your strengths and build your reputation as an industry expert, which is a huge selling point for a freelancer. This allows you to charge more for your time and expertise, plus build a more focused network.
By focusing on one industry, you avoid having to write a press release for a B2B SaaS company one minute, then write for a theme park the next. That mental switch can be draining!
3) Set your financial goals
How many hours do you want to work in a week, and how much do you want to be making by the end of the year? Take into consideration taxes, health insurance, and other costs that’ll cut into your expected salary. By knowing this target number, you can more accurately predict how many clients you need to take on and at what rate—and also which companies can afford you and which cannot.
4) Have a target client in mind
Similar to developing an ICP in marketing, you’ll want to define who benefits the most from your services and what traits characterize a high-quality partner. Use what you’ve learned from past engagements to identify traits like team size, location, motivations, and behaviors of an ideal partner.
5) Set up a discovery call
Despite your best efforts, it’s impossible to anticipate everything about your client before you start working with them. It’s wise to set up a discovery call before signing an official contract, and I suggest requiring an initial trial period for ongoing contracts.
This is one of the best ways to gauge a prospect’s work style, personality, and expectations. Just like in a job interview, you can get a better picture of the person you’ll be working with and make a more informed decision about whether they’re a good fit.
6) Keep an eye out for red flags
Throughout all of your pre-contracting discussions (and after), keep your eyes peeled for common red (and yellow) flags. These could include a client asking for too many free “test” tasks, demanding discounts, or expressing doubt in your capabilities. Your clients should value your time and expertise, rather than view you as someone who’s dispensable and ready to take orders whenever they want. Any contract should feel like a true partnership.
Tools for managing multiple clients
If you jumped into your freelancer career with nothing but a skill, a laptop, and an appetite to work for yourself, good on you. But, if you want your freelancer career to span different clients and projects without stress, late nights, and missed deadlines, the following tools are a worthwhile investment (and many of them are free).
Google Calendar is a free time management tool that’s great for scheduling appointments and remembering birthdays. It’s also an excellent client management tool when using the following Google Calendar hacks:
- Block out and identify client work by creating an event and color-coding it according to the client (Create event > More options). This is great for quickly identifying client deadlines and planning your week according to different types of work.
- Use the event repeat function to schedule regular catch-up calls and emails with each client (Create event > More options > Repeats). This ensures you don’t go too long without checking in and risk losing out.
- Automatically email yourself a daily agenda (Setting for my calendars > Event notifications > Daily agenda) so you can see who you’re working with at the beginning of each day.
G-Suite’s tools are ideal for sharing and collaborating on client work, without the toing-and-froing of emails or the headache of version control. However, it can easily get messy when working with different clients, making it difficult to manage and risky that you’ll share the wrong document with the wrong client.
Avoid this by:
- Creating an individual file for each client and giving the appropriate person the necessary access and permissions.
- Creating sub-files relevant to the different client projects you have or the month they’re due.
- Adopting a file naming convention that makes files easy to identify and locate (for example: [Client name] – [Document type] – [Document name] – [Date] (Version).
- Color coding your client files to make super sure you’re working in the right file.
If you find managing multiple clients with multiple deadlines tricky in calendar apps, try a project management tool such as Trello.
Trello enables you to create different boards, lists, and cards so you can visually manage and plan multiple clients and projects. For example, you could have a board per client where you organize individual projects or a generic client board where you organize individual clients – whatever makes it easier to see where your work is coming from, when it’s due, and when to do it.
Tip: Trello also has some fancy AI features and automation rules that can streamline your work, giving you more time to manage your clients.
Whether you charge by the hour or the project, knowing exactly how much time projects take is crucial for ensuring you’re paid enough.
Harvest is a time tracking app that keeps track of the time spent working on different client projects – making it easier for you to invoice clients, monitor your productivity, and analyze who you spend the most time working for.
Techniques for managing multiple clients
Now you’re armed with the tools, let’s look at the techniques for better managing multiple clients.
1) Create a client quick-reference sheet
Different clients have different preferences, styles, and requirements. Save yourself the struggle of trying to remember them all by creating a quick-reference client sheet during the onboarding process.
This can contain mind setting information such as the mission statement, practical information such as payment processes, reusable information such as boilerplates, or good-to-know information such as preferred spellings. Create it and then refer to it as necessary to get your brain into gear.
2) Set expectations
Your clients may pay your bills but that doesn’t mean you can’t set some ground rules. Use your onboarding process to outline and agree to service levels, covering:
- Regularity of work
- Turnaround times
- Payment amount and process
- Review process/workflow
This is crucial for planning your workload, charging accordingly, and managing your client list. Sure, there will be times a client needs something urgently or a piece of ad-hoc work pops up, but an SLA allows you to properly plan your diary and ascertain whether you can take on that extra piece of work.
3) Diarize everything
When you’re managing multiple clients, it’s easy for certain tasks to fall aside. Social media posts, blogging, that four-day week, eating…just make sure it isn’t your diary.
In particular, diarizing client catch-up calls, invoicing, and your work makes both yours and your client’s life a lot easier. It also means you don’t miss deadlines for different projects or, importantly, getting paid.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to dedicate certain days to certain clients. This is particularly useful if your work differs substantially between clients, because it allows you to get and stay in the right frame of mind.
4) Be realistic
You only have so many hours in the day – be realistic with them.
If you’re struggling to manage clients ask yourself whether you’ve taken on too many. If you have, it’s time to either begin outsourcing work yourself, take on your own staff, or stop taking on additional work and clients.
5) Be human
And, the best tip: be human. Working as a freelancer allows you to work as a person rather than behind a corporate name. Use this to help manage your clients.
Create a personal connection with your clients, where you communicate with them openly and they do the same with you. If you’re having difficulties meeting a deadline or you need to shuffle a few tasks around, tell them – and if they have an urgent piece of work or need to move a deadline, be open to it.
Oh, and don’t forget that humans need a break too. Use these tips to earn, schedule, and go on that holiday or weekend away you’ve been dreaming of – don’t forget to send a postcard!
Wrapping up the freelancer guide to multiple clients
When working with multiple clients, the dream of a four-day week can quickly spill beyond the weekend and into your vacation time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By observing several simple techniques and watching out for common pitfalls, you can reap the benefits of a diversified workload.
Published: Oct 12, 2020
Updated: May 24, 2021