The beauty of being a freelancer is being able to work on multiple projects with multiple clients. The challenge of being a freelancer is managing multiple clients and multiple projects.
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, with four simple tools and some simple techniques to help.
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!