Juggle: ‘Continuously toss into the air and catch a number of objects so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others.’
Put simply, juggling isn’t easy at the best of times. You’re just one tiny lapse in concentration away from a heap of balls on the floor and an unimpressed audience.
When it comes to juggling clients, the story isn’t altogether different. In the stupendously competitive world of work, where clients expect priority, on-time delivery and first-class results, keeping all your balls – or in this case projects – in the air at one time is a tricky business, especially at the beginning.
I found it difficult. Or should I say, I still find it difficult. I’m a year or so into freelancing and still fairly new to the scene – and like every other freelancer, I’m desperate to prove my worth, establish my reputation and win repeat business from a number of clients.
Committing to that second, third or even fourth client when you’re snowed under with the first isn’t easy. But as my dad always says, ‘it’s a good problem to have, son.’ Spot on, Dad. I’d much rather have too much on my plate than not enough.
And while multi-tasking doesn’t come easy to the male species – or so I’m told – I’ve learnt a few essential hacks that have helped me master the art of juggling. With a bit of luck, they’ll help you too.
Today, one in seven of us works from home, while 1.8 million more would like to be given the chance.
You’re a freelancer, embrace remote working – whether that’s from the comfort of your own home, a co-working space or a coffee-shop.
Working remotely, as opposed to on-site with clients, gives you the chance to structure your day in a way that suits your workload. Some days I spend mornings working on one project, before jumping onto another in the afternoon. Other days I go back and forth, hopping from one client to the other throughout the day.
To be able to do this, you need flexibility. Set ground rules with clients and explain that you often work remotely. The chances are they’ll respect your independence. This is the new world of work, after all.
To achieve the flexibility I need to juggle a number of clients at any given time, I typically work on monthly retainers.
Not only will a retainer offer you a degree of security, it should give you the freedom to spread your workload across the week, rather than committing to a client on specific and set days.
The nature of my business means that it’s often better that I’m on call, available as and when. But most importantly, working on a retainer gives me the chance to prioritise clients when I need to.
And if you’re thinking that a retainer often works out at a reduced rate spread across the month, you’re right. But not by much, and in my experience, retainers have actually helped me bring in new clients, largely because of the freedom they bring. Think of the bigger picture, and keep an eye on the long term.
Obvious, isn’t it? But the key to juggling a number of clients at once is getting and staying organised.
Whether you use free work management tools like Trello or Asana, or go old-school and keep a diary, you need to declutter your mind and note down your entire work schedule. I struggle to focus on one thing at a time, let alone three.
I’m a big fan of Trello, on which I create different client and project boards, with deadlines assigned to everything. But if I’m honest, daily to-do lists scribbled down in my diary have been my saving grace. The satisfaction of ticking each task off will never be lost on me either.
The irony here is that I have real trouble saying ‘no’ to clients myself. In fear of losing out on work, or upsetting a client I rely on, I’ve sometimes stretched myself too thin in the past.
Learning to push back with clients is essential, not only to make sure you can actually meet deadlines, but also so you can create healthier working relationships.
Remember, this should be a two-way street. A client will respect you if you’re honest about what you can complete in certain timeframes. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. It doesn’t bode well.
Stagger your invoices
With multiple clients, you have the opportunity to take control of your cash flow. Try staggering your invoices throughout the month, so when you are (inevitably) paid late, you won’t be too far off receiving a payment from another client. It’s liberating!
Sure, juggling clients has its challenges. And there has been the odd occasion where I’ve considered committing myself full-time to one client. Just for a simpler life.
But I can’t. I enjoy the variety of work you get from having multiple clients and, to be frank, I’d rather not place all my eggs in one basket. What’s more, juggling clients successfully marks the start of my transformation from oneman band to building an agency with a number of accounts.
And on that note, I’ve just noticed a pile up of urgent-looking emails in my inbox. I’d better dash…