5 Freelance Workload Management Tips to Smooth the Feast-Or-Famine Cycle

Written by Nicola Brown on March 6, 2017

As freelancers, we all know the feast-or-famine routine too well. It’s one of the most challenging realities of freelance workload management. Some weeks, you struggle to find enough work, and you end up questioning whether this freelancing thing will work out and how you’ll pay the bills, while other weeks, you’re buried under deadlines, worrying how you’ll finish everything and still have time to eat and sleep.

To a certain extent, this is the nature of a freelance career. It’ll be punctuated with ups and downs, so you need to learn how to feel comfortable with a level of uncertainty. Even so, there are ways you can smooth out the feast-or-famine cycle. Check out these five freelance workload management tips to help you out:

1. Aim for One or Two Big, Regular Contracts

Having 10 different small gigs may seem like you’ve scored a “win.” It’s better to work with more clients, right? But it can lead to greater uncertainty in your day-to-day schedule. Instead, you should aim for fewer clients, with one or two you can really count on for substantial, regular work.

Go after contracts and agreements where you contribute a set amount of hours or work per week or per month. You can build your other work around this, and it’ll also give you greater peace of mind if some of your more precarious work falls through. After all, you can now rely on your newly established safety net.

2. Request Flexibility From Trusted Clients

If you find your workload keeps falling to the all-or-nothing extremes, don’t stay silent. Ask your trusted clients, those you’ve worked with for a while and with whom you’ve built a strong relationship, for some flexibility. If they’re good clients who value your work, they’ll understand your time is in high demand and will offer you flexibility when it comes to workloads and deadlines.

3. Schedule Wiggle Room

When planning out your workdays ahead of time, don’t forget to schedule in some wiggle room for last minute requests and any issues you may run into completing your work. This is particularly important for those who work in the creative industries — inspiration can’t be turned on and off at the drop of a hat.

I tend to allow an extra hour for every 6–8 hours of work I need to finish. If you manage to finish everything in time (go you!), you can use the extra time to get a head start on the next project or use it to unwind.

4. Streamline Your Admin

You may not realize it, but the administration related to running your business can take up a lot of time. I’m talking about all those “extra” bits of work that aren’t for clients, but are necessary for your business: accounting, taxes, invoices, emails, maintaining your website, keeping up to date with your industry via news sources and more. These little things add up.

Schedule finite blocks of time each week to catch up on your accounting and invoicing, rather than just doing it as it arises. You can also consider investing in software to handle this for you. Set up “canned responses” in your email to quickly respond to queries, and set aside a slot once a month to update your website.

Try limiting the time you spend checking and answering emails and browsing industry news and social media by allotting chunks at the beginning, middle or end of the day and turning off notifications between those times. Once you get all the “extras” in your business under control, it becomes easier and less stressful to handle the uncertainty of your work for clients.

5. Don’t Let Your Budget Fluctuate With Your Work

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a financial boon. All this extra cash you’ve worked so hard for, surely you deserve to splurge a little this month. The truth is you probably can’t. That extra cash will tide you over when the famine hits. Get good at saving as much of your income as you can, and you’ll have a financial buffer when things get tough. You also never know when big, unavoidable expenses may hit, like needing to replace your stove or deal with a medical emergency. Aim for saving a minimum of 10 percent of your income, just to be safe.

While fluctuations are the norm in the freelance world, you can definitely find ways to smooth the feast-or-famine cycle. Keep these freelance workload management tips in mind as you fine-tune your business.

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