Web projects are notoriously tricky, particularly when you’re dealing with clients. You’ve got the big three—scope, technical and creative issues to contend with—and then toss in the fact that no two clients are the same, and you’ve got yourself one complex project.
So then how do you manage two or three or even four web projects for different clients at the same time, and still keep your sanity?
I’ve managed web and mobile projects for a few years now, and I’ve found some of these tips have provided me with a little bit of solace:
1) Create your own project portfolio
Don’t think of each project for each client as distinct from each other. Rather, think of all of your projects as part of your own project portfolio. A project portfolio is a grouping of projects that are interconnected. If you think of all of your projects as connected, you can begin to see where patterns of work (even for different clients) might be performed together, rather than doing work for one client and then another, sequentially.
An example: It takes a certain kind of mindset to get into doing billing work. Or creative work. Rather than doing work for one client all at one time and trying to get Client X’s work all done, try doing all the creative work for different clients in the morning, when your mind is most productive for that type of work. And then focus on more rote work, like billing or phone calls in the afternoon.
Once you have defined the different types of work that you need to do for each client, then you can begin to plan your project portfolio according to the project deliverables outlined for each client.
2) Visualize your project schedules
If you have one client, it might work okay to just plop a date on a calendar and cross off the days until you have to hand off that project. But when you’ve got two or more projects, that system will just fail. With two or more projects, you’re no longer just a freelancer. You’re running a business. So how do businesses deliver on time? They map out the deliverables in a visual way.
If you’ve never heard of a Gantt chart, you’re not alone. If you have, and you’re slightly afraid of them, you’re also not alone. A Gantt chart, however, is simpler than it looks. It’s just a visual representation of your project timeline. And when you have lots of tasks due across several projects, it’s a really helpful way to see how long you think a particular task should take compared to another task.
Another example: Client A wants you to build three new landing pages in a week, and they want to know today whether you can turn that around. But you have two other projects in motion with Client B and Client C, including a Home Page design for Client C you promised for next Friday. How will you know if you actually have time to turn it around? Will you guess? Go by gut feel? Plan on cancelled dinners out with friends? Or… might you be able to check your visual project timeline on your Gantt chart and be pleasantly surprised to find a gap, actually, on Thursday, because you finished another task earlier than expected?
Gantt charts are better for project planning and scheduling than calendars because you can see the actual length of each task both estimated and completed and in progress. Larger teams can see multiple people working on multiple tasks, which is handy. And as a freelancer, you might benefit from planning some work you might hand off to others, as well. Or assign client feedback as an estimated task from a client, too, so that can plan around the time you need to wait to hear back from that client, and see that represented visually on the Gantt chart.
3) Set realistic expectations
When you have your own process set up, and you can see your project timelines visually, you will get a better view on what you can and can’t handle. And only then can you set clear expectations with your clients.
But I also know it can be hard to say “No” to paying clients, especially because as a freelancer, you don’t always get the luxury of multiple clients. So how can you push back on pushy clients without losing them?
Yet another example: Client B has asked for three revisions of the same web page, and they’re asking for yet another. You still have seven additional web pages to deliver for this client, and your other client work is going unattended. What to do? Tell Client B that you love working for them, but that these revisions are above and beyond the scope outlined for the project. (Hopefully, you did outline the # of revisions in the original project spec, as that helps!) Then, let them know that additional revisions will delay the project and will be subject to additional fees (perhaps 1.5 times your usual rate), and then ask them if they’d like to proceed with the revision.
In other words, put the weight of the change of scope on the client, not yourself. Yes, you might risk angering the client, but you most likely will make them aware that there will be financial costs associated with their changes, and sometimes the client will be more than happy to make those changes and delay the project. And that actually benefits you!
Hopefully, these tips will help you reframe the client relationship so that you stay in control of the conversation and the projects. Sometimes, juggling multiple clients is a good problem to have, but only when you can manage the projects and the clients while staying sane in the process.