The Freelance Experience 4: Herding Cats - Multiple Projects and Other Items
Staff Writer By: M.D. McCallum (WarLord720)
Most freelancers I know run multiple projects at one time. Only experience will teach you how many you can handle. One thing you can count on is if you take on too much... there will be a price to pay. It's not unusual for a novice freelancer to be nervous about scheduling multiple projects... in fact... it's how most of us survive because one contract may not be enough. Hopefully you will be signing multiple contracts (for your protection) so there are legal obligations to consider. That being said how does one go about getting this experience when you are faced with multiple offers during the same or overlapping timeframes?
Be prepared. Get a REAL calendar if you have to but there are a lot of digital planning tools out there. I have my own proprietary tools that keep me on track so I'm not familiar with the various open source, freeware or commercial tools that may be available but I can tell you what is important to me. Maybe this can serve as a guide to help you navigate this minefield.
• Overall Progress - Visual Deployment Timeline Application. A progress bar type of application so you can immediately visualize your progress versus deployment date. It's very easy to look at a simple progress bar and see that you are 25, 50 or 90 percent complete. If we get behind... the text and numbers are in RED so everyone knows we have ground to make up.
• Subcontractors Progress - If you farm out work then make sure it's on track because it bears your name therefore it IS YOUR WORK in the eyes of your employer. Over the years, I have become very unforgiving about missing deadlines because someone has to do extra work to get it completed on time. People get sick... heaven forbid have accidents and all sorts of vexing things that you have to deal with and still treat them well. The best thing to do is layout your policy when these things happen and get people scheduled for backup so people CAN get sick and not worry about it! MORALE is paramount in keeping a project on track.
• Client Communication - Contact them first and regular as clockwork. DO NOT MAKE A CLIENT GUESS OR WONDER WHAT IS GOING ON!!!! Keep them in the loop on a regular basis. When your superiors wake up in the morning you don't want them to wonder what has been done... you want them to KNOW what has been done.
Visual Progress Bars Inform at a Glance
• Dailies - For lack of a better term. Some regularly scheduled video review process to monitor actual output otherwise you'll have no data to use when creating your deployment timeline.
• POST Work Progress on Accepted Dailies - Another simple progress bar application will go a long way to easing the stress.
• Keep the people in the trenches... the ones like yourself (us grunts) apprised of changes immediately just as you would like done for you. You make them happy and they are more likely to help you and not become a point of resistance during the entire project. A lot of employees don't like to work with freelance grunts so don't give them ammunition to shoot you down. They are always on site. You are not. Keep that in mind. Liking them or not has nothing to do with anything. Professionals don't let that get in the way or a lot of us wouldn't be able to work with anyone! Keep everyone in the loop with regularly scheduled meetings that are short. Use an agenda if need be. Banter is necessary and fun but stay focused and get through the meeting as quickly as possible. Don't be the person that has too many meetings or takes too long. Take care of business and move on.
• Plan on things going wrong. What if you get sick or a subcontractor gets sick? It's much easier to have a plan already laid out to deal with it. Talk to your people and see if you can get them onboard to be available during an emergency if someone can't meet a deadline. This also means thinking ahead when hiring. I look for multi-talented people and seldom use specialists anymore.
• DO NOT OVERWORK your "go to" people. It seems natural to want to always turn to your best subcontractor when things go bad but this really isn't fair to them. Think about it. Would you want your routine changed regularly and arbitrarily just because someone else couldn't or didn't do the job you are now expected to do? Oh... and don't forget...with less time to do it in! Use some empathy and look at it from their viewpoint. Use them yes... pay them well for it but don't overwork them. Make all your subcontractors "go to" people and rotate it as necessary.
• Be very open, clear and precise about what is expected of everyone on the team and when they are to deliver their work at various stages. Take no prisoners on deadlines. No excuses. Besides... you have a plan in place for that anyway right?
Keeping Multiple Projects Flowing Is Like Walking a Tightrope If You Don't Plan Ahead
There is much more that could be written about taking on multiple projects with rock solid (legal binding) deadlines and delivery dates but this is what would keep me up at night if I didn't have a finger on it at any given time. I want to know where I'm at with a glance... so I know I can go out to have lunch and enjoy it instead of stressing over the deadlines.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. You can learn more about MD at his website.