Tips for freelancers: How to manage clients and work productively

Tips for freelancers: How to manage clients and work productively

Posted: Mon 28th Feb 2022

Most successful freelancers are working for several different clients at a time. While that certainly has its advantages, it can also present difficulties in terms of staying organised and productive.

If juggling all these different priorities, duties and targets is starting to feel like a challenge, here are some tips for how to manage your clients and keep your freelance business running smoothly.

1. Communicate clearly and manage clients' expectations

Whenever you have contact with your clients, make sure you're clear on what's expected of you. You need to know the details of the project, what you're being asked to produce, and how long you have to turn the work around.

Once you've discussed this with the client, make sure what you've agreed is set down in your contract.

Not all clients will communicate with you in the same way. For example, while one client may ask to speak to you every week without fail, another might be satisfied with checking in every now and again. With this in mind, always set expectations at the beginning of every project.

That's particularly pertinent when it comes to deadlines. You don't want to be wasting time exchanging emails or making phone calls to keep people in the loop, so be clear on timescales, due dates and anything else the client needs to know about the work's completion.

Also be prepared for when projects change, priorities shift and deadlines move. Make sure you have a plan for what you'll do whenever you're asked to do something differently to what you agreed in the beginning.

2. Use a freelance contract

As a freelancer, you're advised to protect yourself by drawing up a contract whenever you agree to take on a client. The contract acts as a legal agreement between you and the client, and sets out the details of your working relationship. It will typically contain information such as:

  • the names of everyone involved in the project

  • details about the services you're providing, and what both parties expect at the end

  • specific dates and deadlines for the work

  • what you'll be paid, when and how

These days, it's no longer necessary to draw up and sign paper documents. There are online tools such as Dropbox that allow you to create your contracts, have the relevant people sign them electronically (known as e-signing), then store the documents securely in the cloud.

If you need a bit of direction on how to word your freelancer contract, you should be able to find basic templates by doing an online search.

Read more:

A note on the IR35 law

In April 2021, new rules (known as IR35) came into force that said freelancers who do work for the government or a local authority must make their freelancing role completely clear.

It's important to do this so HMRC doesn't consider you an employee by default and you aren't paid via PAYE (meaning tax and National Insurance deductions are taken directly from your fee or salary).

Read more:

3. Have a system for managing tasks

You're a freelancer handling several clients at a time, so keeping track of work and progress is absolutely crucial. What can help you here is a task management system that holds all your clients' information in one easy-to-access place.

There are lots of online tools designed for this purpose, allowing you to create different projects, allocate them to specific clients, then build in tasks for each individual project. They also let you create daily to-do lists, so you have a precise handle on what you'll be doing from day to day.

If you prefer to keep it simpler than that, a spreadsheet is perfectly sufficient. If you need to share the document with anyone, you can store it using Dropbox's cloud storage feature and send it to the recipients using your phone, tablet or computer.

It's up to you what kind of system you use to keep things organised. But here's some of the key information to record, so you have it there to refer back to whenever you need it.

  • Client's name

  • Name of the specific project

  • Dates for starting and completing the work

  • Milestone tasks and dates (if relevant)

  • Time you intend to dedicate to the project – good for keeping track of your available hours and for billing

4. Schedule your time

When time is your currency, you have to spend it wisely. Productivity is all about discipline, focus and learning to manage your time.

One of the best ways to work productively is to set a schedule – and stick to it. A schedule is a great way to break up tasks into manageable chunks and keep yourself motivated.

Focus on the most impactful or strategic tasks first, while your energy is at its strongest and you’re in the right frame of mind. Save less important tasks for later in the day.

Early mornings aren't for everyone. But when you're a freelance consultant with no commute, early starts mean just that – not two hours in traffic to start at 9am. By beginning your day ahead of most other people, you have time to plan ahead and anticipate problems.

5. Manage distractions

This is arguably the most important part of staying productive. With mobile phones and the internet at your fingertips, it's all too easy to waste time.

Put your phone on silent mode and close your web browsers (including your email inbox). Instead, allocate time within your schedule to check messages and respond. A good strategy for checking emails is twice per day, once around lunchtime and once at 4.30pm.

Close social media apps too. These platforms are designed to keep you engaged for as long as possible. If you need to promote your business on social media, include time in your schedule for this task.

News websites are also designed to keep you clicking from one story to the next. If your job depends on staying up-to-date with current affairs, consider an RSS reader to get the latest content from your favourite websites.

6. Create the right working environment

If you're working at home, having the right mindset and space in which to work is vital.

To get in the right mindset, dress for work. While a suit and tie might be overkill, wearing your dressing gown won't leave you feeling productive. Be sure to take breaks every couple of hours, too.

If you're sitting at a computer all day, make sure you're seated in the correct position.

  • Adjust your chair height so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor.

  • Place your feet flat on the floor or on a suitable footrest.

  • Keep the top of your screen at eye level and place it an arm's length away.

  • Have the keyboard straight in front of you and leave a gap of about 10–15 centimetres at the front of the desk to rest your wrists between bouts of typing.

  • Keep your mouse close.

Having your desk set up correctly will save you from eye strain, joint pain and muscle pain. You’ll feel more organised, engaged and less overwhelmed. When you’re comfortable, you concentrate better and make the most of the time you spend working.

Other good tips for creating the right environment include making sure you have:

  • plenty of natural light coming in

  • a room temperature of around 20°C

  • as little background noise as possible

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