Managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant
Unless you’re a freelancer who has a long-term client relationship, you’re likely going to be managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant.
Working with many different businesses has its plus points, from spreading the risk of losing clients to building up a body of work and knowledge that can be adapted and shared between your separate clients.
But managing numerous customers also comes with its stresses and strains. One minute you have everything under control, the next you get a series of competing client demands that all seem to come at once and that they all need to be delivered right now (or even better, that they want delivered yesterday). It’s easy to see how freelance projects go wrong.
The advice below will be of most relevance to new to freelancing or freelance consultants that have previously been working in-house or have been working at one job for a while.
If you fit this category, my main piece of advice is that you might find this aspect of freelancing tough for a while. It takes time and practice, and mistakes will be made. What’s more important is what you learn and how quickly you can take on board better ways of working that will help you avoid those mistakes in future.
If you’ve come from an agency or service background, you might be used to managing multiple client accounts. If so, the advice below might serve more as a reminder of best practises when working across clients.
But remember, as a freelancer you’ll be less likely to have someone to call on or get advice from when things get tough, so it might event take you a bit longer to get used to juggling client demands as a freelancer.
Whatever your freelance background, these tips and tricks will help you to manage multiple clients as a freelancer with ease.
Make contact every day
I love this rule, which is why I’ve placed it right up front.
There’s no better way to manage your clients well than by regularly keeping in touch with them, ideally on a daily basis.
Not only is this a great way of making your client feel that you’re focused on their projects, it also makes sure you keep on top of the work you’re doing for them as you’ll be consistently pushing that work forward.
Even if it’s simply a link to an article relevant to the project you’re working on, an update on the project status, or notes from a meeting earlier in the week, contacting your client daily will help build up a valuable relationship with them.
Remember who is paying what
With many different clients, you need to remember who gets priority. And there’s no better way of making that clear than by keeping in mind how much each client is paying you.
Sure, there’s one client that’s isn’t paying you as much as the others, but they’re easier to work with, the work is straightforward and you’re keen to avoid the more difficult work and client elsewhere.
This is an easy trap to fall into, but you want to make sure that you’re prioritising the work and your energy around the client who is either paying you the most or who has paid for most of your time.
They may be harder work than the other clients, but they’re your priority as they are your most valuable client at this time. Prioritise towards those clients that are paying.
Different to do lists for different clients
This is basic and related to the above point, but I’ve seen some people who still lump all of their to dos into one long list, no matter how many clients they have.
This makes the work under way impossible to prioritise, leading to important tasks being missed or you running out of time to complete tasks further down the lists.
A better way to manage your tasks is to split each client’s tasks into a separate to do list. This could be as simple as dividing your page into different sections for different clients, or having a new separate page for each client. You could even go as far as having a new notebook for each client, but choose whatever works for you.
Under each task list for each client, prioritise the ordering of the tasks or highlight the most important tasks. Just because you’ve split out your client work, this still means you need to prioritise the most important tasks first.
Even easier than the above is to use an online project management tool. Take a look at my list of 29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer.
Different clients work different ways
This is more difficult to implement, but even working out how your different clients work will make your life easier.
Do they prefer to speak on the phone? Make sure you choose to call them over emailing them.
Do they like a regular weekly report to track progress? Put it in your diary to make sure you get that report, every week, without fail.
Are they too busy to speak on the phone or reply to your emails? Make sure your communicative, keep in touch, and arrange a face to face meeting every now and then. Even if they’re busy, you still need to be working to their ways.
You don’t have to go as far as remembering their partner’s or kid’s names (though that would help!) but you can see how fitting into your client’s working practices will make working with them much easier for you and build your relationship with them.
The other point to remember here is that if the client’s working practises are unreasonable (I’ve heard of some clients asking for short notice and bizarre requests from people during the weekend) then you should be able to push back on your client. Keep communicating, set clear expectations and you’ll be fine.
Every client is number one
When you are lucky enough to have lots of work on the go for different businesses, there will eventually come a time where there is a clash in what each client needs and what you can deliver – whether in actual work, in being on a call or meeting face to face.
You might feel split three ways or feel pressured to be in two different places at once, but the way you handle these situations can decide your relationship with not just one client, but two or more.
If you have a client conflict, you need to keep in mind that each client will expect to be treated as your number one priority, never mind how much you’re charging them compared to the others.
You can help alleviate the stress of these situations by making sure you communicate clearly with each client, manage expectations well by being clear on when work can be delivered, and if it’s a clash of meetings then try to come to a time and date that suits you and your client – without mentioning that you needing to change the date is due to another client meeting.
Most clients are understanding and are aware that you will be working with other businesses, but following the above advice keeps you in good stead with them. “Managing expectations” may be business jargon, but it’s a useful phrase to remember if you ever find your self in a situation like this.
This is perhaps the most difficult point here, but if you master this then you’ve definitely got the hang of managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant.
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