I’m convinced that the two most important factors in a freelance business are time management and communication. Time management and communication – more than anything else I’ve encountered – result in repeat clients and referrals. Yes, before skill level. Yes, before marketing.
This guide is going to walk you through how to setup a system in your freelance business so that you bake in great time management and communication.
The most important thing in your life
Before we get to your business and getting clients and making money, let’s look at your life.
- What don’t you like about your life?
- What don’t you like about your health?
- What don’t you like about your job, your friends, your relatives or your salary?
- What is the biggest problem in your personal life?
- What is the biggest problem in your work life?
Even the happiest most successful people can answer these questions. I know I can create a list a mile long when I think about these questions. It’s helpful to know but actually working on it day in and day out is another story.
That’s exactly what time management will help you with. Time management will take all of this and help you answer the question: what are you going to do about it?
Thats what makes time/life management the most crucial skill a person needs to be successful and happy. This goes even more for freelancers. For freelancers time management means:
More referrals Referrals don’t happen because of great work alone
You always hear about how freelance business run on referrals. You don’t hear about how often these referrals have little to do with the work. Simply following through with what you say you’re doing to do is a big deal. John called when he said he would, arrived to our meeting on time, and did everything he committed to sounds like someone with a great work ethic and discipline, but really all the discipline and work ethic in the world won’t matter unless you have great time management. Time management makes these things possible. It doesn’t matter what you know how to do if you can’t get it done in time.
Time Management keeps getting more important
Alert to Matilda, the world is super busy. Things just keep coming at you daily. That’s why as you age, getting a grasp on how you manage your time becomes more and more important. It can really make the difference in making more money, and even planning your marriage.
Making a list of tasks what do you have to get done?
Questions to ask yourself: what are your responsibilities?
- Job Responsibilities
- House/Home Responsibilities
- Family Responsibilities
- Place-of-Worship Responsibilities
- Community Responsibilities
- Financial Responsibilities (investments, retirement planning and timing, etc.)
- Health Responsibilities (diet, exercise, medical, relaxation, sleep)
- Social Responsibilities (entertaining, relationship building, social activities)
- Commitments to others
- Communication (correspondence, meetings, coaching, counseling, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
- Personal Development (reading, courses, school, new experiences, continual learning, www.Thrive15.com)
What don’t you like about your life? What don’t you like about your health?
What don’t you like about your job, your friends, your relatives or your salary?
What is the biggest problem in your personal life? What is the biggest problem in your work life?
What are you going to do about it?
What are you putting off?
What do you need to be doing now that might not pay off for 5, 10, or 20 years?
How many times has someone been late or missed a meeting with you? How many times has someone failed to get back to you about something? How many times has someone not followed up with you? Countless.
When it’s someone else, It’s easy to see mistakes in time management.
Now think of every opportunity you should have followed up on, but didn’t.
Boy that contractor should would make more money if he returned my calls.
But we constantly make the same mistake (without knowing!) in our own business. **We’re all doing this in our business to some extent. That’s me and that’s you. So how do you fix this? You may think, you need more time. But that’s impossible. We all have the same amount of time, and spoiler alert – it’s not changing.
The problem you have is a time management problem. How you spend and organize your time. How you focus (or ignore) on things that matter.
“If you’re putting off hard things your life is not in control”
- Are you getting real value out of everything you spend your time on?
- Is the way you now spend your time going to help you achieve your goals and realize your dreams? (Don’t forget: the difference between dreams and nightmares rests totally with you!)
- Of all the responsibilities you have taken on, which ones should you get to work on right away?
- What should you start doing now that won’t pay off for 1, 5, 10, 20, or even 40 years?
- What did you do yesterday that you need to go back and do better?
What is time management?
“It’s not about managing time it’s about managing your life”
The number one thing you need to have if you’re running your business is discipline.
I’ve found that running my own business from home has some amazing lifestyle advantages, but one of the drawbacks can be lack of focus which leads to poor planning about things that matter. This is amazing for that. After the book, I also took his full video course.
What Is Time Management?
“Time management” refers to the way that you organize and plan how long you spend on specific activities.
It may seem counter-intuitive to dedicate precious time to learning about time management, instead of using it to get on with your work, but the benefits are enormous:
- Greater productivity and efficiency.
- A better professional reputation.
- Less stress.
- Increased opportunities for advancement.
- Greater opportunities to achieve important life and career goals.
Failing to manage your time effectively can have some very undesirable consequences:
- Missed deadlines.
- Inefficient work flow.
- Poor work quality.
- A poor professional reputation and a stalled career.
- Higher stress levels.
Spending a little time learning about time-management techniques will have huge benefits now – and throughout your career.
How do you control the events in your life?
One of the most influential books of all-time on this topic is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Here’s what he says about tasks in your to-do list.
Key Passage from Getting Things Done by David Allen
This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology. If there’s something that needs to be done about the item in “in,” then you need to decide what, exactly, that next action is. “Next action,” again, means the next physical, visible activity that would be required to move the situation toward closure.
This is both easier and more difficult than it sounds.
The next action should be easy to figure out but there are often some quick analyses and several planning steps that haven’t occurred yet in your mind, and these have to happen before you can determine precisely what has to happen to complete the item, even if it’s a fairly simple one.
Let’s look at a sample list of the things that a person might typically have his or her attention on.
- Clean the garage
- Do my taxes
- Conference I’m going to
- Bobby’s birthday
- Press release
- Performance reviews
- Management Changes
Although each of these items may seem relatively clear as a task or project, determining the next action on each one will take some thought.
- Clean the garage
… Well, I just have to get in there and start. No, wait a minute, there’s a big refrigerator that I need to get rid of first. I should find out if John Patrick wants it for his camp. I should…
- Call John re: refrigerator in garage
- Do my taxes
… but I actually can’t start on them until I have my last investment income documents back. I can’t do anything until then. So I’m …
- Waiting for documents from Acme Trust
And for the …
- Conference I’m going to
… I need to find out whether Sandra is going to prepare a press kit for us. I guess I need to …
- Email Sandra re: press kits for the conference.
… and so forth. The action steps –– “Call John,” “Waiting for documents,” “E-mail Sandra,” are what need to be decided about everything that is actionable in your in-tray.
What does time management say about leadership?
Imagine you’re at the restaurant. The food is OK, nothing special but not bad either. But the waiter somehow remembered your name from the last time you visited.
What’s more, he helps you order by suggesting his favorite dish, and brings your food right away. Sounds like a nice place, right? I’m willing to bet that despite the average food, you’d be happy to go back.
Now imagine a different restaurant. The ingredients are fresh, the food tastes amazing, and everything would be great except you had to wait almost 30 minutes to get it. Also, the waiter was overworked, rude, and he messed up your order on top of that.
Would you go back? Probably not.
From Doctors to Designers
You can make a similar argument about doctors: apparently, doctors who get sued the most are not the ones that are incompetent, but the ones that aren’t nice to their patients.
You can see where I’m going with this, right? If this holds true for restaurants and doctors, there’s a good chance it’ll work for designers, too.
So it always amazes me to hear about designers who have outstanding design skills, yet are still amateurs when it comes to how to treat people, and especially clients.
So although these things will sound obvious (I hope) to the vast majority of you, here are a few pointers on design professionalism.
Be on Time
Missed deadlines happen to all of us. And everybody knows that estimates can be very inaccurate, especially for something as subjective as design.
But the thing is, when you’ve agreed to a deadline or given out an estimate, other people will use that deadline in their own calculations, and plan their schedule according to that date.
So if you can’t design that page in 6 days like you promised, the problem is not that it’s taking you too long. The problem is that you broke your promise, and now the whole schedule is delayed because of you.
The solution is pretty simple: warn the client in advance that you’re going to miss the deadline, in order to leave them the time to rework their schedule.
Be Easy to Reach
Here’s a fun game: out of the following excuses, how many are valid reasons for not replying to a client’s email?
- “I’m on vacation”
- “I’m moving”
- “My internet is down”
- “I was sick”
- “The dog ate my homework”
If you answered “none”, congratulations, you might become a successful freelancer.
In the age of smartphones, iPads, and cybercafés, I’m surprised at how many people think these kind of things are good excuses for not taking 5 minutes to reply to an email to explain the situation.
Seriously, you have no excuse whatsoever for leaving a client hanging with no explanation. Go knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for their wifi password or something.
Give Frequent Updates
Remember when I said that if you’re going to miss a deadline, you should let the client know?
In fact, you shouldn’t wait until something bad happens to make contact. If you really want your client to love working with you, you should even keep them updated when nothing happens.
Maybe something like this:
Hi! just wanted to say I haven’t forgotten about the project. In fact I’ve already thought up a few cool concepts, and I hope to have something ready for you early next week.
Contrast this with the designer who only responds after missing the deadline and letting two frantic client emails go by unanswered, only to explain that he got a virus and had to reinstall his whole system, so it’s not his fault, you see…
But I’m a Great Designer!
I suspect one situation when designers think they can get away with being unprofessional is when they’re actually really good: they receive tons of Dribbble likes, and new job offers fall in their inboxes every week.
So who cares if a client isn’t satisfied, there will always be a new project next month!
But after a while, word will get around. A single blog post or tweet about a bad experience can be dismissed as a coincidence, but two or three start to make a trend.
And on the other hand, if you always exceed expectations you can bet future clients will know about it, too!
What About Bad Clients?
Bad clients happen as well. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work at being professional, the client will still not be satisfied.
But the key point is that your relationship is not symmetrical. The client is paying you, not the other way around.
This means that when shit hits the fan, only one of you is required to act like a professional (i.e. by definition, someone who provides a service in exchange for money).
So my advice for how to deal with bad clients is to finish the project as well as you can, or even refund their money completely. In any case, remain professional throughout and then move on.
During the past couple years running Folyo, I haven’t witnessed many conflicts between clients and designers. But the few I did witness all boiled down to the same thing: the client felt the designer was unresponsive and hard to reach.
It pains me to see designers let their hard-earned design skills be overshadowed by their lack of professionalism, when all it’d take to alleviate the problem would be finding five minutes in the day to write a single email.
I know firsthand how tedious it can be to have to answer client emails and juggle multiple projects that are somehow always “urgent”. But you chose the freelancer life, and for better or for worse it’s all part of the job description.
What tools should you sue?
should you use a paper planner?
Should you use an app?
How you plan your time effectively?
How to planning your time effectively
Before you can plan your day and prioritize which things are important you need to be able to see everything in one place . This means creating a list.
First you’re going to want to bucket planning into two groups. Weekly planning where you think about things a little bit more zoomed out, and daily planning which will be closer more zoomed in and looking at what you get done in the immediate.
Remember: the point isn’t to create a list of tasks, the point is to think about things.
How to plan your week
- What are the top 3 goals for this week?
- How will you get calm 2x Folyo growth?
- How will you make the leads the core focus of the business this month?
- How are you getting Charm closer to revenue?
- What do I need to start doing this week to meet my goals?
- What do I need to stop doing this week to meet my goals?
- What do I need to continue doing this week to meet my goals?
- How am I taking care of myself?
- What items do I need to discuss with my supervisor?
- What items do I need to discuss with my employees?
- What did I not accomplish last week that needs to be done this week?
- What is the hardest thing I will have to do this week?
- What roadblocks might get in my way this week?
Note: this [email / web page] contains offers only available to Folyo Pro members.
It’s 2020. Take a deep breath. Yes, tax time is just around the corner. Yes
How do you make wise choices with your time?
Asking yourself task by task:
Are you getting a good value for your investment?
How to set your priorities
Before you get started it’s important to ask what are the 3 or 4 most important things in your life?
No time management techniques matter if you’re working on the wrong things. That’s why it’s important to decide for yourself what is most important. These will be your core responsibilities as you move forward with time management. Think about the commitments you’ve made to those around you. Whether it’s your job, your parents, your neighborhood, your wife, your kids, your friends, there are areas of your life that mean more to you.
Knowing what they are and making a list of them is important because without it you’re liable to feel like you’re doing busy work. This is something I’ve fallen into in the past, feelings like I’m getting a lot done but not the right things.
It’s also super important to rank them so that at any given time you know what is most important that way you can consciously decide which things to focus on first.
Your list might look something like this:
- video walk through of prioritizing with lee’s method
Lee Cockerell’s 3 most important responsibilities as VP at Disney
- Making sure they were hiring the right people
- Train everyone properly
- Treat everyone right and culture strong
Lee Cockerell’s 3 most important responsibilities after retiring
- Take care of your self
- Take care of your family
- Take care of your business
You have to really sit down and focus on what is non-negotiable. Make sure you’re healthy. The more you practice the better you get at it.
Time management is the key to getting paid more as a freelancer. Understanding how to be effective with your time will save your business. Happier clients. More profitable projects. I recently talked to the ex-VP of Disney World about time management strategies he recommends for freelancers. He had a lot to share. Let’s dive into it:
How do you eliminate time wasters
How to use a planner effectively
Don’t forget how to think So much of our tools these days are designed to “help” us not have to think. When it comes to time management, thinking is some of the most important work you can do. Planning, figuring out what’s important, deciding on next steps, these things aren’t a waste of time. These are things are the work. They’re also the most powerful actions you can take. Don’t skip it.
How much time does the average person sit down and think about what they should be doing on a normal day? Not much.
Before you start your day, think about yesterday. How could I have done that better. Think about responsibilities. If it’s your wife, what do you need to do for her today? Get your priorities right.
How to deal with procrastination
Procrastination is a tool. It might be that something you want to do isn’t important or vital. Figure it out. Why are you procrastinating.
How to set goals effectively
A client’s budget is about more than money. Time is a key component.
Why? Because budgets are never all about money. Time is a huge factor, whether you’re billing by the hour or not.
I’ve pulled the plug on projects I commissioned from freelancers because we went over budget by overspending on time, not money. What would have the project? Time management.
When it began, the estimated ship date was just a few weeks – and that was a worthy investment for me. Almost 4 months later, the project was still unfinished and no longer viable with this increase in price. Yet, the monetary price hadn’t changed, it was simply because of time.
The first time we missed a deadline (a few weeks in), I thought “ah! we’re> so close to finishing, we just need a little more time.” The next time we> pushed back the deadline, we also reduced scope. Until finally, 4 months> of repeating this cycle, nothing was accomplished.>> At this point, the words I longed to hear from my developer were:>>
“The way you suggested will take 12 more hours. But there’s a way I can do> it that will only take one hour. It won’t do x but it will do y.”>> You see, for me – the business who hired you – those are magical> words. They mean the difference between wasting precious resources waiting> for something to be perfect (which will never be perfect), and a> successful project that’s up and running while it’s still a viable> investment.>>
Every project has a shelf-life. After a certain amount of time you reach a> point where it’s no longer worth completing the project. Maybe that’s why> it’s called a deadline.>>
The faster you can get something done, the more valuable it is to the> client. Sure, it may not appeal to your developer pride to complete the> project in a few hours without a perfect test suite (or whatever the> gratifying development testing phrase is), but you’re not being hired to> work on your portfolio.>> Try reducing the budget for your client today using the words above. Itwill mean less work, a faster shipping date, and a client that sees you as> a more valuable investment.>
Freelancers don’t have a boss. That’s probably part of the reason you became a freelancer in the first place. The problem is you are your own boss. Effective time management strategies are super important as a freelancer. You’re selling your time. You’re selling effective use of that time. If you don’t have time management skills you don’t have a product that you can sell. You can’t stay in business
You’re running your own business, you have to take it upon yourself. The tools you
- Pick people you know can do the job
- Set crystal clear expectations
- It’s not enough to just tell people what they need to do you need to leave absolutely no doubt about what they need to do
- Ask for commitment
- Negotiate a deadline
- Tel them the outcome you want
- Agree on follow up dates
- Don’t do it for them
- Reward them
3. Be crystal clear about your expectations—for yourself and others. Just as parents have to let their children know exactly what is expected of them, leaders need to commu- nicate their expectations with unambiguous clarity. When you are not 100% clear with your children, your team or your employees, you are going to be disappointed in the outcome more often than not. But if you are crystal clear, they will always know what is expected of them, no matter what shocks and surprises come their way.
Don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t leave room for loopholes. Don’t make it possible for people to say, “I did not understand what you meant,” or “I did not know when you wanted it,” or “I thought you meant such-and-such.”
Next steps Getting started with time management
Don’t track goals track habits.
If you want to wake up everyday at 5:00 am. You shouldn’t only track whether you accomplish this. You should track whether you went to bed at 8:30 pm. That is the determinant. The task in your planner shouldn’t be to wake up at 5:00am it should be to record whether you went to bed at 8:30 pm and how you feel. A recurring task that is a goal isn’t attainable.
“This is taking too long”
It takes time. Even when you are totally familiar with this process and used to it, it can still take 30-40 minutes to do. Spend that time so that the rest of your day is that much more effective. When you’re a knowledge worker, as most freelancers are. Planning the work, IS the work. Thinking what you should be working on upfront will save you way more time on the backend when you don’t do things the wrong way. The more you plan, the more time you save.
For the curious
Time Management Skills:
- Creating a list of goals to clarify what you want to get out of your working life:
- Your ultimate goal in life e.g. to be happy, to spend time with family, to travel etc
- What do you want to learn
- Avoid/Eliminate the task that doesn’t need to be done
- Switch focus to completing the most valuable work you can with the time and resources available
- Being able to implement good ideas because good ideas are useless if they arent implemented…
- Take time for reflection on a regular basis to observe how you get the best from yourself.
- Your working environment, do you work best from home or an office. Where do you place your desk do you need sunlight etc
- Trial and error and taking note to realize what works well for you to get the most from your work
- The Ability to say No and delegate if possible:
- Don’t feel pressured to do everything, it simply isn’t possible
- Delegate smaller jobs if possible
- Say no to certain requests/emails that doesn’t serve you
- Decision Making:
- Asking yourself questions at the start of your working day
- Which tasks need to be done today/this week
- Which emails need responding to
- Who can you help/can’t you help
- How much time do I have available
Tools to use:
Example of a great client onboarding document:
Thank you for scheduling your call with me. As a freelancer it’s my pleasure to help businesses like yours grow. Email me at any time if you have a question.
How to prepare for our meeting
There isn’t too much you have to do. Our chat will usually last about 10-15 minutes and the purpose is to determine if Folyo can help you hire an awesome designer. If the answer is no, I can probably still help by pointing you to some awesome resources regardless.
If you love to prepare, here’s a short project questionnaire that has everything I need from you to send your project out to Folyo. It takes about 3-5 minutes I usually send it to you after our call, but since you’re an overachiever you probably want to do it now.
A note on availability
It’s our policy to work Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm PST. To stay 100% productive for our customers, I can’t take unscheduled phone calls, and I check my email only sporadically throughout the day.
Like you, I also take some holidays off. Expect intermittent availability around most major US holidays, especially the Fourth of July (my anniversary), Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Eve Day, my birthday (January 24th), Memorial Day, and Labor Day.
Let me know if you have any questions about Folyo, design, business in general, or my podcast interviewing skills.
Talk soon, Rob firstname.lastname@example.org 760-693-3360
How to use clear communication to fix scope creep
“I won’t touch projects that have budgets smaller than $30,000. Anything lower is usually low-quality and unprofitable for me.”
That’s a statement I hear repeatedly from freelancers. I’m not sure why $30,000 is the number for quality and profit but it seems to be the one that comes up most often.
Projects below this magical threshold get rejected by people who are self-labeled as “desperate for work” and sometimes even in a dry spell, but how can a $5,000-$10,000 project really be that unprofitable for one-person?
Why do most freelancers even prefer big budgets anyway? Big budgets mean big projects — which are hard to scope out and actually finish. When you finally deliver them, there’s always more revisions. They drag on.
They kill profitability.
Of course, this can also happen with small projects but at a smaller scale… which is my point.
If you’re not able to make a $5,000 project profitable, you’re less likely to make a larger, more complicated project profitable — right?
When I examine my past 5-figure freelance projects, I find most of the budget went to things like: meetings, proposals, presentations, revisions, emailing, and following up on things.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I cut these things out and replaced them with nothing. Would the client really be worse off?
I’d be able to focus on things that actually mattered instead of fluff and I’d charge them less.
So, what do you think?
- Have you ever felt like big budget projects could be losing you money?
- What would you do if you had to make a $3k project profitable instead? What would you cut out?
- Have you ever hired a freelancer like you for $30k+ project to help your own business? Why or why not? If it’s truly a great investment why aren’t you paying for it?
Begin cutting down the scope of projects by focusing on what really matters.
Not everything in those big $30k+ project is essential. If you really examine what brings your costs up so high, you’ll see why you can only afford to take on big projects.
(Note: While I do agree that some highly-specialized consultants shouldn’t work for less than $X0,000 — I don’t think that’s the case for 90% of people.)
How to fix scope creep
It’s human nature. There’s was a point in the project where progress stopped — a rabbit hole appeared, a feature bloated out of control, communication tired — and suddenly my two very experienced friends had blown their budget and deadline.
It’s a complex problem. I’m not claiming I have all the answers. But here are some ways to complete project faster.
- Stop jumping into rabbit holes immediately when you find them. When you’re about to spend 3 hours on something you initially thought was going to be take 30 minutes — stop. That’s when you need to ask yourself if what you’re doing is really worth it. Skip the rabbit hole and look for a solution that takes 20% of the time but delivers 80% of the results.
- Work on the the most important things first. I’ve been known to get lost in details before I have the basics in place. This puts me in a bad position once a deadline approaches because I’m stuck. If I had started with the most important part of the project, I’d be in a position to trim some of the other stuff and still ship a functioning project. Speaking of which…
- Cut the scope down! I’ve never regretted cutting unessential features out of a project. Focusing 100% on what truly matters will lead you to build a strong foundation of profitability for both you and your clients.
- Hard deadline, soft scope. I got this rule from Jason Fried. He says you should have a hard timeline but soft scope. That way, the people you work with can trust that you’ll deliver on what you say. Use scope cutting to gain that trust.
- Focus on the project before the project. This is always a bigger deal than I realize. Implementation is the thing I focus on but always ends up being the smallest part of a project. Instead do yourself a favor and focus on carefully laying out the project before you dive in. Think deeply about timeline, features, number of people, and monetary investment before I start.
- Bake in 30% more than you need for “unexpected” emergencies. Let me spoil the ending of your next project. Something “unexpected” will happen — and it’ll make the project take longer than you thought. I use quotes around unexpected because it’s really not unexpected. It happens in every. single. project. With those odds you can guarantee you look like a wizard.
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