In the first three months of 2019, I’ve broken $30,000 in gross income as a freelance writer. I’m not saying this to brag, but to inspire.
Becoming a six-figure freelancer (as the saying goes) is possible. But the more you work to reach that level the more administration goes into your business. You’ll have more deadlines to track, more invoices to send, and more schedules to coordinate if you take client phone calls.
I want to show you how to manage these aspects of freelancing, so you won’t miss deadlines and can plan your days better to maintain your sanity.
No doubt, having multiple clients is a good problem to have. But without a system in place to manage it all, you’ll miss deadlines and, eventually, lose clients.
Freelance writing, by its nature, tends to flow in “feast-or-famine” cycles. Trying to get a handle on it all can help you spot opportunities for business growth or recognize when it’s time to start cutting your low- or slow-paying clients.
Right now, I have 12 different “regular” clients, including six I would consider anchor clients. They have been with me for a while, and I can count on a certain amount of work from them each month.
I have a few others who assign a steady one or two stories per month, but the income isn’t enough to consider them anchors because if we parted ways, it would be reasonably easy to replace that income.
Finally, I have a few who give me sporadic work but are always on my radar – and I seem to be on theirs. When my workflow is slow, I send a quick email to these clients to get some projects in motion.
Besides the question, “Where do you find so many freelance writing jobs?” you are probably wondering how I track it all.
How to Choose the Best Method to Track Your Writing Deadlines
When you’re first starting out freelancing, you’re so excited to get an assignment that you keep the deadline in your head, start the story immediately, and turn it in before it’s due. Then you move on and continue your search to find more work.
As time goes on, however, you’ll have multiple deadlines to meet – some on the same day. You’ll be in the middle of one story when more work comes in. You can’t keep all this information in your head; you need a tracking system.
Paper Calendars and Planners: Old-School Deadline Tracking Methods
In the beginning, you may be able to put deadline dates on a calendar – paper or digital.
A digital calendar that syncs to your phone puts upcoming events and deadlines in your line-of-sight whether you’re at your desk or not.
But as your assignment list grows, you may not want to stare at freelance deadlines every time you pick up your phone. If you’re out for a day of family fun, you don’t want to see your impending deadlines on your phone’s lock screen.
On the other hand, if you have a paper calendar or planner, or even a whiteboard in your office, you might run out of physical space to record every task.
It’s time to move your assignments and deadlines to a spreadsheet or project management software.
Using Excel or Google Sheets to Track Your Freelance Writing Tasks
For the first 18 years of my full-time freelance writing business, I used Excel sheets to track my assignments. I included the client name in one column, the article title in a second, the deadline in the third, and a space to enter the date completed in the fourth. It was that simple. It took me minutes a day to enter assignments as they came in, and a glance at my Excel sheet showed me what I needed to do each day.
It’s also a good idea to include, on that spreadsheet, links to special instructions about the task or a link to the email describing the assignment. You can also include the rate-of-pay, so the information is at your fingertips when it’s time to invoice. Thinking back, including that information would have been an incredible time-saver for me.
Project Management Software to Streamline Deadline Tracking
Today, I include everything I need to know about a project in a task uploaded into Teamwork Project Management software. The cloud-based application allows you to upload files to accompany tasks, sort by due date, and mark tasks as “complete.”
You can also track your time through the software. The project is free for one user to track up to two “projects,” with unlimited tasks within each project.
I use one project to track my freelance writing work, making each assignment a separate task. I use the other to track other essential duties in my life, including volunteer activities I’ve committed to, due dates for bills, and household administrative tasks.
Other freelance writers swear by Trelloas the ultimate in project management. Some use other programs, such as Monday or Asana. Whatever program you use, log in every day so that you can make it a habit.
You never know. An assignment may have slipped your mind, and your PM software will remind you that you need to get it done.
Keeping Track of Writing Styles and Client Preferences
Once you’ve got a handle on your deadlines, you’ll realize that you can juggle multiple clients successfully. But there are a few more aspects of managing multiple clients you should remember.
Multiple clients probably mean multiple sets of writers’ guidelines.
Even if a client doesn’t have formal guidelines, you’ve learned their preferences over time and want to write to those standards to keep them happy and coming back.
You can store all your writers’ guidelines in a separate folder in Google Drive or MS Office, wherever you do most of your writing work. I have different folders for each client, as well as a folder for general work, such as proposals, Letters of Introduction, and lists of clips.
It makes the most sense to keep guidelines in the folder for that client. If you use project management software, you can also store guidelines and pricing information there. You want it handy for reference whenever you sit down to work on that client’s projects.
As your business grows, you may also want to keep facts about your clients in a file. You can include information to streamline communications, such as: “Client never answers emails on weekends,” or “Text if you need an immediate answer to a question.”
You might also include their invoicing preferences in this file.
Making Time to Write
Aim to finish pieces at least 24 hours before the deadline, which gives you an opportunity to let them sit overnight and give them a final proofread before submission.
If you can finish even sooner, do so. Turning in articles early often results in additional work from the client.
I tend to write faster– and better – when I’m focused on one topic for a day or at least a few hours. I often batch projects from the same client, or on similar topics, together. Sometimes, this means articles will get done well in advance of the deadline, and I won’t have to touch that client’s work until more assignments come in.
I also like to batch phone calls together on the same day. When I have to take calls, it interrupts my writing flow and takes a while to get back in the groove.
If you schedule back-to-back calls, make sure to take extensive notes and/or record your conversation, since you may find it hard to retain that much information on disparate topics. But the good news is, once your calls are done, you can go back to writing without distractions.
What Else You Need to Know About Managing Multiple Clients
Managing multiple clients isn’t hard, but you do need an effective system. It might take some trial and error before you discover what works for you.
If you ever find yourself overloaded with work, communicate your situation to your clients as soon as possible and present a solution. You may ask for permission to subcontract – that is, have another writer do the work under your management. Or you can ask for an extra day or two to work on the article. In most cases, clients are flexible.
By the same token, understanding when content might be needed immediately – for instance, to maintain a strict blogging schedule – is part of managing multiple client deadlines. Sometimes, you have to perform triage and just do your best to get it all done on time.
If you find yourself overloaded or asking for extensions more often than not, it’s time to decide whether you want to grow your business with subcontractors or start dropping clients, Marie Kondo-style.
Does this client bring you joy in the form of professional fulfillment, prestigious clips, and / or stable, on-time pay? Knowing when to fire a client is also part of growing a successful freelance writing business.
But the first step to knowing how much work you can take on – and when it’s time to reduce your workload for a better work/life balance – is having a successful system in place to track your assignments and manage all your clients.
How do you track your deadlines? Are you considering a more robust system as your freelance writing business grows? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.