Fear of overcommitting

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overcommitting freelanceDear Dr. Freelance: I have a freelance client that I’ll describe as a “phantom client”—I’d had some challenges with him, but he recently paid me for everything he owed. He’d been a steady source of work, so I was reluctant to just sever the relationship. While I was waiting, I was contacted about another project, but I had a fear of overcommitting: If the phantom client came back, I was going to be stuck without enough time to do either job right. I ended up sending the polished, customized resume and letter very late, and it was pretty much moot since the potential #2 client had already submitted a bid to the end user. How do I strike the balance between getting good projects, ensuring quality, and not driving myself crazy?—Rachel

Rachel, I look at occasionally being “too busy” as part of the reason I’ve succeeded in my freelance business—in fact, I have a chapter titled “Why I Love Emergency Clients” in The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid

Last week, I worked 7 long days in a row, late into the evening (which I hate, because I’m a morning person). On top of my freelance jobs, I was trying to finalize a webinar on referral strategies for the Editorial Freelancers Association—not to mention having a car at the mechanic and playing nurse to our dog after he had a bunch of teeth pulled!

First, I think you need to steel yourself to the fact that you and your business will ultimately benefit from having multiple projects going at any given time. The trick is, don’t promise two different people the same deadline unless it’s absolutely necessary. (That’s what happened to me last week; they were both loyal, longtime clients and I had no choice.) Remember, you always have the power to negotiate deadlines as well as price.

The second thing is that a deal’s not a deal till it’s signed. I never fear taking on too much when it’s in the early part of the courting process, because not every deal is going to go through. Think about it this way:

  • If you’d been quick about sending in the resume, and got a “yes,” you’d need to figure out how to make it work. (Not the worst problem to have.)
  • If you received a “no,” you were essentially worrying about nothing—but you’d then have a ready-to-go resume and cover-letter template suitable for similar freelance opportunities in the future.
  • Consider also that you also might have ended up on a list of people who weren’t right for this job, but potentially for something in the future.

By waiting too long, you cost yourself the ability to choose. Next time, I’d suggest you take control of the situation early, get as much business into your sales funnel as possible, and manage your options from there.

In the comments: What’s your strategy for balancing your freelance workload or managing your fear of overcommitting?

Photo courtesy of Bizior Photography.

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