What to do when you have too much freelance work

What do you do when you’ve been offered more work than you can handle? That’s a question many freelancers are frequently faced with. After all, for content producers, it’s usually feast or famine. Because of this, many producers often over-commit. Sadly, this can have dangerous repercussions for your business, ranging from shoddy work to missing a delivery date.

Unfortunately, a blown deadline or a bad review on Yelp! can haunt you for quite some time. Even with a great reel, customer reviews and referrals are important when it comes to finding your next job. Thus, it’s critical to produce quality products and deliver by your deadlines (if not before). So, when there’s a multitude of projects and only one of you, how do you get everything done?

Scheduling is paramount

Obviously, showing up for the shoot on the right day and delivering the product on time are two of the most important tasks for an independent contractor. Juggling too many projects in a month becomes tricky. In fact, it may be an impossible feat if you can’t efficiently schedule your time and effectively work within your given time constraints. I know that many freelancers cringe at the thought of creating a daily work schedule, but often, it is the only way to ensure you meet your deadlines.

Think like a business

As a freelancer working in a gig economy, it’s easy to get distracted. However, focusing on finding your next job makes it easy to fall behind on the projects you already have. Advertising your services, sending out reels, meeting with potential clients, and displaying at events to promote your business are all important activities for content producers who want to build, maintain or grow a business. So, when creating your schedule, be sure to provide dedicated time for this. Dedicating time for mundane business tasks like organizing weekly receipts and filing paperwork saves you time, especially during tax season. In short, five to ten minutes a day can ultimately free up more time for your production work.

Understand your workflow

Let’s say that you’ve committed to the delivery of a commercial on Monday, a graduation on Thursday, and a wedding on Friday. How can a busy video producer keep up with deadlines like that every week? Understanding your workflow is important when it comes to scheduling your work days.

If I were to ask you how much time it takes you to produce your content, would you know the answer? Can you break down each step of the process and tell me how long it takes to meet with the client, shoot the content, transfer and back-up the files, edit the video, add graphics, color correct and export the project for delivery in the desired format? Knowing the answers to these questions can be very beneficial when scheduling your time and calculating how many new projects you can commit to.

Use templates

Consider this scenario: You just shot multi-camera for a wedding and have ten hours of footage that needs to be synced. Delivery of the wedding video has been promised within ten days. How can you meet this deadline when you have three other projects due on the same day? For those of you who produce a lot of the same content, building templates for shooting, editing and creating graphics can expedite your projects. This is something that has been done in TV news production for years. If you know that the “reception” portion of the wedding video is only going to be fifteen minutes long, you can scrub through the footage and quickly pull out only what you need.

Hire help

If there’s too much work, you may want to consider picking up freelancers for the project. There’s a good chance you’re already hiring operators for your two and three camera shoots. Likewise, paying someone to edit or do graphics on a project might make sense when you have more work than you can handle. Even hiring a college student to string clips might free up enough time for you to take on extra work.

Know when to pass

If you’re swamped, you might want to consider referring your client to other freelancers that you trust. In addition to helping out your loyal customers, many content producers find that this leads to reciprocity. Even if you’re not fully booked, there are projects you should sometimes consider passing on, particularly if a client appears to have unreasonable demands or expectations. Remember, a micro-managing client who wants to see your wedding reception shot lists or demands never-ending re-edits on the final project will burn through your time.

Provide exceptional customer service

In this industry, there can be a tendency to view a project as ‘just another gig’, instead of an opportunity to build a client-base for further work. Making deadlines and keeping your clients happy will create loyalty and repeat business. Besides, there’s nothing better than a word-of-mouth referral. Keep this in mind when taking on more work.

There’s a saying about content production that I really like: “There’s good, there’s fast, and there’s cheap. Usually, you only get two of the three.” Good content is a given. So, make the other two variables negotiable with your client. If your customer is on a budget, give yourself some flexibility by setting a delivery date several months into the future. Doing so will afford you the opportunity to take on more projects that may need a fast turn-around. Additionally, adjusting your price for quick deadlines allows you some cushioning in case you need to hire a freelancer to ensure an on-time delivery.

Regardless of the pay, delivery dates are critical– especially when building customer relations.

Regardless of the pay, delivery dates are critical– especially when building customer relations. If possible, add an extra week onto your production time so you can deliver the product early. If you can’t make a delivery date, contact your client as soon as possible. Then, consider offering them a cash discount on the work. Extra money in the pocket can go a long way in appeasing a client.

Factor in contingencies

What do you do if your editing rig crashes? Do you have enough space on your credit card to simply order another one? What happens if you’re sick with the flu? Will these potential catastrophes affect your workload and prevent you from meeting your deadlines? Creating a plan in advance, for disasters like this, will help to prevent projects from backing up.

Avoid burnout

Remember that scene from “The Shining” where Shelly Duvall finds page after page of, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?” Do you want your spouse to react in horror as they watch you working sixteen hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, chained to an editing machine because you’ve over-committed? For that matter, would you like to keep your spouse? A great way to prevent burnout is to pencil-in date nights and activities with family and friends. You may also want to consider blocking out some time for a vacation at least once a year. Don’t remake “The Shining.” I promise you–no one wants to see you looking and behaving like Jack Nicholson did in that film, all because you took on too much work! So save your sanity, your relationships, and your business by simply managing your time.

W. H. Bourne
W. H. Bourne
W. H. Bourne is a screenwriter who is spending her pandemic time working on a screenplay that's an adaptation of a novel.

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