It might sound crazy – oh and believe me, some days, it is – but I average 25+ active client accounts on any given month. If you throw in the various one-time projects and things that go beyond client retainers, then that number can grow to be much higher. Now for the kicker. I also do it as a sole proprietor. Sure, I have outside contractors I call in for areas of expertise beyond my scope (love you guys!), but the core work, and the project management side of things, most always falls in my court.
So, how do I balance the demands of so many clients on any given day? I’ve had nearly a decade to develop this into a science – or maybe it’s really an art – but either way you look at, there’s some pretty solid advice to extract from my “juggling act.”
Here’s how I make it all work – while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance…
Establish and communicate expectations.
First and foremost, you need to begin with a clearly communicated set of expectations for each month’s deliverables. What’s expected of you and what’s expected of them? Neither party should “hold up” the other party. You have to function as a team. When you properly manage client expectations, and by staying in constant communication, you reduce the panic-stricken moments of “What’s our status?” “When will this project be complete?” “Why haven’t I heard anything lately?”
Another secret to successfully managing a large portfolio of clients is to set boundaries. Be respectful of their time, and be respectful of your own time. By this I mean that you will “train” clients to walk all over you if you make yourself too available during all hours of the day. Everyone deserves time away from work during the day! So determine the hours that you will be available for work, and the hours you will not. Additionally, if you have a full workload one week, communicate this with your clients who are requesting additional hours of your time and determine if that project can wait until next week…or next month. While you always want to do what you can to accommodate your clients and provide them with superior service, you should never become a slave to your workload.
Anticipate clients’ needs and questions.
When you can anticipate clients’ needs and questions, and respond to them in advance, you will save yourself so much time and headache! We’ve all been on those long and drawn out email chains where questions and answers keep getting passed back and forth for days. It’s exhausting and it floods your inbox. Now imagine managing this for 25+ clients at once. It’s impossible!
So my secret to success is proactively providing all the information that might be needed in a communication to greatly reduce the follow-up emails. Need to set a meeting date? Don’t leave this as an open ended question. Rather, suggest 2-3 dates and times that work for you – even suggest the meeting location. Simply need approval on a project? Set a deadline for them to get back to you, or say “Unless you have any edits by COB tomorrow, I’ll move forward with…..” All of this keeps things moving without the prodding and poking that usually comes with micromanagement.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the greatest strengths of any entrepreneur/consultant/business owner/person is to be responsive and reliable. When it comes to your own time management, this is one of the best things you can master. When something comes into my inbox, I see it and respond to it immediately (during my set business hours, because you must set boundaries and expectations, too!). Providing a response doesn’t mean you necessarily have to have the answer or the end product. Rather, think of it as an acknowledgement.
I manage my work flow by issuing a response to every email in my inbox, same day, because this allows me to manage expectations for my time. If a project comes through that I know I can’t get to until next week, I communicate that. If there is a question that I need more time to look into, I communicate that. If I receive information or approval on something, I acknowledge that. Clients always know where a project stands with me, which makes them feel appreciated, taken care of, and allows them to see the value in our relationship.
Continue to refine ways to be more efficient.
There will always be inefficiencies when you take on a new client or project, but the secret to better time management, especially with a full workload, is to constantly be searching for ways to improve the efficiency of your work. I’m able to continually take on new clients, not because I hire more talent, but because I increase the efficiency of my work.
The first few months of working with a new client, give yourself grace. It’s going to take a lot more work to formulate your routines and templates for things. From there, your efficiency should increase month of month. Annual events are the best example. The first year, I wonder if I’ll even break even on the project. Then in future years, when most details can be on autopilot, I experience a huge time savings, and a significantly better margin on the project as a result.
End your day at full bandwidth.
My final piece of advice – and it’s a critical one – is to end each day at full bandwidth. What I mean by this is leave no “balls” in your own “court” when you close up shop for the day. Yes, you will have projects on your to-do list, but make sure all emails are read and responded to so that tasks that need outside input can be moving while you’re enjoying personal time. Then, when you get back online in the morning, progress will have been made on items that may have come to a standstill if you didn’t launch them forward. Furthermore, ending each day at full bandwidth makes the next day less stressful and even allows you say yes to additional projects (i.e. more income) since you have the capacity to take them on.
We all run our own version of a full schedule. What does yours look like? Better yet, what piece of advice did I miss that you’d like to share?
Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!