I consider myself fortunate to have returned to freelancing with a successful 12 months in what will have been a turbulent year for many. Of course I’ve had my ups and downs but my client base has grown, along with my income, and my skills. And for the most part I have been able to enjoy a flexible balance of my time between work and pleasure.
However I know that I can still achieve better value for my clients, and for myself. I believe the quality and speed of execution for client deliverables, the knowledge I am able to impart, and the balance of time available to myself can all be improved in 2021.
With that in mind I set out to assess my current situation, and to be as honest about it as I could. This led to an interesting period of discovery and an opportunity to learn about new methods for managing my working processes. I was also able to gain great insights into the value of the freelancing community when needing advice. There are companies and individuals out there who have made huge efforts to provide guidance on improving the way we can all work and alter our mindsets to achieve our best.
What did I find out?
My discovery process highlighted a few key issues for me:
- frequent context shifting was increasing the time needed for some tasks
- time for marketing, business growth, and learning were becoming limited
- attempting to be flexible to all needs was becoming a juggling act
Why it’s an issue
The common problem with these 3 points is context shifting, aka switching between tasks. When it happens frequently it can be disruptive to your focus. When you start losing focus it then becomes detrimental to the speed of your output and potentially it’s quality. Web development in general is an area where a high degree of concentration is required at all times – you’re often dealing with any number of variables that affect the outcome of a project or particular feature. In web development consistent context shifting is the enemy! However I have found this also runs true when trying to manage your business.
So what’s causing this context shifting? For me it has been mostly down to growth over the last 12 months. New business enquiries, an increased customer base, the ever more complex demands of the modern web. On their own none of these are actually problems, they’re all very welcome, a sign of positive progress.
However as the phone rings and the emails come in I have a reduction in time available for marketing and learning. And a distraction from the current work I’m doing. On the face of it this might not sound like a bad thing – clearly leads are coming in. Yet the continued employment of marketing and learning are invaluable to keeping a business growing, to reaching the right people who need help, and to improve my skills to undertake ever more advanced work. The ideal outcome of all these elements is that I can offer a better quality of service with a high value and ROI for clients.
Therefore it’s clear that at a certain point, a new method for managing time around productivity and business growth is needed.
Making a change
After taking the time to read, ask, and listen to the approaches that have had positive and negative effect for my peers, I’ve arrived at the following conclusions.
Going forward I will be:
- focusing primarily on WordPress development, including headless CMS options with Gatsby
- moving to a 4 day week for client work (Monday – Thursday)
- retaining 1 day for my own learning and marketing (Friday)
- limiting my time opening emails to set periods of the day
- primarily accepting only pre-arranged phone calls and meetings with regards to new business
- booking all work into slots ahead of time
The intent in focusing my work down to specific areas, and limiting my working availability and interaction with certain tasks is to improve my efficiency. By specialising I’m continually building on skills in that area and becoming more valuable to clients. I’ll have more knowledge to impart, more experience to draw from when problem solving. In keeping my schedule clear for client projects Mon – Thurs I can concentrate on the tasks at hand, then work diligently on Fridays managing my own business needs. This gives me clear focused time to learn new skills, and work at my marketing and content creation. Ultimately I’ll be able to provide more value to my clients, and to my own business.
Optimistic for the future
I appreciate that some of these changes detailed above might seem quite drastic. However I know their main purpose is to provide my clients with the best value I can. By keeping my focus and concentration high on important tasks, for sustained periods without interruption, I can improve the quality and consistency of the work produced. By taking prearranged calls I can better answer questions with more considered answers, as a result of having the opportunity to research the queries at hand.
I’m also aware that clients needs are all unique and I will do my best to make the transition as smooth and successful as possible for each and everyone of them. In some circumstances some tailored alterations may need to be made, and that’s ok because the aim is in bringing better value to everyone.
A 4 day week might sound limiting, but when those 4 days are more productive than 5 were previously it will be worth it. And after 9+ years working in the web industry I can assure you that nothing good has ever come from launching new websites and releasing new features on a Friday.
Lastly, if you’re interested in knowing more or want to understand how I arrived at these decisions in more detail you can find me on Twitter.