Sixty one.

Deciding how much work you can take on.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from designer and web developer Laura Ockenden. She says:

“As a newbie full-timer, I’m struggling a bit with planning in work and knowing how much I can take on and when.

I’ve got a few jobs on now but often find myself procrastinating under the guise of waiting for clients to get back to me — should I be looking for more work? Should I book in clients for next month? How long will a job take? How long is a piece of string?!

I’ve been quite lucky that things have sort of just fallen into place recently but it feels like I need to start giving this whole idea some brain-space now it’s the thing that actually pays my mortgage!”

• • • • •

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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:49] – Frankie
Hello! You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.

[00:01:06] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each week we take a question from the Doing It ForTthe Kids community, do our best to answer it. But we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Last time we were talking about…

[00:01:16 – Frankie
Icky clients. Clients that make you feel ick.

[00:01:19] – Steve
Anonymous comment first up.

Anonymous says:

“I have a client exactly like Mel Horn. The project started out with such optimism and hope. It’s a well known brand. I was going to do great creative work, win awards, tell the world about it, etc, etc, etc. Except the client has turned out to be demanding, ungrateful, uncreative. They’ve made me work really hard and often don’t even respond to the work I send over.

Is there anything worse as a freelancer? The hardest bit for me was accepting that this project is not what I hoped it would be. Once I’ve done that, I shifted my whole mental attitude to think of them as a small secondary client i.e, not the clients I care about the most and not the one that deserves my attention. I’ve made this shift clear in small ways, charging them for any extra rounds of amends, charging them double for any weekend demands…”

[00:02:12] – Frankie
Oof, yes!

[00:02:13] – Steve
Anonymous continues:

“…‘accidentally’ in quotation marks, missing their calls and then emailing politely to ask if they’d like to schedule/book my time for a meeting, or just telling them I’m booked on other projects and can’t respond straight away.

I think, hope, I’ve done all this with a professional and friendly tone so the relationship is fine and we’re still working together on small things. But I feel so much better and no longer jump when they call. It’s not necessarily about getting rid of them for good, just shifting how you deal with them.”

[00:02:47] – Frankie
The comments this week are quality. Quality. Street.

Eman Ismail says:

“I felt this episode so much. Maybe Detective Mel Horn hates the fact that she needs this client so much rather than actually hating the client?

Maybe one way to feel better about this is to commit to finding better fit clients? I know that sounds really obvious, but often when I have an issue with clients who’ve crossed, leapt, danced over, completely stomped all over my boundaries, I’m more angry at myself for allowing them to cross those boundaries.

It’s also a great lesson learned on what you’re willing to accept from your clients and what you’re not willing to accept. After this past year, I am so done with clients who make life harder than it needs to be.

Honestly, there are amazing clients in this world. You can find them. But in order to have space and time for them, you have to let go of the difficult ones. I’m all for a good we’re not the right fit conversation. It can be awkward, though it doesn’t have to be. And you’ll feel great about it in the end.”

[00:03:43] – Steve
Tilly Louise Kyle said:

“Before the end of a year, I parted ways with a client after I realised how much stress they were causing me. I would say there’s a simple equation for this, you ready? The hours they pay you, minus the hours you spend stressing about them. Is it worth it? Probably not.”

[00:04:04] – Frankie
So good. So simple.

And Sabrina Russo says:

“We’ve all been there. I call them ‘the unflushables’. Those clients who just refuse to be gotten rid of!”

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:07:08] – Frankie
We’re going to answer a question from Laura Ockenden, who is a designer and web developer. She can be found at Like a bean sprout —

Hmm, I think there’s a helicopter over my house…

Laura says:

“As a newbie full timer, I’m struggling a bit with planning in work and knowing how much I can take on and when…”

[00:07:32] – Frankie
…can you hear that? Because it’s really fucking loud.

[00:07:34] – Steve

Oh, my God. YES!

[00:07:38] – Frankie
The aliens are landing.

[00:07:40] – Steve
That’s really loud.

[00:07:42] – Frankie
It’s literally over my roof. Do you think it’s going to land on my flat roof?

Laura continues:

“As a newbie full timer, I’m struggling a bit with planning in work and knowing how much I can take on and when. I’ve got a few jobs on now, but often find myself procrastinating under the guise of waiting for clients to get back to me.

Should I be looking for more work? Should I book in clients for next month? How long will a job take? How long is a piece of string?

I’ve been quite lucky that things have sort of just fallen into place recently, but it feels like I need to actually start giving this whole idea some brain space now that it’s the thing that actually pays my mortgage.”

[00:08:20] – Steve
This is about planning and work and knowing how much you can take on isn’t it?

[00:08:24] – Frankie

[00:08:24] – Steve
There’s one sub question that she asks where she says, “Should I be looking for more work?” So, while you’re sitting there waiting for clients to come back to you and say yes so that you can start work — should I be looking for more work?

[00:08:38] – Frankie
Our survey says, YES. Ding ding!

[00:08:40] – Steve
Yeah. You should always basically be marketing and looking for new opportunities or putting yourself out there. So the opportunities come to you.

[00:08:54] – Frankie
But does she mean, commit to new work?

[00:08:56] – Steve
But even then, if somebody says yes to you before the others have said yes, well…

[00:09:00] – Frankie
You just say, “I can start on X date”.

Yeah. I’ve waited three months for my carpenter to come and fit my desk tomorrow. Three months.

[00:09:10] – Steve
That’s… ick!

[00:09:10] – Frankie
He’s just coming when he can come. You know?

[00:09:12] – Steve
There is something to be said for owning your availability and saying to people when you’re next available. And actually somebody who is booked up until… when are we recording this? February. So somebody is booked up until April.That makes you go…

[00:09:27] – Frankie
…they must be good, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you look busy and you’re booked up — which you are — that’s only a good thing. And they’ll probably hang around as a result.

[00:09:35] – Steve
If you are going to start booking people in for, for like, months ahead or whatever, though, do charge a fee up front.

[00:09:43] – Frankie
Oh, this is standard practice. No? Book a job — ask them to pay a deposit.

I mean, I say that I’ve only started doing that the last three years, to be fair…!

[00:09:51] – Steve
Yeah, so get that deposit. Because, of course, once you’ve locked them in, then you will be turning other people away. So get money upfront. And also bear in mind what a cancellation fee or a delay fee might be, should they then like muck you about later on.

[00:10:09] – Frankie
Yes, is that deposit refundable?

[00:10:11] – Steve
What does refundable actually mean?

[00:10:13] – Frankie

[00:10:16] – Frankie
She hasn’t told us anything about her life and her children and like what the situation is, but I do feel like a massive decider in what her capacity is and how much she can take on is like — how many kids does she have? What kidn of childcare situation does she have? Particularly in this current time… like, has she got kids she’s being expected to home school? What are her other commitments in her life? When is she actually going to be able to get the work done?

[00:10:42] – Steve
Yeah. Because you’ve asked how long will a job take, but you also need to know how much time you have available.

[00:10:48] – Frankie
Yes, exactly. You need those two parts of the equation. Right.

[00:10:53] – Steve
So there’s two ways to figure out how long a project takes you. One is your gut instinct that develops through experience over time. But the other is that you use, like, a time tracking app to monitor the work that you do. So you’re not monitoring it because you’re billing hourly or anything like that, but you’re monitoring it for your own sanity. Particularly if you’re doing work in a very sort of bitty way, where you do a bit of work here and then you pick it up again.

[00:11:21] – Frankie
Which a lot of us are right now. Right.

[00:11:23] – Steve
Right. So, if you properly use an app like Toggl — which allows you to monitor how much time you spend on it — you can do that per project, but you can also do it per task. Like, how long does it take you to do this thing? Then later, when it comes to quoting for a job — but more importantly, scheduling it into your diary when you’re going to do that work, which is what this question is about — you can look at it and have a much more sort of, data -driven approach.

Oh, punch me for saying data-driven!

[00:11:50] – Frankie

[00:11:51] – Steve
I actually just said data-driven.

[00:11:54] – Frankie
I think you’ve erm, you’ve over-estimated the quality of this podcast.

Basically, you’ve got some fucking experience and some information to base some decisions on, right?

[00:12:06] – Steve
Yeah. Keep a log of it.

[00:12:08] – Frankie
And as a fellow designer and recovering web designer, there are certain tasks that you will just be doing over and over again for different clients with slightly different briefs. But it’s the same thing, basically. And if you make it a habit of tracking it, you very quickly get an understanding of how long each of those different types of briefs are going to take you, or should take you.

Then of course, there’s other things to consider, right? There’s like the pain-in-the-ass client that you need to build into the time. There’s like the red flag clients. There’s various other situations where you know, it’s just going to take a bit longer. You know, maybe there’s more stakeholders involved. Or you know they’re particularly meticulous about stuff. You build all of those sorts of aspects into your quotes and time you commit as well.

[00:12:50] – Steve
And that sort of comes with time.

[00:12:51] – Frankie
Yeah, all this stuff will just come with experience, which is a bit annoying for Laura, isn’t it?

[00:12:58] – Steve
You then want to be able to it break down. How many hours is that? How much is that going to fit into a week? The order? But then don’t neglect, you know… I’m a big fan of ‘wiggle room’, right?

[00:13:12] – Steve
Wiggle it just a little…

Anyway, you’ve got to leave wiggle room a) for the things that go wrong in life, which is how I normally mean that, but also b) for the marketing that we’ve just discussed you’re going to keep doing even though you’ve got work. And of course all the admin stuff that goes with it as well. You can’t just overstock the week or the month that you’re planning out the work.

[00:13:32] – Frankie
So true. If you’ve got 8 hours a week child-free to do your job, don’t fill that with client work. Don’t say, oh, great, I’ve got 8 hours to just do the job. No, no no no. There’s so much other stuff going on.

Yeah, you’ll burn out so fast and you won’t have any clients lined up beyond what you currently have if you just fill that time with the actual work.

[00:13:58] – Steve
You can use, I mean… there’s lots of different tools that do this, but essentially having a calendar timeline type thing in front of you, which you can even create yourself in a spreadsheet.

[00:14:09] – Frankie
Are you talking about a Gantt chart?

[00:14:10] – Steve
I was going to say it’s a Gantt chart. Right.

[00:14:12] – Frankie
He’s talking about… a Gantt Chart!!

[00:14:15] – Steve
A data-driven Gantt chart.

[00:14:17] – Frankie
My former corporate life is flashing before my eyes. Gantt charts.

[00:14:20] – Steve
People love a Gantt chart, right?

[00:14:22] – Frankie
Yeah, we love a Gantt chart, yeah.

[00:14:23] – Steve
But basically, I wouldn’t just leave it to plot out your work in your head. Like actually have…

[00:14:32] – Frankie
But a lot of people have just like a year planner on the wall.

[00:14:35] – Steve
Yeah, could be a year planner.

[00:14:37] – Frankie
Just literally in front of your desk or whatever, and you just block stuff out.

[00:14:40] – Steve
Also, you want to think to yourself — am I only going to work with one client at a time? Or am I going to have multiple clients at a time?

[00:14:52] – Frankie
But at the same time, we’re in a global pandemic. Don’t feel that you need to over commit. A bit like the filling all the hours you’ve got with client work. Don’t feel that you need to say yes to everything. I guess I just want to remind you to trust your gut.

If you do feel you’ve got enough lined up for the next couple of months and it’s all good, just trust in that feeling and don’t feel that you need to take on extra stuff or commit to extra stuff during that period. I guess what I’m getting at is the whole ‘cult of busy thing’, right? There’s a lot of pressure. She’s a newbie full timer, she says. Maybe she’s feeling pressure to be busy?

[00:15:27] – Frankie
I guess I just want to tell her that it sounds like she’s got more than enough on and she’ll likely have stuff lined up and she’s going to be fine and she doesn’t need to do more than she feels she’s capable of doing at this particular time, under these particular circumstances.

[00:15:41] – Steve
If a client says, how long will this take? There’s different answers there. Like, yes, it might technically take you a day to do something, but that doesn’t mean you can get it to them in a day. You can’t get it to them until the end of next week.

[00:15:55] – Frankie
Yes, a good point. Like, if you send them a quote that says, this is a day’s work, then maybe psychologically they’re expecting it within a couple of days or whatever, but in reality you’ve got half an hour a day over three weeks or whatever. I don’t know what your situation is, but yeah, that’s a really interesting point.

[00:16:12] – Frankie
I really do think the crux of it is what time she has away from her children. That basically determines what you can achieve because, like, yeah, working nights is great, but what happens when your five year old doesn’t sleep till midnight? That’s me. Hello!

The whole working in the evenings and weekends thing, it’s not sustainable. Like, it’s just not. And it can work for short periods of time for, like, when you’re really busy, but really you need to build what you can commit to and when around the hours you actually have for yourself to do your job. And only Laura knows what those are.

[00:16:50] – Steve
When it comes to planning things in — if you can take your project and break it down into tasks. That then becomes easier to plot in over time templates.

Let’s say it’s a Trello board, for example, you’ve got a template for the card so that it’s all in there and you just have to go through the process of ticking it off and knowing how long things are. So when you’re doing big things — like you are, big projects — you can break them down into tasks.

Don’t just think of it as how long does this job take? How long do the different components of it take? And how am I going to fit them in?

[00:17:23] – Frankie
But I feel like you’ve always just got to, I guess… like the wiggle room thing, you’ve always got to…

Don’t make me sing the song!

[00:17:29] – Steve
You wanted it.

[00:17:30] – Frankie
I sort of do but…

[00:17:33] – Steve
Wiggle it just a…

[00:17:34] – Frankie
…fighting it so hard!

I guess what I’m saying is, even when you’ve got the whole planning thing nailed, still expect the unexpected.

What would your advice be?

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