Are you a consultant who workshifts between your home office, the library resource center and the orthodontist waiting room? Afraid you might flub an important detail or miss a deadline because your day is consumed by work for 2 or more (distinctly different) clients? Then this article’s for you.
Tips for managing concurrent client programs
Maintain separate writing tablets or Moleskines – Wherever it is you like to jot down meeting notes and to-do lists (many of us still prefer old-school paper), it helps to keep things for Client A separate from Client B. When you maintain separate hard copy “bibles,” you prevent taking a bunch of notes about your financial management client in the middle of the notes reserved for your software start-up client.
Designate one color Post-it pad for each client – Lower your eyebrow, pal – colors are valid organizational criteria. I love little punches of color, even with mundane things like office supplies. Second, I like the way I can easily scan the frame of my monitor (my favorite stickum surface) for orange slips when I need a WordPress logon for Client A and for blue slips when I want the call-in numbers associated with Client B. As a visual learner, the color theme is processed more efficiently in my head than regular handwriting.
Separate file folders in different colors – This might go without saying, but file folders can really help compartmentalize all the project trappings. I like to jot client phone numbers and email addresses on the outside of the folders – you never know when you might need to go Betamax because your system or cell phone is on the fritz!
Separate online calendars – I use Gmail calendars for personal appointments and, along with Tungle, for work-related meetings and due dates. While the central Gmail calendar keeps me in tune with each day’s agenda, I use the “copy to [additional] calendar” function to single out appointments associated with individual clients. When needed, I can zip up an account of the time spent on calls or in meetings within each calendar as either backup to an invoice or as part of an assignment’s progress report. There’s no need to look things up and then manually create another document if a question arises. The calendar layout also helps add visual context to each client touchpoint (often triggering memories of billable time spent together).
Use the Pomodoro Technique to allocate time well – It’s all too easy to let time slip away from you when engrossed in research for a project. Before you know it, it’s 3:30 PM, and you still have tasks due for another client. Consider using the Pomodoro Technique to avoid sinking too much of your days’ time into single tasks related to just one client.
Use Dropbox to centralize documents – Dropbox is a service I simply adore for its simplicity and ease of use. It allows me to work with clients and subcontractors to share files via the cloud for fast collaboration with version control. It’s also a great way to deliver large finished projects without fussing over thumb drives or CDs.
Refer to your accounting software often – When you’re running your own business, a couple of things can happen. You may enjoy the actual client work but despise the operations and administration side (avoidance is not a good management technique). Don’t let your aversion to the “business” side of business keep you from looking at P&L statements. Quarterly tax payment mandatories aside, you should check things monthly to ensure that values are aligned: you’re charging appropriately for your work , and remittance is being made in a timely fashion. If not, consider revisiting your terms and fee schedule for problematic or slow-to-pay clients. For me, Freshbooks makes this easy.
Working on concurrently running programs for separate clients demands your different skills and talents – bring variety to your day (possibly one of the very reasons you went out on your own, eh?). With deliberate organization and careful planning, workshifters can be their own boss, achieve their ideal work/family balance and deliver top-notch results to clients.