Saturday, February 9, 2008

Common Sense and Caution: Managing Your Writing Deadlines

It’s tricky being a freelance writer sometimes. Time management skills are vital for success in this business and many freelancers are also work at home mothers with busy schedules and many hats that they need to wear. Without time management skills, you’ll pull your hair out, let your clients down and end up hating your job.

It’s important to take only what you can handle 99% of the time. We all have those days when we burn the midnight oil or drink two pots of coffee and plop the kids in front of the tv or the Wii too long so we can get our deadlines met but if that happens more than 1% of the time you’ll soon have yourself a problem such as suffering work quality or writer burnout. (I've been there & it ain't fun! If you look back on some posts here from several months ago you'll see what I have put myself through in my career so far!)

How do you stop yourself from biting off more than you can chew? As you grow your writing career you'll learn a few things along the way. It’s important for your career that you keep in mind that meeting deadlines can make or break you in the eyes of your clients. It’s vital that you try whenever possible to meet or exceed the deadline on a project.

When a client asks for an ETA…

Be realistic when your client asks how long you will take to finish a project. When in doubt add extra time so that you can deliver early and make them happy. Be sure you understand the full scope of the project before agreeing on an ETA. Allow time for other assignments, interruptions and emergencies. I always try to schedule my time to finish an assignment early so I have a little bit of a buffer for emergencies. Sometimes this isn’t possible and many of my clients have tight deadlines or drop rushes in my lap regularly so it’s important that I don’t take on more than I can handle unless I know some of the work has flexible deadlines. Balance is important so try to find yourself some flexible clients.

When a client is unrealistic…

If a client is putting a demand on you that you know you’re very likely not going to be able to meet it’s best to say so up front instead of agreeing while biting your lip hoping you’ll be able to somehow swing it. ‘Tis better to risk having them not give you the gig than it is to stress yourself out by trying to reach a near impossible goal. The end result will be that it will ruin the relationship anyway. The first option at least shows the client you’re professional and realistic and they might either adjust the deadline or at least come back to you with a new assignment offer later.

When something comes up and you know you’re going to miss deadline…

When something unexpected comes up and you have to ask for an extension (and it’s bound to happen eventually even if you are ultra organised) it’s important to ask for the extension as soon as possible. Don’t simply deliver late and leave the client waiting; tell them what’s going on and apologise. If you have a good relationship with the client and they know you are being honest they might be ok with it. But, some deadlines are absolute and you run the risk of alienating a client when you’re late so always do your best to view the deadline as very literal.

By literal I mean that missing a deadline could be the death of your reputation and your writing career. Now that I’m dealing with a team of my own I see all sorts of lame excuses and really honest problems come up that can impact work coming in on time. When I deal with someone I know is otherwise conscientious I am as understanding as I can be but if it happens too often I have to cut the ties with the writer as I cannot risk losing my clients because of poor time management. Sometimes problems can’t be helped but if lates and excuses come up repeatedly it’s time to reassess.

While it’s tempting to take every job offer that comes your way there comes a time when you have to look at the big picture. If you’re working too many hours and are stressed out it’s important to take the time to evaluate:

-the type of work you are doing
-the rates your work efforts are paying you
-the type of clients you have

Better to drop a few clients or turn down a few gigs rather than struggle with an unmanageable workload.

When you schedule your writing workload you need to:

-Allow extra time for editing and rewrites. Always plan to deliver at least a day or two before deadline so you have a bit of extra time

-Look at not only the word count of a project but also look at research time and additional requirements such as special coding or formatting

-Carefully read the project brief as soon as you get it so you can accurately estimate it. If you plan your schedule based on word count or comfort level with a subject matter alone you could find yourself scrambling at the last minute and jeopardizing your writing reputation and career.

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