juggling work as a freelancer

Hello everyone,

I’m looking for a little advice on business etiquette where it applies to scheduling freelance work from different design firms.

Since being laid off early this year, I’ve landed one freelance job - that happily has turned from a few weeks into a few months. It’s been a long enough project/job that I’ve had to turn down work from other firms that I would like to work for in the future. While this long project may become longer by a few more months and while it’s steady money - and I haven’t signed anything that commits me to the project’s conclusion - I’d like to not turn down the next offer from another firm; for the purposes of getting different experience and new contacts, etc. Basically I’m wondering how I can further my freelance opportunities in the future without possibly burning any bridges of already established working relationships.

There are probably no clear answers to what I’m asking about, but I would love to get some anecdotes about other peoples’ experiences with juggling freelance jobs and the needs/demands of the companies offering the work.


I knew a freelance that would never take more than 3 weeks work from any one firm in the area… ironically this resulted in him typically having steady work from a dozen places…

You have to decide what your business strategy is. Do you truly want to work with a lot of different places, or is being pretty much an uncontracted fulltimer okay with you. If you want to stay flexible, remember the balance and don’t let one place hog all of your time. When they don’t need you, the other places you turned down may have dropped you from their radar and you could end up with no parachute. Also, the one place you’re working for could start to take your availability for granted.
What type of work schedule are you looking for? Work at your own place or use the clients facilities? Those factors will tell you how available or unavailable you should be to new and old places.

Add some buffer time into each project you do - if you ‘back them up’ against each other, any delay and you’e going to find yourself short of time.
Be discreet - your clients do not want or need to know about who else you are working for, or what you are doing when you are not working for them, all they really need to know is that when you are working for them you are giving 100%
I don’t put a clients list on my website, I don’t shout it from the rooftops because I know that it can work both ways. It’s the same as a resume, it should be tailored to every client, same as your portfolio. I wouldn’t go for a ladies fashion freelance role and take a load of kids product in my portfolio or talk about the kids brands I’d worked for, it’s not relevant.
Don’t work for direct competitors at the same time, it’s not good business practise and it can backfire, especially if you are in a trade where everyone knows everyone (note to Columbia Footwear designer :wink: )
Be trustworthy, don’t show client work to other clients unless its already in the marketplace or really old development.

and what Skinny says, it’s dangerous to only have one client if you are making a career of being a consultant. You get dropped for all sorts of reasons, from the practical (they’ve decided they need a fulltimer), to monetry (I lost a client last year when they absorbed the UK office into the German office to save money), to the bizarre (they get tired of every freelancer who has ever worked for them within about a six month period and constantly change them). I’ve found if I have two or three main clients and then take on a few other much smaller projects (from one day a month to one week twice a year), that’s enough to keep going and manage to juggle eveything.

As long as you do this, can’t foresee any problems. It’s all about keeping everything seperate.

This has been great advice so far.

Skinny: Very astute comment about a firm’s “radar”. One of my goals with this discussion is to try and see the business relationships that I’m involved in from both sides.

Shoenista: I hear you loud and clear about keeping different business relationships separate. That’s how I have played my budding freelance career so far.

Underlying my initial question is some uneasiness about having enough steady work, but I am eager to have the reward of working for and learning from the business practices of different firms.

How do the rest of you view this sort of thing - the possible indirect compensation of experience, improved skills, variety of work, etc. that you might get from maintaining relationships with multiple employers?

Underlying my initial question is some uneasiness about having enough steady work.

Welcome to freelance where nothing is ever certain! It’s not for the faint hearted!

I deal with this by never taking my eye off the ball and never resting on my laurels. I’ve got to the stage now where I almost always have enough work but it has taken a long time to get to this point, I can tell you.

My advice:

Network, network, network. Both IRL and online. If you can afford it, go to relevant trade shows, it’s amazing who you bump into.
Don’t be pushy, if you are desperate for work, it can really show and is very offputting. If there is work and a client wants to give it to you, they’ll give it to you, if they have no work or they do have and they don’t want to give it to you, then no amount of hassle and nagging will change their mind But you can promote yourself without looking desperate.
Keep an eye on costs. It’s all very well staying in the best hotels when you travel, but if you’re a small business, then it’s foolhardy. You have to be ultra careful and now I understand why employers refuse to buy you that $££$$£££ super turbo charged Mac!

Ensure that you have savings for the lean times. So many designers end up going back to full time because they run out of money. My business partner is a web designer and the last time times were lean he took on a web design freelance contract and that paid the bills until our work picked up again.

How do the rest of you view this sort of thing - the possible indirect compensation of experience, improved skills, variety of work, etc. that you might get from maintaining relationships with multiple employers?

I thrive on it. I could go back to full time and earn much more than I do as a freelancer but it would bore me silly. I love the networking side of things, I love finding factories for people, I love being able to pick and choose which sourcing agent I work with, I love holding the hand of and coaching someone through their first line. I’m a free spirit as well and I’d feel very tied down. I 'm constantly learning as well and working with more and more new and interesting product.

That indirect compensation is one of the main reasons I do it. Imagine if you just work at one place, you fall into their house style, you’re just exposed to their workflow, specialties, and designers. Or as a freelancer, you get to see how a lot of different places work, lots of different tactics, styles, skillsets, specialties, etc… For me, exposure to so many different working conditions like that helps me really hone in on what I want to do, how I’d like my firm to be if I decide to expand, what skills I need to focus on, and even just being able to learn from so many different sources. That’s why I won’t gripe if I happen to run into a client that may not pay so well, I look to see if I can that indirect compensation, like exposure to projects I’d never get to work on anywhere else, etc… That might make it worth it if I feel it’s valuable enough to me personally. Just try to look at things from all of the different angles.