Why Every Freelancer Should Plan to be Over-Scheduled

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Andrea McEneaney got into freelancing after seeing a sign on an office building and deciding to give it a shot. Years later, she’s been a full-time freelancer, side-hustler, and everything in between. In this interview, Andrea shares her journey into freelancing, her best client experience, and why she feels every freelancer needs to plan to be over-scheduled – right from the beginning. 

What kind of freelance work do you do? What kind of clients do you work with?

I do instructional design and development. This means creating training materials including eLearning courses, job aids, instructor led training, online college courses – you name it. I’ve worked with various industries including video for learning, corporate dentistry, construction project management, competency-based education – basically anywhere people need to learn, I can help. Instructional design involves working with the client to identify their training needs, planning the content via storyboards, writing learning objectives, ensuring the content meets those objectives, breaking down complex content into bite-sized pieces using analogies and stories, and sometimes also building the courses on some sort of platform. 

I also run a business called IDLance, which is a written curriculum and community aimed at helping people become freelance instructional designers. It’s sort of small business educational material with a “fun” spin so that people might actually enjoy reading about such dry concepts.

How did you get into freelancing?

When I first moved to Altamonte Springs, FL I drove past a sign outside an office building that said, “Engage the Brain.” I looked them up and emailed them asking if there was anything I could do for them to help their business. They were a learning center for students aged 3 to college aged. I became their social media manager and website person even though I had little to no experience with those things. I just liked the owner and the organization and wanted to work with them in some way and I ended up freelancing with them for about 5 years and still have a great relationship!

Share the best client experience you’ve ever had

The best client experience I’ve ever had is one that is still ongoing. I have a client with whom I work closely and we’ve been working on a project together, and the stakeholders for that project are AMAZING. It’s like we all have this psychic connection and we actually look forward to our meetings together. 

We have been doing rapid development for dental hygienist training which sounds meh because of somewhat graphic teeth content but actually has been one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on. Most efficient, pleasant, and enriching clients I’ve worked with in a long time.

What’s your favorite thing about freelancing?

That I get to organize my life and my time the way I want to live, not the way some organization is telling me to live. I also love the innate trust that clients can have in freelancers. They sometimes just give you stuff and just trust you to make it happen and… you just do it. It can be scary, but it is also empowering. 

What’s one pitfall of freelancing that every freelancer should be aware of? How can they avoid it?

Have a plan for being “over-scheduled” before you are over-scheduled. Things might seem slow and then get super busy all at once and you’ll need a game plan. I have a kid at home, and in my back pocket when things get really busy I know that I can get a hotel room for a couple of days to not have any distractions while my husband stays with our daughter. I also always have a couple of people in mind to ask to subcontract for me when things get nuts and I can’t take on all the work myself.

What’s your advice for freelancers having trouble closing clients?

Have a look at your rates and the way you conduct yourself when meeting with clients. Ask for an objective opinion. Ask the client for feedback if you feel comfortable. It can’t hurt to ask! Having a mindset of, “I’m always looking to improve my products and services. Where can I focus so I can meet your needs in the future?”

What’s your advice for freelancers dealing with difficult clients?

Don’t let it eat at your soul. Remember you’re there to take their money and provide a service that is outlined in a contract. Refer them to the contract (in a polite way) whenever scope creep occurs. Say things like, “Sure, I’d love to make that happen for you. But for expedited projects that require a change in timeline I charge a rush fee of…” 

What are your best strategies for maintaining mental and physical health? What’s your routine?

I try and take a long walk with my dog EVERY morning that I can and try to stand at my desk as much as possible. Learn when to recognize if you’re in a mental rut with a project or task, and just stop. Go do something else. Clean your house, play with your kid/animal/etc., go to the store, just stop focusing on it and give yourself space to stop thinking about it. The sooner you can recognize that you are just clicking around on your computer not really accomplishing anything, the better. 

I’ve wasted so much time willing a task to be completed when it just wasn’t “time.” Then, I’d finally recognize I was getting nowhere and let myself take a break. When I started the task again I was able to complete it in half the time I had already spent staring at my screen flipping back and forth through LinkedIn, email, and Facebook ads for outer-space themed clothing.

What’s your top personal finance / money tip that every freelancer should know about?

Set aside at least 30% of each contract payment even if it hurts. If you can’t at the moment, make it up later. And use your email’s label system to mark every business expense purchase so you can easily find it later.

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