Digital Strategy Insights Marie Poulin

Are you booking your clients too far in advance?

I’m pretty grateful in that since the very first few days of running my business (back in 2009), I’ve had a steady stream of work inquiries in my email inbox. Not all of them are a good match or my ideal client, but I have been lucky to have options.

There were many times over the last few years where I was receiving an average of one new job request per day. It felt like a good chunk of my days were being spent on customizing my “sorry I’m not available,” or “please tell me more!” emails. It was getting overwhelming, and I realized:

  • I was undercharging and/or undervaluing my services (market demand is high… I shouldn’t be getting every single job I quote on!)
  • I was not communicating my value or prices effectively (too many tire kickers; my services shouldn’t be appealing to everyone in a range of $500 – $20,000)
  • I was wasting way too much time rejecting/accepting proposals (I didn’t have a system/templates!)

Given that most of the time, I had to either turn down the work, or schedule them later, I started to find myself booked up for 4, 5, sometimes 6 months in advance! You would think this is a good thing, right? I know where my income is coming from over the next few months. Work is booked, bills are paid, everyone is happy. Right?

Wrong.

Here’s what happens, and I’ll give you a real life scenario from my own business.

Project #1 begins in May, project #2 begins in July, and project #3 begins in september. There is some overlap scheduled within the projects, since I’m not working full-time on each project (there are 2-3 ongoing at any one time). As I begin approaching the middle of project #1, the strategy evolves, and a decision is made to add an online course component to the site. This obviously adds more design and development time to the project. So the deadline gets pushed, and extra work hours/budget are added.

As project #2 approaches, project #1 is still ongoing, and is in fact nearing launch, which requires my full attention. So in scrambling to make sure my new client/project gets the required time and attention they need, I am forced to work some evenings and weekends to keep both moving along and both clients happy.

Oh my, Project #3 will be starting in a month now.

But… after lessons learned from project 1 and 2, I realize that I’ve likely undercharged for project #3, since they also need an online course. Crap.

Project #1 launches, and the client is ecstatic. And they want to continue working together on a sister project. AMAZING. Except… project #3 is starting soon, and Project #2 is in full swing! I’ve also scheduled a Project 4 for November because, hey I’ll need something once all of these are done, right?

Project #2 scope changes, and they need to add a few new components, and add some custom widgets. Oh my. This is time I didn’t account for… Project #3 is starting, and Project #1 still needs their sister project.

I now have 3 projects, and that other project 4 that I scheduled in the meantime is looking pretty daunting.

Four months of scheduled work is starting to feel more like overwhelm than excitement. 

When you don’t give yourself and your business time to breathe between projects, you don’t give yourself room to grow.

Unfortunately, booking too far in advance means that you don’t leave time to debrief, and reflect on the successes and failures of a project. It also doesn’t leave you room to continue to nurture a work relationship with those clients as an ongoing partner. It doesn’t allow you to pick up an interesting last minute opportunity (if you so desire), and most importantly… it doesn’t leave you time to breathe. Not to mention those personal projects that have been on the back burner? HA! Forget it.

It took me nearly a year to organize my time in a more sane way. I took inventory of clients and projects, looked at what went well, what didn’t work well, and where I needed to make changes/tweaks in my process. I had to let some smaller clients go, as I found myself getting buried in the minutia of small daily tasks. I was managing 6-10 projects of varying sizes, when realistically I can only give my attention to 2-3. Rather than give everyone my half-assed attention, I made the decision to focus on fewer, larger projects at once, and leave them time to grow after launch. I didn’t expect that nearly every project I launched last year would be so successful that most of those clients wanted to continue working together in some capacity! I was so focused on getting my schedule booked up that I didn’t even leave space for what was happening right now.

So over the course of 6-8 months, I started saying “no,” to every new project that came in. It was hard! There were some exciting projects that I would have loved to take on, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give them my best. I told new prospective clients that if they were interested in working together, they could back in touch with me in the spring (and to my surprise, some of them actually did!)

Giving yourself breathing room between projects, and resisting the urge to book your schedule up for months at a time allows you to get very intentional about your business decisions, so you can start being more pro-active (aka, get out of fire-killing mode). It also allows you time to actually work on your business, and not just in your business. And chances are, if you are in such high demand, it’s time to raise your rates. Not in 3 months from now, but today.

For the first time in my ~5 years of running my business, I now consistently have evenings and weekends free to do what I want to do. I don’t wake up feeling panicked anymore about what needs to be accomplished that day.

Consider resisting the urge to book yourself up too far in advance.

Give yourself the time necessary to debrief after your projects, so you can ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is this the kind of work I want to be doing?
  • Was this project a success?
  • Did I leave enough time to complete this project?
  • What might I have done differently?
  • What have I learned that I can bring into my next project?

Get off the hamster wheel!

I promise it feels so good…

Do you agree?

Do you book up too far in advance?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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7 Comments

  1. Your blog is awesome, Marie! This post (and the fire-killing one) definitely touches on some of the pain points we have had to work through too. It must’ve been so difficult to say no to all those leads… our basic tactic for saying no to work that is interesting/exciting, but we don’t exactly have time for, is to send an estimate that is ‘way too much’. (We have been shocked by how many times clients still want to proceed with the project, and at that point, we’re being very well compensated for our time, and have the budget to hire extra hands if required).

    Really agree about how important breathing room is… especially since some of our favourite projects have only been made possible because we always try to keep empty spots in our schedule for the awesome rando opportunities that fall out of the air. Also, your point about scheduling personal projects as client projects (with deadlines…) really stood out to me… our list of personal projects (that always seem to come before client work) is getting a bit out of hand :\

    I’m really looking forward to going through those links on systems… thank you again for taking the time to write these posts, they’re really great and def give me a lot to think about.

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Vivian! Thanks so much for the feedback! Sometimes these words go out and i have no idea if they resonate with other people, so it’s nice to know that sometimes it connects 😉

      You guys have been producing some incredible work – i can only imagine what your personal projects will be, once you start making time to make them bloom! You’ll have to let me know how you enjoy some of those systems links. Cheers, and congrats on your studios recent win!

      Post a Reply
      • Hey Marie,
        your words resonate with me. I’m your biggest fan in Germany.. 😉
        I really love your blog!
        It’s very inspiring, I like your ideas and your braveness.
        keep it up!

      • You are awesome! Thanks so much for letting me know this resonated! 😀
        I’m trying to keep up the blog… and it helps when people tell me that it inspires them. Hoorah! Thanks again!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. It’s exactly the process I’ve been in. I’ve been a self-employed person for over 20 years and have really gotten tired from the book work+prepare for work+do the work+recover from doing the work+ find more work+ (freak out about financial black hole) book more work cycle. This December I put on the breaks to review all my systems, all my clients and come up with a flow/sequence that I was more in control of, that came more from choice. I have felt a bit crazy and risky to not just book, book, book, book. But I was tired of the turbulence. I still don’t have it down yet, but it’s getting better.

    Post a Reply
  3. Hi Marie!
    Back in 2012 I have a “great idea”: I scheduled super express blogger design projects that took me just two days to complete. That was crazy! I took dates three months in advance… of two day-projects! Mi idea was to dedicate all that time to just a client, and truly designs were cool, and truly clients were delighted with my full dedication. But then it all began to complicate. How on earth could I schedule three months away a single banner design that have been a consequence of a blog design? you guess it: I began to overlap blogs with single pieces: headers, banners…. insane. This took me to close the studio for some months… and to begin create some online design courses for bloggers. They wouldn’t have to wait to be attended, they wouldn’t have to pay for every single piece they need, they could do it for themselves.

    It was the begining of a new level. Now I have fewer number of clients, I am more expensive, and I charge what makes me feel comfortable with each project. I keep on developing my system, but now I am confident about me: I can do it the way it’s better for me.

    Thanks for your post, I loved to read it and I felt so self reflected!

    Cheers!

    Meisi

    Post a Reply
  4. Hi Marie,
    you have really great Blog. I red all of your staff. Just awesome.

    Greatings from Germany,

    Daniel

    Post a Reply

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