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  • Diana Schneidman

Too much of a good thing can be pretty bad

As you may recall, the much quoted Mae West said that too much of a good thing can be wonderful.

But when it comes to freelancing and consulting, too much of a good thing can be a nightmare, especially when that good thing is work.

Too much work can take lots of forms, such as too much work in too short a time frame or too much work from too many clients.

Today let’s look at too much work from a single client.

I have seen freelancers in online forums who berate themselves for not marketing full speed while simultaneously serving a single full-time client for a year or more. Their self-flagellation seems unreasonable to others, but then, it’s easiest to be unreasonable towards ourselves.

The other day I heard about a consultant who completed a three-year assignment early this year. Now he finds himself idle, and he’s been in this sad state for six months.

What could he have done differently?

He could have consistently marketed for the three years.

That’s what forum participants remind such individuals. Sounds good but it doesn’t really work. Effective marketing takes time and consistency, and if you are doing a demanding, full-time assignment, you don’t have time to market consistently.

What if you do manage to carve out a few hours per week to market?

Then there’s the risk you may quickly land a second assignment. What if you get more work one month into the three years? You can’t put off the second client for two years and eleven months, can you?

You could send the offer on to someone else as a favor, but then why bother with the marketing? Or you could take a commission and send it on, but that may give you unwanted responsibility, depending how the transaction is managed.

You could take on more work on the side, but can you really pull it off? Work requiring creativity and attention to detail—in other words, professional work—requires you to be rested and alert. If you take on more than you can handle well, you are shortchanging your primary client, your side client or both. And enjoying life less.

Instead, you can gear up your marketing towards the end of the assignment. You still may have the problems above, but not as acutely. Ideally, you may move seamlessly from one client to the next. However, this is much easier when you are sure of the end date for the original assignment. And it may be even easier if the first assignment tapers off at the end instead of abruptly concluding.

Or you can plan for a sudden completion by saving money and planning ahead for future marketing. This may mean an online newsletter, website, mail campaign or other labor-intensive start-up that you can prepare on the side and then roll out big time when the assignment is over.

You can charge a surcharge for your full-time assignment. This is counter intuitive when you accept the first offer. You may be tempted to bid low since you won’t have to invest time in marketing for quite awhile and can relax into the temporary security.

Or you can turn down the assignment. When new to freelancing, it is difficult to contemplate such a thing. But it has been done.

Three years is an exceptionally long project. Many extended assignments aren’t quite that extended. Full-time assignments lasting several months entail similar decisions, but these decisions are even harder to make. Three years from today seems so far off that you don’t need to contemplate how to turn on the work stream again. On the other hand, six months is long enough to peer into the future yet too far off to juggle multiple clients for the duration.

A learning story

I once had what I understood to be a part-time, daily assignment that would take only two to three hours most days. I gladly accepted rather low pay because it was income I could count on.

The client estimated three hours of work per day and only two hours was conceivable. This was before I recognized that three billable hours is a lot of time. A regular work day does not have eight billable hours, it has more like four or five.

The assignment was to turn industry news into online intelligence for a large corporation. The client had cancelled subscriptions that would yield content as a cost-saving move, and based on initial conversations, I expected that less information meant less work.

But it turned out that less information readily provided meant more research and more work on my end.


After about a month I resigned that assignment and wallowed in the relief . . . except that I had slacked off on marketing.

Moral of the story: Know what you are getting into and what you may be giving up. All that glitters may not be so golden as it first appears.

Originally posted 8-24-09

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