Welcome to the second part of 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have series! The goal is giving you the chance to take your freelancing to the next level. This, second part, is primarily about being able to stick to deadlines, honoring your commitments and being always on time on meetings with your clients. I will also give you couple tools and tips on how to deal with overload and how to escape job boards. This will be the agenda for today. Let’s dive right into it.
Quick note: Initially, the original name of this skill was time management. However, after thinking about the degree of specificity of this subject and its connection to freelancing and web design, it was obvious that the term time management is not appropriate. The problem is that time management is in default about … Well, managing your time and being productive. Although, all these aspects are important for you to become successful freelance web designer. However, this is not what we are going to focus on today. We have something much better and more important!
We will start today’s discussion on soft skills, specifically timeliness, with a little bit of theory. In this part, I will give you couple tips on how to escape the trap of job boards. Some spoiler … It’s through hard work. Anyway, if you are more interested in specific tools and tips you can use to boost your soft skills, you can skip this part and jump right to the “Soft Skills Academy for Improving Timeliness” section. Skip it or not, you will still get many tips to boost your soft skills.
Soft Skill No.2: Timeliness
Let me put it straight. Timeliness is one of the most important soft skills you can adopt. Let’s imagine that you would do a survey amongst people who either are working or worked with freelance web designers. This survey would have only one question: If you would look for a web designer again, what skill would be the most important for you to make the decision? You can think about doing the same survey, but instead of individuals, you could focus an agencies working with freelancers in the form of external cooperation.
Luckily for you, I accepted the challenge and spent last two months surveying individuals and web design or digital agencies so you don’t have to. The result was in the majority of responses similar. One of the soft skills required was timeliness, or the ability to meet deadlines and deliver agreed results on time. In case of agencies, this result was omnipresent. Meaning, it doesn’t matter whether you would look for a regular on-site job, home-office or purely external cooperation. In short, freelancer or employee, if you can’t meet deadlines you have no chance of getting job there.
A little side note … In about half of cases, timeliness outran even soft skills such as communication, which was the subject of part 1. Yes, you read it right. About half of the people I asked were willing to hire or work with someone who has poor communication skills rather than someone who can’t deliver on-time. So, if you are not well-versed in soft skills such as communication, but do whatever it takes to ship on-time, nothing is completely lost.
Even if you are not willing to work on your communication skills, you will still have a bigger chance of being hired. Anyway, let’s go back to the subject we are going to discuss today that is timeliness.
Trap of Being Overwhelmed
Let’s start by tackling, I think, the most difficult problem that can cause failure to comply with deadlines. This is what I call the trap of being overwhelmed. The first thing I will tell you is that getting overwhelmed is very easy, especially in the beginning. When you are starting off as a freelance web designer, your capabilities to estimate the time required to get the job done are not polished by regular training yet. Unless you already worked in some agency in the past, you also can’t build on previous experiences.
That being said, it is still your responsibility as a professional to cope with it and deliver the results you promised. So, what if you are already in this mess? Some people would tell you to just grit your teeth, do whatever it take to finish the project and take it a lesson to learn from. Initially, I wanted to give you the same advice. However, you probably already know this. And, it would probably not hep you as much anyway. Instead, I will suggest that you use a little bit different approach that includes several specific steps. But before that, let’s stay on this topic for a moment.
Out of Necessity, Out of Curiosity
During your career, whether it will be in the form of freelancer, business owner or employee, you will often have to deal with this situation. Meaning, you will have to analyze your abilities and available space and decided if you can handle one more project or not. In the vast majority of cases, this analysis will either stem out of necessity or curiosity. Necessity is an example of situation when you are taking on more projects than you might be able to handle because it is the only way to earn a livelihood.
This happens often in the beginning, when you decide to strike your own path and become freelance web designer or web developer, or whatever your craft is. It is important to mention that the probability of this event occurring is directly correlated to the current power and reach of your brand and also the network of clients you can contact. In other words, the less clients you have on your contact list when you start and the weaker your branding is, the higher is the probability that you will have to take on more projects.
More, but Poorer
Will it expose you to the risk of being overwhelmed due to having more work than you can handle? Yes. However, it might be necessary to undergo such a discomfort in order to gain momentum. Despite that, it is still only up to you what types of projects and how many of them will you take. What I mean is that if you decide to go the somewhat easier road and take every crappy project you will encounter, you also have to accept the consequences. Vast majority of these projects will be poorly paid. In short, you will have to take on more of them to earn more.
Another problem is that many of these projects will also not have sufficient quality to be shown in your portfolio. Therefore, you might need to work on side projects to have something to supplement this shortage of presentable material. As a result, you might end up with a pile of looming deadlines, empty portfolio and couple side projects on the back burner. How is it that I know so much about it? Well, I just described how my beginning as a web designer and web developer looked like. More, but poorer. Fortunately, there is a way to escape.
Harder, but Better
Have you seen the movie Matrix? There is one specific scene that will give you the best idea of how you will feel when you decide to use this escape route. I will probably disappoint you now. It is not the scene where Neo decides to take the red pill and learn the truth. That would be pretty easy transition, right? The scene I’m talking about comes later in the movie. In that scene when Neo fights with agent Smith in the subway station. Here is a video. This is what I’m talking about.
When you decide to escape from that trap of “More, but Poorer” you will follow the path of “Harder but Better”. In the beginning, you will have to leave your comfort zone. You will have to look for clients on your own. Job boards will no longer be a sufficient solution. Remember, job boards got you where you are, in the first place. We discussed this topic in Why freelancers should avoid job boards article. Anyway, back to the “Harder, but Better” path.
You will have to start emailing people and business on a daily basis to get clients. You will have to start promoting yourself and your services. In other words, you have to get a new hat – businessman’s hat. You will no longer be just a web designer or web developer. From now on, you will also have to take care about the business side of what you do. Aside to being just a designer or developer, you will also become your own marketer and sales person. You will have to consciously take care about every area of your business.
You have to understand this. You will get your butt kicked, a lot. You will often wake up with little to no motivation to keep going. Again, you will have to spend some time every day cold-mailing or cold-calling people and pitching your services. It is quite possible that you will also need to continue working on your side project to have material you can show prospective clients. If you want to know couple great reasons why you should keep working on your side projects, take a look at the 5 Ways How Side Project Can Make You Successful article.
Brighter Side of Hardship
The brighter is of doing all this hardship is that it will help you get momentum. In the long-term, it will also help you build freedom and your reputation, and it will create your personal brand. You will also become independent on any middlemen such as job boards. After some time, all that effort you have made will be rewarded. As the word about you and your skill will spread, clients will start to contact you on their own. The time spend on cold-calling and cold-mailing will decrease. The number of projects offered to you will increase.
In other words, the biggest reward for you will be that you will be able to spend more time doing what you really like. From then on, you will spend the most of your time designing and coding instead of pitching yourself. Your portfolio will also slowly grow without you having to work on side projects to supplement. All you have to do is to decide to trust yourself just like Neo did in that fighting scene in subway station. You have to decide what do you want and do what’s necessary.
Maybe you will get your butt kicked the first time, just like Neo did (I really love that movie), maybe not. However, if you grit your teeth and persevere, you will get where you want to be. To illustrate this on Matrix again, think about the final fighting scene where it looks like Neo will die. Well, from the viewpoint of medicine he did. Anyway, important is what happened next. In short, he came back to life, kicked Smith’s butt and won. You can win as well if you persevere long enough and do what’s necessary. Warning: don’t try that scene at home!
Soft Skills Academy for Improving Timeliness
So far, we discussed some of the tougher parts of freelancing, web design and work in general. Now, it’s time to give you couple tips or tools to improve your soft skills, especially the skill of timeliness. Or, the ability to respect and meet deadlines and being on time. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the promise I gave you in the “Trap of Being Overwhelmed” section. So, the first tool will be the one you can use when you will feel overwhelmed. Although, I suggest that you use it to for project planning and management every time before you start working on new project.
Enter the Loop
The first step is quite simple. Well, this is not really the first step, rather a preparation for the process. Anyway, what you have to do if you are on the edge of panic, you have to calm yourself. I know. This is easier said than done when you have to deal with looming deadline. However, this pre-step is necessary if you want to save your butt. You must be able to think clearly and this is hard when emotions are swirling in you. So, unless you are calmed, don’t continue in reading.
The real first step is to Observe your current situation and collect all information you have available. Include everything you have and know about the project. In other words, all informations necessary to for making further decisions. You have to be able to assess your current situation based on these data. When you are done, it’s time to move to the second step. This step is called Orient. Your goal is to process and analyze the information and data you observed (gathered). Here, you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.
The most important, I think, will be three questions. First, what have you done until now – analyze your current process. Second, what needs to be done to finish the project. Third, how much time do you have left. Again, you have to be ruthlessly honest. You don’t have time, especially in case of looming deadline, to soften your situation and dilute. In case you are starting new project, doing so [softening] will only worsen your ability to create appropriate time estimate.
The third step of this process is to Decide. With the information you Observed and then analyzed (Orient) you now have to Decide on the course of action you will take. Meaning, you have to come up with concrete plan or set of task that needs to be done to complete the project. Depending on your situation, this can be easy and fast. On the other hand, you might find out that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Whatever is true, write down all the tasks and steps you have to make. And, again, remember to be honest with yourself.
The last step of the process is to Act. When you know what needs to be done, it is time to get your hands dirty. Although you might not have enough time you think you need, before the deadline will expire, without taking any action, your failure is pretty much guaranteed. So, grit your teeth and do what you can with every second you have.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this section, I suggest that you make this four-step process part of your workflow. Use it to plan and manage your client work, side project and just whatever you are working on. Heck, use it for goal setting! Why? Because this tool was tested in the toughest conditions you can imagine. I’m not talking about web design, freelancing or business. I’m talking about situations where people’s lives are in danger. To be honest, this tool was not originally created for business or project management.
In a fact, it was developed by John Boyd for special forces such as NAVY SEALs. No, this is not a joke. If you want to learn more about this tool, search for OODA loop. This is how this tool is called. It is acronym for the observe, orient, decide and act steps. Now, you can use this elite tool to boost your soft skills.
The Worst-Case Scenario
The second tip to indirectly boost your time-related soft skills is what I call the worst-case scenario method. Its purpose and application of this method are quite simple. Whenever you are about to make a decision, like coming up with time estimate for your client, just lean towards the more pessimistic option. Attention, I’m not suggesting that you become a pessimist. Not at all, being optimist is great. Well, being opportunist is even better. However, leaning toward the worst scenario will give you some margin for the case when crap hits the fan.
Rule of Ten
Another tip similar to the worst-case scenario is method I call rule of ten. This is, again, about increasing your estimates (and prices) for ten percent. If you are curious about the origin of ten percent, I will disappoint you. There is no real scientific method behind it, only intuition and testing on real-life examples. In other words, it just looked like the best amount. Meaning, it is not too much to push the whole time estimate over the edge. In the same time, it will still be enough to give you some space you can use to get out of bad situation.
Next tip for you is to schedule literally anything and everything you want to get done. Since we already discussed the topic of scheduling in the 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Pt1, I will keep it short. For more information on goal setting, head on to How to Guide to Goal Setting – The Ultimate Way to Success article. Anyway, what I want to tell you is this. For every task or personal goal you need or want to accomplish, or meeting with your client (especially this), you have to reserve space for it in your schedule and write it in your calendar.
You have to approach your calendar, and to-do list, as professional. In other words, if it’s not written in your calendar, then it is not going to happen. It is also not so important. On the other hand, if it is important and it must happen, stop and write it down to specific date. Scheduling is something you should start and end your day with. Seriously. Working on your calendar and to-do list should be both, start and end point of your day.
The Art of Prioritization
Scheduling your tasks and meetings is one thing, but what can you do if it starts to pile up? The answer is prioritization. For this I recommend a tool called Eisenhower Box. It is very simple and easy to use. You will create a matrix and separate it into four quadrants – urgent and important – tasks to do immediately; important, but not urgent – tasks to schedule to do later; urgent, but not important – tasks you will delegate; neither urgent nor important – tasks you will eliminate. Then, you will organize your tasks into this four quadrants according to their importance.
This way, you can organize your tasks in just a few minutes and prevent yourself from being overwhelmed. It might also help you realize that some of the tasks are not important at all and you can eliminate them. If you are interested in this productivity tool, I suggest that you read How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the “Eisenhower Box” article by James Clear. There, you will find all you need to put this tool into practice.
Another tip is more related to in-person meetings and it is simple. Leave sooner than you think you should. This tip is similar to the worst-case scenario method. No matter how long you think it will take to the destination, always leave sooner. Remember, it is much better to arrive too soon and have to wait on your client than otherwise. By showing early, you are also showing that you respect your client and value his time. On the other hand, if your client has to wait on you, what does that say? Show some respect and always arrive sooner. This is the easiest thing you can do.
There is great saying: “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.” Remember this saying and remind it every single day. By the way, it also work wonders with big egos such as mine. It keeps you grounded in times you are leaning toward arrogance. The last suggestion for this tip is to always travel with some good book. It is much better use of time than social networks, news or some other crap. Educate yourself while waiting on your client.
Understand Parkinson’s Law
When it comes to time-related soft skills, mainly productivity, there is something called Parkinson’s law. This law states that the work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, task will fill the time you will assign to it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all this time will be spent effectively. In a fact, it is often the opposite. For example, you will assign two weeks to the project you are working on. In the end, you will spend week and half procrastinating and only last two or three days working your butt off.
Luckily, you can use this law to your advantage by reversing it. Meaning, instead of giving the task or work more time, give it less. It will push you to work harder and use less resources. Aside to that, it will also narrow your attention and improve your ability to focus. However, you should be careful with it because it can backfire. The way I use this law in work is by setting double deadlines. One deadline, the official one (and pessimistic), is the one you will tell your client. Or, your client will tell you this deadline.
The second deadline is only for you, nobody else have to know about it. It is also tighter than the official deadline. Remember, task will fill the time you will assign to it. For this reason, you will shorten the deadline to push yourself to finish the work sooner. What’s important, in order to make Parkinson’s law work for you, is to take your personal deadline seriously. You have to perceive that deadline just like the official one. Meaning, failure to comply is not an option. If you do fail, it is the same as breaching the official deadline.
If you are competitive such as I, you can use Parkinson’s law and double deadlines to challenge yourself. In other words, how fast can you accomplish that task? I apply this approach to every task and project I’m working on and I can only recommend it. It will boost your productivity and every successful attempt will also boost your self-confidence. By the way, your self-confidence will influence your soft skills as well.
Have an Agenda
The last tip I have for you is to always have an agenda. Always create a plan for your meeting in advance. This will another way to boost your productivity-related soft skills and timeliness. This agenda or plan should include everything you want to discuss with your client. Make sure to include specific questions you want to ask your client. Then, send this agenda to your client before the meeting. Doing so, you will allow him or her to prepare better and more precise information.
Sending the agenda to your client will also remove the uncertainty of the unknown your client could feel otherwise. Now, he or she will know in advance how will the meeting come off. There will no longer be any place left for potential uncomfortable surprises. Here is the thing. Many people you will work with may have no prior experience with hiring a web designer or web developer. Due to this fact, it is no wonder that many people may feel uncomfortable. So, when you take the time and prepare the ground, they will appreciate it and see you as professional.
Do You Need It?
Let me close this article with question some of you may have. Do you need to use the tips and methods provided in this article? Here is the thing. You are professional. You can meet the deadlines without artificially creating any reserves. If that’s true and not just some mumbo jumbo, I love that! It’s great to hear that you are thinking about yourself as a professional. That deadlines are more than just a number people are often used to take seriously anymore. World would be much better place if there would be more people dedicated to their craft like you.
Anyway, I still suggest that you think about using these tips and tools. My goal is not to convince you to lie or cheat or whatever. My goal with this series on soft skills, and blog in general, is to make your work easier and more enjoyable. That’s it. I want to help you be more productive so you can spend more time doing the work you love, do a better service to your clients and be able to use your work as the source of your main income. So, do you need these tools and tips? No. Will they help you? Yes. Now, it’s up to you to decide.
Closing Thoughts on Soft Skills and Timeliness
There you have it again! The second part of 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have series is behind you. As always, now it is your turn to either take the lesson and use these tips and information or stay where you are. I suggest that you constantly work on your soft skills and never stop. Remember, that timeliness is the privilege of kings and professionals. Don’t just talk about it, be it and live it every day. See you soon in the part three!
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