What to do when your freelance business reaches capacity

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There’s an old saying that warns, be careful what you wish for. There are thousands of freelancers who once wished for a consistent demand of their service, only to reach their goal and realize that they can’t handle it.

While it’s frustrating to be in a position where you’re not getting any leads or new clients, it’s also frustrating to communicate with so many clients each day that you barely have time to actually work.

It seems like an ideal situation for freelancers who have not yet reached their maximum capacity, but it can be detrimental and damaging to those who aren’t prepared for it.

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Reaching capacity presents a freelancer with a critical moment. On one hand, you can collapse under the pressure and end up with negative reviews and a soured rating.

If you’re prepared however, you can use this opportunity to propel your freelance business to the next level. The point of capacity can be an overwhelming and frustrating period; but if you take advantage of it, you can turn your frustration into freelance gold!

Knowing when it’s time to transition

It’s often difficult to even realize that you’re at capacity until you’re right in the thick of it. As you’re growing your personal brand day-by-day, you may not notice when demand is starting to outweigh supply (the amount of time you can personally dedicate to your business).

Here are a few telltale signs that you may be reaching your critical transition moment as a freelancer:

Price Separation 

There is a major difference between the activity of an average freelancer and one who has truly capitalized on their niche offering. When you are the best provider in your niche, customers take notice.

At this level, you begin receiving an increase in client inquiries, customer trust comes much faster, and most importantly, you can charge much more for your services than your competitors. It is very likely that you are hitting a critical moment in your freelance career when your prices are significantly higher than all of your competitors, yet customers still prefer to hire you for their services.

Client Quality 

When customers start realizing that you are worth your weight, the quality of clients that contact you will often change.

Clients no longer come to you for a cheap and low-cost service. Instead, they come to you because they know that you can provide them with a better result than other freelancers that you compete with. Whether it’s your reviews, ratings or your portfolio, something gives them the confidence that you can do the job and do it well.

Customers who seek the best of the best are less likely to haggle on prices, are usually more established in their businesses, and are typically more prone to respect you as an expert in your field. However, they also require the highest level of quality, which means that you will likely be dedicating more time and effort to serving them.

No Time To Work 

As a freelancer, you are typically your own single employee. This means that not only do you complete the work yourself, but you are also the marketer, the salesperson, and the customer service rep.

When you reach a level where you have so many clients that you spend more time communicating with them than working on their projects, your business has likely outgrown your individual capacity.

If you meet the above criteria, the good news is that you’re in a position that every freelancer dreams of! The bad news is that if you haven’t prepared yourself for this moment, life is about to get hectic.

To truly take advantage of this opportunity, plan for this moment early on so it doesn’t catch you off-guard when it comes.  

Choose a road: fail, survive, or thrive

When you’ve finally reached a point that you are consistently at capacity, you will be faced with an important decision – one that will drive your business from that moment on.

At this crossroad, you will be faced with three unique pathways that will ultimately decide your destiny as a freelancer:

  1. Get Crushed Under The Pressure: Everyone assumes that they will be able to avoid this option, but the majority of freelancers who reach capacity will end up folding under the pressure. With their schedules thrown out of whack, they continue to accept as much work as possible; even when they know it’s unmanageable. They begin to miss deadlines and the quality of their work suffers greatly. Clients get annoyed and leave bad reviews, and before you know it, the freelancer is back to square one — getting no leads at all.  
  2. Minimize Your Business: The second option is to minimize your business to make sure that you don’t exceed your personal capacity. This means turning down clients and only taking on work that you can comfortably complete on your own. The upside to this approach is that you will maintain your sanity, your work quality and your ratings. The downside is that you will leave money on the table, and the freelancer that steps up to take on work you left behind may eventually pass you up.
  3. Maximize Your Capacity: For the committed few, there is another road — one that takes your business to the next level. This option is where you setup your freelance business for maximum output with a greatly expanded capacity. Instead of minimizing your business to match capacity, you maximize your capacity to keep up with the growth of your business.

Without question, a lack of proper planning will ensure that you end up on the road to failure. Before you run smack dab into your critical transition moment, decide which road you will take.

Figure out how much work you can comfortably handle on your own, and implement your transition plan as soon as your workload begins to consistently reach that capacity level.

How to maximize your freelance capacity

The key to maximizing your capacity is to create a well-oiled business system. It isn’t easy, but you will have infinite room to grow your business if it is done successfully.

The easiest way to continually maximize your business capacity is to duplicate yourself over and over again. By yourself, there is a maximum production limit of 24 hours in a single day.

If there were ten of you however, your daily capacity would grow to 240 hours – a productivity and capacity increase of at least 1000%. Maximizing your capacity means no longer operating as a freelancer, but as an actual business, even if you are using freelance platforms to generate your leads.

Building a network of freelancers

Hiring well-qualified freelancers can give your business productivity a major boost. You may be the best at what you do, but at minimum, you can find another freelancer to lay the groundwork for your service and drastically reduce your workload on each project.

As an example, imagine if you were the best marketing strategist on a particular freelancing platform. Your profile has the best reviews, and there is no other provider on the platform that can produce better marketing strategies than you can.

However, you’ve reached capacity and you know that it is impossible to hire another freelancer to deliver your level of quality. What do you do? Simple – you find someone who can complete even a single step of the process.

Maybe you can’t find someone to create an entire marketing strategy, but you can definitely find someone to complete a few preliminary steps of the process – such as competitive research or a market analysis. Maybe it takes you a whole hour to proofread a marketing strategy report before you send it to a client.

Can you easily hire someone to proofread your document and free up an hour to strategize for another client? Probably.

Take time to learn how to vet potential candidates properly. The work that other freelancers provide to your clients on your behalf will now be a direct representation of you, your business and your brand.

Hiring part-time/full-time help

If business continues to grow, you may find that hiring freelancers no longer gives you the consistency that you require. When you are relying on a freelancer over the long-term, you’re never totally sure that they will be available when you need them.

They may get caught up with other clients or may be vacationing the week that you need them the most. Once you are in a position where you have consistent work coming in and a great profit margin, hiring actual company employees will allow you to truly duplicate yourself and maximize productivity.

You can’t give away your secrets to other freelancers that you hire. If you give them too much intel on your process, they make use your information to become a competitor.

Employees on the other hand, can be subjected to a Non-Compete Agreement; which means that you can train and educate them on your exact processes without the worry that they will run off with your business secrets.

Begin by hiring a single qualified part-time employee. Teach them how to do exactly what you do and exactly how you do it so that they can take some of the workload off of your hands.

Train them extremely well and as your team increases, allow them to teach new employees the same process. As your client base builds, scale your team even wider to maintain an optimal capacity.

Managing your new capacity

To really maximize potential as your business develops, you will need to shift some of the responsibility off of your own shoulders. Focus on building a business system instead of just a service.

Create specific processes and put the right people in place to churn out a consistent and high-quality service that meets your professional standard; and more importantly, exceeds the standards of your customers.

You’ve got a great team in place, so what exactly will you be doing with all of this newly realized time on your hands? You’ll be growing the business.

After you’ve built a great team that can handle providing the service, your role will shift to a management/executive role.

In this role, you will focus on further developing the business, perfecting the process, finding new lead sources, and managing the individuals on your team.

The capacity of your business is directly tied to how well you are able to duplicate your efforts and properly delegate responsibilities.

The road to maximum capacity is thin, and very few people make it there – but follow these tips, and you will know exactly what to do when you reach your freelance crossroad!  

Let me know if you have reached this crossroad in the comments.

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About Mike Sims

Mike Sims is a startup and digital marketing consultant, and the owner of ThinkLions. As the head of a mobile software development and consulting agency, he manages a team of mobile app business plan writers, strategists, designers and developers. Together with his team, he has worked with hundreds of startups around the world, helping them to secure funding and bring their app ideas to fruition.

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