Managing multiple clients can be a daunting task - and if you’re a project manager, you already know this. However, you also face this issue if you're a freelancer, work at an agency, or run a small business. It can be overwhelming to juggle several projects, deadlines, and client expectations - especially all at once. However, with the right strategies and tools, it's possible to successfully manage multiple clients and grow your business while providing superior service. In this article, we'll provide 10 tips for managing multiple clients.
1. Create a Schedule
The first step in managing multiple clients is to create a schedule. A schedule is necessary to help you keep track of deadlines, appointments, and project milestones. Without a documented schedule, you’ll soon see things falling through the cracks. How do you know which deadline is for which client? It’s essential that you have a system where you can view and manage dates, and if you work as part of a team, it’s a good idea to use a shareable calendar platform. You can use a calendar app or a planner to create a schedule that works for you. Some people are more comfortable with tried and true pen and paper, while others prefer to use technology to maintain their schedule. The important thing is to be consistent. Be sure to include time for unexpected events, such as emergencies or client changes. You should be able to account for most of your time in this calendar, even if it’s an hour to decompress or driving time to and from meetings. Be as realistic as you can in your scheduling so that others can schedule meetings with you that won’t need to be rescheduled several times.
Related Post: How to Organize Your Digital Calendars
2. Prioritize Your Work
When you have multiple clients, it's important to prioritize the work associated with each. Identify which projects are most urgent and need your immediate attention. This will help you focus on what is most important and avoid wasting time on less critical tasks.
How can you do that? We recently wrote an article about the Eisenhower Matrix, which is one time management method. There are lots of different methods that you can research in order to help you plot your work, but we tend to like this particular one. Here are the basics:
The matrix consists of four quadrants, each representing a different combination of importance and urgency.
- Important and Urgent (Do First): These are tasks that require immediate attention and cannot or should not be delayed.
- Important but not Urgent (Schedule): These are tasks that are important but do not need to be done right away. In many instances they require planning and preparation.
- Urgent but not Important (Delegate): These are tasks that are urgent but do not necessarily contribute to long-term goals. In most instances they don’t align with important personal or company objectives. They may be delegated or postponed.
- Not Important and not Urgent (Don’t Do): These are tasks that are not important or urgent. They can be eliminated or postponed indefinitely.
By categorizing tasks and organizing them into these quadrants, individuals can ideally prioritize their work and focus on the most important and urgent tasks first. This helps to increase productivity and avoid wasting time on tasks that do not contribute to long-term goals. Speaking of long-term goals, make sure you keep them in mind as you determine which items are most critical. The work that you consider most important should directly contribute to bigger objectives or what you know is most valuable to the client.
3. Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations with your clients is essential. Be upfront about your availability, deadlines, and project scope. This will help you avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Often, projects fail because the parties were never aligned on expectations in the first place. Setting clear expectations - and having them heard - is easier said than done sometimes. Here are tips for doing just that:
- Be transparent - Explain clearly what you can and cannot do. One conundrum business owners run into often is having clients want a larger-scope project without having the budget to pay for it. Be up front about your pricing and the value that you (or your company) offers. Explain honestly (and kindly) why their proposed budget won’t work. Most people appreciate straightforwardness and it’s better to get this conversation out of the way early.
- Ask more questions - If something isn’t sitting right with you, don’t be afraid to clarify (and clarify again). Many times clients are not crystal clear about what exactly they want - so how can you help them meet their goals? Before work begins, make sure you have a thorough understanding of what they are looking for.
- Make sure goals are clearly defined - What is the actual end goal of the project? The only way to know you’re on the same page with your clients is to have clearly defined and documented goals that are specific. Goals should be measurable and achievable as well. If a client is pushing for a goal that will ultimately be hard to measure, you should have a conversation about why that is not favorable.
- Set boundaries from the outset - Be very clear about what you are going to do and also what you’re not going to do. It’s up to you to set polite but clear boundaries to avoid scope creep and also being taken advantage of. In particular, if you’re not going to be available 24/7, be very clear about reasonable response times and what your client can expect in terms of communication.
- Get everything in writing - It’s important to document everything that’s been discussed and agreed upon. Your arrangement should have a very clear contract with the goals and KPIs settled. Furthermore, you should not be afraid to tweak this contract if things change. In most industries that’s called a “change request” and it refers to documenting new tasks associated with a project so that you can be sure proper time and budget are allocated to them. Don’t go down the path of thinking little extra tasks are “no big deal” - they add up, and before you know it your original timeline is eroded.
4. Communicate Regularly
Communication is key when managing multiple clients. A study by the Project Management Institute found that one third of projects fail due to poor communication. Furthermore, a lot of the other reasons listed for projects that failed basically came down to some form of communication as well. In short: a project cannot be successful without proper communication.
Keep your clients informed about project progress, delays, and changes. Regular communication will help you build trust and maintain strong relationships with your clients. Too often, project or account managers don’t want to share bad news with their clients. The trouble with that is, the problem rarely goes away and then time is wasted that could have been spent on finding a solution. Rather, be as honest as possible when you run into roadblocks, and work together to find an answer. Ideally, you should have a communication cadence set up for regular status updates. In these meetings you can discuss the usual tasks, progress, upcoming deadlines, and questions. However, if there is an issue to raise, that should come up before your status meeting -ideally as soon as you’ve figured out there’s an issue. Your clients should never go more than one week without hearing from you, even if the only update is “business as usual”. Plus, clients should always know how to get a hold of you. If they have to work to track you down when they have questions, they are going to resent the situation. Make it as easy as possible to communicate often.
Related Post: How Virtual Teams Communicate Effectively
5. Use Project Management Tools
Project management tools can help you stay organized when managing multiple clients. There are a variety of project management tools available that can help you manage client teams, whether you’re dealing with a single one or multiple. These platforms can help you to stay organized, track progress, and communicate with your team. These tools continue to evolve over time and they can be a powerful way to collaborate with others as well as to create visuals for how projects are going.
Some of the most common project management tools include:
- Asana: A task management tool that allows you to create tasks, assign them to team members, and track progress.
- Trello: A visual project management tool that uses boards, lists, and cards to help you keep track of tasks and deadlines.
- Basecamp: A comprehensive project management tool that includes task lists, schedules, messaging, and file sharing.
Many people rely on task management platforms, which are great - in fact, we wrote about Todoist here. We love this app for managing to-do lists and focusing on work in a way that works for each individual. However, such an app doesn’t include the robust communication and collaboration functionality that a true project management tool does. A lot of teams think they can take shortcuts and use task management apps to manage larger projects, but that’s really asking for trouble. We suggest exploring the three tools above and seeing if one could work for your team. Don’t try to go it alone and use pen and paper for managing projects. Today’s tools are exceptionally helpful and can streamline your time and efforts.
6. Delegate Tasks
Delegating tasks can help you to manage your workload when you have multiple clients. If you work with others, consider delegating tasks to team members who have the necessary skills and expertise. This will free up your time to focus on the most critical tasks as well as more strategic efforts.
A lot of people have a hard time delegating. If you’re not sure what to delegate, consider ranking your immediate tasks. Needs that are urgent and important to the larger mission or goals are most critical - it’s okay to make sure to manage those yourself. Tasks that are immediate but not critical can be delegated. If you’re new to delegating, consider the following:
- Assigning tasks based on skill set - If you have a thorough understanding of your team members and who is good at what, you can break work up according to those strengths.
- Providing clear instructions - A project won’t be successful without crystal clear expectations, and that goes for individual-level work as well as larger projects.
- Setting deadlines - Every single task associated with your project should have a deadline (even the small ones). The nature of projects is that often one phase can’t be completed until a prior one was, so everyone needs to do their part and meet their milestones on time.
7. Use Automation
Automation is a way of doing more with less, and can help you save time when managing multiple clients. There are many tools available that can automate tasks – everything from invoicing to project tracking to social media management and much more can be automated. Consider using these tools to streamline your various workflows. Bonus if you work on a team and the entire team is trained on using automation. Take a look at your most common processes and tasks. Is there a way to automate them using technology, so that everything is repeatable and scalable? What are you doing manually right now that can be automated to make the most of your time and eliminate redundancies?
Related Post: 53 Workflow Automation Tools to Boost Productivity
8. Be Flexible
If there is one tip we really want to drive home to people managing multiple clients, it’s this one! Flexibility is essential when managing any clients, but especially more than one at once. Be willing to adjust your schedule and priorities as needed. Remember that unexpected events can happen, and you need to be prepared to handle them. What did not seem important yesterday may become critical to the client. And something that was running smoothly may run into a glitch that needs to be addressed right now. Be prepared to adapt and have contingency plans for if something needs to change. For example, if you are supposed to be on a status call with one client and you need to address an immediate IT ticket for another, can someone else conduct the status meeting? Where will they find the usual notes and items that you cover? Always have a back-up.
9. Manage Your Time
Managing your time effectively is critical when managing multiple clients. Be intentional about how you spend your time and avoid distractions. Use time tracking tools to monitor how much time you spend on each task.
Note that we didn’t say “multitask”. Too many people hear “time management” and start thinking about how they can do a bunch of things at once without losing any productivity. In actuality, that’s really rare and trying to focus on more than one thing isn’t helpful. Instead, we suggest focusing on monotasking (you can learn more in this article). At a basic level, though, monotasking means focusing on only one task at a time. You might also hear it referred to as single-tasking, but it essentially means that you’ll work on one specific thing until the task or goal is accomplished (or until you reach the end of a specified time). Monotasking is really the opposite of multitasking, which can increase anxiety and cause the release of stress hormones. Though you may get some instant gratification from switching back and forth between tasks, multitasking is actually a productivity killer. If you want to be truly effective in whatever tasks are important to you, you should try monotasking.
10. Take Breaks
Though it sounds counter-intuitive (and in America we are particularly bad at it), taking breaks is essential for your mental and physical health. When managing multiple clients, it's easy to get caught up in work and forget to take some time off. You should plan regular breaks throughout the day. You can read a book, browse social media, walk your dog - whatever it is that you’d like to do. Though this time is unstructured, it should be reserved on your calendar. Plot these times during your day just like your work sessions, and mark them off when complete. To a larger degree, you should try to plan a day off or even a vacation now and then. Psychologically, it’s been proven that looking forward to vacation is really beneficial. In short, you can’t just focus on work. You need to plan for some down-time during your busiest periods - in fact, you probably need it even more during those phases. Don’t feel guilty - it’s likely to make you even more productive in the long run.
How Can Shift Help?
If you manage multiple clients, then you know that there are various platforms and tools that are necessary for doing so. You may need to log in and out of several different apps, websites, or technologies. How annoying is it to, for example, pull reporting for weekly status meetings and have to log in and out 10 different times for each unique client?
Shift can streamline these efforts and end the constant logging in and out - which takes up a ton of time and can also contribute to errors. Shift is an innovative platform that can be used for a better, more organized digital experience. You can use Shift to limit distractions, keep important context in your web tabs and apps, and increase overall efficiency. Furthermore, you can easily access and store tabs and bookmarks in Workspaces. This makes it simple to have important tabs on-hand and organized by workspace, then bookmark them for quick access later on. No more digging for the right website, logging in and out, and then switching over to another app that you need - it’s all right there in Shift, and you can even label your workspaces by client to stay extra organized.
Using Shift, you can also organize the following:
- Mail - Connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation.
- Apps - WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger—we have everything you need to get it done. Browse our Apps Directory, connect yours, and switch between them easily.
- Search - Save time and find exactly what you're looking for across any of your Mail, Calendar, and Drive accounts.
- Chrome extensions - Enjoy access to Boomerang, Grammarly, LastPass, and many of your other favorite Chrome Extensions.
- Workspaces - Create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks you need, then share it with your team to get the job done.
- Account management - Toggle between your most-used accounts, check notifications and streamline your workflow.
In conclusion, managing multiple clients can be challenging, but with the right strategies and tools, it's possible to succeed. Create a schedule, prioritize your work, communicate regularly, use project management tools, delegate tasks, use automation, be flexible, and manage your time effectively. The more you practice, the better you’ll do - and the happier your clients will be!