Saving Time with Your Personal Time Machine

by Tom Ewer 5 Minutes

time machineThe prospect of time travel has intrigued humans for generations. The idea that if we could only somehow have a glimpse of our future, we might have the power to shape it for the better.

Whilst I don’t have a TARDIS or time-traveling DeLorean to offer you (sorry), I can tell you the secret to predicting your future — at least where your clients are concerned.

It revolves around a little something philosopher George Santayana said circa 1905:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

You see, the key to changing the future isn’t physically going there; it’s looking to the past to predict — and change — your future from where you are in the present. You are your personal time machine. And by “traveling” to your past, you can learn things like:

How to Recognize “Red Flag” Behavior

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

  • “I don’t have a big budget, but…”
  • “If you give us a discount on this project, we’ll have more work for you in the future…”
  • “This will provide great exposure/make a great portfolio piece…”
  • “In order to provide you with work, we’ll need a processing fee…”
  • “I need this work done yesterday, but it’s easy work so…”

Great jokes, right? If you let out a rueful chuckle and shook your head at any (or all) of those, then guess what: you just took a trip in your time machine. You have already had past experiences that are telling you that those lines are bogus — and any potential client who uses them should be avoided at all costs.

How Long a Project Will Take

If you’re a web designer, there’s a good chance you’ve designed a few websites. Or, if you’re a blogger-for-hire, you’ve probably written an article or two. And whether you’re designing websites, writing blog posts, or baking specialty cupcakes as your chosen profession, you probably know exactly how long it takes you to perform a job well done.

Or, if you can’t calculate an exact timeframe, you can at least give an educated guesstimate. And that’s extremely valuable when it comes to client relations.

If a client comes to you with a project that’s due in three days and you know — from past experience — that a project of that magnitude will take you at least a week to complete… Turn it down. Save yourself, and your client, the headache caused by missed deadlines and misplaced confidence.

What to Charge

Related to the above, when you know how long a project generally takes you, you can more easily calculate accurate rates for your services. Did you charge for three hours of your time on the last gig and it ended up taking you eight? Did you forget to charge for drive time? Did you end up needing additional supplies?

Depending on how well things went the last time, you may need to consider raising your rates. Or, if everything went as planned, you’ll know that you were “right on the money” in regard to money — and that’s always a good feeling.

What Mistakes to Avoid

As service providers (and human beings), we’ve all made mistakes. That’s fine. So long as we learn from those mistakes and use them as a way to improve ourselves, and our services.

What mistakes did you make the last time you worked on a project like this one? Did you scan in your illustrations at the wrong DPI? Did you submit your work in the wrong format?

Even if the overall project went without a hitch, you may have made a “mistake” in the form of missed opportunities… Like not suggesting more work for yourself. Always be on the lookout for more work possibilities! If the client hired you to write fresh copy for their About page, but their FAQ page is looking shabby — mention that you could be of service, should they need you. Never beg for work or force your client to rehire you, but it never hurts to plant the seeds in their mind.

Not backing up your files whilst the project is in progress is also a common error. Don’t wait to save your work until the project is complete — especially if it’s a larger gig. Make sure you save your work as you go along. If you work digitally (as most of us do!), you never know when something could go wrong. Even top-of-the-line technology fails every once in a while. Don’t take that chance.

Where to Look for Clients

Maybe you don’t have a gig right now. Maybe you’re waiting for your next great client to come around.

You can find them by taking a trip in your time machine. Look at your portfolio. Where did those clients come from? Were they good? If so, then try looking for new clients the same way you found those clients. Look in the same industries, on the same job boards, or by using the same marketing tactics.

Or ask your former clients if they know anyone who’s looking for someone to provide the services you specialize in. Clients who you loved working for — who loved the work you did for them — are one of the best sources for referrals. They know exactly how good you are at your job and will often know other individuals with similar needs. And, much like your friends are a reflection of you, the new clients your former clients refer to you will often be a mirror image of them. So, if your original client treated you well, it’s likely the person they referred to you will as well. (Though keep an eye out for any “red flag” behavior, regardless).

Knowing Your Limits

Freelancers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs tend to fall into two camps: they either take on too much work or too little. Especially when we’re new to the game. And, as you might expect, it’s far more common to take on too much. (After all, you don’t suddenly decide to run your own business if you’re lazy!).

Rather than scolding yourself for taking on too many clients, use it as a learning experience. Look back on that time in your life — that time when you were so bombarded with work that you could barely gasp for air — and calculate exactly how much was “too much.”

Know how much you can realistically handle. The last thing you want is a bad case of burnout.

Learn to recognize your limitations in your day-to-day life as well. We’d all love to work non-stop (imagine how much we’d accomplish!), but those aren’t realistic goals to have. Don’t be afraid to take breaks.

Creating the Future: Final Thoughts

Every once in a while you’ll come across a time travel story in which our future is set in stone and nothing can stop the progression of events from unfolding exactly as they’re written out by “fate.” However, those stories aren’t the ones that stand out — they aren’t the ones that define the genre. One of the most endearing traits of the best time travel stories is the idea that the future can be changed, if only you try.

However, that’s not to say those attempts will go flawlessly. Back to the Future‘s Marty McFly ended up creating an alternate timeline in which his mother was married to his arch-nemesis, simply due to an error in judgement. Likewise, Groundhog Day‘s Phil Connors tried and failed multiple times to correct/escape his skewed timeline before finally succeeding.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from those experiences could be what saves your future.

Image by dlee.

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.