When we first start out in business, we want to work as much as possible. Each new project is a chance to build an ongoing relationship, to add something to the portfolio, and of course to collect the associated fees. But many creative pros make the mistake of taking on too much work too fast.

Saying ‘yes’ to every project can lead to numerous problems. Studios may get known for doing a certain types of projects they never intended to focus on. Attention may be divided, resulting in sub-standard work. It may prove harder than expected to bring on the right staff, whether freelance or full-time. Problems abound.

Clients are happier when they feel that they are your only client. Logically, they know you’re doing other work, but you need to structure your business so that you can give each project — and each client — the time and attention required. Being buried makes this all but impossible.

If you have long-term goals for business, such as doing less client work and producing more original content like books or web apps, taking on too much work will deviate from this course and make it harder to realign with the core objective.

Most business owners will agree that it’s better to build ongoing relationships with potential new employees and freelancers before you need it than to bring someone questionable in during a last-minute frenzy to staff up appropriately. Work on building your “call list” so you can grow with purpose rather than by happenstance.

It may be tough to say ‘no’ to a project outright, but every business needs to create a criteria for evaluating new clients and project. If a project doesn’t match up, you can’t take it on. Ideally, this is simply a matter of postponing it to a season that’s less busy, where you can give it focus.

Purposeful, steady growth is better in the long run than saying ‘yes’ to every project that comes to the door. It will save you heartache and stress, and will ultimately help you do the work that you want to do, not the crap that everyone is yelling at you to do.

Leave a comment to share your story about this common mistake. How did you survive accidentally taking on too many projects? What do you do now instead?

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About the author: Prescott Perez-Fox

Prescott Perez-Fox is a New York-based graphic designer and brand developer with 17+ years experience in branding, packaging, graphic design, and web design. He runs The Busy Creator.

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