Idea: Capacity Forecasting for Freelancers/Independents

This is yet another post in my Idea Series - basically a way for me to write about ideas I’m considering working on, to help vet them, invite critical feedback, and figure out if they’re worth pursuing or not. If you missed my posts on Smarter Sprinklers or Disposable, Transient Chat, I’d love for you to take a look and give me your feedback.

And now, onto the show.

The Problem

Most of my professional life is made up of my freelancing/contracting work. I do user experience design and product strategy for clients, and it’s been a great gig. I generally stay really busy, and probably run about at 80-90% capacity over the course of the year. The problem is, that time isn’t evenly distributed - some weeks, it’s crazy, others, much slower.

I blame a lot of this on visibility. The problem is, I don’t know how busy I’ll be next month, without some critical thinking through my current project load, when they’re expected to end, when I expect other projects will start, etc. Put simply, if you asked if I had time for a project next month, it’d take me a bit to figure out the answer to that question.

This is a problem. It causes a fair amount of undue stress, as I end up with a lumpy workload over the course of the year, and results in occasional weeks that are much lighter than normal, causing me to feel guilty or worried that I need to kick the marketing back into gear.

The Idea

Ideally, I’d like a platform that would allow me to track capacity - current and future - throughout the year. I’ve become quite good at estimating the amount of time that a given project will take me, and I’m remarkably accurate in breaking that down into weekly hourly loads, given a well enough defined scope. I want to see those trends visually, so that at any given time, I know what next week, and next month, will look like.

Here’s how I envision this. I’d create a platform that allows me to track current and future projects, including their workload amounts (hours per week). Those would be bound by start and end dates (or in the case of retainers, just recurring). By overlaying these on one another, I could instantly calculate and visualize my forecasted capacity throughout the year, making it far easier to plan my work.

This would help in a number of ways. First, it’d provide me an instant understanding of future capacity, so that if a potential client calls today and wants help next month, I have a far better understanding of how much time I’ll truly have available for their project, and whether or not it fits into their timeline. Secondly, it would highlight areas where my capacity opens up in the year, allowing me to better plan marketing activities around filling those gaps, in order to keep myself as fully booked throughout the year as possible.

Finally, I could imagine that this kind of platform would provide me with deeper knowledge about the amount of time and effort typical types of projects take, average delays, and other trends that would help me better forecast and utilize capacity in the future.

I imagine that this would work beautifully for freelancers and independents, but could also work well for larger teams as well (who don’t already have some kind of tool in place for tracking this). Also, this is not intended to track sales cycle or deal flow as many other sales pipeline tools do quite well, this is strictly in the capacity planning realm.

How It Makes Money

If I were to launch something like this, I feel like it makes the most sense to launch this as a standard SaaS-model product, probably something along the lines of $19/mo or so. If it allowed you to fill an extra few hours per year through more efficient capacity planning, it’d easily pay for itself (now that I say that, $19/mo might be too low, but we’re just spitballing here).

What Do You Think?

So, thoughts? Are you a freelancer, small shop or independent? Do you have this problem as well? Any tricks you use to get better visibility into your future capacity? In what ways could a product better help you manage this process?

Don’t by shy, leave your thoughts in the comments, after all, that’s the sole reason I write these posts!

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