Good project management is important to the success of any client project. If you’re new to freelancing, building solid project management skills now will pay off for years to come. However effective project management requires practice and a certain degree of experimentation. So let's take a look at 10 areas where you can shine during your next client project.

1. Start Strong

Without a solid foundation you could play catch-up for the duration of a project. So make sure you plan timelines and milestones in advance...Also be sure to make communication a key part of your project strategy. Before beginning any work ensure your client is on board with your plans and how you work.

  • A timeline will help you establish the breadth of a project. Though a project may change due to unforeseen circumstance it's crucial to set deadlines. Deadlines will help you stay on track, and your client will know when to expect each milestone.
  • Milestones can be helpful for larger projects. There are two types of milestones: internal and external. Internal milestones are for you and your team (if applicable), and external milestones are shared with your client. Milestones could include getting final approval, finishing mockups, and sending the final deliverables.
  • Communication is key. Often, analytical thinkers can have trouble communicating ideas to creative thinkers. So to manage any project well, spell out every last detail with your client and make sure you're both on the same page. Doing so will help both of you manage expectations and ensure that the end product meets or exceeds their needs.

2. Listen to your clients

Actively listen. Your client has information they may either directly supply or as a comment made in passing. Notes can help you notice and remember expectations, ideas, and other details that will help you deliver. It can be a good idea can be to record your meetings, this way you have something to come back to for clarification (make sure your client is aware of this).

3. Gather project content efficiently

Content is not just what you’re making. It’s also what you’re utilizing to create your content. And it’s crucial to project management. Managing a project well means gathering content efficiently so the project can progress as promised in your timeline.

Even if you’re creating a website from scratch, copy from nothing, or an app from a single idea, you need content. Whether it’s an abstract thought or garbled fragments on a page, your job is to make sense of it all. I believe there are four areas to look at when gathering content.

  • Create a checklist specific enough that you won’t forget anything. These can be customized for each project, but you’ll save time by creating a template. This checklist will have every piece of content you’ll need, from copy to images, to approval and sign off times. You can take it one step further and upload it to Dropbox (other brands are available) so your client also has access. If this isn’t an option, a paper copy at each meeting will work.
  • Specify in your contract who will provide what and at what point in the project. This not only ensures you know who to communicate and follow up with, but it also creates accountability. If everyone is aware of their responsibilities, there's less of a chance of confusion later on.
  • Creating and adhering to deadlines is crucial. Everyone is busy, and items without deadlines tend to get pushed back. If you have a solid timeline in place with fixed deadlines then you’ll make the process of content gathering a whole lot easier. You may also want to plan ahead, since delays can often arise. If you are waiting on the final version of copy for a design, you won’t be able to move forward until that arrives. This could throw you off schedule, so be as proactive as possible.
  • Organization is crucial for any freelancer, none more so than when gathering content. If you haven’t create a filing system yet (digital or paper), I strongly suggest you do so. It can help you find and manage content more efficiently and save you going prematurely grey. 

4. The devil is in the (project) details

Have you ever started a project, then had it blown to bits because the client didn’t supply information as and when they were expected? Having the right information about a project when you need it will help you to plan more efficiently and produce the best product possible for your client.

  • Getting this information often involves asking some strategic questions. What is the purpose of this project? What is the desired result?
  • You’ll not only want to know the project deadline, but also any deadlines before final delivery. There may be meetings where wireframes, rough drafts, and updated reports are needed. Since you’re the one creating them, these deadlines are important to know!
  • Stakeholders are those who are involved and invested in the product. Depending on the product, you may only interact with your immediate client or a number of stakeholders. It's important to know who you’ll report to and who has a stake in the project.

5. Manage client expectations

Expectations have their place in project management and sometimes clients expect the impossible. Managing expectations is most important at the beginning stages of a project, but should be maintained throughout. If you manage expectations well from the beginning you can deliver a product that meets or exceeds your client's expectations...Hopefully making for a very happy client.

6. See the Big Picture

Early in my freelancing career, I was a full-time college student and working two part-time jobs. I thought keeping separate calendars for classes and work would help. In fact, I would often forget to check both before planning something. Thankfully I never messed up anything major, but I learned a valuable lesson.

Keeping a single calendar for both work and life helps you see the big picture. It can be easy to get caught up in the details, but it’s also important to see what’s on the horizon. Whether this is a desk calendar or a digital one, take a few minutes to review upcoming meetings, deadlines, and events.

7. Let Technology lend a hand

One of the best ways to manage your projects is through cloud-based technology. I’m all for pen and paper, probably more than most, but being able to access information anywhere is a huge bonus. As awesome as my little notebook is, it’s not cloud-accessible.

Here are four apps that can help you manage your projects while not distracting you from the work itself. All are both web and app-based, so they can be easily accessible anywhere.

  • Trello helps visually organize lists within a team. It’s easy to learn, which is a bonus. We often don't have time to learn a new system, we just want it to work. It’s free, and available for Mac, PC, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows 8.
  • Basecamp is ideal for teams, if you often work with subcontractors. They offer two months free, then plans begin at $20/month. For that, though, you’ll be able to communicate and organize the chaos that a large project can become. Basecamp is available for Mac, PC, iOS, Android, and email.
  • Asana’s tagline is “teamwork without email”, and is just that. Though I’ve experienced a steeper learning curve, it’s a powerful web-based tool for tasks, projects, and comments. You can also opt-in to receive automated email updates from Asana for specific projects. Asana is free for teams of up to 15, and has paid plans with extra features.
  • Smartsheet is based off, you guessed it, spreadsheets. It may not be as visually appealing, but it’s a powerful tool that can accommodate large teams with complex projects. There is little-to-no learning curve because the business world understands spreadsheets. Smartsheet is web-based with iOS and Android apps available. Plans begin at $14/month for the basic account, $39/month for teams, and an enterprise feature with custom pricing.

8. Back Up client and project content

This may not be an obvious part of project management, but it’s vital. Backing up your files on a regular basis is not only a good habit to get in to, but can be your saviour in a crisis. Whether on an external drive or on cloud-based storage, make sure it's backed up. A backup can help you avoid corrupted or missing files, theft, and any other event that might otherwise derail your project.

I use Time Machine (Mac), which takes an image of your drive at regular intervals and saves it to an external drive. Once the drive is full, it deletes the oldest image to make room. Dropbox and Google Drive are also great options. Both offer an app to make backing up as easy as clicking and dragging on your desktop.

9. Evaluate your milestones, often

Remember those milestones I talked about? Milestones are a great time to take stock and evaluate where you are with a project. Use this time to make sure the project is on schedule and moving in the right direction. Communicating with your client at milestone intervals should be a part of this process. Some internal milestones such as usability testing, user experience testing, and budget evaluation will only be helpful if they are acted upon. So after you evaluate, determine if changes need to be made.

10. Finish Strong

Finishing strong is just as important as starting strong. This is the time to analyze what went well and what could be improved upon. Consider client feedback, personal thoughts, and analyze your workflow. Any places you can improve are all applicable at this point. Every project is an opportunity to learn and improve for future work!

  • After the final deliverable, consider asking your client for feedback. Each client has a unique perspective and every project is different, so use that to see where you can improve. Feedback can be hard to hear when we’re so connected to our work. But, it can help you become a stronger freelancer.
  • What are your thoughts after the project? Maybe you created a new workflow or drafted a new proposal template. Take some time to write down your thoughts on the project, big or small.

Project management isn’t just staying on top of your schedule. It’s realizing how everything fits together and creating an efficient and creative workflow around that.

Has project management helped you succeed? Tell us all your project management tips below!

photo credit: Dotmocracy with Amnesty International via photopin (license)

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