When you tell people you’re a freelancer, they probably think that you live a low-stress life of laying in bed and working in your PJs. But every independent contractor knows that’s not the case.
Freelancing is tough. While there are many benefits, it’s also a lot of work.
After all, when you’re your own boss, you’re also your own sales, marketing, and accounting departments.
And, unfortunately, you’re probably also your own project manager. This means that it’s your responsibility to ensure the project is completed on time and according to the client’s standards.
We have some freelance project management tips to help you do just that.
What Do We Mean by Project Management?
Alright, first things first. Before we start, we should clarify something:
This article is not about working as a freelance project manager. It won’t teach you how to become a freelance manager, or how to start a freelance project management business, or how to find freelance project manager jobs.
(But, we do offer a lot of information for you professional project managers out there, so you should definitely keep reading anyway).
Instead, we’re talking about how to manage freelance projects.
So whether you’re a photographer, a web designer, an event planner, or even — yes — a project manager, this article will show you how to keep your client projects in order and on deadline.
That’s what we’re talking about:
Setting up a workflow that makes life easier for you and your clients. Building processes that help you keep your projects organized.
We’re talking about how to put those processes into action, why you need them, and what tools you can use to help you.
And now that we’ve clarified that, let’s get to it:
Why Solopreneurs Need to Be Good Project Managers
As the head of your one-person operation, it’s crucial that you’re able to manage your projects.
Poor management skills can lead to all kinds of problems, including missed deadlines and unhappy clients.
And when your clients are unhappy, your reputation will worsen. And when your reputation worsens, you’ll lose customers, which means you’ll lose revenue.
We don’t want that, because that only leads to stress. (And stress defeats the whole purpose of freelancing in the first place. Didn’t you get into this to have an easier life instead of a harder one?)
Go ahead and make life easier. Start a 14 day trial of Bloom for free.
How to Manage Freelance Projects: The Basics
Everyone manages their work differently. Depending on your industry and the type of operation you run, your workflow might look entirely different than mine.
Someone who works in software development, for example, won’t manage their projects the same as a full-time sculptor. And a social media consultant will have a very different workflow than a lawyer or a tattoo artist.
But, there are certain principles that everyone should follow, no matter what field you work in:
Keep Everything in One Place
All of your digital materials—from your project plans to your invoices—should be kept in one place.
That way, you’ll never have to search for anything.
This means that your:
- Lead info
- Client info
- Image files
- Billable hours
All of that should be in one spot, if possible. Then, when you’re working, you can seamlessly transition from one task to the next.
There are a ton of project management tools out there to help you stay organized. Trello, Asana, and Bloom can all help you keep your work in order. Look for a tool that helps you organize as many aspects of your business as possible.
Download our all-in-one management tool on iTunes!
Track Your Time
If you charge for your services by the hour, you obviously have to track your time. This ensures that your clients receive a fair and accurate invoice and that you’re compensated for the time you put into the project.
But even if you’re paid per project, you should track how long it takes you to complete each task.
It’ll help you plan better!
If you work in web design, and you know it takes you roughly a month to build a high-quality site, then you’ll be able to create a more accurate schedule for yourself. You’ll know when you have time for more clients, when you have to say no to new clients, and when you’ll have money coming in.
Stick to a Schedule
As a thriving independent contractor, you know how important it is to keep a schedule. Even though you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder, you still wake up every day, get dressed, and treat your work like a traditional full-time job.
But project management isn’t just about scheduling your days—it’s about planning weeks, months, and sometimes years ahead.
At the beginning of every freelance job, create a plan. Use your project management software to outline what you’re going to do and when you’re going have it done.
Learn more! Read: A Freelancer’s Guide to Building a Successful Project Approval Process
How to Optimize Your Project Management Process
Beyond the basics, there are a number of things you can do to manage your projects even better.
Let’s talk about some of them:
Include Every Task on Your Schedule
All tasks, no matter how small, should be on your calendar. This even includes emails and other seemingly menial tasks.
Those small tasks add up. The 10 or 15 minutes you spent emailing with clients each morning compounds over time. When combined with the amount of time you spend emailing in the afternoon and at night before you wrap up, it adds up to at least a few hours.
You have to account for that time when you’re planning the itinerary for future projects!
Instead of thinking that you can complete a 45-hour job in one week, you should account for all that email time and give yourself a few extra days to finish.
Your client will be happier, and you’ll be a lot less stressed out.
Organize Tasks by Deadline and Priority
You have a lot on your plate, but does it all have to be done right now?
Those emails we discussed in the last section—do you really have to answer them this minute?
If so, answer them. But if not, don’t be afraid to push them off until later if it helps you work faster.
For each project, we like to create an Eisenhower Matrix. This is a tool you can use to manage your client projects.
It looks like this:
As you can see, it’s divided into four parts:
Important and Urgent
These are the things that should have been done yesterday. Get these done ASAP, and don’t put them off any longer.
Example: An overdue milestone or one that’s due tomorrow.
Important but Not Urgent
These are things you should do now if you have time, but do the urgent things first.
Example: A milestone that’s due three weeks from now and will take you at least a week to complete.
Not Important but Urgent
These tasks should be done immediately but have little bearing on your overall goal.
Example: Responding to an email from a potential client when you’re already overbooked for the next few months. It’s still crucial to get back to them even if you can’t work with them right now.
Not Important and Not Urgent
These tasks are the last things you should worry about right now. Take care of all the other things on your list before you come here.
Example: Time-wasters like mindlessly scrolling through social media. Do these on your break, but that’s it.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool that allows for a more agile workflow. As you complete tasks and time opens up in your schedule, you can move some of those less urgent tasks into the urgent sections.
Keep Your Clients Updated
When working with clients, make sure they know what you’re working on at all times.
Send them a schedule at the beginning of the project and email them weekly about your progress.
It’s likely that they’ll want updates anyway, and they may even want you to have a project approval process in place so that they can verify your work along the way.
But if not, make a point to update them on a regular basis, even if it’s an informal update.
Many CRM software programs allow you to share your project management board with your clients. They can follow along as you work, and you can share updates or files directly in the app itself. This makes updating them so much easier!
Learn more about our business management software
Take Inventory of Each Project Every Evening
Before you wrap up for the day, take stock of where you’re at with your projects.
Cross completed tasks off your to-do list.
Move newly urgent tasks to the top of the list.
And jot down your hours worked. (Do this whether you’re paid hourly or not. Remember, it will help you manage your time better in the future.)
In order to run a successful freelance business, you always have to know where you are on every project. It will help you stay on deadline and keep your customers happy.
Plus, if you know when a project is coming to a close, you can start the lead generation process over again and begin finding new clients.
How to Juggle Multiple Clients
Managing one project is hard enough, which is why there are so many project management jobs out there. People pay to have other folks manage their projects.
But as an independent contractor, you often have to balance several accounts at once. You might be working on two, three, or five projects at once. And that’s very, very hard, especially if you want to do the best possible work for all of your clients.
Here are a few tips to help you balance multiple projects at once:
Focus on One Client at a Time
Dedicate as much uninterrupted time as possible to each client.
If you have two clients, maybe you spend the first half of the week working on one of their projects and the second half working on another. Then the next week, you can switch off.
Or, if you can’t do that, maybe you spend the first half of the day working on one client’s project, and the second half working on the other client’s project.
However you do it, the goal is to avoid multitasking. Bouncing back and forth between clients will only get your wires crossed, and will result in lower-quality work.
So, even if you have to let your client know that you’re only available two or three days a week, do it. You’ll be far more productive, and your work will come out much better.
Don’t Be Afraid to Turn Down New Clients
When you were a beginning freelancer trying to build momentum, it made sense to take every job you could get.
But now that you’ve established a client base and have a steady stream of income, you don’t have to do that anymore.
In fact, you shouldn’t do that anymore.
If you already have multiple clients, don’t take on more until you can accommodate them. When you have several projects on your plate, it doesn’t make sense to cram additional tasks into your schedule.
An overloaded schedule doesn’t produce good work. Make sure you have time to give your existing clients all of the attention they deserve before you take on anything else.
Partner With Other Freelancers
Just because you’re an independent contractor doesn’t mean you have to work independently. In fact, you can save a lot of time and make more money by enlisting the help of others.
This makes the most sense if there’s an aspect of your job that you could do if you had to, but that you know someone else does better and faster.
If you’re a professional photographer who loves shooting photos but hates editing them, you might consider contracting a freelance retoucher to work for you. They wouldn’t be a full-time employee, but you pay them to edit your photos.
If they can edit a lot faster than you, then this can save you a lot of time (and you can use that time to make more money, which makes it a good investment).
As your business grows, you’ll find that delegating tasks to other people makes more sense. It’ll prevent you from getting overwhelmed and allow you to take on more clients.
Get organized now—start Bloom for free!
When you set out on your journey as a solopreneur, you probably never imagined that project management would be such a big part of your job. But here we are.
Luckily, it’s not as hard as it seems. With this guide and a few tools, you’ll have no trouble managing your projects from beginning to end!