How we handle project timelines

Hey hey, friend! This week we’re back with another “How we handle: ______” series. You can expect all things nitty gritty in this series. Today we’re diving into how we handle project timelines. This is a sore spot for a lot of freelancers, so I’m excited to dive in.

Maybe you hit your breaking point during your latest client project and asked yourself, “how can I keep my clients on time with their project?” You’ve asked your fellow freelance friends how they handle project timelines or even took to your design contract to ensure that your late fees are iron clad. No doubt, you’ve questioned whether you are too much of a people pleaser, or if you should even keep offering design services because it’s exhausting keeping your clients in check! You probably feel disrespected and frustrated by the lack of timeliness on your client’s end.

Um, been there!

I’ve caught myself in this situation, and my response used to shift blame to my client. It was their fault our project got delayed because they didn’t provide content or feedback in time. But, you know what? The majority of the time, us designers need to take the blame for this one.

It isn’t our client’s problem, it is our process. We’ve dropped the ball somewhere along the way, and need to pinpoint how we can prevent the “never ending project” syndrome. So many freelancers avoid creating project schedules, either feeling like it isn’t necessary or that you “can’t rush” the creative process. I strongly disagree! Our clients are investing quite a bit on our services, and want to know what they are getting into. When can they expect to hear from you? When do they need to be available for feedback? Ease their anxiety, and provide a schedule. It only adds to your professionalism.

Here’s an overview of our project timeline process. Feel free to swipe + customize for your business!

How we handle project timelines | Spruce Rd. | Maybe you hit your breaking point during your latest client project and asked yourself, “how can I keep my clients on time with their project?” You’ve asked your fellow freelance friends how they handle project timelines, or even took to your design contract to ensure that your late fees are iron clad. No doubt, you’ve questioned whether you are too much of a people pleaser, or if you should even keep offering design services because it’s exhausting keeping your clients in check! You probably feel disrespected and frustrated by the lack of timeliness on your client’s end.

Create a step-by-step template

Don’t skip this step! If you offer packaged services, or find yourself offering a similar service repeatedly, take the time to jot down each step of the process. Include each proof, client feedback, invoice and task.

After you have each task listed, break it down by weeks and day of the week. For instance, I always kick-off projects on Mondays. Each step of the process after then is assigned a Mon/Wed/Fri. It keeps things easy and streamlined.

Customize in 10 seconds

Say what?!? Here’s where the beauty comes in with your new template. Plop that template into Google Sheets, update the project start date, and watch as the rest of your project timeline adjusts to the new dates. Magic. I like to keep this copy in Google Sheets to reference, just in case dates slide throughout the process I’ll always have the untouched timeline to reference.

Share-worthy Design for Freelancer students, look out for this template in the course in a couple weeks!

Assign tasks

After your timeline is created, transfer it over to your project management system. Here’s the trick — assign each feedback or invoice date to your client. They should get an email a day or so before that task is due as a reminder.

Don’t rely on this though! With each proof we send our clients in Basecamp, we gently remind them when we’d appreciate their feedback by. That way they see the deadline in two places: automated message from Basecamp, and directly from us.

Get approval before project kick-off

What good is a timeline if you don’t have it approved ahead of time? Before you even start the project, send the timeline over to your client to approve. Inform them that you need approval before the project kicks off, and to let you know if they anticipate being out of the office or on vacation throughout the process. You need to know ahead of time so you can adjust the schedule to meet their needs.

Hold up your end

Project timelines are a two-way street. Be sure to hold up your end of the deadlines too! You’d be surprised how many services I’ve invested in lately, where they missed deadlines. I’m not exaggerating, it’s probably around 80% of the time! This is a HUGE turnoff for our clients, and shows that you don’t respect their time. Not only that, each time this happened to me, I felt uneasy about seeing the proof. “Did they just procrastinate, and are going to rush to make up for lost time?!” We don’t want our clients to ever doubt the quality of our work, so always meet your deadlines.

Disclaimer, I know unpredictable things come up because that’s life. If that’s the case, don’t get too down on yourself! Clients understand family situations and events, just be transparent about that.

And that’s it! Once you have your template created, project schedules are a breeze and no longer a headache. It doesn’t take a fancy app, intense conversations with our clients, or intimidating contract terms. It just takes open communication.