Freelance Advice: Timelines and Project Management

Timelines and Project Management


Q: What tips do you have for developing a project production schedule?

A: Ideally, your client will allocate ample time for project development, allowing you the luxury of setting your own production schedule. But don’t abuse the situation by keeping the deadline open-ended. Set a detailed schedule and communicate it clearly with your client. Here is a sample production schedule I might send a client after I receive a signed agreement:
Initial Design and Development Delivered by: Wednesday, March 13th
Revision 1: 2-3 business days from when I receive feedback
Revision 2: 2-3 business days from when I receive feedback
Final Delivery of Files: 1-2 business days from when I receive approval
Sending a specific and detailed schedule like the one above sets realistic client expectations and prevents clients from calling you daily for project updates. It also is a tactful way of warning the client of the repercussions of delayed feedback. Nothing is worse than waiting weeks for a client to get back to you with feedback and then them expecting the original delivery date.
More often than not, a client will set a specific deadline. For example, a client needs a sales sheet completed and printed for an upcoming trade show. In this situation, you will still need to send a detailed schedule. Just work backwards from the deadline to set your schedule, taking into consideration printing and/or or shipping timelines. 

Q: What do you do when a client needs a project done yesterday?  

A: Consider WHY the project is so pushed for time. Do you get the feeling that it is because the client is disorganized and waited until the last minute, or was it more outside the client’s control? If you know the deadline would require pulling all-nighters and working weekends, you may consider charging a rush fee to complete the project in the required time frame. If the client is not willing to pay the rush fee, then my advice is to walk away. These types of clients do not appreciate your time or talent. If you take on the project and do not charge a rush fee, the client will continue to manage future projects in the same manner – rushed and last-minute. In a sense, you would be inadvertently “training” your client for repeat offenses. 

Q: How do you handle multiple deadlines/overlapping projects?

A: As a freelance designer, time management is a skill that needs to be constantly honed. We would all like a steady and consistent stream of projects, but the reality is that there are typically dry spells when you are wishing for more work and then BAM – multiple projects hit and you end up running around like a crazy person. When you are balancing multiple deadlines, I suggest taking out your calendar and prioritizing. Break up the work into chunks and set “mini” internal deadlines for yourself. If you have a 24-page newsletter you are designing, set a goal of completing 6 pages by a specific date. The next day you can change gears and work on another client’s logo. It’s ok to bounce back and forth between projects – just make sure you are still working efficiently and that you don’t sacrifice quality on one particular project because you spent ALL your working hours on another project. 
What has been your biggest challenge in handling timelines and project management
What about you? What has been your biggest challenge in handling timelines and project management? 

Lauren is a designer & blogger based in Charlotte who loves photography, typography and eating Nutella straight out of the jar. She writes for the Advice column.

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  1. Great post Ciera! These are all challenges that took a while for me to get a handle on, especially since I do freelance work outside of a full-time job. I’m certainly still striving to improve, your points are good to keep in mind!

    A big thing that’s helped me is setting up a long-term schedule with clients that I work with consistently. When we can rough out a plan for all of the projects for the season/year, I can anticipate what my busy times will be and be able to plan accordingly.

  2. That was a tidy little article. I’m glad I stayed on to read it, I picked up some useful advice and some more again from the link. Thanks for the productivity sheet. I want to quit my bad job and earn from creating! Thanks again, Danny

  3. This post is great! I feel like I’ve gotten prettty good with time management and handling deadlines. So thankful for that! I can’t emphasize the rush fee enough. Some clients are just bad for always giving you projects that are due YESTERDAY. They need to learn that it’s not ok to work like that.
    When I first started freelancing I had a lot of time on my hands and was able to turn around work suuuuper fast. By doing things immediately I trained my clients badly. Now if I can’t turn things around with in a matter of 24 hrs or don’t reply to an e-mail immediately they freak out. I’ve had to take a step back and set boundaries.
    Lessons you learn :)
    Also from my experience as you as you bring up the words rush fee clients back up and give you a few extra days days without much fuss. Don’t let people take advantage of you!

    • yes! sometimes even if I get something done quickly I’ll wait a few hours to send the email. I don’t want them thinking I am THAT fast all the time! ;)

  4. Q: How do you handle multiple deadlines/overlapping projects?

    Most of the time this is my problem. having too much to priority. Thanks for giving advice

  5. I’m really impressed by your post, Ciera. A graphic designer needs to have good time management skill in order to ensure the quality of success they can give to their clients. I’ll definitely be sharing this with the users of Webydo, all graphic designers.Thanks!

  6. Great tips- pinning this! :) I’m so horrible at organizing a timeline.
    xoxo Aimee

  7. My biggest problem is organizing my brain. I feel like there’s so much to do and so little time to do it in that it gets overwhelming. And when I feel overwhelmed I don’t feel organized.
    xoxo, Jules of Canines & Couture

  8. This is really helpful. I love your advice on walking away from projects where the timelines seem unrealistic. Many freelancers (new ones especially!) are wary about turning down work – but going with your gut is so important for stress levels!

  9. Great tips! I always struggle with managing several timelines at once. I like the idea of breaking each project into chunks. I’ll have to give it a try!

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