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.
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.
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 about you? What has been your biggest challenge in handling timelines and project management?
About the author: Lauren Kaczmarski is a designer & blogger based in Charlotte who loves photography, typography and eating Nutella straight out of the jar.