Freelance project management is often an afterthought, and if this hasn’t been an area of focus for you yet, that’s totally okay! In the first few months and years, all you’re focused on is getting clients and doing the work. As your roster of clients grows, it’s important that you start thinking about how to efficiently manage your clients and work.
When we say project management, we’re referring to the organization and management of your schedule, timelines, and resources. I know, I know, you don’t want one more thing to think about, but this is an important one!
If you’ve been feeling frantic or chaotic, this might be why. Without the right tools, processes, workflows, and time and communication boundaries, this feeling won’t go away.
The good news is, I’ve been there (oh, have I been there, check out mine and Samantha’s lessons learned), and I have a few tips to help you streamline your project management so you can run your business without your head spinning.
With the right systems and tools, you can run your business with ease.
Set Client Boundaries
Boundaries around time and communication are critical, both for your mental health and to streamline your freelance project management. If you set the precedent that you’re able to answer every message within minutes or are available for calls at any time, it can be hard to manage your schedule and get real work done—and if you’re not charging for that time, it adds up!
This issue can also affect your other client relationships and work, which doesn’t bode well for a long-lasting business. If you’re spending too much with one client, what happens to the others?
While there are many ways to set boundaries around time and communication, I have a few suggestions based on my own personal experience:
- Document expectations around time and communication upfront. Specify when you’re available and how you prefer to communicate. Managing Slack pings all day long can be an exhausting and inefficient use of your time. Bonus: you can also reference this information later if there are questions or issues about your availability.
- Choose one or two days a week for meetings. This totally changed the game for Samantha (my Harlow co-founder) and me. We scheduled all of our meetings on Tuesday so we could spend the rest of the week getting work done and focusing on our personal lives.
- Stick to your boundaries. Bending once or twice for emergencies is fine, but letting it slide regularly means you’re back at square one. You’re telling the client that they can communicate when and how they prefer, which is not what you want.
Invest in the Right Software and Automate Where Possible
The right tools will make your life and business so much better—but notice how I said, the “right” tools. Having too many products onboard can be a distraction and add to that my-head-is-spinning feeling.
Once you have the right tools, consider how you can automate tasks. This speeds up your processes and keeps you on track, no matter how many clients you have. The idea is simple: less hands-on time equals more work getting done.
To streamline your freelance project management, consider all the ways you can use tools to automate your processes, including:
- All-in-one management software: Harlow is obviously our go-to for managing everything from creating proposals and sending invoices to organizing tasks and tracking time in one easy-to-access place. We built Harlow to help you feel less stressed and more organized—a win-win! Bonus perk: you can schedule your invoices in advance so they get into your client’s inbox on the first of the month without having to remember to send them!
- Meeting booking: Don’t play the back and forth game of When can you meet? Oh, that doesn’t work. What about this time? Okay, I can do that date but not that time. Those emails take precious minutes from your workday and you don’t always have minutes to give! Use a booking tool, like Calendly or YouCanBookMe, so all you have to do is send a link and let someone choose the time that works for them. So simple, yet so brilliant. And no, we don’t think this approach is impersonal, it’s efficient.
- Client onboarding: Automate your client onboarding processes by creating templated checklists that you can use at the start of every engagement. For example, you may need to explain repeatable details like how you work, the tools you use, or the timeline you typically follow or get certain information from your client up-front. Document this all once so you can include it all in your proposal or send in a kick-off email at the start of every engagement.
Create a Clearly-Defined Scope of Work
This is one of the most important things I did when I was a freelancer. A clearly defined Scope of Work (SOW) sets everyone up for success because it outlines exactly what needs to be done and when.
The key to getting the most out of your SOW is the “clearly defined” part. A loose plan will make project management more difficult because the client doesn’t know what to expect and you don’t have deadlines. When this is defined, you can easily plan out the timeframe, assets needed, tools required, and more.
Here are some things that go into a well-defined SOW:
- Clear project outline
- Specific items/tasks/projects listed out
- Timeframes and deadlines for each item listed
- Specific details about communication and delivery of assets
- Breakdown of pricing
- Next steps to get started
If you want to build those long-term freelance relationships and keep your business humming, this can’t be overlooked.
Develop Standard Operating Procedures
An SOP is a checklist that you set once and then use again and again. In other words, it makes your life so much easier. For example, you can create a process for onboarding a new client, which might look like this:
- Create and send the contract and proposal from Harlow
- Create and send the first invoice from Harlow
- Add tasks and project timelines to Harlow
- Schedule kick-off call using Calendly
The key to making your SOP shine is including specifics. For example, reference the tool used for invoicing and link to your booking calendar for the kick-off meeting.
I know it seems simple, but as you grow, documenting these processes helps you get work done faster. And at some point, if your business is growing, you may need to bring on help, like a virtual assistant. Having this all documented and being able to simply hand over your checklist allows both of you to be more efficient and successful.
Ultimately, making a process repeatable is more efficient than making it up every time—and we’re all about efficiency here at Harlow!
Pro-tip: You can create these SOPs as task lists inside of Harlow so you can just clone them for each new client.
Collect Client feedback and Revisit Processes as You Grow
It’s great to get all of these pieces into place, but don’t pressure yourself into perfection. The processes you set up will be ever-evolving as you and your business grow and you figure out what works and doesn’t work for you.
Make the time regularly to reflect, so you can optimize as you go. Revisit your processes quarterly or every six months to make sure they’re still working for you.
And lastly, project management not only affects you, but your clients too. So it doesn’t hurt to check in with your clients as you’re reflecting. Are they having a good experience? Where do the processes you share with them need to be revised?
Alright, enough reading, it’s time to streamline your freelance project management.
We know you have a lot on your plate. It can feel daunting to start creating your processes, but a lack of organization can slow you down, make your head spin, and keep you from doing your best work. Use these freelance project management tips so you can do the work you love while thriving and growing your business.