One of the hardest things to learn when it comes to working with clients, especially if you are freelancing, is how to efficiently manage your time and your projects. We have all had those projects that take six months to complete, even though the original estimate showed a four week timeline. We have also had those projects that end up getting stuck in some mysterious limbo, only to eventually fade away along with the client's communication (and pay!). These situations can cause some serious headaches, but you can also take steps to avoid them. Although I will be focusing on Web Development projects, these tips can be applied to just about any aspect of the creative process.
Set Definitive Goals And A Budget
One of the main reasons projects get caught in limbo is because the client and the developer haven't established clear goals. When creating a website, one of the first discussions should involve determining the needs of the project. Why does the client need a website? What is the purpose of the website? Also, you need to set a budget for the project. The budget is just as important as the goals. If you don't get these nailed down from the beginning, you may not be seeing eye to eye with the client throughout the entire course of the project. Immediately assess any changes or additions the client may ask for. If they don't support the goals of the website or if they exceed the budget, you can remind them what the initial goals and budget were.
Stay Organized / Develop A Plan
After determining the goals of the project, create an outline of all the steps you and the client will need to take to accomplish them. Although everyone has different ways to keep things organized, I find simple lists to be crucial, especially when creating a project timeline. Everyone must know what their role is, and what they need to accomplish in order to keep the project moving forward. You may want to create a to-do list for each party involved in the project (i.e., a list for the client, a list of things you need from the designer, and a list for yourself). Break the project down into as many pieces as you can. Even if the step seems minute, include it in your estimated time! When you have these lists created, go over them with each party involved in the project.
Create A Timeline
After you have your to-do lists, you need to estimate how long each step should take. When you determine how long each step will most likely take, add room for error. For example, if I estimate that one step might take me 4 hours, I will calculate that as a range of 4-6 hours. Trust me, nothing goes exactly according to plan. On top of that, if your estimate is higher than your final total, the client will be thrilled. If your estimate is lower than the final total, they might not be so happy with you. It is better to over estimate than it is to over charge. Once you have a list with all of the steps, break them into sections and create a timeline. Remember to give yourself extra time at the end of each step, just in case you run into any bumps along the way. It is better to be realistic with planning from the beginning, instead of trying to play catchup and rushing throughout the project. Remember to give a timeline of your requirements from clients as well. For example, give them a set date that you will need all of their pictures and logos by.
Keep The Lines Of Communication Open
I have mentioned this same advice in previous articles, but I really can't stress it enough. You need to maintain communication throughout the project. This may not be limited to just communication with the client either. If you have anyone else working on the project, you need to communicate with them to keep the ball rolling. If for some reason one step of the process is taking a little extra time, let everyone involved know. Likewise, if your client or another member of the project team has missed a deadline, you can remind them of the timeline that everyone agreed upon at the early stages of the project. Having set time constraints for each aspect of the project, everyone should know exactly what they need to do at any moment.
Managing a Web Design or Development project can seem like a very daunting task. Every project, no matter how small it may seem, has an endless number of aspects to take into consideration. With that said, with the proper planning from the beginning you can really make the entire process easy on everyone. If you set goals, determine a plan, create a timeline, and communicate with all parties involved then you will find yourself moving along smoothly. Although you may run into a few small bumps down the road, you will be able to handle them, and you will be able to stay out of design limbo.
Ryan Cowles is a WordPress / Front End Developer living in Los Angeles, California. Along with a passion for building creative websites, he also enjoys photography, design, travel and the great outdoors.