5 Project Management Techniques Freelancers Should Use to Work Faster and Smarter

As a freelancer, you likely handle lots of projects. That’s probably why 10 Free Project Management Applications is one of the most popular posts here on Freelance Folder.

It only makes sense that you could learn from the techniques used by professional project managers. Even if you are the only one doing the work, you can still benefit from some project management techniques and simple project management software.

The exact steps in a typical project management process vary depending on who is doing the work and on the project requirements, but some project management steps are common to most projects. These are the techniques that freelancers can benefit from the most.

In this post, I identify five professional project management techniques that freelancers can use.

Technique 1. Define Scope

Every professional project manager understands the importance of getting a detailed description of the work to be done before starting. To successfully deliver a project, you must first understand exactly what it is you need to deliver.

As a minimum, freelance project scope should include answers to the following questions:

  • What is to be delivered?
  • When is it to be delivered?
  • How is it to be delivered?
  • How and when will payment be made?

Usually the more detailed your scope, the better.

Technique 2. Establish Change Control

Professional project managers don’t allow clients to constantly change their minds and neither should freelancers.

If you’ve ever dealt with a client who requested an unending stream of revisions that were really requests for new work, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Project changes can eat up your time and make what seemed like a profitable project into a financial nightmare.

Project managers restrict changes to the project using something called change control. Freelancers can use a similar technique to keep the amount of new requests to a minimum.

A good change control practice for freelancers would be to limit the number of revisions they will perform on a project. (Note: I’m not talking about fixing mistakes, but rather actual changes.) A contract should clearly state that additional revisions will cost additional money.

Also, you may want to use a change control process to deal with excessive meetings. My contracts often state that an initial client meeting is included in the project cost, but additional meetings will be billed at an hourly rate.

Technique 3. Set Milestones

Professional project managers often deal with huge projects. They may last for months and cost thousands of dollars. They know that the only way to tell whether a project is on track is to set milestones.

A milestone is a date when you expect a specific part of a project to be done. A freelance writer writing an eBook might set a milestone for the outline of the eBook, more milestones for the completion of each chapter, and the final milestone would be the project deadline.

Freelancers often overlook the importance of setting milestones because their projects are smaller or because they don’t have project management experience. However, setting milestones can help you avoid turning in late work.

Technique 4. Keep Metrics

Good project managers know approximately how long most specific tasks in a project will take. Unfortunately, many freelancers have no idea how long specific tasks in their project will take.

How do the professional project managers do it?

They keep excellent records. They track the start and completion time for each task in a project. Over time, those records become pretty accurate.

Keeping good metrics not only helps you to estimate how much time you need to work on a freelance project, it can also help you when you quote the right price for that project.

Many freelancers severely underestimate the amount of time a project requires. They may think they are quoting a good price, when actually they are severely underselling themselves.

Technique 5. Conduct a Lessons Learned

Do you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over?

Professional project managers avoid repeating mistakes by conducting a “lessons learned” session at the end of each project. Freelancers can benefit from implementing a similar exercise after they complete each gig.

Lessons learned looks at the project and asks the following questions:

  • What went wrong with this project?
  • What went right with this project?

Analyzing the lessons learned from each freelancing project can ultimately save you time and money.

Your Turn

Do you use any project management techniques in your freelancing business?

Which ones? Share your answers in the comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    The toughest part for me has been meeting with a potential client, then giving them a proposal for what I think should be done. I have been burned several times by people who get my ideas, see them in writing, then take my proposal and use it to shop around for other companies.

    I would love to know what other people have done in this situation. I truly believe you need to sit down with people and find out what their needs are. I also believe you need to list out for them what you’ll be doing for them, and what it will cost. But how do other people handle this? Do you give them a generic proposal up front, and withhold details until they sign with you? Do you include special language about this with your proposals? I always mark mine “Confidential,” but that doesn’t stop people at all.

    Any ideas/suggestions would be appreciated!

  2. says

    Catena Creations,

    I think that’s a common problem. Often the client either doesn’t really know what they need or can’t afford everything they need.

    If it’s the second, you can give the client choices. I try something like this, “for the best results I’d recommend A, B, and C at a cost of X. If you just want A, the cost is Y.”

    I’d also love to hear what other freelancers do.

  3. says

    Like Laura, I also like to give my clients some options after sitting down with them to understand their greatest needs. If a prospective client isn’t sure where to begin, and/or asks me to show them what “the kitchen sink” would cost, then I will create a detailed proposal chunking out the options just as Laura states above.

    This approach generally works out wonderfully because it a) gives the client a realistic and organized picture of what “the kitchen sink” looks like and costs and b) offers us an opportunity to identify which piece(s) would be best for the client to begin with, leading to c) a new, clearly defined project for me to undertake and d) ready-to-roll future projects to complete for the client if they are happy with c’s outcomes!

    I haven’t yet experienced the issue that Catena Creations describes, but feel that it shows my professionalism and expertise to offer well-developed details up front. They may then choose to hire me or not, but if a bargain is what they seek, I’m fine with them going elsewhere! :)

  4. says

    Sarah Jackson,

    Thanks for sharing the details about your approach. :)

    I really liked “d) ready-to-roll future projects to complete for the client…” I bet you get lots of repeat business from that practice.

  5. says

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  6. says

    Great post Laura,

    As a freelance copywriter myself, I empathise with each point made. On a personal level, I think #5, evaluation of a project can often be overlooked for the initial relief of “phew, that’s that out of the way”.

    I also agree that many lessons can be learned from professional Project Managers, after all, it’s the same role of sorts.

    Earned Value Calculations can help a PM track where they are and keep expectations of scheduling and cost on track. They may seem a little over the top for your average freelance role, but if you’re juggling a number of projects, I’d argue that you need to be using them in order to keep your clients in the loop and updated with any potential changes to finish date etc.

    I wrote a detailed post regarding Earned Value Calculations for Microsoft Training dot net. I think for tracking using a simple Excel Spreadsheet, EVM could help many freelancers become more efficient:

    http://www.microsofttraining.net/b/projecttraining/2013/04/02/how-to-effectively-monitor-your-project-by-learning-earned-value-equations/

  7. says

    I think these are things that we can all do to help keep ourselves on track and manage what we have to do and our targets. even in a full time job you need to ensure that you are keeping everyone happy by pulling your weight or you will get noticed eventually.

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  10. says

    For me, I really find it hard to focus without something that helps me automate time tracking and project management. I tend to wander off without such tools.

  11. says

    Keeping track of all the activities is one of the best method to follow while working on a project, irrespective of working individually or as a team. Tracking metrics will also help in improving the process and also in reporting.

    Most people working for client projects make the mistake of not maintaining the reports and when its required there is nothing to show the work. Tracking activities is very essential for most jobs to show that there is something going on. I track time, expense, bills, invoices, tasks, projects, etc.

  12. says

    Hi juset wanted to giv you a quick heads up and let you know a few of thhe images
    aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think itss a linking issue.
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  13. says

    I can’t imagine how people manage to contol all those things without any tools. I use online project management software (Easy Projects) and it improves my performance so much! I can track time, and set milestones, and check the progress without having to distract myself on millions of different documents. It really makes life much easier.

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