How to schedule and keep design projects on track

Do you have any tips around scheduling clients work and getting them to respond with content in the designated timeframe? I do! Keeping clients on track is one of the trickiest parts of the process (I think). It’s easy to think because our clients own businesses or are familiar with the web in general, that…

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Do you have any tips around scheduling clients work and getting them to respond with content in the designated timeframe?

I do! Keeping clients on track is one of the trickiest parts of the process (I think). It’s easy to think because our clients own businesses or are familiar with the web in general, that they should know what to provide us. We work along side them rather than guiding them, and then we get frustrated when they knock our projects off track.

Assuming that clients know what we need puts too much responsibility on them.

We need to take the lead by providing step-by-step guidance. Here’s a few tips for keeping projects running smoothly.

Scheduling projects

Establish your own time standard. This is one of those semi-icky process things. I fought it because it required me to make some firm decisions on how I spend my time. It’s almost impossible to schedule a project without it. Create a list of each step in your process (I tend to go by phase – onboarding, discovery, design, etc) and write down how long each step takes you. Make a commitment to hold yourself to these time standards.

Determine how much focused work time you have in a week. Be honest with yourself or this won’t work. 2 hours a day? 4 hours a day? 20 hours a week? It’s not as many as you think. Now look at the time standard you just created.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Say your project takes 20 focused hours, and you have 3 points where clients have will take 2 days each time to review and get back to you. That’s 20 hours + 6 days. That’s a week of working and about a week of waiting.

To keep productive, I will usually work on 2 projects at a time. While waiting for one client, I can work on the other. I try to give myself 25-50% margin in any given week. So I’m very likely going to schedule two 20-hour projects over 3-4 weeks time. The more variables you have in your life, the more you will appreciate the extra margin. It’s so much better to get deliverables done sooner and surprise the client, than rush to finish.

Getting clients to respond

Stop expecting clients to create content in a visual vacuum. Most clients can’t picture content and images flowing into a design the way we can. It’s unfair to expect content without any kind of structure or visual reference. In the face of overwhelm, many clients will outright avoid the task before them (just like the rest of us).

Help clients visualize what you need and teach them how to provide it. A few ideas…

  • Recommend content amounts by providing a wireframe with greek text (using client goals to define things before content is created).
  • Create a content planner that helps clients understand what you mean when you use certain terms.
  • Provide a Google doc that breaks down what you need on that particular page and the best way to provide it to you.

Break down big tasks into small ones. Don’t just say “provide homepage content”. Use your wireframe to break that big task down into a sub-task list that is easy for your client to follow. For instance:

  • Provide or find a full-width image (let me know if you need help choosing one)
  • Provide your key message (what content or call to action overlays the image?)
  • Provide 3 services – I need a title + short descriptions
  • Provide a testimonial – include photo + testimonial + person’s name

Give clients plenty of time and remind them a few days in advance of big due dates. Depending on how you like to work, you can do weekly check-ins or use task lists. For instance, “Here’s what I need from you this week” with a bullet list. Or create tasks in a project management tool with deadlines and touch base 2-3 days before the big ones are due.

Prevention is worth a pound of cure…

Recognize that if you have to chase potential clients in the initial inquiry phase, you’ll be chasing them the whole time.

If a client is not willing to jump through a few hoops to work with you, they aren’t generally going to be responsive during the rest of the process. On the same note, if you don’t value your work (ie charging too little), they won’t value it either. Clients with “no skin in the game” are more likely to disappear on you. #foodforthought

Does all of this feel overwhelming? Then start here » Ask yourself “Where are clients getting stuck in my process?” Usually it’s easy to identify a few weak spots. What can you do right now to improve that one sticky spot? What can you create? What step can you add to your process? What can you clarify?

Talk to me. I know this is a tough topic. It’s the bane of our otherwise pleasant existence as designers. I would love to hear your struggles and/or victories in this area.

Click through to read some of my best tips for scheduling freelance design projects and keeping clients on track.

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.

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