One of the hardest truths I had to learn when I first started freelancing was how much time it took up. And I’m not just talking about the work itself.
I had (and still have) no problem estimating how long a project might take for a client. But it’s all the other little, yet equally important things that come along with running a freelance business that knocked my schedule out of whack…
Client communication. Pitching new prospects. Weekly meetings. Making sure I scheduled time for everything that was coming up and had (realistic) deadlines set. All these things ate up way more time than I expected. Plus, being new to running my own business, I didn’t really know how to keep it all in check.
Pretty shortly, I realized that if I didn’t get a better handle over all the things that went into freelancing, I was going to drown in my sea of tasks & to-dos.
That’s when I fully understood the knowledge area of project management within my freelance business.
When you work for someone else, you usually have the side effect of not having to set your own schedule. Someone else tells you what needs to be done, when, and who else is involved in the project.
But the need to know these things doesn’t magically change just because you’re working for yourself as a freelancer now. In fact, when you’re the sole person that clients are depending on, it becomes even more important to be organized and always have a high-level snapshot of what’s happening across your entire business.
Today, I’m excited to partner with the awesome team over at monday.com—a powerful project management tool (that I personally use to manage my freelance business and blog content)—and take this as the opportunity to talk about some of my personal best practices for keeping my freelance work organized and moving smoothly.
And to help you implement the same project management principles I use within my freelance business, I want to invite you to check out (and try for free) the tool that sits at the core of this all, monday.com.
Master Your Freelance Project Management with a Free Trial of monday.com
Now, let’s get into my personal freelance project management process.
Getting started with project management as a freelancer
First off, what do I mean by project management? Well…
In a nutshell, what we’re talking about is using processes and tools to stay organized and on track with all of the work we’re doing.
Whether you’re writing blog posts, designing websites, or running an eCommerce store, there are both proven productivity strategies that work behind the scenes and project management principles (that we’re discussing here today) working at a higher level, to make it easier for you to spend more time on the work you love—and less on keeping your tasks and timelines tidy.
On top of all that, there are a few specific reasons why I believe project management is such an important skill for freelancers (and every entrepreneur) to master early on in your business:
- There’s a power of putting everything into one place: When a chef starts cooking they create what’s called a mise-en-place, which is just a fancy word for having everything you need in front of you. All the ingredients are peeled, shredded, chopped, diced, and ready to go and every tool is within reach. Project management does the same for you. Rather than jumping into your email to re-read the project brief, searching for that Google Doc to find notes, and then scrolling through your calendar to see if you put the due date down, project management gives you everything in one place so you can focus on actually doing the work.
- You can keep better track of your time (and bill properly): When you’re working hourly for a client, you want to be able to bill for the time you’ve spent. With project management and project management tools like monday.com, you can quickly track hours spent working and make sure you get paid properly.
- Project management reduces the stress of freelancing: It’s stressful trying to keep track of all your projects, tasks, deadlines, meetings, and emails. But by having the right process (and software) in place, you can bring order to the chaos of freelancing and see what you should be working on, which deadlines are coming up, and any gaps in your workload might be coming up.
How to use get the most out of your project management software as a freelancer
Like it or not, as a freelancer you’re constantly juggling multiple different clients, projects, deliverables and timelines.
And the right project management system empowers you to streamline everything.
Still, when you bring all the information about your clients and individual projects into one single location, it can quickly get pretty crowded. And successful project management comes down to having a tool that allows you to see your work in a way that makes sense to you.
It also means having a process in place for how you capture, organize, and prioritize your many projects and tasks so that you can quickly get a read on what you’re doing—and what your focus needs to be for the hour, day or week.
There are tons of fantastic free and paid project management tools out there that can help you with this. But for the sake of this guide (and because they’re both an awesome too for my business and supporters of my blog) we’re going to be using monday.com throughout this tutorial.
You can sign up for a free version of monday.com right here and start getting your freelance life in order.
Master Your Freelance Project Management with a Free Trial of monday.com
Now, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty details.
Step 1: Capture every task in one place
Your first step with freelance project management is to create a process for capturing every task you need to get done. Having an easily repeatable process is important here as it’s all too easy to not put tasks into your project management software if it’s too much work.
Each task you create should have a detailed description, along with associated due dates, info, status, and links to any other documents or resources.
In monday.com, tasks are called “Pulses” and you can create one by clicking underneath your last task and typing.
Here you can see that I just added a new task for myself to write this very blog post.
What’s great about this process is that I can edit whatever information I want to quickly see when I add a task. This can be anything, but what makes the most sense for me and my freelance content marketing business is:
- Task name
- Person (who’s doing it)
- Optimized (for SEO)
- Due Date
- Hours worked
Depending on the work you do and what you find most important, you might want to add different categories like tags (for searching/categorizing tasks), other statuses (like approved/waiting), or something entirely different.
Additionally, if you click on an individual task, you can see much more granular details like recent activity, any notes that were left, and the files that are attached to it.
This way, when it comes time to write my blog post, my mise-en-place is set up and ready to go.
Step 2: Give every task a deadline and priority
Every task you bring into your project management tool needs a deadline and a priority. That’s non-negotiable.
Without a deadline (even if it’s self-imposed), most people are likely to put the project off until the last minute.
It’s not simply enough to have everything in one place though. Your tool also needs to tell you quickly, which task needs your attention the most—so you can plan your day accordingly.
Deadlines are easy enough to set, and most good project management tools will either give you notifications to remind you when things are due or integrate with your calendar to keep notifications in one place.
monday.com also lets you add a visual timeline for when you’ll be working on your projects, which you can view all at once to see if you’re stacking too many projects in your limited timeframe.
When it comes to prioritization, this is where project management can get tricky.
Often, everything you’re working on seems important…
But in order to keep your business running smoothly, you have to assign priorities to each task.
One way I love to break down priorities is to use what’s called the Eisenhower Matrix (after the former U.S. President). Basically, the matrix asks you to classify your projects and tasks by their importance and their urgency:
Here’s a quick rundown of how the Eisenhower Matrix should be used:
- You would give your highest priority rating (let’s say “critical”) to tasks in the Urgent and Important box.
- Your second highest rating to Important, but not Urgent.
- Third highest to Urgent, but not Important.
- And lowest priority to Neither Urgent Nor Important.
So, in monday.com, I like to add a custom status field to reflect the priority for each individual task, like this:
Whichever project management tool you use, make sure that it has a way to add priorities to your tasks.
The whole point of implementing a project management system to streamline your freelance business is to keep yourself organized—and including priorities is one of the best ways I’ve found to do that.
Step 3: Break up tasks by client, project, or ‘type’ to see what’s taking your time
Unless you’re only working with only one client, you’ll probably want to also separate and organize your various different projects. This could be by client, type of job (writing vs. consulting) or individual tasks that are making up a larger, long-term engagement.
Let’s run through a few examples and look at ways to organize our project management around our different freelance jobs.
For running my personal freelance business, I have a number of different tasks I do on a regular basis, like:
- Posts here on my blog (many used for lead generation efforts)
- Consulting calls with existing clients
- Sales calls with prospective clients
- Podcast interviews with prospective clients
- Guest posts on other blogs to drum up leads (and for promoting client work)
In this case, I want to break up my entire project management board by these different task categories, like this:
This way, I can quickly see the tasks I’m doing, where I’m stuck, what needs my attention, and if I’m taking on too much in a given timeframe.
Alternatively, you might want to use separate “boards” to organize different types of work.
So, let’s say I also do a bit of design work and I don’t want to combine my design projects with my writing and content marketing ones. I can start a new board in my project management software just for those tasks:
This time, I’ve organized tasks by due dates and included different, more relevant information so I can quickly see the status of each task.
Whichever process you choose is up to you and will depend on the inner-workings of your freelance business.
However, I’d always suggest trying to keep things as organized as possible and opt for multiple boards over storing all tasks in one place.
Step 4: Share boards with outside stakeholders
Some freelance clients are needier than others.
And I’ve definitely been in situations where the amount of “just checking in” emails gets in the way of doing actual work.
In this case, it’s great if your project management tool lets you share certain boards with clients. This way, they can see what you’re doing without disrupting your flow—and giving them transparency into the status of their projects.
In monday.com, you can do this one of two ways.
First, I can change the preferences of any board to be shareable.
That means I can send a link to my client and they can see that board only (not my entire project management setup where I have other client projects hosted).
Otherwise, you can create a separate board from scratch just for one individual client and make that shareable.
It might be a bit of extra work to duplicate a bunch of your tasks, but in the end sometimes you won’t want your client to have access to all of the other information in your project management software (like hours worked, drafts, and notes).
Step 5: Check in with and clean up your personal roadmap every day, week or month
Depending on how busy and complex your freelance business is, your project management tool can easily get out of hand.
And that sucks. The point of getting good at freelance project management is to get rid of chaos, not add to it.
That’s why I strongly recommend you take time on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to check-in and clean up your project boards—because no matter how organized you are, a little routine house cleaning is necessary.
- Every day: Spend time each day updating your hours worked on each project and checking priorities for upcoming work.
- Once a week: Spend a short amount of time cleaning up your boards, rechecking priorities, archiving tasks and projects that don’t need to be there, and getting a longer look at your personal roadmap.
- Once a month: Do a quick review of your software to see where your time went and how it lines up with your goals—both financially and with your company. Take a strategic look at your setup. Does it still make sense based on how your business is growing?
And then of course… schedule this time in your calendar each week, month, etc (and in your project management tool).
A little cleanup will go a long way in making sure your project management process runs smoothly.
Project management turns freelance life from chaotic to zen-like calm
You became a freelancer to be your own boss.
But along with all the awesome stuff that comes with working for yourself… you also unfortunately inherited a bit of housekeeping. And if you ignore that reality, you’ll pay for it later.
With the right project management software (and process) in place, you can simplify and cut down on the time you spend on all that other stuff so you can spend more of your time focusing on doing the work you love.
I’m always growing, experimenting and improving my own project management process…
So let me know how you keep your freelance life in order in the comments below!
And if you want to give monday.com a try, I seriously can’t recommend it enough.
You can sign up for a free account right here.
Master Your Freelance Project Management with a Free Trial of monday.com
7 replies to “5 Steps to Mastering Project Management for Freelancers (How to Manage Freelance Projects)”
Great blog! Thanks for sharing! I look forward to read more. And I like your idea that “With the right project management software (and process) in place, you can simplify and cut down on the time you spend on all that other stuff so you can spend more of your time focusing on doing the work you love.”
You’re welcome, Sarah! And hell yes, having the right tools in place can dramatically cut down on the amount of time we spend doing activities that don’t actually move the needle for our businesses.
Great post Ryan, I’ve always liked the idea of using Monday, but it seems better value for medium size companies and not freelancers due to the 5 user minimum offer on their packages.
Do you pay for 5 users?
Great question! I guess I got so used to using Monday at a previous job that my “processes” were pretty ingrained into the tool already—so it made for a natural fit to use with my freelance business back in the day. I’d agree that it is a better value to a small/medium sized business, but yes I just paid for the up to 5 users account level.
Nice article, thank you. From my experience, the best first step to master your project management skills is getting a good project management tool.
Using a project management tool is probably the fastest way to master project management skills 🙂 And the easiest one! But it has to be the right tool, of course.