Now that you have worked through the sales funnel and have identified your leads, converted them into prospects, crafted a successful proposal and received your first check, it is time to get started on your project.
This may be a scary, head-scratching moment something like this: Now that I have money in the bank and a green light, how the h*** am I going to get this thing — be it build a website, develop a content strategy or launch an online educational product — done?
The short answer is this: You will complete your project step-by-step.
A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. — Lao Tzu
Maybe it goes without saying that you can’t finish your project if you don’t start, but it probably does not go without saying that taking some front-end time to organize your project will make the whole process easier and more pleasant.
Take a deep breath and let’s get a nice, calm start.
How to Organize a Project
Managing a project includes:
- Understanding the basic elements of a project
- Assembling a few key tools
- Developing key documents
- Exiting your project and
- Following up with clients
To help you feel confident as you get started, I will explain the basics of each of these aspects of organizing a project.
Most projects include a mix of:
- Planning. This is about deciding what you need to do, when you will do it and which tools and resources you need to complete the project.
- Doing. Well, silly, you know what doing is!
- Communicating. This one, on the other hand, people sometimes forget. Even if you are doing a great job and meeting all your project milestones, it’s important to check in (see below) to make sure everyone is on the same (web) page.
- Iterating. I’ve blogged before about iterating, but because so many projects involve technology and technology changes regularly, you will probably have several iterations (think drafts) of your project.
- Completing. Projects that are internet based have a way of never ending. In a way it’s for the same reasons that you will often need to iterate (see above) but it’s also because web sites and other digital technology just aren’t that stable. For example, if you link to a post on someone else’ site, they may change it or remove it altogether. Does your client know how to create a link? If not, you and your client should come up with a plan for who will take care of important details like that.
One way to think about organizing a project is that you are creating a story. Every story has a beginning, middle, end and lots of conflict and creative interaction in between.
I work on a Mac and I use:
- Numbers for spreadsheets
- Pages for writing
- Preview for changing image sizes
- iPhone for scheduling and calendaring
- Gmail, text and phone for communicating (and sometimes Google Hangouts or Skype) and
- Google for research
The tools you use are very personal. Use whatever makes you feel confident, happy and productive.
It is a very good idea to create documents that track your project and provide you with a record of what you did. These documents will help you analyze the project — especially whether you have charged the appropriate amount — when its done while also helping you communicate with your clients.
- Project tracker. My favorite tool for planning is to create a Project Tracker in Numbers. You can also use Excel or Google Drive Spreadsheets.Here is an example of a spreadsheet I created when I was working on a new draft of my business plan:
You will notice I used milestones and also broke the project down step-by-step.
Personally, I enjoy being able to check things off my list.
This project was a rewrite of my own business plan, but if the project were for a client, I would fill out the price and unit. That allows me to monitor how much money I am earning per hour on a given project.
- Project brief. Include creating a project brief in your project tracker. The project brief gives everyone involved in the project (clients, consultants and subcontractors) a “big picture” view of the project’s goals, including:
- A quick summary
- Intended audience
- Project goals and
- Time frame
To download a sample brief for a design project, click here.
- Reports. Project briefs and reports both fall under the category of communication. Dig a little to find out the best way to update a given client. Depending on the complexity of the project and client preferences, reports can take the following forms (and are usually delivered weekly):
- Texts saying, “We’re on it”
- Email reports
- Conference calls (phone or video) or
- Formal, written reports
Pro tip: The more you keep everyone in the loop, the less likely it is that misunderstandings and unwanted scope changes will occur.
Exit Strategy and Documents
Completing your project requires an exit strategy. Sometimes you will run into clients who want you to do a little something extra for them after the project is over. Or, issues have come up during the project that require changing its scope.
It is important for you to be polite but firm with clients and having mutually agreed upon documents such as the original proposal to back you up will help with this.
Another thing that will help is having an exit document. This document states that project is over and provides the client with a summary of what you have done and what they need to do to maintain the project.
Typically, these documents include:
- Style guides
- Instructions about where to find images and other documents
- Information about their web hosts and login details
- How-to guides, especially related to web or project maintenance, and
You may find that exit documents help you get more work because, typically, when people understand what is involved with maintaining a website or social media campaign, for example, they start to want to outsource!
A Few Words About Follow Up
Follow up is critical.
Have I said enough? Probably not so here are a few more words:
Follow up is a great way to get more out of your project. Check in with your clients regularly to find out how their projects are going and if you can help out.
Even if they don’t need help at the moment, this little reminder might just put you on their radar enough to generate a referral.
Plus, it’s fun to find out how the clients you have worked with — often quite intensely — are progessing.
Do you have any tips to share with bright and beautiful beginners about how to best organize a project?
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