Freelancing Guide to Completing Projects On-Time

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Part of being a graphic designer (or any other type of service provider for that matter) is dealing with the reality that deadlines are going to be a part of your job. Deadlines often have a negative stigma, but freelancers and independent designers have to keep themselves on track and to promote efficiency and productivity, which will lead to a profitable business.

Start with Realistic Expectations

One of the most important factors in completing projects on time is simply not accepting work that requires an unrealistic deadline. Of course, there will be times when a looming deadline will be a tight squeeze, but if you hope to be able to meet a deadline and to provide your highest quality of work, a certain amount of time will be needed.

If a client or a potential client is trying to get a project started with unrealistic expectations, the time line needs to be adjusted as soon as possible, or problems will follow. Most clients won’t know everything that is involved in getting a project completed and they won’t always be able to know what is realistic and what is not, so it's the freelancer’s responsibility to make sure that deadlines and schedules are reasonable.

Give Yourself Time to do Your Best Work

When evaluating a schedule or deadline proposed by the client, you may know that you’ll be rushed. In this case if the money is right and other factors work out, you may be tempted to move forward knowing that the time crunch will not allow you to do your best work. However, once you get into the project and you want to produce something of quality, you’ll find that justifying a lower quality of work is not usually acceptable to yourself or to the client.

For obvious reasons it’s always preferable to come away with something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, and a piece of work that would help you to win new clients, not chase them away. When evaluating a potential project to determine if it’s one that you should accept, be sure to give yourself time for a high quality of work, or it is likely to be an issue later.

Getting Started Right Away

Procrastination is easy for freelance designers, since there is no one around to hold you accountable. It’s a very simple concept, getting started earlier will allow you a better chance to meet your deadlines, but it’s easy to put things off. By getting started right away you’ll have a chance to identify any potential problems while there is still plenty of time to deal with them, and you’ll reduce the pressure that will exist later as the deadline gets closer.

Plan for Unexpected Issues

Part of the difficulty in pricing projects, setting deadlines and schedules is that unexpected issues are almost certain to arise. Planning for the unexpected is a necessary part of the process that will usually be learned after a few bad experiences. (See my earlier blog: Freelancing Mistakes)

When extra time is built into your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems, deadlines will not need to be missed because of these setbacks. Even though we all know that unexpected things sometimes happen when working on a project, explaining to a client that you can’t meet a deadline because of something you didn’t anticipate is never a good thing. Yes, there are times when it may come to this even when you have built some extra time in to the schedule, but minimizing and avoiding these situations should be a goal.

Communicate with Clients to Meet Deadlines Depends on Their Cooperation

Being held up by clients can often be a frustration for designers. When you’re working on a project for a client there is a strong need for the client to be involved in the process. Whether you are being held up by waiting for content or waiting for feedback on the design, a slow response from the client is

To make sure that your clients have a clear understanding of what will impact your ability to meet the established deadline, take the time up front to emphasize that their input and follow up

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Get as Much Information as Possible Up Front

Whether you need written content for the project, photographs to be used, feedback on the style of design that they want, the sooner you can get the information the better.

Of course, different projects will have various levels of involvement that you will need from the client. Whenever possible, it’s preferable to let clients know everything that you will need from them up front. This gives them a chance to go gather the information all at once, plus it makes it possible for you to have all of the information before you even really get in to the project.

Going back and asking the client for more information will usually happen at some point, but the more you can get up front, the less time you will have to wait later for a response. As deadlines get closer, these types of delays can often make the difference between meeting or not meeting deadlines.

Give Deadlines to Your Clients

In order to keep things moving forward, deadlines should also be given to clients for getting their part done. For example, when you communicate with the client at the start of the project, if you’re going to need content for X number of pages for the project, agree on a deadline with the client for the time when they should have all of that content in your possession.

Simply asking the client for something in an open-ended nature with no deadline will not always work. While you’re waiting you may be losing valuable time. Giving deadlines to the client can obviously help to get things moving quickly, but it also helps them to realize some of the ways that they impact your ability to meet the deadline.

Smaller Goals Along the Way

Some projects, especially larger ones, will have smaller goals and deadlines built in to the schedule along the way. However, even if you’re working on a smaller project that only has one established deadline, it’s a good practice to break down the tasks and steps that are needed to get the project completed, and set some specific goals and progress points for yourself to meet along the way.

When you’re evaluating how much time it will take to complete a project, it will typically be much easier and more accurate if you can break it down in to small sections and gauge the time required for each of them. Without doing this, it’s easy to get part way through a project and feel good about where you are at, when in reality you should be much further along in order to meet the deadline.

Set a Daily or Weekly Goals and Task Lists

If you’re starting

Daily Progress Evaluation

In addition to just setting goals for each day and tasks that need to be accomplished, it’s also necessary to evaluate your progress and make sure that you are still on track to meet the deadline. If you’re not on track, it’s obviously best to know that as soon as possible so that you can adjust your work as needed, and this method will allow you to do just that.

My typical practice involves spending about 10-15 minutes at the end of the day to go back through my to-do list and to make sure that any items that weren’t accomplished become part of the list for the next day. At this time I’m able to look at the projected schedule and determine if I’m still on track.

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May 28, 2009

Reeddaigle

Thanks again Richard. Your articles are very clear. As Aleksandar said, you put everything together so well. Much appreciated.

May 22, 2009

Morrbyte

Well written and instructive, Setting a Daily or Weekly Goals and Task Lists i have also found to be a great way to strive ahead and even if you dont finish all the tasks, at least you will have some done that you would have otherwise procrastinated on.

May 22, 2009

Asaliro

Thank you for share the great tips. It's very useful to me.

May 22, 2009

Fultonsphoto

Great tips, can be applied in everyones lives to some extent.

May 21, 2009

Petroruth

Thank you it is articles like this can be used by a beginner or even help a pro because some times a person gets so smart they forget the basics. It is people like you who take the time to share with the rest of us makes me appreciate this site so much.

May 21, 2009

Starblue

Wonderful article! When I have started with my photographic carrer in 2005... they almost weren´t such splendid article. It is always helpful to read such material, but the "starting" photographers have so splendid opportunity to develop faster having so a lot of useful information. Really good job!

May 21, 2009

Alexhor

I work with clients and I should say that I know all this part by part. But you did an excellent job putting all this together in one article. Definitely worth to use as a reminder. Thanks.

May 21, 2009

Bradcalkins

Handy article, thanks.

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