Keep the Freelancer Clock Ticking

moneytimeToday’s guest post is brought to you by Elizabeth Fayle, and it’s the last installment on her SMART series, one that’s proven to be an eye opener for many readers just like you. If you missed the first few posts, you can read them here:

The intro to SMART freelancing
The first key: Specific
The second key: Measurable
The third key: Agreed Upon
The fourth key: Realistic

Today is the last in the series of freelancing SMARTer, truly a bittersweet moment for me. It’s bitter because I’ve had a blast interacting with such a SMART crowd of readers, and that interaction is drawing to an end.

And it’s sweet because now I get to discuss my ultimate, favorite topic: T, for Time-based, which has a great deal to do with project management. And project management is what I do best.

I could throw the text book definition of project management at you…

Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.

… but chances are that most freelancers would respond, “Huh?” In fact, I’d have to agree with you.

So, let’s start with what a project is. A project is anything you do within your business that includes the following two elements:

  1. A start date
  2. An end date

It’s as simple as that. In other words, a project is fully time-based.

A project is not about checking your emails each day. It is not about updating your bookkeeping or worrying about your finances. It is not about bringing in clients or finding partners to work with.

These are ongoing administrative tasks with no specific start and end dates. They aren’t projects. They might occur on certain days, but for as long as you operate the business, they’re there, with no end date in sight.

A project starts and ends. It’s a post you’ve agreed to write for a client. It’s a design you’ve agreed to create. It’s an ebook you’re writing for your business. It’s an overhaul of your services, a marketing blitz or a course you’re building. It’s a joint venture that you’re collaborating on.

If it has a start date and an end date, it is a project. And it needs to be managed properly to turn out well. To begin well, to progress well and to end well.

Project management, therefore, is about:

  1. Identifying the start date
  2. Identifying the end date
  3. Identifying all the steps that need to happen to get you from the start date to the end date.

Here’s where it gets really exciting. To accomplish the ‘T’ in SMART for project management, you have to use the S-M-A-R in the SMART acronym that we’ve already discussed. Let’s recap:

S – Specific

What is the specific product or service you’ve agreed to deliver? When you know that, you can establish all the steps you need to take between the start and end date of your project. Very often, there are more steps involved than you think, and you may uncover additional, smaller steps you’d missed.

M – Measurable

What can you measure for each step? How long will each of those steps take, reasonably? When you know that, you can better pinpoint and establish the end date of the project – one you can actually meet comfortably without scrambling. (Trust me, you might be surprised at how often you short-change yourself.)

A – Agreed Upon

What arrangements have you agreed to with any outside party, such as a client, a partner, an outsourcer or staff? When you know that, you can establish which steps other people are responsible for, and how long it might take them to accomplish. This is especially important for the domino effect – if Joe needs to do X before Kim can do Y, you need to know when you and Joe have agreed he’ll deliver.

R – Realistic

How much work can you realistically take on at any given time? What’s your available work schedule looking like this week and for the coming weeks? When you know that, you can establish your project start date and know when it’ll all begin.

The beauty of it all brings tears to my eyes.

By the time you get to that last letter T in SMART, the rest is pretty much a no-brainer. You know when your project starts, how long it’ll take, how much time you have available to work on it, when you’ll work on it and when you’ll be finished. You’ll be able to commit and complete in full confidence.

And then, you’ll be managing your project properly. Project management is simply the glue that binds all the elements of SMART into place for something solid.

All you need to do is write everything down. You don’t need a fancy-schmancy project management tool either (although using one does make life a lot easier). Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Check your workload calendar or spreadsheet and write down when you’ll start your project.
  2. Create a to-do list that shows all the steps you need to take, including their due dates
  3. Based on the time involved for each step, figure out your project end date
  4. Check your to-do list each day to stay on track, marking tasks complete as you go along.

And that’s it! Congratulations. You are now one of the SMARTest freelancers out there. Go forth and conquer.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.