Project Planning

Project planning is something that I have always felt pretty comfortable with. I always begin with a Task Analysis, something I have talked about in an earlier blogpost, and as someone who loves a To Do List as well as clearly agreed deadlines and processes, project planning is something I genuinely enjoy and always appreciate once the project is underway. It not only allows you to ensure that you remain on schedule and budget, but if done properly (and if you want that level of information), you can use it to evaluate the delivery of a project once complete.

Lately, I’ve been spinning a lot of plates and I felt that my current system – a combination of a detailed calendar, which includes notes on tasks and how long I’ve spend doing them, plus my trusty To Do List in a notebook – wasn’t working anymore. I needed more of an overview of my calendar and I needed to stop scouring my notebooks and emails for something I knew I’d written down but couldn’t remember when.

After winning two contracts recently that require delivery over the next six months or more, it made me think that I needed a new project management system in place if I’m going to keep on top of everything and work effectively.

Project Management is a topic that comes up frequently in online freelance groups, usually in the form of someone asking for advice about how best to keep on track with everything. Some use specific project management software e.g. Trello and Teamwork; others have created their own systems that work for them.

After exploring some of the available software options, I decided that I really couldn’t be bothered to learn yet another platform and that good old Excel would do the trick. And after some trial and error, I created my glorious new Project Management spreadsheet.  Whilst I’d love to share the actual spreadsheet with you, I can’t – it contains personal and financial data. Instead, I thought I’d talk you through it in case any of it is of use to you.

The spreadsheet itself is really very simple…

Calendar Tab

The first tab is a visual calendar that lets me see, at a glance, when I’m busy.

It’s set up with Months/Weeks running across the top in Rows 1 and 2, and live projects listed out down the side in the first column. Each project has been assigned a colour.

I block out weeks, colour-coded by project, according to the agreed project timeline. This allows me to see when I’m working on multiple projects in one week or if there are weeks that are currently free that I can shift some work to and therefore take some pressure off.

Project Tabs

Each live project I am working on has its own tab.

On each tab I include everything I can about the project so that I’m not having to route around in multiple places to get an answer.

Each tab includes the following:

On-Boarding Client Checklist

  • Is a contract in place?
  • Has a payment schedule been agreed?
  • Who are my key contacts?
  • Have I connected to key contacts on LinkedIn?
  • Have I got permission to talk about working with the client on Social Media?

Project Details Table

  • Client name
  • Project title
  • Total fee
  • Total number of days / hours assigned
  • Key contacts names and email addresses
  • Project timeline (agreed during the brief/proposal stage) listing out broad activity and any key dates

Project Outputs

All agreed project outputs that are agreed at the beginning of a project are listed out in a text box. I use this as a checklist to ensure that I’ve delivered all of the agreed outputs, and if I produce anything outside of the original scope of work, I make a note of it here so that it doesn’t get forgotten about. This allows you to keep a track of any added value you bring to a project.

To Do List

A detailed To Do List is included in a text box. I typically set out the list based around my initial Task Analysis and then add to it as the project progresses / things come up.  As I complete tasks, I delete them from the list.

Invoice Schedule Table

Most of my projects require multiple invoices because I typically ask for a portion of the total fee upfront and then agree a payment schedule for the rest, usually based around the delivery of key phases/outputs.  This table lists out:

  • All the invoices related to the project e.g. Invoice 1 of 3, Invoice 2 of 3, Invoice 3 of 3
  • The corresponding invoice number
  • The date the invoice was issued / is due to be issued
  • The invoice amount
  • Whether the invoice has been paid or is outstanding
  • Total project fee

Off-Boarding Client Checklist

  • Has the client been sent the final report/files?
  • Has the final invoice been issued?
  • Have any outstanding invoices been paid?
  • Has any client personal data been securely destroyed? (if appropriate)
  • Ask client for a testimonial.
  • Add testimonial to website and/or CV as appropriate.
  • Organise and archive project files.

And that’s it. It really can be as simple as a couple of tables and text boxes. I’ve been using it a few weeks now and feel that it’s already helped me to keep on top of things more, and its given me an overview of my diary for the rest of the year, which is something I was lacking before.

I’d love to know what you do when managing projects – any tips and tricks to you’d like to share? Is there some software you just cannot live without? Or are you more of a pen and paper person? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

Is it you, is it me?

We’ve all been there right? Rejection sucks. But it’s all part and parcel of being a freelancer so as harsh as this sounds, you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Since I went freelance, I’ve pitched for a number of contracts where it didn’t work out and the client decided to go with someone else. Did I take it personally? No – and this comes from someone who normally wears their heart on their sleeve. Outside work, I take a lot to heart, but business-wise, I’m pretty good at separating personal feelings from potential work. Once I get a contract, I’m all-in, I’m totally invested. I want to do the best for my client and ensure that they are happy and satisfied with the work I produce – that is massively important to me. But potential work; work that I haven’t actually got yet; I generally roll with the punches.

Not taking things personally aside, my Top Tip would be DO NOT PROJECT. When you put in a proposal for work, never think of it as in the bag and start projecting what that would mean – in relations to your business, financially, whatever, just don’t do it. Instead when you submit a proposal think ‘it’ll be nice if that comes off’ and then put it to the back of your mind until you hear back. It’ll save a lot of over-thinking and disappointment down the line.

Here are my other tips for dealing with work rejection. First up, deal with your feelings:

  • Accept it. Accept that in this case, whilst you may feel you are the best person for the job, someone else doesn’t. That doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job, it just means you weren’t right for this job and that is totally fine.
  • However you feel about it, you’re allowed to feel. But try to keep those feelings in perspective. Don’t start spiralling and overthinking things. Remember that you are good at what you do and an unsuccessful proposal doesn’t change that.
  • Focus on the wins. When I was only a few months into freelancing I pitched for a big contract that in my mind, I had no real hope of getting. Instead I got to interview stage, and whilst I ultimately didn’t get the job, I felt really good about the rejection. Why? First of all, I got to interview stage when I didn’t even expect a response. Secondly, following feedback I learnt that I’d been up against two long-established companies who could bring extra resources to the table. And finally, I made a new connection which has since led to another contract.

Once you’ve processed how you feel, it’s time to move on to the all-important formalities.

  • Say thank you. It doesn’t matter how far you got in the process. Whether you simply submitted a proposal and didn’t make it through to the next round or whether you got as far as interview and presentation, thank the client for the opportunity.
  • Ask for feedback. You won’t always get it but if you do, accept it for what it is. Personally, I’ve found the feedback experience very positive. It can give you insights into things you may need to improve, it may have been about fit or perhaps you lost out to someone with more experience than you. All feedback is useful.
  • Ask to stay in touch and ask them to bear you in mind should they need any future work. Then connect on LinkedIn.

And that’s it. You will get rejected at some point I’m afraid, but there are always more contracts in the sea.

How do you deal with work rejection? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

Just Say No

As a freelancer, especially a new one, it’s extremely tempting to pitch for every proposal that comes your way. When it’s feast or famine, you should take what you can get right? Wrong. You can save yourself a lot of pain in the long term if you carefully and honestly assess whether you think it’s a right fit before you spend any time on a proposal.

Don’t forget that proposals take work! On average, I’ll spend at least half a day writing and finalising a proposal, not to mention the associated thinking time prior to writing it. I have a day rate and I try to think of any work I do (including writing this blogpost) in those terms, even if I am spending time doing something for my own business. Time is money and all that.

So how do I decide when to pitch and when to say no to work? I follow some simple rules…

Do I want to do it?

So far if my initial internal response has been no, I haven’t pitched. That may change as work dries up, who knows. For now, I like having the ability to decide what work to pitch for and what work I want to avoid.

Be gracious

If someone sends a brief my way way or I’m specifically asked to pitch for something, I am always appreciative of the opportunity and thank that person for considering me in the first place. I give a brief justification as to why I’m passing on the opportunity so they aren’t left feeling confused, blindsided, or duped, after all, I don’t want to burn any bridges. And I ask to stay connected – just because I’m saying no now, doesn’t mean I’ll always say no – so I ask them to keep in touch and bear me in mind for future projects.

Be honest

I am totally upfront about what I can and can’t do and I don’t sign up to work that I know I don’t have the skills to deliver. From experience, the client/potential client has always massively appreciated my honesty – saying no in this context saves everyone a lot of time and future headaches. And saying no doesn’t always lead to a negative outcome – three personal examples being:

  • A potential client required some work that was outside my skills set. I told them what I could do and sought approval to engage a subcontractor to deliver the elements I couldn’t, the client agreed and consequently I am delivering the bulk of the contract whilst working with an associate I know can deliver the bits I can’t.
  • Flipping the above scenario, for four contracts, I have been that subcontractor/associate engaged to deliver particular parts of a proposal that is being led by another freelancer.
  • A freelancer approached me to deliver some work in a subcontractor/associate capacity. I recognised that the work was outside my skill sets; told them as such and recommended someone I thought who could help. They appreciated my candour and I didn’t get the job; but I did get a potential lead for future work after I told them what I could do.

Know your time commitments

There’s a job that I’m not pitching for this week because I know I’m too busy with other work during the project’s timeframe. I have to consider my existing clients and ensure that any new work doesn’t detract from my commitments to them. It’s important to me that my clients are happy. In this instance, I can’t commit the necessary time that the potential project requires and therefore wouldn’t be able to produce the standard of work that I’d like, so I’ve simply not pitched.

Know your worth

Since I started freelancing, there have only been two briefs where I’ve looked at the scope of work then looked at the proposed fee and just thought no. In both instances, I didn’t pitch. I valued my time more.

Out of the work I have pitched for, only a third of the briefs have come with a defined budget. For the rest, I submitted a task analysis and cost breakdown based on my day rate to reach a final proposed fee.

When considering a brief with a defined budget, my starting point is to take the proposed fee and divide it by my day rate to establish how many days’ work it equates to. I then estimate how long it would take me to deliver what they want. Can I do it within the budgeted time? If not, am I willing to spend longer delivering the work for a lower rate?

It’s time to make a pros and cons list – what are the advantages/disadvantages of doing the work? I weigh up the reasons and then decide how flexible I can be with my day rate – something I’ll discuss more at length in a future blogpost.

Go with your gut

This is a bit vague but you all know what I mean. If you get a bad feeling about a potential job/client and can’t shake it even after asking the right questions, go with your gut, it’s probably right.

So far I’ve only experienced this once. A potential client who had asked me to pitch supplied a brief that made me think they didn’t know what they actually wanted. There were conflicting objectives within the brief and despite trying to gain clarity, I couldn’t. I decided that no matter what I delivered, it wouldn’t be right because there wasn’t a clear original common understanding, so I politely declined.

Get it in writing

If I successfully pitch for a job, I make sure that before I begin work, I have a contract in place that outlines the scope of work, objectives, deliverables, timescales, fees and agreed payment schedule. It is important that everyone is on the same page before a project begins. I typically say no to any work taking place until a contract has been exchanged. Not only does it give me better legal standing should any dispute arise, it also outlines what work I have agreed to, and if I’m asked to do more, I can then negotiate that as additional work.

Be prepared to down tools

If I have an agreed payment schedule and am delivering the work but not being paid, without good reason, I say no to undertaking any future work until the problem has been rectified and payment has been made. I’ve had to do this once.

Ooof that was a long list! Apparently I like saying no. It’s empowering.

When do you say no? Have you ever regretted saying no? Have you ever wished you’d said no? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

LinkedIn Tips

Okay, okay, this blog post is very late but there was Christmas, then I hit the ground running in the New Year with three different contracts and an interview to prep for, so apologies that this is late! I’ve been meeting myself coming backwards.

As promised, I said I would talk about LinkedIn in this post. Full confession, I am (much like a lot of people in the arts and cultural sector) a late adopter when it comes to LinkedIn. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always seen it as more of a corporate space.

I joined in 2017 after much badgering from the good husband (who has been on it for years). I was returning to work after the birth of our first child and I had made a conscious decision to really focus on my career development and the necessary networking that would go alongside it. So I joined LinkedIn, filled in my profile and got connecting left, right and centre. It wasn’t until I had a career coaching session with the lovely Kym Bartlett, that I realised that maybe…

  1. I hadn’t been using LinkedIn effectively
  2. That there is an etiquette (who knew,  not me)

If you use LinkedIn all the time, the following tips may seem really basic, but as a newbie to the platform, I found them useful:

Update Your Profile

This is your shop window as it were – it is how people are introduced to you and first impressions count.

  • Pick a suitable profile picture – it should be recent, actually look like you, and a close-up shot (not a long distance one). You should look friendly and approachable.
  • Use your headline – it doesn’t have to be your job title, it can include a little more about you and what’s important to you.
  • Don’t leave the summary section blank – this is your chance to really sell yourself. Don’t just list your previous roles and skills; explain how your skills can help potential clients and what difference you could make to them.
  • Ensure your employment history is up to date.

Think About Your Skills

Go through LinkedIn’s list of skills and select those that are relevant to you – this provides a mechanism for other users to endorse you. This helps reflect what you have included in your headline and summary and allows people to endorse you later on. Try to only include your core skills i.e. your specialities, as opposed to a long list of generic skills.

You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours

Endorsements from others are a great way to increase your credibility. Go through your network and identify connections that genuinely deserve an endorsement. If they don’t reciprocate, don’t be scared of reaching out with a private message asking them to endorse your skills too. Remember, that the worst they can say is no. 

Recommendations

Same goes for recommendations – personal testimonials about the experience of working with you –don’t be afraid to reach out to your connections to request one. Again, the worst they can say is no.

Grow Your Network

This is where I hold my hands up and admit I was doing LinkedIn all wrong! I was hitting the ‘Connect’ button in the same way that I’d ‘Add Friend’ in Facebook. I’d send the request and if they accepted brilliant, if not I kind of forgot about them. I didn’t send an introductory message, a follow up message, nothing – I just hit that ‘Connect’ button and hoped for the best.

In terms of etiquette, I have since been informed that when requesting to connect, you should send an introductory message explaining who you are, why you’re connecting with them, and mention any mutual colleagues etc. to give you some context. And obviously, don’t go in with a sales message in your first communication.

Some ways to grow your network include:

  • A very quick way to grow your contacts it to synch your profile with your email address book and see who LinkedIn suggests you connect with.
  • If, like me, you have left an organisational setting and gone freelance, make sure you go through your old work contacts and connect with them.
  • Identify your competitors and connect with them. If you connect, then you can look at their network and see if there is anyone you should be trying to connect with yourself.
  • Take advantage of free trials e.g. Sales Navigator can help you with prospecting.

That’s it, my LinkedIn Tips that while basic, will help improve your profile. I’d love to hear from some of you. Do you have any LinkedIn advice you’d like to share? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here