I hear from so many designers that scheduling projects is a struggle. How do you know how many clients to take at a time? And what do you do if you have clear scheduling limits and you reach them?
So let’s dive right in and talk about how to get clear on your project length!
Why project length matters
This is the foundational step because if you don’t know how long your projects take, it’s truly impossible to get your schedule right. You’ll end up right back where you were before our last post with way too many open design projects and no idea how to wrap them all up.
When you know how long your projects take, it is so much easier to create a schedule around them. So we’re going to make it happen today!
Get clear on your project length
At this point, you’re going to be in one of two camps:
- Camp 1: You have a set timeline for your projects and know how long each of them takes
- Camp 2: All your projects take a different amount of time and you think I’m crazy for saying to figure out how long they take
I have good news for those of you in Camp 1. Your work for this step is pretty much done! All I want you to do is take note of the types of projects you offer and how long those take and we’ll go from there. For example, my list would look like this:
- Ditch the Development – 4 weeks
- Development Day – 1 day
- Back Pocket Developer – ongoing monthly retainer
If you relate more closely with Camp 2, this will be a challenge for you and that’s okay. Just know that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, but we’re going to give it our best shot and adjust from there.
Take each of your packages one-by-one and reflect on how long they’ve each taken you in the past.
Are your answers all over the place? Or are your projects never-ending?
If so, what you need to do first is get clear on your project process. This simply isn’t going to happen otherwise. So write out every single step of your process.
- What do you have to do?
- How long will those things take you?
- What do your clients have to do?
- How long will those things take them?
Add all of it up, add a week or so of wiggle room, and you have your estimation!
Is that the most scientific process? Nope, but it’s a start!
What I need you to do from here is start holding yourself to those timelines you just set. Once you can hold yourself to your schedule, THEN you can worry about holding your clients to theirs.
As you go through your next few clients with this process, tweak as you go. See what works and what doesn’t for keeping you and your client on track. Add extra time where you repeatedly need it in your process, and remove it if there’s always extra. I promise that with a little extra attention, you can do it!
But for now, make your list as best you can using the above example, add a little more wiggle room than you think you’ll need.
Set your project scheduling limits
With the list you made of how long each project takes you, now we’re going to set scheduling limits based on each type of project you offer.
With this process, I want you to keep a couple things in mind:
- It’s okay if what you come up with for each project looks a little different
- It’s okay if you need a few different scenarios if you never know which types of projects will be booked
- It’s okay if you have to guess right now and adjust later
With time, it will all come together!
Now, go through each project and decide how many you can take on at once. If having a certain number of one project would mean you take on less of another, note that as well.
For example, here’s what my notes would look like:
- Ditch the Development – 1 at a time
- Development Days – 4 per month (if a Ditch the Development package is scheduled, only 1 Dev. Day during that project)
- Retainers – 10 hours per month
So that list is saying that I can take on one custom development project at a time. If I have a custom project going on, I’m only going to take 1 Development Day that month, rather than my usual 4. And I can have a maximum of 10 hours of retainer work per month.
What does this list look like for you?
If you feel like you’re guessing a little bit, I encourage you to underestimate how many projects you can handle at a time. It’s much easier to add extra project spaces than it is to have a schedule that is way too full.
Put your project schedule into action
Now that you know how long your projects take you (or you’ve taken a good guess) and have an idea of how many of those projects you can take at once, it’s time to put it into action!
Depending on the way you work, you might do this in several different ways, but I’m going to cover how I like to do it here and you can adjust, as needed.
The good news is that this is easy!
To start, look at the projects you currently have going on as well as any upcoming projects that are scheduled. Where does that put you with the scheduling limits you set?
For example, let’s say I have one custom development project going on and 8 hours of retainer work. Based on the limits I set, that means I could take on 1 Development Day project and one more retainer client at 2 hours per month. It also means that my custom development projects are booked out until my current one is finished.
Write out what that looks like for you. If you take a larger number of clients at once, you might want to create a visual project timeline so you can more easily say where projects start and end.
Now, it’s time to enforce your findings! The easiest way to do this is to simply update the availability on your website. For example, I would go to my website and say that I had 1 custom development project opening for next month, that I had one Development Day opening this month, and that I had 2 hours of retainer work available.
This way, any client inquiring knows exactly what to expect with your availability.
From there, it’s up to you to enforce it. If I were to get a custom development inquiry from someone who wanted to start immediately, it is completely on me to tell them that I couldn’t start immediately, but that I could start after my current project was over.
Then, each time you book a new client or finish a project, make it a part of your process to go to your website and update your availability.
For example, if I booked a retainer client for 2 hours per month, I’d go to my website, say that my retainer projects were fully booked, and add a waitlist page until a client cancelled. Or if I booked a Development Day, I’d go to my website and say that instead of having 1 opening this month, I have 4 next month.
From here on out, it’s up to you to enforce this schedule. Add it to your project process right now!