When you’re starting out in business, with just a couple of clients and projects, keeping track of everything is pretty straightforward. An email folder here, a set of sticky notes there, it’s not too difficult.
But as your business grows, managing more than a few projects for multiple clients can be a little daunting for new or even experienced professionals. Without a good system for keeping track of due dates, client input, and team progress, you can quickly find yourself on the other end of a tirade from an unhappy client.
Here are three tips to work more effectively as your project and client load starts to get out of control:
1. Communicate More Efficiently
If your clients have hired you for important work, it’s natural for them to get stressed and uncomfortable when they don’t hear from you for a while. Ironically, the more successful you are in your business, the more likely you are to have limited time for client communication, and the more at risk you are for inadvertently stressing out your clients.
A weekly status call or email might be fine when you have just a few clients, but when your client and project load increases, that time really adds up. Spending 8 hours a week on the phone giving status updates can quickly eat into your productivity.
One easy fix is to keep task information online so that clients can login at their convenience to find out the latest status of their projects, whether they’re getting close to budget limits and when they can expect things to be finished.
Another approach is to send automated status emails weekly that give clear updates to clients on what’s in progress, how it’s going, and if there are any issues to discuss. It’s also useful to include things like new risks (that a deadline might slip, that you’re waiting on some key information from them, etc.) as they come up. This kind of email won’t eliminate phone calls or in-person meetings, but for projects that are running smoothly, it can really cut down on them.
2. Keep Project Work and Discussions in One Place
Another simple way to keep things organized is to gently move your clients towards accessing files and giving feedback in a central location. Online project management software can help your clients easily upload or download project documents that you’re collaborating on, as well as make comments on a specific project or file without sending dozens of emails back and forth.
The key advantages of this approach is that your responses won’t get lost or misplaced – you’ll have a clear, coherent record of your project conversations. You’ll also be able to reference the latest version of your files in a consistent way.
This winds up saving lots of time that might otherwise be spent with a client providing feedback about the wrong version of a file, or missing your response to a query.
3. Track Deadlines Proactively
Even with the above approach in place, you still need to keep an eye on the dates you’ve committed to clients. A basic system you can adopt a will prompt you about upcoming deadlines, and give you a nudge to reach out to clients if you can see that those dates might slip.
One way of doing this is to keep a project or task calendar for each client that shows each upcoming deadline. You can refer to this calendar once a week or more frequently as needed to make sure you’re clear on client commitments. If you have a team, you can also add their commitments for more timely followup.
If you are using online project management software, you can also have the system remind you and your team of upcoming deadlines by email a couple of days before the fact. This helps you keep up on the status of tasks across all projects, clients and team members, or drill down into just the work that a specific person is assigned.
By proactively managing deadlines, you can also notify your clients if things start to slip. Most clients will not only be understanding of an occasional delay, but will appreciate the early notice so that they can adjust accordingly. No one wants to miss a deadline, but at least by monitoring them carefully, you can keep clients happy by informing them early and giving them options to reschedule work.