Most people assume that freelance writing is all about freedom, enjoyment and working on your own terms. A part of it is true as well. However, if not managed properly, the freedom and enjoyment goes away pretty soon and is replaced by depression and consistent mental pressure. Trust me; you don’t want to be in that situation.
Having worked as a Project Manager for a few years with my previous employers, I know a thing or two about the fundamentals of this field. Simply put, project management is all about managing your time and resources effectively to produce exactly the results that you are looking for. It is almost universally accepted as a mandatory part of any IT company and professional project managers are some of the most important people in their organizations.
Busting the Myth!
But how does PM help you as a writer? You don’t have any huge list of resources that you need to manage. Neither do you have long term planning or documentation needs, right?…….Wrong!
Any business, be it a one man company or an enterprise of a thousand professionals, can benefit from the very basic but effective project management practices. You may already be practicing them without even knowing about it. It’s that simple and natural.
It’s a famous myth that project management is or should only be practiced by a few selected industries, IT, Engineering and Construction being the stereotype. This is highly inaccurate. Project management consists of universal management principles that can be successfully applied to control any project and enhance its effectiveness.
Project Management – Some Basic Terminologies
Before telling you how this would help you as a writer, let me tell you about a few standard project management terms so that its easy to understand what’s coming next. I’ll try to simplify it further. Being a writer, you don’t need to be a champion at project management. I’ll just tell you things that are relevant to your work.
By definition, a project is a unique endeavor that has a defined duration (start and end dates) and aims to achieve certain pre-defined objectives. For example, writing 5 articles for a client or writing an eBook.
This involves everything that is and is not a part of the project. The aim of developing a scope is to bring both you and the customer on the same page. It removes any confusions and miscommunication between you and the customer.
I’ll make this clear with an example. A customer wants you to write an eBook for him. He just shoots you an email telling you that he wants an eBook on “Make Money Online in 30 Days”.
You have two choices here. You can either start working on this straight away, since you are an expert at this subject, assuming what the customer needs. However, this might be a risky strategy.
The other more logical choice is to have a short Requirement Gathering session with your customer. A highly professional impression apart, a comprehensive requirement gathering session will not only give you the exact picture of what the customer needs, you may even contribute in further refining your customer’s idea. This can be done on email or through a chat session, whichever is more feasible.
You’ll be amazed at how much refined the idea becomes once you go through a few basic questions with your customer. But in case you don’t, you might experience something similar to this.
There are times when even the customer does not know what he needs. He only has the ultimate benefit in his mind. You, being the expert, can give him better options for reaching the same benefits.
These are some of the most basic questions that you should ask your customer during a requirement gathering exercise:
1) What is the objective of this eBook?
2) What is your target market?
3) How many pages should this eBook contain?
4) Are you driving any action from it?
5) What word count do you have in mind?
6) Do you want any visuals, info graphics etc. in this eBook?
7) Do you want to integrate any audio or video links in it?
8) What budget do you have in mind?
9) Any reference or sample eBooks you want me to have a look at?
These are only some of the questions that came to my mind. You may a different set of questions. But the aim should simply be to get as much detail of your client’s needs as possible.
Once you’re done with the requirement gathering exercise, develop a small scope document. This can be a simple email or a word document with basic information in it.
- Project Name
- Customer Name
- Project Objective
- Project Description
- Start Date
- End Date
- Planned Outcome
- Payment Details (Mode, Dates, Frequency etc.)
Also include a project update frequency in case your project is spread over a long duration. For example, you can tell the customer that you will send him a weekly update on the status of the project through email. This will help you resolve unnecessary communication issues. Do include a small Next Action Items section so that your customer knows what’s next.
Your basic scope document is ready! Send it over to your customer, get an approval and start working!
Don’t be rigid using these techniques. The objective is to clarify the expectations of your customers so focus on ensuring that.
This is precisely where a scope document comes to help. Scope creep occurs when a customer starts realizing over time that he needs to alter his requirements slightly. But when many such small changes combine, they drag the project completely into a different direction.
For example, apart from writing the eBook, the customer also asks you to develop the title design. He then asks you to include a few affiliate links in different locations of the eBook. Then he wants you to post the links to this eBook on different social media websites and forums.
Isn’t that Good for You?
As a writer, I would welcome most of these additions as they present unique earning opportunities and would potentially give me a chance to become the one window solution to all my customers’ needs.
But this has to be done carefully. Just keep this simple relationship in mind before committing any new deliverables
Scope – Cost – Time
It’s a simple relationship. If any one of these factors changes, it will have an impact on the other two. For example, if the scope is changed it will naturally change the time required to deliver the project and will also change the estimated costs.
If the customer changes the size of the eBook from 10 pages to 20 pages, it naturally means that you will either have to increase the end date (time) of your project which will also increase the costs or if the costs are kept constant, then you will need to reduce the quality of your content. I hope you get the point. Scope creep can drift you away from your intended project deliverables and estimated timelines.
I resolve this through change management. This is another project management concept where you simply log every change that occurs in the initial project scope and accommodate its impact on your project You notify your customer about every change and keep him in loop about the impact on project timelines and costs.
Project Closure – Might Open New Doors!
Don’t just complete projects and forget your customers. Focus on making them loyal customers. A great way of doing that, is by sending over a short Project Closing email to your customer.
The typical contents of this email can include a comparative analysis of the following parameters,
- Project Objective and Project Results
- Planned Duration and Actual Duration
- The final delivered product
- A short note on lessons learned
- Recommendations for future (if any)
- A thank you note
- Request for a testimonial (important for you)
- Payment Due Date (a soft reminder 🙂 )
This doesn’t need to be very long. 1-2 lines for each part are more than enough. The objective is to let the customer know that he’s dealing with a professional who knows about his work and would be willing to help in future as well. This would also serve as a very good record for your own progress tracking.
Back to Reality
I know that most writers do not use these practices and many might consider them as unnecessary and time consuming. I would partially agree. I do not recommend using the identical techniques I’ve mentioned. Instead, have a good look at them and ask yourself if adopting any of them will help you improve your productivity and professional outlook. Mold them according to your own needs. These are supporting exercises to help you manage your work better. So do make sure that they remain supportive practices and do not take bulk of your time.
Templates and Resources
I have a few templates that can work for writers but I would personally not recommend using them. The reason is simple. I do not want supporting activities to take the center-stage!
Instead, I’m planning to design a few simplified templates just to give you an idea of how writers can use them effectively without much hassle. I’ll add them here pretty soon.
Do let me know in the comments section if you found this guide useful or if you feel there’s anything important that I’ve missed.