Creative Spotlight: How to Set Up a Project Management System

As a freelance writer, you need to set up a streamlined project management system to keep track of earnings, project deadlines, and progress on personal goals, such as submitting book proposals and writing blog posts for your website. As you secure more clients, each will have their own unique processes for you to follow. Maybe they will just send you assignments through your email as an attachment or they might have their own order management interface for you to work with. To keep track of your work for all of these clients, you need a project management system that works for freelance writers.

A great project management system for freelance writers has two components. First, you need a place to keep track of earnings, project overviews, deadlines, and project statuses. This will be called your “Order Database.” Second, you need somewhere to keep track of the details for all of these projects and their individual tasks alongside your own writing projects. This will be called your “Project Management Platform.” Using both of these tools will keep your freelance life organized with the least amount of steps.

How to Set Up an Order Database

Freelance writer working on the go.

Image via Flickr by eelke dekker

An Order Database is where you list all of your projects, their compensation, deadlines, and when you completed them. You only list client projects that have compensation attached to them, as well as any relevant details you’d need to keep track of. You can use a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet as your Order Database, or use a Google Sheet so you have access to it no matter what computer or mobile device you use.

You need a column for:

  • Client – This is your client’s name or company name. You want to know how much work they’re sending you and how much they financially impact your business. Make sure to write this the same way each time so you don’t create duplicate records for the same client.
  • Client Identifier – Some clients have their own numbering or project naming system. For instance, the ABC Corporation (the Client) wants you to work on Project Alpha (the Client Identifier). When you send out invoices, you want to refer to the client’s identifyer, so their accounting department knows how your work relates to their internal projects. It’s simple to keep track of this information in your order database.
  • Due Date – This is the date, time, and time zone that the project is actually due to the client.
  • Status – The status is the stage the project is in. You want to be able to know what’s going on with every project at a quick glance.
    • NOT STARTED – You’ve been assigned this project but haven’t started working on it.
    • IN PROGRESS – You’re working on this project. You may have completed some research or started writing the first draft.
    • TO INVOICE – It’s ready to invoice.
    • INVOICED – You’ve sent the invoice, but you haven’t been paid yet.
    • COMPLETED – You’ve been paid for the project.
  • Date Assigned – You can use this field to keep track of when your client sent the work to you or when you want to work on the project.
  • Date Completed – This is the date you turned the project into the client.
  • Topic or Job Title – This field is where you keep track of the details about the job, such as how many pages it is, the blog topic, etc.
  • Compensation – This is how much you’re being paid for the project. If a project grows or you get royalties, you can update this field accordingly.
  • Notes – You can add any relevant details here such as if the project is the first project for a particular client.

You can turn on the filter setting to only see the most relevant projects you need. Filter out the “Completed” status to see only current projects. You only need to see “To Invoice” projects when it’s time to invoice. If you need to check to see if any clients haven’t paid you, you can filter the status to “Invoiced” to confirm.

You can also sort the project by due date or print a copy of the spreadsheet for a quick view of what’s due. If you only rely on your clients’ order management systems, it’s very easy to forget deadlines you have for one client while you work for another. Having a centralized order database ensures you don’t overlook an important deadline because of all of the details.

How to Set Up a Project Management Platform

Your Project Management Platform is where you actively work on your projects broken down by task, as well as non-client items, such as novel writing and paying estimated quarterly taxes. You can organize these tasks by client or individual project into separate to-do lists. When you look at the date view for your projects, they’ll show up in the right order.

There are many different free Project Management Platforms available. You want a system that has a free smartphone app, so you can see all of your to-dos on the go. BasecampTeamworkProducteev, and Asana are all free project management software programs for freelance writers that work great for this application. Each offers unique features and limitations for the free version, so you’ll need to figure out which works best for your unique situation. These particular suggestions are targeted toward Basecamp.

When you get a new client, add details about the terms to the Docs & Files section of your Basecamp so you’ll have payment terms, their processes, and log-ins accessible from a centralized place. Whenever you get a new project, you should add it to your Order Database. Next, you should “Make another list” for the project in the To-dos section of Basecamp where you can breakdown the project by individual tasks, such as researching the topic, finding relevant quotes from sources, writing a first draft, and proofreading.

Since each project requires different steps, you want to list these out in your Project Management Platform, not your Order Database, as you don’t want to have too much detail in your Order Database that you miss deadlines hidden in the task lists.

If you use the Reports feature of Basecamp, you can see what project tasks you need to do each day by clicking on “What’s coming up or due soon?” You can use this as your daily task list to keep ahead of your project deadlines. If you end up hiring an assistant some day, you can use Basecamp to assign and keep track of her to-dos, too, since the free edition allows you to have an unlimited amount of users.

In your Project Management Platform, you should keep track of all of your to-dos, even the ones that don’t have compensation yet. For instance, if a publisher asks you to send a book proposal about a certain topic. You don’t have a firm deadline or any expectation of compensation. You should still add it to your to-do list in your Project Management Platform so you don’t forget it. When the payment terms are set, you can add it to your Order Database as a COMPLETED project. Each day, week, or month, you can use your Order Database to see how well you are doing in terms of profitability and productivity by totaling up the work you’ve completed.

About the author

Melanie Green

Melanie Green is a freelance writer and editor living in Tampa, Florida. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from National University and her Bachelor of Arts in Writing from the University of Tampa. She's freelanced full-time since she quit her writing job at Nielsen in 2012. You can find her work on a variety of websites including Medium, Buzzfeed, and LinkedIn.