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7.0 Management

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Notion Dashboard

Notion template that you can use to manage leads and track projects.

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Notion Dashboard Walkthrough

Video walkthrough of how to use the notion dashboard.

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8.0

Growth

8:14

Video Transcript:

We’re going to talk about management in a few different capacities - Managing leads, managing your time, managing deliverables, managing communication, and managing your brand.

You are your own boss, and you have to manage every aspect of your job. I try to think of the type of manager I would want to have if I worked for someone else - I would want a manager who was supportive, and listened to me, and empowered me to do my best work. And as hard as it may be, I try to be that person for myself. Internal motivation is really important as a freelancer, because you often won’t have anyone else telling you what to do. In this section, I’m going to talk about the ways in which I manage myself, to hopefully give you some ideas when it comes to managing yourself.

Managing Leads

In the finding clients and winning work chapter, we talked a lot of about making yourself visible so that you have more people inquiring to work with you. But what do you do when they actually get in touch? Managing your leads is key - it’s the first touchpoint a potential client will have with you, and it’s an opportunity to educate them and share your personality. I recorded a bonus video walking you through the notion dashboard that accompanies this course - in that video I go through the lead pipeline that I use to keep track of all of my inquiries. I’d encourage you to go watch that video after this, so you can see how these steps come into play practically. There are five main steps in managing your leads.

Make it easy to contact you

  • When a client goes to your profile or website anywhere on the internet, there should be a clear way to contact you. This is usually either an email or a form, or sometimes both. For the first 2.5 years I freelanced, I simply listed my email on my website, and clients got in touch that way. I also fielded inquiries in my DM’s across instagram and twitter. The important thing here is to ask yourself, if someone wants to work with me, can they easily get in contact?
  • I have since moved to a form on my website for two reasons. I didn’t want to have my email listed publicly anymore, and I wanted to automate inquiries into my lead pipeline in notion. The form is built on my Webflow site and includes questions around the type of work they’re inquiring about, their ideal timeline, and their budget. I only added the budget question recently to try to help weed out lower budget work. In this way, the form acts as an educational piece to show what my budget ranges are for work. A budget question may cause friction for someone submitting the form - I wanted that friction, but if you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to inquire, I would skip it and ask for their budget over email or on your intro call. If you get to a point where you are really busy and can be selective about your work, adding the budget question upfront can be an efficient way to filter projects.

First communication

  • When someone inquires about work, how you respond will set the tone for the rest of your communication. In the first year, I tried to respond to inquiries as soon as possible. I’m a fan of the inbox zero method, so I always try to clear messages as soon as they come in. Responding to someone right away shows that you’re attentive and efficient.
  • I usually have three types of responses to new inquiries. First, if they provide enough detail and I know immediately the work isn’t for me, I say no thanks and try to direct them to a directory or referral. Second, if they provide some detail but I’m not sure that I’m interested, I’ll ask for more information before inviting them to get on a call. This could be asking clarifying questions about what services they’re looking for, their budget, or their timeline. Lastly, if I know that I’m interested and available I will immediately invite them to book a call with me so that we can talk further.
  • I like to use a calendar booking app like Calendly so that there is less back and forth to book a time. Some people don’t like these kinds of links, but I want to be respectful of a client’s time, and that means being efficient with their time. Links are efficient. There are lots of similar tools out there that do this, and allow someone to pick a time on your calendar that works for them.

Introductory call

  • Once the client has booked a call, my goal is to chat with them to see if it’s a good fit for skills and personality. Talking to someone on video should give you a good idea if it’s a personality match, or if you generally vibe with this person and could see yourself working with them. I also want to ask clarifying questions about the project so I can determine if it’s a good skill fit. I usually ask them to tell me a bit about why they are doing this project now, what their main goals are, and who they want to work with. The intro call is usually 30-45 minutes.

Proposal

  • If the intro call went well, I will tell the client that I will prepare a proposal for them. I try to prepare and send the proposal within a week of the intro call, but sometimes faster if the timing depends on it. I recorded a separate bonus video with a walkthrough of my proposal template and a sample walkthrough that I usually send to clients. I like to send the PDF proposal and video walkthrough together, to give one more touchpoint to show my personality and process.

Onboarding

  • If the client accepts the proposal and wants to move forward, I will then send my contract and deposit invoice together with next steps to book our kickoff call.

When managing your leads, try to make it as easy as possible for someone to contact you, and provide clear steps throughout the initial stages of communication so that they know how to learn more and when they can expect to hear from you.

Managing deliverables

In the last section, we talked all about how the work is the most important thing you can do as a freelancer - doing good work has a huge influence on your growth. We talked about some of the frameworks I use to do good work, but honestly, a lot of it comes down to just doing what you said you would when you said you would. Managing deliverables as a freelancer is key to a successful practice.

I manage all of my deliverables on a monthly-view calendar. When I started freelancing, I did this in Asana. The biggest thing I liked about asana was that I could put all of my tasks on a calendar and colour-code them to a certain client. This gave me an easy at-a-glance view of my week and month, so I could plan accordingly for what I was going to do each day to meet the deadlines. I moved to Notion recently, but still use a calendar view as my main task management. In Notion I now have a studio pipeline, calendar, task database and client database.

I find it helpful to keep everything together in one tool, but the tool you choose doesn’t really matter. What matters most is that you pick a tool and stick to it for a significant period of time (6+ months). You will lose a lot of valuable time if you are always chasing the best new project management tool. They are all relatively similar, and none of them will completely automate your business. Work is still work. And you have to put in effort to plan, deliver, and manage work.

Whenever I get a new project, I break out all of the key milestones into individual tasks. Then I plot the task on my calendar. I think really well in this view, and it helps me conceptualize how long things will actually take. Another method may be better for you, you might have to try a few if you don’t already know what would likely be best. This calendar view helps me predict workflow, and now, I generally have a gut feeling of when things are too full. Generally I work on 2-3 projects at a time at full capacity. I learned this mostly through trial and error, taking on too much work and being too busy, and then stripping things back. I think this is kind of inevitable in your first year, that you will have periods of busyness followed by lulls. The work is in getting comfortable with the changing pace and knowing when to pull back.

I try to structure my weeks to have focus days for big projects, where I can work uninterrupted towards a deliverable. I complement that with days where my primary focus is on calls and smaller updates for past clients. I think it usually works out to 3-4 focus days and 1-2 busy days.

As a freelancer, you can set your own schedule, and it doesn’t have to be what corporate America deems to be standard. I work 6-7 days a week. You may want to work 3 or 4. The point is that you get to decide, and you can plan your schedule accordingly. You can work in the evenings or in the mornings or only on the weekends, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you get your work done for when you said you would, and you communicate your availability clearly with your client.

Managing your time

Your time is your most precious asset, and often as a freelancer you’ll feel like you never have enough of it. We’ve talked about how freelancing encompasses so many other things besides doing the actual work, and it’s so important to have strategies in place to manage your time. In the money chapter we talked about billable vs. non-billable time, and how your rate needs to cover both of these functions. The most accurate way to determine how much time you spend on each activity is to time track, and I would highly recommend that you take time tracing seriously in your first few years of work.

Time Tracking

Time tracking basically means that you record how long it takes you to do certain work, so that you have a record to reference in the future. Time tracking is beneficial to see how much billable time you actually work in a week, but also to see if the time you estimated to complete a piece of work was accurate. I was lucky that before I started freelancing, I was time tracking at my job. I knew that most design and development projects took me 60-70 hrs total to complete of billable time. I used those estimates initially when I went out on my own. If you don’t know how long a task is going to take you, give it your best guess, and then add a bit more time on top. If you time track, you can then compare the actual time spent vs. the estimated time, and make adjustments the next time you quote that kind of work. There will always be outliers in this process, work that you thought was going to take a long time and was super fast, and work you thought would be super fast and took a ton of time. Time tracking helps you better forecast these scenarios, so that you are more efficient with your time in the future.

I would recommend finding a tool like toggl or harvest that allows you to track time per activity or client. Especially if you are billing hourly, it’s important to have detailed records of the time you spend. If you don’t use software for this, you could also use a spreadsheet, but it’s a little bit hard to get started that way.

Time management

The specifics of how you manage your day to day time will mostly depend on how you like to work and what other obligations you have. Maybe you need to work at night to start, because you have a day job. Maybe you need to be done at 3pm to pick up your kids. Whatever constraints you have, you can work around them. I am not an early riser, so I’m generally at my desk my 9:30 or 10, and work until 6. I also like to work on the weekends because my husband works on the weekends, and I have the house to myself. I tried a lot of different things over the years to help me manage my time, but these are the things that I’ve benefited from the most.

  • Focus days: creative work needs room to breath. I find that if I need to create design concepts or do highly creative work, I like to schedule focus days where that’s my only priority. No calls. No other tasks. Just room to explore. I achieve this by trying to group my calls together on certain days, and have no call days. I generally meet with clients on Thursdays and Fridays, and try not to schedule any calls on Monday or Tuesday, but every week is slightly different. Having no call days also relieves stress, particularly as a woman, because I don’t have to fully get ready on those days and I can go without makeup and doing my hair. It’s a small thing, but those things take time and energy, and not having to ‘get ready’ makes me feel more calm.
  • Breathing room: I do my best work when I can work on something, let it sit for a day, and come back to it. I try to schedule this breathing room into my work so that I can have time to reflect on work before it goes to the client. This doesn’t always happen, and sometimes I am working on something until the minute it goes out. But generally, I try to work back from due dates to make sure I am working on something a few days before it needs to go out, so I have time to sit on it and reflect.
  • Pomodoro method: When I really need to get things done, my go-to strategy is the pomodoro method. Basically, it’s a timing system where you work on something for 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break where I usually get up from my desk, and every 4 intervals you get a longer 15 minute break. I find that this timing method helps create a false sense of urgency to finish something before the 20 minutes is up, and then I can restart. Days where I stick to the pomodoro method and wildly productive, but doing them all the time can be draining. Try different methods and see what works for you. You can google pomodoro method and find a bunch of timers that will work.

Managing Communication

Being a great design often comes down to talent. But one way to be a great freelancer that has nothing to do with talent, is good communication. I truly believe that anyone can be a good communicator, and it will make the world of difference in how your clients see you.

Be open and honest

Transparency builds trust. If you can be open and honest with your clients both in the highlights of a project and the challenges, you will earn their respect and their trust. What I mean by this is setting realistic timelines, scoping work within your skillset, finding collaborators for elements outside of your expertise, and hearing their feedback with an open mind.

Assume the best in others

I try to approach all of my communication assuming the best in the other party. If someone’s slack message seems to be in a rude tone, or short, I pause and think about how we can discuss the problem, instead of rushing to the defence. There are thousands of moving parts within any project, and if you’re approaching your communication from a place of negativity, you’re going to get hung up a lot of places being upset, or frustrated. I find if I try to assume the best in others, I’m more willing to try to find a solution rather than defend myself. Obviously, there are some cases where someone is being rude or unkind, and those should be brought up respectfully to resolve, but sometimes we read into things that aren’t there. Trying to avoid doing that can save you a lot of time and energy.

Weekly Meetings

I know not everyone agrees with this approach, but I like to schedule weekly meetings throughout design and development projects. I don’t always do this with dev-only work, but sometimes it can be useful there too. Particularly with design work, there can be a lot of feedback and nuance that may be difficult to gather over messages. I find regular facetime with my clients to be productive - it helps keep our progress on track and discussions open. For most projects, I work async, and my deliverables typically happen like this:

The day before the weekly meeting, I send over a message in email or slack reviewing the weeks deliverables. I typically record a 10-15 minute loom video overviewing everything and giving more context than the written message. At the outset of our project, I ask that my clients come prepared to our weekly meeting having reviewed the message and video, and then we have a full hour to discuss the deliverables, any initial feedback and any questions.

I watched a collaborator do this in a project once, and thought it was an amazing idea. It saves precious face-to-face time for conversation rather than presentation. We are all so busy, and a presentation doesn’t always require both parties to be live, but a conversation does.

You might find that this doesn’t work for you or your clients - I’ve had some clients who found it difficult to carve time out to watch the videos beforehand. So I would try out a few structures and see what works for you. I didn’t adopt this until much later in my second year of freelancing, and did live presentations my first year, and it was fine too.

After each weekly sync, I follow up with another message summarizing what we talked about, and list next steps for us to continue to make progress. I include any key links or documents I presented as well.

Managing your brand

Everything you do is an expression of your brand, and an opportunity to communicate your character to your client. I want to be friendly and kind with my clients, but let them know that I’m also smart and capable. It doesn’t matter what the interaction is, everything I put out can help further my brand persona.

I present myself in a very particular way because that is how I want people to see me. The wonderful thing about the internet is that you are in control of your own story. Whatever you decide that story is, you have an opportunity to tell it further every time you interact with a client or your community.

Be yourself

People want to work with people, and showing up as yourself at work can lead to stronger relationships for you and your client. What I mean by this, is that you don’t need to show up as a buttoned up, corporate speak robot. You are very likely not like that with your friends or family, so you don’t need to be at work either. Who you are as a person, your hobbies and interests, personality, are an asset and what make you stand apart. The best way I can frame it is, try to show up at work as the version of yourself that both your grandma would be proud of, and a younger version of yourself would be stoked on. Appropriate for all ages, but still cool, and still you.

Take pride in your image and voice

As much as your teacher told you not to judge a book by it’s cover, we all do it. I’m not saying this to make you think you need to dress a certain way or look a certain way, but just to be proud of the image you’re putting out to the world. Is your zoom background tidy? Do you look calm and put-together on calls? Do you speak with confidence and clarity?

A client won’t care if you show up to a call with a bed in your zoom background - we all have different office setups. But a client will care if you show up to that call with an unmade bed in the background, wearing your pyjamas, mumbling through your words. Your image is a cue to a client about your character, and you should take pride in the image that you’re putting out.

As we are so online, this also comes into how we show up on social media. Are you putting out posts that are positive, or are you complaining or critical of others? What you say online reveals a lot about who you are as a person, and clients will pick up on that as well.

Be protective of your reputation

We’ve talked about relationships and reputation in just about every chapter so far. And the reason I’m really focused on it, is because it is so important! You ARE your business, and what people think of you has a direct correlation to your potential for success. Your reputation is your most precious asset, and you need to protect it. In the same way that working with a brand people admire can help boost your reputation, the opposite is also true. This concept can apply to the type of clients that you work with, your collaborators, or even the tools that you use.

Managing yourself as a freelancer can be hard - there is so much to keep track of with the work alone, but you should also give effort to managing your communication and your brand.

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8.0

Growth

8:14

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