Tips on how to manage client workload effectively

Following on from the previous post on Process makes perfect, I’d like to delve into managing your workload. If you don't have some sort of system in place and suddenly you land 30 jobs at once you're going to feel overwhelmed. 

When I started at Navig8 I was fresh out of university where everyone had the same deadlines so it was easy to go through the stages of design with your friends. Working for yourself or a small company won't give you this luxury. Everybody is responsible for different projects, and it's on you to hit the deadlines.

So let's take a print project to work on as an example. We are given a brief for an annual review. When you get the brief you'll see (or should see) when the client wants the project in their hands. You have another 20 jobs on the go already – some small and medium projects, this one being you're biggest at the moment.

These are the things you're going to have to nail down with the client straight away:

Create a schedule together
Include deadlines for things like: 
Receiving all content from the client
Initial design concepts
Feedback from client
Refined design concept/s
Getting the go ahead on the design
First full-proof
Client proofread and feedback
Design and text revisions
Client second set of revisions
Design and text revisions
Client’s final set of revisions
Implementing the revisions
Client sign off
Artworking
Printing
Delivery
Questions to keep in mind when creating this schedule can include: 
Will you be working from any set brand guidelines or are you creating the look and feel from scratch?
Are photos or illustrations going to be supplied or will you have to go hunting for relevant imagery?

Figure out a print spec. 
Are there going to be any special finishing techniques used? What stock? Approximately how many pages will the final document be? Final quantity? 
Whilst getting this spec together for the printers’ estimates, we can also get an estimated turn-around time from them. 

At Navig8 we use this little template for our print rep to fill out and return to us with the price:
Schedule in working days:

Day 1: Artwork
Day x: Digital proof
Day x: Authors (if required)
Day x: PDF of Authors (if required)
Day x: On press/finishing
Day x: Despatch to Navig8 file copy for approval
Day x: Despatch to client
Day x: Delivery
Total working days:

Agree costs before starting
So now we have a time-frame. This is where we have to dance between projects, setting priorities correctly and using the time that projects are with clients efficiently.

I'd say that this took me a good two years to get right and figure out what worked best for me. Everybody's different, so I'm not going to tell you my exact process. What's important is finding a way to help you clearly see where projects are at and remembering things. Whilst also remembering to keep track of your time.

I've tried various things to help with this – using a pad and pencil I would cross jobs off at certain stages. This used to work when I only managed 10 projects but when that list grows it became useless as I'd spend quite a lot of my morning re-making the list with little notes next to them. It was a mess and it got confusing very quickly. I still use a pad and pencil but only for that day’s jobs. Finding Trello (Trello.com) has made lists easy to see and use. This is my mother ship if you will. I've set myself 5 lists and within each list is a card for each job that I can just drag and drop to the following stages, they're all colour coded too so that I can quickly scan through them.

Working on
Waiting content
Sent to client
Signed off / Ready to send artwork
Being printed / Developed

In the ‘working on’ list, there's an average of about 6–7 active jobs a day, so these and 'Signed off / Ready to send artwork' are what I prioritise for the day. I can artwork and send to print quickly enough, it helps to have somebody else to check through the artwork though. The other lists are just useful to look through every now and then to chase clients and checking delivery dates. Chasing clients shows that you're being pro active and reminds them that the job is on hold and with them (but chasing once a week is enough).

So go and finish those 'Working on' jobs and then treat yourself to a beer without worrying about some forgotten project.

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