105: How to organize projects and client work
Listen to the podcast:
How to organize projects and client work
Read the episode transcript:
In the intro, I shared that the Simplify & Multiply show is a practical, tactical podcast. This episode is going to speak more to that so you can implement best practices and improve the processes you have to get your client projects done faster and more efficiently. If you’ve listened from the intro episode, you might of have figured out that yes, I am an organization freak. Let me stop for a second, because sometimes I get chastised for using harsh or negative words to describe myself. I unconsciously used the word freak because it’s like I’m ashamed that I love being organized. Is that true? I don’t know. But here’s the deal. Everybody’s different. Some people are natural organizers like myself, others are the total opposite and can’t seem to find their way out of a paper bag. And there is every degree in between those two extremes. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s okay. It doesn’t serve you (or me for that matter) to be ashamed of where you’re at on the spectrum. Even the most (or worst) organized can learn new ideas that help them be even better organizers so they can be more productive and make their business more profitable. Or, at least gain more joy from the act of getting, being and feeling organized.
And that’s what it really is, organized is a feeling. When you think about being organized, what comes to mind? Does it stress you out because you associate it with a to-do list? Does it fill you with dread because you just aren’t naturally a logical, organized thinker? That you like to fly by the seat of your pants and wing it? Or does it get you excited because you know that getting yourself organized—even just one small aspect of your life like scheduling workouts—will check that mental box and free up your mind to more enjoyable things? Like you’ve taken care of it and don’t have to devote mental hand-wringing over it?
Everything we think and do has an emotional component. When we see something, we think something and that stirs an emotion. We see someone stop to save a turtle from imminent death as it tries to cross a busy road and have several emotions: first there’s fear, “Is he gonna get hit? Watch out for cars!” Then, once the turtle is returned to the grassy hill facing away from the road and back to the pond, there’s an emotion of relief. Upon reflection, there may be an emotion of love or empathy toward the person who saved the turtle. In those few seconds, our thoughts stirred several emotions. [Turtle story] [Sheryl and I are animal lovers.]
So if emotions are tied to thoughts we think, what are they really telling us? I’m not going to get into the depths of the thought-emotion conversation, however, I know that if I feel a certain way, good or bad, it’s because of what I’m thinking about any given topic. We’re often unaware of our thoughts, but we can swiftly become aware of our emotions, especially if they hit extremes. So when it comes to being organized, what emotions do you have when you think about it as it relates to your business?
In my case, you’d think they’d be all positive emotions because I am, after all, a self-proclaimed organizational ninja. Yeah, I like that better than freak. Let’s go with that from now on. “ORGANIZATIONAL NINJAHHHHH—fwomp!!!!” [Big Bang Theory episode with Leonard and Penny: “Romance Ninjah!”]
But in fact, when I think about getting organized or being organized, I usually have negative emotions because I’m feeling disorganized and distracted by either things I need to do—like I client project—or distracted by a visual mess around me, like a pile of dishes in the kitchen sink that I opted not to deal with after a meal. I may feel agitated, unsettled, rushed, frustrated or any number of emotions because I’m thinking, “I have to get this done.” So there is mental hand wringing going on where in the back of my mind there is this nagging to-do item that I just can’t let go.
When it comes to doing projects and client work, that takes priority, right? You worked hard to get the client engagement and now it’s time to do the work. To apply your skills, talents, experience and capability to help them solve their problems. However, if you have things nagging at you or distractions such as email interruptions, marketing tasks, bookkeeping, planning travel, ordering supplies, or even other client projects with deadlines, you have to work especially hard to create time to get it all done with the right mental state to bring your best work to your clients.
You could be in a situation like I am where I am an implementer and a creator. I make things that require time and effort. Or, you could be in a time-for-money model where you are seeing clients or coaching them one-on-one or you have to be on-site leading workshops or doing consultative work for you client at their location. Whatever your business model, I’m here to give you ideas on how you can get more organized, be more efficient and still bring your best work to your clients.
Because I’m a tactical person in my business, I not only direct my team, meet with clients and do my own marketing and content creation, I am also writing, designing and developing strategies for my clients. I have learned several hard lessons—and still struggle with some because I enjoy doing the creative so much when I should delegate more to my team (I’m my own worst enemy there)—about getting client project work done with quality and on time. Let me help you avoid the hard lessons I’ve had to learn by giving you these ten things that will help you get more organized and focused when it comes to projects and client work.
Plan your day. Use a planning system, whatever you do, make it work. I use a Franklin Planner and for projects I use believe it or not, Post-It notes. I put one bite-sized task on a Post-It note and either stick them in my Franklin or on my computer monitor so the task is “in my face” and I get it done. But what I’ve found the most effective is to create time slots for client project work. Depending on your business, you should be able to do this easily. Just stick to it and know how long things take to do so you can lather, rinse and repeat. Business is all about efficiency, and that’s how you increase profitability—by improving your processes and doing things better, faster.
Build a team and delegate the tasks you can. Do only the work you excel at. Train others to take on administrative tasks, production tasks, even junior “you’s” who can do a less experienced version of what you do. Be consistent and structured about it, document roles, processes and treat everyone democratically, especially if you’re working with subcontractors, freelancers or virtual assistants. When you have a virtual workforce, it is easy for the quality of your work to become inconsistent and drop off due to lack of checks and balances. Make sure that your team is equipped with the right information, boundaries and structure to be successful.
Negotiate timelines with your clients. It’s critical to manage the expectations of your clients. When you take on a client project or engagement, there will be an expectation that they will have on when things will be done. From as simple as an appointment for a coaching session to the creation of a custom training workshop delivered at your client’s workplace. Communication is critical when you are managing the expectations of your client. Give them a timeline. If you are committed to a deliverable by a certain date and know you’re not going to make it, reach out to your client and tell them. Have a solution or alternative ready to offer them. They don’t need to know all the details (unless they ask), just be prepared to work with them to adjust your deadline and then get it done.
Use project management software. If your business has hard deliverables such as assessments, assets, studies, or other projects that require time to create as well as multiple people such as you, your team, your client’s team, to complete, try project management software. There are many, such as BaseCamp, Trello, Podio, even Microsoft Project. Google that stuff to find out which project management software is right for you if you have a team, need client interaction with your projects or have iterative cycles.
Have systems and templates. This is important whether you are a true solopreneur and work totally by yourself or if you have a team. Create systems, processes and template how you do any task that you do more than once. This is the “McDonald’s” success plan. For example, I have a client intake series that is totally digital. So every new client that comes on, I don’t have to personally interview them to get a good understanding of their business goals. I shot a video introduction that facilitates the intake, send them a link, and they fill it out on their own time. Having this part of my onboarding process digitized saves me hours every week.
Don’t scope creep on your own stuff. This is something I am one hundred percent guilty of because I haven’t systematized every aspect of my business. Plus, many of my clients require a degree of customization that takes me out of my processes, which ironically, should be built into my processes. But I never said I was perfect. We’re all learning together, right? So what I mean by this is that you don’t create work for work’s sake. This term “Scope Creep” comes from the IT world where you have a project that has a clearly defined scope, basically exactly what you’re delivering to your client. Scope creep is typically when the client wants to add something or as the project is progressing, they decide they want to change something. Any good IT firm will issue a “CHANGE ORDER” which has associated costs to it because it is in fact, increasing the work load and also will impact the delivery date. That’s one form of scope creep. The other is when you do it to yourself, which I am guilty of doing quite often. Because I get so engrossed in the success of my clients, I often overdeliver and add “freebies” to the work I’m doing. The problem with that is that I end up missing deadlines, getting overwhelmed with too much work that I can’t necessarily delegate, and run the risk of “spoiling the client” where they expect this level of labor for all things. Don’t do it to yourself.
Stay connected with your client. Keep your client abreast of your progress and ask for help if you run into challenges, such as if the project wasn’t scoped out properly or you ran into a snag and need to renegotiate the deliverable or timeline.
Ship it. Don’t spend endless hours perfecting something. I do this because I enjoy polishing. But it is one of my weaknesses because it makes me busier and unproductive. Get it done and ship it. Pretend you’re Lucy on the chocolate line.
Balance your project loads. Many of my projects are multi-faceted and start with a plan that includes branding, website design, sales funnel design, social media post scheduling, content marketing creation and maintenance and more. So what I do is use a Post-It note for each component of the overall project. It’s sort of like checkboxes that I can tick off when each Post-It note task or element of the overall project is done. How can you compartmentalize and balance your projects so you can do a little of each, maybe even simultaneously? If your work requires you to stay focused over a longer period until you’re finished, make sure you are able to block out that amount of time to do what you need to do.
Learn to say no to the right projects. Nuff said. If you find yourself getting too busy to get things done when they should be done or when you committed to getting them done, you need to say no to work that you can’t squeeze into your already packed schedule. Now, saying no doesn’t mean you’ve missed an opportunity. If someone really wants to work with you, they will wait for you to be ready for them, as long as it’s within reason. I have heard new clients say, “Oh, I don’t want to market because I’ll get too busy.” And that always blows my mind because isn’t that the goal of being in business? To grow? To make more money? Yes! And it’s all doable when you stay organized and focused on running your business simply.
There are ten things you can think about when it comes to being more organized and focused on your projects and client work. The actionable for this episode is for you to assess your business and client work on each of the ten items to see where you can improve your efficiency and get more done. When you are able to produce more in less time, you can earn more and increase the profitability of your business. To me, that’s why we work on things like this and increase our efficiencies and organization. Our businesses deserve no less!