Do you find yourself questioning whether the last freelance project was profitable or wondering why scope creep is, well, creeping?
In “Designing Your Process (For Fun and Profit),” Chris Ford of Creativity Included highlights some of her learning experiences from her year on the job as a project manager.
— Bridget Willard (@YouTooCanBeGuru) July 9, 2016
Though her talk featured many productivity tools and tricks specific to design and the design thinking and process, the one insight that stuck out to me is this:
You can’t improve unless you measure.
What should you measure?
Why track your time? It seems lame, inconvenient, or just plain stupid.
Put it this way. Would you join a weight loss support group and never use a scale? No. We measure to understand progress. It’s the same with time tracking. The time tracking software she recommends is Frekle.
Chris recommends tracking as detailed as you can (15 minutes to do task x). This way, you can understand what takes the most or least amount of time.
Being disorganized can be a time suck. Meaning, if you have to play the game “Where’s that tool?” then you waste time looking for things instead of working. And then, you’ve wasted not just time, but your mental energy which is one of the most valuable resources to a creative.
“Chaos doesn’t let you spend your time on design thinking because your brain is busy thinking, ‘where is that file.’” Chris Ford
Communication is an organizational tool.
Writing things down, concise communication, and trust are all ways to reinforce and manage expectations with clients and within your team.
“Making your job harder than it should be” is something that Chris advises against — from experience. She recounts her aversion to Excel / Google sheets but once she realized the formulas would save her time and allow the program to perform the math for you.
What things are you stubborn about but actually distract and cause you to waste your time?
How does Time Tracking prevent scope creep?
It may not prevent clients trying to gain more work, but it should help you better estimate your project. This resonated with me because of my 15 years’ of experience in construction accounting. With tight profit margins in construction, you make or lose money by how efficiently you schedule the work. Time tracking and detailed cost tracking per job is the key.
How much does your time cost you?
Although there is a trend to charge by value and not by hour (which we agree with), you still need to know your cost. Your time is valuable. Figure out how much you need to make per hour. Then calculate how much to add for self-employment tax.
Don’t forget to add your cost of healthcare. Add in your monthly overhead and divide that by the number of hours you intended to work (40 x 4.25 is standard). If you have personal liability insurance add in that cost, too. This is how much you cost your own freelancing agency per hour.
Now add in the percentage of profit you want. That’s the minimum price you should charge per hour. Now, you are in a position to estimate the contract by the value you’re adding.
What’s the cause of death?
No matter how many gold stars your CPA will give you for accurate and thorough job costing, if you don’t look backward at jobs and “do a post mortem,” as Chris suggests, you won’t know what went wrong. The key insight to looking back, however, is empathy.
Chris is a believer in empathy given to people and yourself. If someone did a good job, tell them. If you’re burnt out, take care of yourself. She explains how her experiences were great teachers. Chris Ford’s encouragement to freelancers and small agencies is to have a whole-life-balance. Exercise, eating well, sleeping. They all matter. You deserve to take a break. Creative work needs downtime.
Are things getting better?
Measure. Look back at your projects that performed well. What did you do right? How was the client communication good? How many other projects were you doing at the same time?
Don’t be afraid to analyze your process to make it better — for you, for your team, for your clients.
- You can’t improve if you don’t know where you are.
- You can’t go forward if you don’t have a starting point.
- Post mortems on past projects allow you to better estimate new projects.
- Correctly define the problem to come to an agreed solution.
You can watch the talk on WordPress.tv.