Welcome to the fifth blog in our 6-blog series all about systems in your creative business. Each week we’ll dig into a different system and the specific software and SOPs you can implement to bring efficiency and consistency into all aspects of your business. We’ve already explored financial, marketing, and sales systems. Here you’ll learn how to create a project management system that allows you to successfully balance your internal and client-facing projects. Next week I’ll also help you create systems for file and asset management & organization. This is a sister series that goes hand-in-hand with my previous Rhythms Series.
Quick Disclosure: Several links within this blog are affiliate links, which means when you click the link and make a purchase, it won’t cost you more, but I may receive a commission for sharing this with you. I promise I only ever share what I use and love, so I’d be sharing these with you anyway!
Does keeping up with all the tasks, timelines, and responsibilities in your business feel mind-boggling?!
For me, I know things are going off the rails when I find myself swimming in a sea of brightly colored post-it notes.
No matter what kind of business you run, (service-based, product-based, or a hybrid of the two) you likely have a variety of projects, initiatives, and things to keep up with that are both client-facing, and internal.
You’d think that it would be easier to oversee a small business with fewer people, projects, and tasks. But more often than not, the opposite is true!
Larger companies often have more robust resources and dedicated teams needed to address all the different aspects of a project. But small businesses have to be a bit more scrappy as they work to remain as lean as possible without sacrificing efficiency and quality.
That’s where a Project Management System steps in!
In this blog, my goal is to introduce you to what a Project Management System is and why it is so beneficial whether you’re a team of one or many. You’ll learn about the “Big 3” every Project Management System needs, the types of free and paid software you can use to optimize your system, as well as SOPs you may choose to build out to avoid starting from scratch every time you take on a new project!
A Project Management system helps you manage both your internal and external projects so you can keep track of ALL THE THINGS.
COO Tip: Project management is often shortened to “PM” so if you see that term in general (including here) just know, it’s all the same thing, but less of a mouthful!
Ideally, it can replace (or in my case, incorporate) that mountain of sticky notes accumulating on your desk. If that sounds all too familiar–trust me I get it.
Running a creative business is complex!
There are a lot of moving pieces, and if you aren’t careful this can lead to overwhelm, or worse yet, important tasks falling through the cracks more often than not.
When you take the time to put a project management system in place, it’s easier for you to oversee your projects without going crazy trying to keep it all in your head or piece it all together.
Especially early on, or if you’re a solo team of one, putting a project management system in place may seem unnecessary.
So many freelancers (or businesses of one) try to go without a PM system.
But, I am telling you right now, that is doing you a huge disservice!
A sound project management system will:
So you can stop trying to keep everything organized in your already overloaded brain!
This is exactly how a strong PM system helped one of my COO clients:
This team of 6 had been working together for over 2 years and hadn’t put a PM system in place, believing they were too small of a group to need one!
Their “process” at the time, involved a hodgepodge of emails and phone calls that felt impossible to track, document, or keep up with! This made it really hard for them to keep things moving forward which often led to miscommunication, delayed timelines, and extra (unnecessary) work that left team members feeling burnt out and frustrated!
In addition, their internal projects always stalled out and got lost in the shuffle of the work they were doing to actually serve their clients and produce their offers.
Once we started working together, I knew a PM system could be the difference for this small, passionate, and talented team!
And so, we got started right away, putting one in place. Once it was up and running this system allowed the team to see the bigger picture when it came to the business as a whole AND each of their projects.
Because all tasks, responsibilities, and timelines were in one place and easy to access, they were able to eliminate redundancies altogether, minimizing their conflicts. Their updated PM system improved communication, and made decision-making a breeze because they had clear data to inform those choices!
Ultimately, after getting a PM system in place, each team member told me they felt they had more control and peace of mind
Basically, it keeps everything “on the rails” so you don’t have to worry about projects going off track or falling through the cracks.
Your PM system should allow you to see the big picture of your business as a whole, but also zoom in on the details of each individual project you have going on.
This becomes your “single point of truth” which is ONE place where projects and all their details and information live.
Having a “single point of truth” ensures that everyone on your team (even if it’s just you!) knows where to look for information and trusts that it is the most up-to-date instead of relying on your memory or clunky organization where details get overlooked or harmful assumptions are made!
Not only will this offer you peace of mind, but it is also essential for your clients and their overall customer experience – especially if you work directly with clients. A successful Project Management system ensures you can complete your projects, on time, within budget, and in scope.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved!
Now it’s time for YOU to start to think about what your Project Management System will look like in your creative business.
If you’re wondering where to start, I’ve got you covered!
Often a simple but strategic spreadsheet is your best tool when you’re starting out.
But in this case, it takes two! You will want to build out two TYPES of spreadsheets.
If your Master Project Spreadsheet is like looking at your whole business through binoculars to get the big picture, your Project Plan spreadsheets are like looking at each project through a microscope to see all the tiny details.
In each PROJECT PLAN SPREADSHEET, you’ll outline all the nitty gritty details of that project. Essentially, this is where all the info you need will live such as who the client is (this can be YOU for internal projects), what the project is, and more!
COO Tip: You can link to this from your Master Project Spreadsheet to make it easier to access!
These are the essential Project Management pieces that you absolutely NEED to manage for each project to make your projects successful.
Beyond The Big 3, you might choose to also track your tasks, deliverables, versions, changes, client requests, and even issues or bugs.
COO Tip: You can adjust your project plan spreadsheets according to the type of projects you are managing and what is most important for you to track to keep the projects running smoothly and effectively!
I highly urge you to set up a project plan spreadsheet for each of your projects and start using them BEFORE you feel you need them. Proactive is the name of the game because it doesn’t take much for things to pile up and quickly snowball, making projects incredibly difficult to manage and get back on track.
As with your other business systems, you may reach a point where you outgrow your simple PM spreadsheets.
At this point, it will be time to explore Project Management software options!
PM software can take your system to a whole new level by offering:
I find Trello to be a useful project management tool. It’s visual in nature and allows you to manage a variety of projects, oversee workflows, and track tasks. Trello does offer paid upgrades, but the basic version is often all you need– especially early on!
If you are looking for a more robust PM software I highly recommend:
*links provided so you can check ‘em out!
It’s also worth noting that some CRM (Client Relationship Management) software will also include PM capabilities. So depending on your needs and the software you already have in place, you may even be able to adopt one tool to manage multiple pieces of your business.
Lastly, communication software can also improve the efficiency of your project management system.
Using tools like these makes it easier to keep clients, vendors, team members, and outsourced professionals in the loop every step of the way (and as a bonus, it keeps your inbox wayyyyy tidier).
Once you’ve decided what your project management needs are and which software you will use to manage and oversee these projects, it’s time to put our trusty SOPs in place.
Remember, SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures. They are straightforward, detailed instructions on how to carry out your systems.
Onboarding a New Client
Consider what information your new client will need to get started as well as what info you need from them before your work together begins.
Initiating a New Project
Once you’ve onboarded your new client, you need to get the new project in motion! Think about who is responsible for each stage of the process. What tasks will need to occur? Outline every step to avoid starting from scratch each and every time.
How and when will you communicate internally among your team and externally with your client or other stakeholders (and how will you make sure they are aware?). It’s important to put clear expectations and boundaries in place.
If you are a service-based business like a graphic designer or a copywriter, it’s important to identify where deliverables will be shared with the client, vendors, and team members (as things are handed over in stages).
Finally, think through how you will close out the project to end your work together on a positive note. What information needs to be delivered to the client? Be sure to also consider gathering information like client testimonials and feedback so that you can continue to improve your customer experience! Plus, you may get some awesome reviews to share in your marketing!
With these SOPs clearly mapped out, you’ll feel prepared, confident, and organized going into any project. Whether you’re prepping for something you and your team are working on behind the scenes or a new client project, you’ll never have to start from scratch or worry about miscommunication along the way! You’ll feel polished and professional in any situation!
You now have all the information you need to start building out your own cohesive, organized Project Management System. And while you can totally “DIY” it, sometimes it’s helpful to have the insight of a trusted guide who’s been there, done that to shine a light and lead the way.
If you’re looking for more support as you create your PM system and all of the systems in your business, look no further than my self-paced course (coming SOON!). It’s focused on helping you build a strong foundation for your business so that you can create a business you love that loves you back!
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