How To Simplify Your Workflow & Life

I know how much you guys love systems, the incredible response to this post tells me so! Having a process, pre-made documents, and a step-by-step to follow with each new project saves time, impresses clients & helps you keep your sanity innact. Well no matter how helpful my process has been for me since I implemented it, there is always room for improvement.

So today I want to share with you how I’m improving my workflow in 2014 to help you possibly do the same.

(If you haven’t read my big post about systems: check it out first here)

Basecamp for Freelancers

What Is Project Management Software?

It’s an online system where you can keep all your documents, to-do lists, due dates, feedback and communication with clients in one online place.

Why Using A Project Management System Will Make Your Life Easier

Ya’ know all those back and forth emails we’re trying to limit? With a PMS, you can say goodbye to that.

Ever had to send those “recap” emails re-stating to your client what needs to happen next and what you are waiting for? Au revoir.

How about having a bunch of photos, inspiration images, links to Pinterest boards, and word docs spread all over your desktop & inbox? No longer a problem. Up until now I was using Google Drive or Dropbox and asking the client to place all their files in one folder to share with me. Unfortunately, things still got lost in the mix.

Project Management Software Options

Basecamp: From the online greats at 37signals, Basecamp is straight-forward, quick to pick up, and easy for clients to use. After having shopped around a few of the options, I instantly fell in love with it. I’m currently on their free trial and plan on upgrading at the end. Starting at $20 a month, it is an investment, but one I am thinking will be well worth it.

Asana:  Another very popular PMS, that has a free plan. I’ve heard from some writer friends that they prefer the features for text in Asana better than Basecamp. So I think it definitely depends on what kind of freelance work you do.

Trello: I’ve heard many people use and love Trello. It is also free, so definitely worth checking out. But at first glance on the backend, I found it not as intuitive or organized.

MiniGroup: Used mainly as a group communication software, but I haven’t tried myself. Apparently it is very Facebook like, which could make it easier on your clients to get used to.

I recommend testing out a few and see how you like them. That’s the great thing about free plans or free trials.

Why I Love Basecamp

For those interested in Basecamp, I thought I’d give you a rundown of how it works and why I love it for client projects. Many of these features are similar in all project management software. But you will find differences in how easy they are to understand and use for both you and the client. I find the ease-of-use for the client is the most important part, as they will not be as used to it as you may be.

Here are the main features I use and how I use them (plus I added a little behind-the-scenes video at the end).

Start A Project

With each new client you can add a “project” in Basecamp. This project has everything you need to stay organized on one page. You invite the client into the project and they will view, edit, and get updates on everything that happens on this project page. You can even make project templates so you don’t have to repeatedly add the same steps that you do with every client. Set it up once, then it’s all ready to go with each new client.

Basecamp Project Dashboard

Add And Assign To-Do List Items

Make a master to-do list or one for each stage of your project. List out the things that need to get done on both the client and your side and assign each item to a specific person. You can also set a due date for each to-do and it will show up in the master calendar. This way your client knows exactly what is expected of them by when, and they know what to expect from you.

As soon as something has been completed, you or the client simply check the box as complete and everyone is notified.

Comments are also available on each to-do item so if there is any confusion, the client can simply leave a comment right on that specific to-do where you can then reply back with the answer.

Basecamp To-Do Lists

Upload Project Files

Keep all your content & images in one place. You can either upload from your computer or simply drag and drop onto the screen. So much faster than uploading to dropbox or google drive then sharing the link or even worse, attaching to an email.  It makes it very easy and clear to see what has already been shared and what might be missing.

Plus- once I have completed their first mockups (or drafts, or whatever work I’m doing) I can upload it right to Basecamp and they can give their feedback via comments directly onto that image.

This limits the need for the client to say “oh I love the colors on image783.jpeg and the sidebar on image563.jpeg” and having to take note and gather all the feedback to implement.

Text Documents

For any random text, login information, or whatever else you need to keep track off, you can make a text document. This can then be edited by you or your client and also comments can be added for discussion, feedback or questions on each individual document.Basecamp Text Documents

Keep Yourself Organized

Not only will you be keeping your project on track with your client, but you can choose what the client sees or cannot see. So if you want to add a bunch of to-do items that they client doesn’t really need to be aware of, you can still add those to the list and simply choose yourself as the only person that can see it.

Know What’s Happening At All Times

Anything that has been added, to-do items checked off and any comments or discussions that have been made, are automatically added to the “Latest Project Updates” section of the page. So you can see who is doing what and when. You can also choose to get notified via email each time a client has done something with the project- or you can choose to just check in daily.

The Latest Discussions section will also show all the comments or feedback that has been given in any section of the project- so you can easily see where you need to respond.

Basecamp Project Updates

How This Plays Into My Current Process

1. Client fills out online Hire Me form.

2. I send client invoice (via Freshbooks), the contract (via Contractualy) and setup a new project template in Basecamp.

3. I invite them to the project directly in Basecamp where they will find my Getting Started documents (planning guide, questionnaire, etc) and can see the to-do lists and timelines.

4. The rest of the project happens within Basecamp directly and I don’t have to worry about back & forth confusing emails again!

Make Working With You Simple & Clear For Your Client

  • Everything is in one place.
  • They know exactly what they are responsible for and by when.
  • They know what you are working on and what you are waiting for.
  • They get instant feedback.
  • They don’t like back & forth emails either.

The better your system is the better it is for both of you. Making it easy for them to work with you will only result in happier clients, and more referrals.

BONUS: Grab the Freelance Process Cheat Sheet to learn the 6 steps in your process you MUST automate and the tools to use to do so. Get it FREE!

 

Still Curious About Basecamp?

I made a quick video behind the scenes of my Basecamp account so you can get a feel for how it works. You can always sign up for a free 60 day trial and try it out yourself!

 

I am not an affiliate for Basecamp, just a new & super happy client. I’ll definitely give you an update in a couple months on whether it is working for me in the long term. I stayed away from it for this long because I was worried about the investment and honestly thought it was much more expensive than it really is. Although I am still on the free trial, I can already see how much the $20/month will be one of the most worth-while expenses in my business.

Whether you go with Basecamp, another software, or conjure up your own process, one thing is certain- systems will save you time & money. And that’s what we’re after as freelance freedom seekers isn’t it? More time to do what we love and enough money to support it.

-Leah

Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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The 6 steps of your process you need to automate and the tools to use to do so.

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • This is such a great post with lots of visual details…. really great write up Leah! I’m so glad you love it as much as I do.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Thanks again for the inspiration Amanda!

  • I’m sold as I was reading I was thinking about how perfect this would be for my me one on one video packages I’m working on. Thank you for such a detailed breakdown. I’m super pumped to try it out.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Awesome- I’m sure you’ll love it!

  • Once again, you have perfect timing with this post. One of my goals for 2014 is setting up a manageable project workflow so that when I start getting clients on a more consistent basis, I won’t be scrambling. Thanks so much!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Great Desiree- Yes, thinking of this stuff ahead of time is great, and clients will love how professional and streamlined you are right from the beginning! Thanks for the comment Desiree!

  • So far, I’ve been using Wrike to collaborate and organize my projects. I really like it, but haven’t added clients to it yet. Wrike has a free version which I’ve been using (and a free trial of the Pro version). I’ve looked at Trello, and I agree with you about the interface not being as intuitive – just doesn’t seem to work for my purposes at least. Wrike doesn’t give you checkboxes, but you can do the same thing as Basecamp…assign tasks to different people and they can give status updates and comments. I might give Basecamp a try to see how it compares 🙂 Seems SUPER easy and intuitive for clients. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes video Leah!!

  • Sally

    I could never work out why people loved Basecamp until I saw your video, Leah. I’m currently the ‘client’ on a project where the vendor is using Basecamp, and it’s nowhere near as straightforward as this. I can see how great it is for keeping track of website builds. Thanks for showing me how it should actually work!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yeah Sally- I don’t think it would be great for every industry, but web design- yes!

  • Thank you Leah, bookmarking this as those back and forward explanation emails are a killer right now so I think this will be the way to go for 2014. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my clients too- you’ve explained the benefits and features so clearly, it’s such a great resource. Merry Christmas 🙂

  • Janet

    Great topic! I’ve been trying to figure out the best project mgmt program and this has helped soooo much! I’m worked with Basecamp some with a client so I’m sold! I love your ideas of organizing your process here too – You rock girl!! Thank you again & Merry Christmas!!

  • I’ve used many project management tools and I have to say Trello is my favorite so far. I’m a big markdown users, and I like the idea of an unlimited whiteboard (it’s very flexible).

    I also use Basecamp and Asana regularly with different projects. When using any project management system, the most important thing is to get your client to use the system (whichever one it is). I’m flexible and willing to use whatever system my customer is most comfortable with, and if they don’t use any of these systems, I decide which one will be the best for the project.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Awesome insight and advice Josh- you are absolutely right, it’s more important that it’s easy for the client than being easy for us. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Thanks! This is perfect for my next project! I signed up for the free trial and love it!

  • Thanks for this page… Very informative..

    Check out this tool, I am going to try it out soon, its called Producteev and its fully free!! https://www.producteev.com/

    It seems to do everything, such as adding categories / industries and then projects. It also works on mobile devices. I think it’s only for internal team members but there may be a trick to make it work with external clients?

  • Hi Leah,

    Thank you for this! I’ve heard about Basecamp but never really looked into all their great features until I seen your post. Since I don’t have any project management software in place, except endless emails back and forth, I’m definitely going to sign up and give it a shot : )

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Will change your biz David, I’m sure of it! Let me know how you like it 🙂

  • Bunny White

    I’m currently in a mad dash to get all my work and productivity systems in place and while I’ve had some big wins, I’m really struggling to find a solution for managing client projects that work for me. I do many types of consulting which complicates the matter. I’ve tried Trello, used Asana a little, and with your review of Basecamp I may give it a try – however, $20 is likely far to steep for me since my main gig will be blogging with the occasional client. I may not have it all figured out yet, but I do know it is so so important to get these systems in place. Without them my stress levels are high, my sanity is teetering, and my clients are not getting the best of me.

  • Arlen Mark

    Proofhub is another tool which is worth looking has all the features that are required for project management like time tracking, gantt chart, to-do’s, group chat and lots more. Check out

  • Leah, thank you for this post!
    One question though: You mention that Basecamp is $20/month, but that doesn’t seem to be the case? I checked their pricing and it’s at least $99/month.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis

      Ahhh – they must have increased when they came up with BC3. Will look into what they’re offering now and update. They must have a lower option!

  • Martina

    I love Project Management tools for myself (I’ve been a longtime user of Basecamp & Trello), but I find it hard to get clients to use them. The biggest hurdle I find is clients who aren’t tech savvy enough to be comfortable with these tools. I end up spending so much time training them on the PM tools that it actually eats into my work time! Do you have any experience working with clients who don’t jive with your project process?

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