The project milestone sheet is an incredibly important document for freelancers and their clients. It defines all the most important tasks, who is assigned to them, and when they are due. In other words, it serves as the map for your entire work process. As Darrell noted in a previous post, even small projects need to have these milestones set.
So how can you create a milestone sheet that works?
Deliverables and dates. The most important items on the milestone sheet are the deliverable items that will come from both you and your client. From planning to development to project conclusion, every significant step should be noted.
Apart from the developmental stages of the project, here’s what you should include:
- Contract signing;
- Payment schedules;
- Submission of existing relevant documents from the client (previous marketing materials, business vision and objectives, etc.); and
- Ample time for the client to review your work and send feedback.
If you’re located in a different timezone from your client, identify the timezone that the schedule is based on. This isn’t such a big deal when there’s only a 2-3-hour difference — unless the project you’re working on has strict hour-by-hour deadlines. But for time differences of more than eight hours, I usually set the deadlines according to the client’s timezone by default. For my own schedule, I also have a personal copy based on my own timezone.
Identify the client’s area of responsibility. You can do this through color differentiation when there’s just you and the client (a trick I picked up from Justin Hartfield’s post on Freelance Switch). If you’re working with multiple people, it might be better to tabulate the schedule based on deadlines, the expected item, and the name of the person responsible.
Include consequences of deviating from the schedule. The end of the project milestone sheet should also clearly describe the consequences of failing to follow the set schedule. If delays in providing one deliverable will impact the rest of the scheduled items, make that clear. Don’t make this the “fine print” of your schedule. It should have the same font size as the rest of the text on the milestone sheet. After all, it’s equally important.
Make sure the client reads it. To increase the chances that my client reads the milestone sheet, I attach it to an email that doesn’t bring up any other issues. The email simply states something like “Attached is the schedule for the project. Please read it carefully and let me know if you want to make any adjustments. Is the time frame adequate for you?”
A short message like that works for the following reasons:
- You’re talking about one thing only so your clients won’t be distracted with other issues;
- You’re calling it a “schedule,” making it sound less intimidating to non-corporate clients or clients whose first language isn’t English; and
- The client can’t answer your parting question without looking at the schedule you sent.
Follow up. I might come off as repetitive, but for typically forgetful clients, I mention the milestone sheet every time I’ve completed something. I also tell them what comes next, whether it’s additional work I have to do or I’m waiting for something from their end. The frequency and phrasing of your follow-ups depends on the client. When you’re working with clients who are more attentive to schedule, sending out frequent and repetitive reminders won’t be necessary.
If there’s a deadline looming for something that your client is accountable for, such as comments on a draft or payments, it helps to send reminders a day or two before the due date. For tech-savvy clients you can do this through your project management software. In most situations, sending email reminders is enough.
By applying these tips, you can make large projects more manageable, and tasks easier to track. Also, with a good project milestone sheet, even the most difficult clients become easier to work with.
Do you use a milestone sheet for your online freelancing practice? What tactics have worked for you so far?