[Meridith shared her strategy in a mini-presentation at the Heartland chapter's Fall 2016 meeting.]
I’m usually pretty good about organization. But as my business has continued to grow and expand, I found that my system just wasn’t working. I was keeping a list of current projects on the back of desk calendar tear-off sheets (my scrap paper of choice), which necessitated constant revision as new jobs were added.
Enter the Excel spreadsheet. I set up a spreadsheet so that I could keep track of current and future jobs; it’s easy enough to move a row up or down, or to insert a new row in between, depending on need. I like to organize by due date so that I can see what is up next. So the spreadsheet starts with a column for TITLE, then COMPANY (or publisher), CONTACT (or author), LENGTH (to help me judge how much time to allow), RATE (so I remember what I quoted), DATE IN (when I received the files), DATE DUE, SUBMITTED (the date I actually send it in), and DONE. There is great satisfaction in writing DONE at the end of a project! This saved me a lot of time, as I was constantly searching through emails for information. Each project is just a little different and requires a change of brain-set.
I keep a separate section for CURRENT PROJECTS and FUTURE PROJECTS, so I know what is on the horizon and can at least try not to overcommit. So that takes care of before and during, but what about after? You all know that a job is not really over until we get paid, and sometimes that is a challenge all its own. My previous system was to print out an invoice and put it in a file folder. I have a file drawer with a folder for each client. But it’s so easy to forget them once they are filed, and I found that I was losing track of which invoices might be overdue (and require a gentle nudge to the client.)
So I added another section, PROJECTS WAITING PAYMENT. Once I finish a job, I move it to this section. Here I added three more columns: To Pay (date I would reasonably expect payment), Invoice (amount billed), and Paid (date I receive payment.) Also, if I have billed a job in currency other than US Dollars, I indicate what the converted amount was. This section I organize by the date I expect payment, so I can see at a glance what money might be coming in next. If a “To Pay” date comes and goes with no money received, I mark that date in red to indicate overdue, and contact the client to make sure that the invoice is working its way through the system.
Once I receive payment, the job information gets moved once again (just cut and paste the whole row into a new blank slot.) The last section is PROJECTS PAID; it is organized by date payment was received, and this gives me a complete record that I can use at the end of the year for my tax figures. So I now have a system that sees a project through from initial scheduling to final payment, and I am saving a ton of time that I used to spend digging through emails and files for information. I just keep the spreadsheet at the bottom of my screen, so that I can consult it quickly so see if I can fit a new job into my schedule or to see what my projected cash flow might be. You can adapt the column headings to suit your needs or your own particular approach, but just make sure you include all the information you might need to complete the job on time and then get paid (hopefully on time as well.)
What systems do you use to track your projects? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below!