Posted 08.28.2010

Posted 08.28.2010

How to document a freelance project

Some of my most popular posts are on how I handle freelance clients

You seem to enjoy reading about it or at least you’re willing to click on the link….so I thought I’d share a little more.

I’ve already shared about the folder of templates I have set up on Dropbox. I also keep all my documentation in Google Docs. Anytime, I get a new client or project, I will duplicate the Google Spreadsheet for them.


Why Google Docs?

I like being able to access it anywhere: on my phone, on my computer at work, at home, etc. I could even share it with a client if neceessary. (Share > Publish as a web page)

Each spreadsheet has five sheets that way I can keep everything together in one file.


1 – Production Notes

Google Docs - Overview

This is the project overview.

  • name of the project
  • due date
  • directory I save it on, on my computer
  • contact information
  • where the proposal document is
  • where the sitemap is
  • the current site URL
  • the approved comp file name
  • where the production files are
  • where the content is
  • any miscellaneous information
  • where the templates are saved
  • the color palatte – either an image file and / or actual hexadecimal values
  • fonts I’m using
  • username and passwords for FTP, Database, Site Admin (if I’m using WordPress or Expression Engine), Google Apps information

The username and password information is the most valuable section.

I know some of this information seems obvious if I keep my file structure and naming conventions the same for every project. But, it’s invaluable if I have to hand the project off to someone else or if I have multiple revisions of the same file. Which is the most recent? which one got approved?


2 – Time Sheet

Google Docs - Time Sheet

This sheet is the one that I visit the most. As soon as I sit down to work on a project, I will record the date and the start time. When I’m ready to move onto someone else, I record the end time, what I was able to accomplish, and the amount of hours I spent on the project.

Believe it or not, I’ve had clients question the amount of time a project took. I was able to pull up my time sheet and explain how every hour was spent. It makes a difference when you’re able to provide documentation!


3 – Estimate

Google Docs - Estimate

If I’m doing a site build, this sheet gets visited up front. I try and break down the project by items. One of my problems is I like to operate out of what I would like to accomplish versus what is realistically possible. This sheet helps me. I can say, “Oh that project will take 10 hours,” but if I start breaking it down by task, I quickly realize that my estimate may double: develop assets, design the comp, slice and dice, set up the CMS, hook it up to the CMS… you get the point.

The most helpful line on this document is near the end: 10 – 20% contingency allowance. A lot of times I underestimate the amount of time it will take. This section has saved me. Other times, I’ve been right on. When I only bill for the amount of hours actually spent, this section makes them happy because it looks like I’ve saved them a buck or two. Under promise. Over deliver.


4 – Expenses

Google Docs - Expenses

This sheet is self explanatory. Here, I track anything I purchase for the project, an expression engine license, stock photography, fonts, etc. I want to make sure that I foot the bill to the client.


5 – Meeting Notes

Google Docs - Meeting Notes

On this sheet I track any meetings and / or conversations I’ve had with the client. This helps when I’m trying to rmemeber what and when something was said. I include:

  • meeting notes
  • thoughts
  • action points
  • attendees
  • location
  • duration
  • attachments

The thoughts section is good. It allows me to reflect on the meeting, either things that I said or did, things the client mentioned that I may need to consider down the road, etc.

Action points makes sure that I have a record of what I said I would do and what the client said they would do. A meeting is a waste of time unless an action point comes out of it.

If any files were exchanged during the meeting, I’ll list them under attachments.


Honestly, some project I’m more diligent about recording these things than others. I’ve found, though, that the more I document, the more smoothly the project goes, the less trouble.

Access it yourself.

I’d like to share my document with you. Do with it what you will.