How a Project Management Process Will Help Manage Your Clients 

Smiling independent works at coffee shop.

What’s your strategy for project execution and a smooth client experience? Here we share ways to keep your projects moving forward and your clients involved in the process.

Smiling independent works at coffee shop.
How do you balance multiple clients? We recommend creating a process!

As an independent service provider, your project management process is crucial when it comes to keeping projects running smoothly and delivering work on time. A poor process can tank an otherwise great project, while an efficient process can save a mediocre project. 

The problem? Most independent service providers keep their process in their heads, instead of mapping it all out— that leaves clients in the dark about what to expect when working with you.  And when clients don’t know what to expect, projects can go sideways fast. Late feedback, never getting what you need on time, grumpy clients…sound familiar? I hope not!

Almost all client problems can be traced back to not establishing and sharing your process. Or, by abandoning your strategy and making adjustments halfway through the project. In other words, confusing your clients.

Today I’m going to break down how to design a project management process that will keep projects running smoothly while keeping your clients in the loop!

Jump to:

What is a project management process?

A project management process is simply a step-by-step guide for you and your clients to follow to complete the project.

I like to think of my process as a map and the project as a journey on which I’m guiding my client. To reach our destination (a completed project) in the time we’ve estimated, we need to stay on the path. When we deviate from the path, we’ll get lost in the weeds and arrive at our destination late and grumpy.

How to design an effective project management process

In order to create an effective process, you need to outline each stage of the project. Create your map, communicate the process to your clients, and then (the hard part) stick to it!

Outlining this process can be as simple as sitting down and writing out what should happen at each stage of the project. It doesn’t have to be fancy right now, it just needs to get out of your head!

You can start with these (nearly) universal stages and then fill in the blanks for your projects.

  • Client screening
  • Client onboarding
  • Project work
  • Client off-boarding

By breaking each stage into steps, you can make your process easy and—dare I say—fun.

Do you want to work with every person who inquires with you? Nope! Part of an effective project management process is weeding out bad-fit clients before you start working with them. There’s nothing worse than taking on a client who isn’t the right fit for your business.

In the client screening process, you’ll design your systems to take care of the heavy lifting for you, by asking the right questions and establishing your boundaries right away.

Steps in the client screening process

To screen potential clients effectively, you’ll want to include the following steps.

  • Inquiry form: Create an inquiry form that asks the right questions, so you can get a good idea if the project is one you want to take on or not.
  • Autoresponder: A great autoresponder helps your potential client know what’s happening between the time they reach out, and when you respond. In HoneyBook, you can set an automation to trigger an automatic email response every time someone fills out your contact form.
  • Intro packet: Send an intro packet to your potential clients outlining how you work and the general project process. If potential clients disagree with how you work, they can self-eliminate!
  • Discovery call: Hop on a call with your potential client and ask the in-depth questions you need to know to be sure you can reach the project’s goals. HoneyBook’s call scheduler makes it easy for your potential client to book their call with you.
  • Send a proposal: If the project is a good fit, send a proposal outlining the exact details of the agreed-upon project. Make sure you tailor your proposal to your client and show how you can help them achieve their goals.
  • Use a contract: Once the client approves the proposal, send a contract to make things legal. I don’t care if the client is your grandma—use a contract!

If a client makes it through your screening process, then it’s time to move on to the onboarding process.

Steps in the client onboarding process

Do a happy dance, you’ve got a client that is a great fit for your business. You can’t wait to work with them. Now you need to make it official. In the client onboarding stage of your project management process, you’ll welcome your client to the project and make sure they have all of their homework and deadlines clearly outlined. Including this step in your process will ensure your client has everything they need and knows what is expected of them.

  • Initial payment: Get paid before you start your work. Collect an initial payment from your client as soon as the contract is signed. HoneyBook makes this easy with its online payment software.
  • Welcome packet: Once everything is legal and you’ve received the first payment send your client a welcome packet outlining the nitty-gritty details of everything they need to know.
  • Project setup: Set up the project in your client portal and invite your client to join. Don’t forget to assign homework and due dates to your client!
  • Client homework: Kick back and relax for a bit while your client completes the homework you assigned them. The actual homework will depend on what the project is but could include: providing you with login information, completing a questionnaire, or uploading files or documents.

Once your client has been onboarded it’s time for the project to start!

Steps in the project work process

Your favorite part of being an independent business owner is about to begin: the project. It’s time to dig in and get to work.

In the project work stage, you’ll be doing whatever it is your client hired you for. Where many independent service providers mess up is getting so deeply involved in working on the project that they forget to manage the project.

You’ll know you’ve done it when a client contacts you wanting an update, has forgotten what they were supposed to be doing or thought you ran off with their money (yikes!)

In addition to providing your service to your client, you’ll want to include these steps in your project management process:

  • Friday email: Don’t forget to keep your client updated! This email doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple two-minute project update will let your clients know what you’re working on and what they need to do next.
  • Present your work: When it’s time to show off your hard work, make sure you do it justice. Walk your clients through your work (use a video if it’s easier!) and explain how it will help them achieve their goals. This will help reduce revision requests and educate your clients on your decisions.
  • Get feedback: To get useful feedback from your clients, you must guide them through answering the right questions. Get specific about what to give you feedback on and provide a guideline on how to make it constructive.

Rinse and repeat this section of your project management process until the project is complete! Then it’s time to offboard your client.

Steps in the client off-boarding process

Off-boarding your clients is perhaps THE most important part of your project management process. Why? Because it’s the part they’re going to remember the most. It’s your very last chance to create warm fuzzies with your client and turn them into a source of referrals.

Because of this, your client’s off-boarding stage won’t just be handing off a completed project. You’ll also ensure your client feels supported after the project ends. Here’s how to offboard your clients: 

  • Final invoice: Get paid before handing over the final project. Even if the client was great, you don’t want them ghosting you on the final payment.
  • Goodbye packet: At the end of the project, don’t leave your client hanging. Send them off with a goodbye packet that outlines everything they need to know and their next steps.
  • Feedback/testimonial: After the project is complete, ask your client to give you feedback. You can automate this with a questionnaire. Then turn their feedback into a testimonial that can be used in your marketing!
  • Client gift: Don’t forget to end the project on the best note possible by sending off a thank-you gift. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but make it thoughtful.

Pop the bubbles, you’ve completed a successful project!

Time to create your project management process

It’s time to get your project management process out of your head and start using it with your clients. Use what I’ve outlined here as a starting point, and adjust as needed to fit your business.

You can download a customizable project management process checklist so you’re not starting from scratch. Don’t be afraid to rearrange, delete, or add to what I’ve given you. Make your process work for you, so you can work efficiently with your clients.

You’ll be amazed at how smoothly your projects can run, and how happy your clients will be when you have clear processes to guide them through.

6 Sweet Treats for Your Clients This Season

Ghost getting sweet treats in a trick-or-treat bag

The scariest things for independent business owners are unhappy clients and unsuccessful projects. Instead of focusing on your fears, here are six sweet treats you can give your clients to ensure a better client experience and efficient clientflow.

While the kids in your neighborhood are out getting candy, this month is a great opportunity to focus on the sweet treats you can provide for your clients. 

No, we’re not talking about sending over Halloween gift baskets (although that could be a nice touch). Instead, we’re talking about the delightful moments throughout your clientflow that you can work on making even better. 

This season, focus on these six sweet treats for your clients!

1. Prompt responses to inquiries and emails

There’s nothing more delightful to a client than a responsive business owner. It shows that they can trust you to provide what they’re paying for. Let them know you value their time and business with prompt responses. When you prioritize your responses to inquiries as well, you can ensure you aren’t leaving new opportunities and revenue on the table. 

Take some of the pressure off of yourself by setting up automated emails. You can still incorporate your brand voice and tone to make it personable, but you’ll save hours without typing out every single message. 

Set up email templates to send as soon as your inquiries fill out your contact form. You can thank them for inquiring and let them know when you’ll get back to them, or send them directly to your scheduling link

On the client side, you can also automate confirmations for booking, scheduling, meetings, and more. Any time you find yourself doing a repetitive task, consider if you can automate it. By doing so, you can save time while still delighting your clients. 

2. A seamless booking process

Halloween is all about instant gratification. As a kid, you could knock on any door and expect delicious candy right away. As a service provider, your booking process should be just as seamless. When your client comes knocking, give them the treat of instant booking

As a kid, you could knock on any door and expect candy right away. As a service provider, your booking process should be the same. When your client comes knocking, give them the treat of instant booking! 

Once clients are ready to pay, there’s no need for the ongoing back-and-forth. You’ve either hashed it all out during the sales process, or your clients already know what they want. All you need to do is get a contract signed, send an invoice, and accept their payment. 

Why not combine it all in one step? With static files or other types of template builders, you have to send everything individually. Now with HoneyBook smart files, you can combine as many steps as you need to create an all-in-one booking file. 

What’s even better is that the files sync with each other. Say you want to send a pricing guide with your services that lets clients choose the best options. On the next pages, you can include an invoice that populates with their choices and a contract that pulls in their information as well. 

With faster booking, you can count on a better client experience and greater business growth.

3. Secure online payments

We want to give our clients sweets, not scares. A big part of that is removing any stress or fear that comes with paying. One of the best things you can do is offer online payments to create the best experience for your clients. 

We want to give our clients sweets, not scares. A big part of that is removing any stress or fear that comes with paying.

Accepting credit cards and ACH transfers means your clients don’t have to worry about sending a check and wondering when it’ll get cashed. They can make their payment and receive confirmation within minutes, knowing that the project is ready to move forward. 

With HoneyBook smart files, you can customize the experience in your payment process. One best practice is to include a thank you message on the next page after your clients have paid. This lets them know that you’ve received their payment, and you can also provide details about the next steps. 

4. Clear expectations

As you begin projects, you should have a solid understanding of what your client expects. They might have communicated their needs in a background questionnaire or during a consultation call. Either way, you know what they want and which services to provide. 

But does your client also know what you expect from them? Setting your expectations is a treat for clients because it builds trust and makes them feel comfortable and confident. They don’t have to worry about the mask coming off later on–you’re showing them that they’re working with a trusted professional. 

Your clients shouldn’t worry about the mask coming off later on–you’re showing them that they’re working with a trusted professional.

The best way to set your project expectations is with a clear contract. That’s where you can include your policies on cancelations, refunds, timelines, communication, and more. But you can also set expectations at each step in your clientflow. 

Take your booking process, for example, do clients know how to use your booking file? Do they know when payment is due, and which payment options you offer? You can create an intro page for all your files to set these expectations. Or, better yet, embed a video in your HoneyBook template to offer guidance in a more personalized way. 

Pro Tip: HoneyBook smart files offer the best way to educate your clients through video. They’re more personal than an email, but take much less of your time than a 1:1 call. See how easy it is to embed videos into your onboarding documents, booking files, and much more. 

5. Organized project management

Don’t let your project fade away once it’s booked. Your clients want to know they’re getting what they paid for and the project is going according to plan. Instead, keep your client in the loop with ongoing client communication and organized project management. 

Schedule emails to send at specific milestones to give them ongoing updates without taking too much time on your end. Inside HoneyBook, you can create as many email templates as you need to reuse. You can also use a client portal where your clients can easily view all their project files, communications, and statuses. 

When you use HoneyBook smart files, it also helps you shed more light on your projects than if you were using traditional files. Every file you send generates a summary section in your project where you can see which pages your clients have viewed, which actions they’ve taken, and how they’ve responded to specific questions. 

6. Appealing loyalty programs

Once the project is over, it doesn’t mean you have to stop providing sweet surprises. By focusing on client retention and loyalty, you can bring in new and recurring clients. 

Explore discount options for project renewals or for clients who bring in referrals. Depending on your business model, you can also offer freebies like templates, additional consultations, 1:1 sessions, and more. 

Client loyalty doesn’t have to be built around a program, though. You can still create long-term benefits by asking for feedback during project closure and directing clients to your review sites. Each time you improve based on feedback, you’re setting your business up for greater success. 

Treat your clients with a seamless clientflow

All of these treats align with different stages of the clientflow, which is the entire process of selling and delivering your services. When you have a seamless clientflow, you have happy clients to help build your brand reputation. 

Insecure payments, confusing projects, and endless back-and-forth will make you and your client feel like you’re stuck in the Twilight Zone. Instead, use HoneyBook to ensure everything in your business is under control. As the standard for independent businesses to manage their clientflow, it offers everything you need.