Keeping Things in Order – My Freelance Writing Project Management System

Have you landed your first freelance writing client and need to keep tabs on your work?

Or, maybe you have several clients you’re trying to juggle, only to “lose your senses” when a client asks you to update a project you did three months ago?

Having a project management system isn’t a sexy topic. There’s no way you can make money from it and it actually can be a big time suck if you’re disorganized and don’t have a proper system in place for your projects.

Keeping Things in Order – My Freelance Writing Project Management System

Well, that was me not too long ago. As I was landing more and more clients, I found my current project management system at the time not working for me.

A lot of steps happen from the moment a client has a topic idea – or I pitch an idea – to submitting the completed work.

I found I was missing steps – like running my pieces through Grammarly – and there was always a lag time between finishing the piece and having it edited. And for some reason, this confused me and I would spend more time than necessary checking to see if my pieces were ready to be submitted.

So, I made a change, found something that’s working at the moment and thought I’d share it with you all!

My Previous Project Management System

From the moment I landed my first client to recently, I was using a basic Excel sheet. It did a great job at keeping my projects in order and I could instantly tell when I submitted my work and when a client paid me.

I kept both my bookkeeping information and projects on the same sheet. So, my Excel sheet had spots for:

  • Client
  • Writing piece
  • Invoice number
  • PayPal address
  • Date submitted to client
  • Date received payment

This worked for many months. But, once I landed more clients and clients who only needed content on demand, I found there were holes in my system.

For example, I wasn’t tracking deadlines on my Excel sheet. Instead, I was either tracking them on my calendar or in my head. I also wasn’t keeping tabs of ongoing work.

So, for example, when I landed my first recurring gig, I had to email the client a month’s worth of topics. Once they were approved, it was my responsibility to keep them in order.

Oftentimes, I was looking in my email – or my trusty notebook – trying to find the approved topics that I pitched.

I’m sure you can already tell, my previous system wasn’t that organized. And it was more apparent that as my client list grew, something had to change.

Figuring Out What I Needed to Track

Before finding an alternate project management system, I had to break down my projects into the required steps.

I don’t know about other freelance writers, but this is what I need to keep track of:

  1. Date topic was assigned
  2. Internal deadline – this is my personal deadline I set
  3. Client deadline – this is the deadline the client set – or, if flexible deadline – I also set
  4. Finished project
  5. First edit
  6. Run project through Grammarly
  7. Run project through CopyScape
  8. Have a peer edit project
  9. Final proofread
  10. Submitted to client
  11. Invoiced sent
  12. Payment amount received

On top of this, I also need to have a sheet on all my clients and their information as well as tracking the lifetime billing for each client. I also needed a sheet to track my financials on a monthly basis.

Finally, I also have to keep tabs on my sub-contract writers, their projects, and their payments.

My Current Project Management System

For my blog management system, I usually use Trello. It’s an easy and visual system to help you with organizing your day-to-day tasks. With my Twins Mommy blog and this blog, I use this system to keep track of my blog post ideas.

For the client-side of business, I looked into using some online tools such as Asana or Basecamp, but found it too constricting and wasn’t able to really customize it for my business. Plus, those tools encourage collaboration with your team, and since I am a one-woman show, I found those notices annoying.

So, what I ended up using were Google sheets. It’s pretty similar to Excel and the great thing about it is, it’s customizable.

Here is a small snapshot of what fields I have (click the image to see a better view):

client-project-list

What I like about this system is it’s easy for me to see:

  • What needs to be done – when I type DONE into the appropriate fields it turns green.
  • If an invoice is outstanding – the Deliverable piece will turn red
  • If I haven’t issued an invoice – the Deliverable piece remains yellow

So, now, once a client gives me a topic, or it’s time for me to work on a new project I put in the start date – today’s date – and fill in the areas up to Internal Deadline.

Once the piece is finished, I log in the date under, Draft Date, and work on the editing part of the process.

What to Take Away From This

When you first start out, you may not need such a detailed project management system, but don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need any project management system.

As soon as you land your first client, start keeping track of:

  • The client’s information – PayPal address, scope of project, rate negotiated
  • Topics assigned and ongoing work
  • Client deadlines and, if you want, personal deadlines – this helps once you have multiple clients and need to prioritize your writing pieces
  • Invoice submission date and payment date
  • Earnings and expenses
  • Tax deduction amount

Freelance writing isn’t a hobby – it’s a business and you’re not just a writer, you’re a solopreneur! Honor it and be excited that you’ve taken this leap to control your own future!

Tell me in the comments what project management system you are using and what important steps you keep track of!

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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55 Comments

Thanks so much Elna! My client roster just filled up again and I was going a little cross-eyed trying to figure out how to organize it all. Great post!Reply to Alisha
Hi Alisha! Thanks so much!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna! I am in the beginning stages of pursuing freelance writing. Did you establish an LLC in your name since that’s your business identity? Thank you so much for your guidance 💞Reply to Tara
Hi Tara, We don’t have LLCs in Canada, but I hear they are a good idea and pretty simple. A full corporation is all Canada offers and that’s a lot of paperwork and overhead. For the first year I operated as a sole proprietor under my own name so I didn’t have to register anything. This applies to the States as well I think. Now I work under a corporation but the corporate name only appears on official things like contracts, banking, taxes and invoices. It’s unadvertised and basically works like a holding company. I still market myself day to day as my own name.Reply to Elna
Hello Elna. I was reading through your post and noticed you kept talking about an invoice, such as invoice number, if an invoice is outstanding, etc. I was wondering what you meant by this? Is it an invoice you’re sending out to the client, or an invoice you’re receiving from the client?Reply to Cassius
Hi Cassius, Sorry for the confusion. It’s the invoice you give to the client. Each are numbered 🙂Reply to Elna
This is so helpful! Thank you–I just landed my first client and have been struggling to get organized.Reply to Eliza
Hi Eliza! That’s fantastic news to hear!Reply to Elna
I’m a Type A, extremely organized planner…but as I’m starting my freelance copywriting business, I’m realizing I have no clue about what to organize and keep track of. This post just saved me HOURS of research and pulling my hair out. Thank you so much!!Reply to Jenna
Hey Jenna! Wow! Thank you so much! This is an older post of when I first started! I’m glad this method will work for your project management system for your freelance writing biz!Reply to Elna
The link to this article in your email came just on-time for me today. I’m incredibly new, but I have a few projects that I need to begin organizing. I honestly didn’t know where to start. Google Sheets sounds perfect since I’m a bit familiar already. Thanks again!Reply to Lyanna
This is great help! Exactly what I needed. The screen shot of your google sheet helped our tremendously. Do you happen to have a screen shot of your other one that shows the tabs you use for paypal, earnings/expenses, invoices, etc.? That would be super helpful as well.Thanks.Reply to Kevin
Hi Elna. Thanks for discussing your client management system. I particularly appreciate all the detail that you have included. I shouldn’t be surprised to find you among the influencers in our profession. As a matter of fact, this is the second time I have been looking for a solution, that I am led to one of your thoughtful, well written posts. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! JimReply to Jim
Hey Jim, Thanks so much for thinking of me as an influencer! Very humbled by that. I hope to deliver the best information for new freelance writers so all I ask is to share my content and tell people about my blog! ThanksReply to Elna
I was looking for content on ” Project Management System” today, when I stumbled on your article: Keeping Things in Order – My Freelance Writing Project Management System Great job for publishing such a beneficial article. Your article is very useful for learner. Your Step by Step description with screenshot is very helpful to learn Calculation also a vital step on the way of success. It’s fun. However I just focused some most important Excel Calculator which need in every step of life. Here is my new guide for learners and loan based users loan calculators excel . It’s one page 12 excel calculator collection. Thanks for putting this together. Keep up the awesome work! ThanksReply to Emy
Thanks a bunch Emy! I’m this will help new writers with their freelance biz.Reply to Elna
Great post as always, Elna! I’ve recently started freelance writing but before I did, I took a long time thinking of a project management system. I have advanced Excel skills, so I built my own system using it. I thought it was complete but your post gave me ideas for a few fields I’d like to add. Thank you!Reply to Andressa
Hi Adressa, Thank you so much for being a regular reader of my blog!! That’s awesome you have the skills to create your own project management system and I’m glad to help!Reply to Elna
I use a very similar project management system, and Google Sheets is absolutely amazing for it. Great post, Elna!Reply to Alexia
Hey Alexia! I know, right? 🙂Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, Wow, so timely – I was just staring at the total mess my Excel sheets have become! Just so ugly – and ferreting out the info is scary. So far I’ve been keeping on top of things but it’s just a matter of time ’til something falls through the cracks. You are a star! I’m going to check out Google sheets now. Thanks a ton, CariReply to Cari
Hi Cari, Yes! I know the feeling. I’m glad I could help you at the right time!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, I need to start using a content management system since I now have several clients with different due dates. Perhaps I should tell them all that their posts are coming in on the same day? lol Seriously, though, I’ll never remember each date by myself once I get more clients in the near future. Thanks for the idea of the spreadsheet! Maybe I can format one so that the dates are copied onto my iCal without having to do it manually.Reply to Lizzie
Hey Lizzie! Congrats on your clients! Having a growing freelance biz can come with some headaches for sure! I’m sure you’ll figure it out! I sometimes set an alarm for my weekly blog clients so I don’t confuse the deadline dates!Reply to Elna
I tried 17 Hats but I found it wasn’t very intuitive. So I went back to using Google Sheets – I also like the fact I can access it from any machine with any internet connection, not just one computer!Reply to LJ
Hey LJ, Good to know! I like G Sheets for that fact too. I have my work computer in my room but I do a lot of work on my laptop in the living room. And my husband access the sheet from his computer downstairs!Reply to Elna
Thanks for sharing this, gives me some great ideas for getting my projects organized!Reply to Pam
This kind of freelance working method sounds to be highly professional. Great work.Reply to Victor
Wonderful post! It’ll take me a long while to customize one from scratch—I don’t suppose you’d mind sharing your Spreadsheet with us as a template?! Thanks again, Tom 🙂Reply to Tom
Thanks for the idea of a comprehensive project management system, Elna! I know I’ll need one as I grow my business over the next few weeks. I never thought about having one other than using Evernote but I know I’ll go crazy if I don’t use at least an Excel spreadsheet to keep everything in order. Thank you for the tips!Reply to Lisa
This is great, especially since Sheets is free. As someone still trying to get started, the screenshot and lists of items to include is really nice. I do wonder if you could give more detail on how to format Sheets like that. How do you get your title line to stay visible regardless of how far down the sheet you are? Or get fields to change color automatically (or do you do that manually?)? And how do you get those vertical dividers between sections?Reply to CM
Hi CM! My husband formatted those sheets but you can color code them using the settings!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, This is such an important topic and as usual, you break it down into easy steps anyone can understand. Great post! I’m a nerd when it comes to business systems an I’m constantly tweaking mine. I’ve been using 17 hats to track project details (associated emails and any notes I have), workflows, and project lifestyles that track projects from start to finish. It also takes care of my invoicing and bookkeeping. Lately, I’ve been using Asana to track projects in a calendar and it’s been ok. I’m thinking about moving it to Google calendar. Im going to look into using Google Sheets like you said. It just seems more flexible and customizable. Thanks for this post!Reply to Christine
Hey Christine, I’ve never used 17 Hats for my project managements. Sounds good! As for Asana, I never really liked it! Have fun looking into using Google sheets.Reply to Elna
I see someone else mentioned it in the comments already, but Trello is also a nice option for organizing everything.Reply to Colin
Great post! It took me quite awhile to figure out a system for myself… and it’s still not as detailed as yours! Love it! Thanks for sharing.Reply to Andréa
Hi Andrea! Glad you found a system though! I hope it works for you in the long run. I know, mine is pretty detailed eh? Well, for some reason, I have to be uber detailed in my work or else I forget. With twins running around me all day, I need to write everything down!Reply to Elna
This is so awesome Elna, Project management is of utmost important in any business because its the only way you can keep track of everything you’re doing and the ones you’re suppose to do too. Also, having a good system to manage it is indeed essential. I love how simple your own system is and i think i will copy it if you don’t mind :). Thanks for sharing.Reply to Theodore
Hey Theodore! Thanks so much. Yes I’m finding my system is really helping me keep things in order! I spend a few minutes a day putting in my work and I can quickly see who I need to invoice and what projects need to be finished. It’s perfect!Reply to Elna
I’m just getting to the point where I’m so swamped my head barely stays on straight, so these techniques are gonna be added to my roster. I’ve used a number of tools in the past, like Trello and Basecamp, but a good old fashioned spreadsheet might be best! JReply to Jane
Hi Jane, I’ve been there! But, don’t worry, it to shall pass! So yeah, Google Sheets is just your plain old spreadsheet and holy jeez, it totally works!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna! Another great post with some good suggestions. I do love a spreadsheet but for client management I am totally converted to Capsule CRM – I love that you can attach tasks to clients as well as set deadlines for yourself. I also use Trello for tasks that are not linked to any one client (like my own blogs!) – I wrote about my ‘business toolkit’ in a guest blog recently if you’re interested in checking out the links.. 🙂 http://movabo.com/her-business-toolkit-rachael-blair-freelance-writer/Reply to Rachael
Rachel, That’s awesome! I’ll definitely check that out. I haven’t heard of Capsule CRM but you’ve piqued my interest! I also use Trello to keep track of my upcoming eBook/comprehensive guide to freelance writing and my blog topics for this site. Thanks for letting me know of Capsule CRM!Reply to Elna
I’m a pen and paper type of girl, but I really, really need to get my butt going and start doing things electronically. My shelf is full of colourful binders with client information and commission designs. My goal for September is to look for a CMS of some type and then not make any excuses for not implementing it. Thank you for sharing your post. I couldn’t have come at a better time.Reply to Gisele
Hi Gisele! I can relate. Actually, I still have notebooks all over my desk right now! I LOVE pen and paper, but I realized quickly when my business grew, it wasn’t working out for me. I really needed to go online. So far, it’s working, but there are still some snags. Because it’s online, it’s not visually present all the time so sometimes I “forget” about certain things (like if I am tracking a post). So, I’m still learning my new system.Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, Great tips as usual. Sorry if this is a little off-topic. I see that you run your work through both CopyScape and Grammarly. Do you have premium accounts for both? Are they worth it? ThanksReply to Fiona
Hey Fiona, Yes I do have premium accounts for both CopyScape and Grammarly. I suggest you don’t skimp out when it comes to editing!Reply to Elna
I am constantly playing around with systems – this was helpful, thanks!Reply to Cara
Hi Cara, I know what you mean! It can sometimes take a while before you find the right system for your freelance writing. Have you found one that’s worked for you yet?Reply to Elna
Thanks for this post, Elna! Google Docs are a fantastic option for a number of reasons, but I hadn’t actually thought of using it this way. Being in the startup stages, I’m still working on having enough clients who need keeping track of (at the moment, I have one… But he’s an ongoing one at least!). The other advantage of Google Docs over Excel, is the ability to share. It’s great for us one-person shows, but the ability to make one sheet public also provides you with the ability to use it to keep track of those sub-contractors you were talking about as well, just by adding a “Person Responsible” column or something similar. And it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) than Basecamp or something similar.Reply to Josh
Hi Josh! Thanks for your insight. Since my project management system is tied to my bookkeeping, I doubt I would make it public to other people besides my husband. But, if I end up making a project sheet specifically, that would be something I could share for sure! Way to go that you have one recurring client! I’m going to write a post on what you do after you land your first client, because it’s a big deal when you cross over to getting paid to write eh? Thanks for supporting my blog and leaving a comment. I want to get to know the new Get Paid crew! (I’m trying to find a cool “gang” name for my Get Paid to Write Online participants). We will see if this sticks!Reply to Elna
I hope to start free lancing more soon and this is super helpful! I love your spreadsheet. I’m going to look into creating something similar in goggle docs.Reply to Pragati
Thanks Pragati! Happy you found it useful. It took me a long time to find a system I liked, and I had to design it myself! Go figure. Google Sheets did a great job and making the project management system work for me. Let me know how yours turns out and if you need any help!Reply to Elna