How to create a project timeline to manage client expectations

Jun 22, 2021

If you’ve been a freelancer long enough, you’ll know how crucial a skill expectation management is. Clients want things done, and most of them want them done quickly.

Let’s face it: You can’t do everything at once and risk delivering shoddy work. This is why it’s important to manage client expectations from the beginning, especially when it comes to deadlines.

But it’s not enough to merely set expectations. You need to put them in writing and clearly communicate them to your client too.

What better way to do that than by visually plotting deliverables on a project timeline template?

Let’s take a look at how you can create a project timeline and manage client expectations.

Break the project down into smaller tasks

You’ve scored a massive freelance project and are being asked for a deadline. Don’t rush to commit to a date. Pause and evaluate the project properly to narrow down the realistic timelines.

Start with breaking the project down into smaller tasks.

As productivity specialist Melissa Gratias puts it, “Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks because we simply don’t know where to begin.”

Apart from that, breaking tasks down also gives you a clearer view of the workflow and project requirements.

For instance, let’s say you’ve been brought on board to improve the search engine rankings of a website. In this case, it’s wise to break this project down into tasks such as conducting an SEO audit, doing competitor research, building backlinks, etc.

Determine the time required for each task

You’ve laid out all the tasks that need to be done to successfully complete the project. Look at every task as a project milestone and determine the time required for each.

While some tasks can be completed within a few hours, there will be a few that will require several days to complete. If you’ve been given a hard deadline, work backward and assign a specific timeline for every task.

This is an integral part of creating a project timeline because it gets everyone on the same page and makes it easier to track progress along the way. What’s more, it helps you justify deadlines to the client.

Consider dependencies

It’s frustrating when you’ve started a project and midway through, you realize that you’re missing some critical information from the client. This leads to delay and prevents you from meeting deadlines.

How do you avoid such a situation? By considering project dependencies in the planning stage.

As the name suggests, dependencies are when you require certain tasks to be completed in order to complete your task or project.

According to Kissflow, the five main types of dependencies are:

  • Logical
  • External
  • Resource
  • Preferential
  • Cross-team

You can use a concept map maker to map out and communicate project dependencies to the client early on so that you’re not met with any roadblocks and can factor them in while planning timelines.

Source: Venngage

Plot the schedule visually

You’ve done all the groundwork. Now, all you need to do is communicate the project timeline to the client.

You can either send them an email listing out deadlines for every task (and have it get lost in their inbox) or create a visual timeline that presents the tasks chronologically.

The latter is certainly a more professional and clearer way to communicate.

Create a project timeline by plotting all the tasks along with their respective deadlines. This helps you:

Make sure you keep the descriptions brief and use icons and color-coded elements to make the timeline easier to read and scan. Here’s an example of a project timeline template you can use.

Source: Venngage

Present it to the client

Remember: a project timeline is not just for your internal use. It’s equally important to share it with the client before you begin work and get their feedback as well.

It’s a good idea to conduct a meeting over a video call to present your timeline, discuss priorities, manage expectations and ensure alignment. This is your opportunity to address concerns, questions, and any potential roadblocks you may foresee.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Simki Dutta

Simki Dutta is a content marketer at Venngage, a free infographic maker and design platform. When she's not working, she can be found refreshing her Twitter feed and binge-watching Netflix shows.