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Before diving into a project, it’s crucial to have an organized plan to help you accomplish your goals in a professional and efficient manner. Even if you think project management might bog down your creativity, being able to organize, execute, and anticipate your next steps can help you push your inspired plans into new directions without getting burnt out along the way.

For a smooth and successful enterprise, each stage of your project needs to be carefully considered, down to the smallest details. Here are some key steps you should take before you start your next long-term creative project for a client.

Ask A Lot of Questions

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As a creative entrepreneur, you’ll probably be working to provide goods to a client or organization. Before you start anything, you want to evaluate what your client’s goals are, hear their feedback, and truly understand what kind of end product your client wants.

You can do that by asking specific questions based on these following topics:

Project Timeline: When are you looking for this project to be done by? Identify a realistic range. Take account pre-planning, turn around time for completing assets, potential revisions, reports, and other variables.

Budget: How much does you anticipate the project to cost? If you have a budget, clarify what specific aspects the budget will cover. If the client doesn’t mentioned a budget, try asking for a budget upfront or in your estimate proposal which we’ll mentioned later.

Scope: What will the completed end product look like? Ask your client to make their expectations of the end product clear and as specific as possible.

Responsibilities: Which responsibilities fall to you and which fall to the client? Make this clear in the beginning to avoid any misunderstandings that might manifest later on.

Expectations: What is expected from the designer by the client, and vice versa? Be sure that both of you are on the same page about your expectations and respective contributions.

Want: What do you want out of the end product? Every project should have a purpose, so choose a creative direction for the project that matches your client’s vision.

Make an Intake Form

It can be tricky trying to remember all those questions on the spot, so organizing all of your questions in a list, or intake form, would be a great way to catalog your thoughts.

An intake form can be as formal or informal as you want, just as long as it helps to serve as a reference point for the questions you’ll be asking your clients. Note significant questions so you won’t forget to ask them and jot down any additional information that will help your project develop further down the line.

Define a Monetary Estimate for the Project

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Now that you’ve got those questions out of the way and cataloged, you can bring up drafting a contract and coming up with project cost estimations.

An estimate or bid is a proposal for a job. You would present what you, the creative, think the project will cost. The contract is a solidified agreement once the estimate/bid has been accepted by the client. An estimate and contract can be two separate items, or joined together into a single document. Just make sure to clearly define and distinguish the estimate from the contract.

While coming up with an estimate, figure out if you want to charge your client with an hourly rate. Consider these factors:

  • How much time will you need to finish the project?
  • How much expenses will you need to cover the project? (Expenses should cover responsibilities that fall under your and your client’s jurisdictions.)
  • Do you have a flat rate?

You can also provide a ranged estimate giving room for accidents and errors that can happen throughout a project.

Draft a Contract

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After you’ve determined your estimate, it can now evolve into a simple client contract, which as mentioned before, is a more finalized version of your estimate. There isn’t a right or wrong way to draft a contract, since it would be altered for every project. Every project you have will include a different set of expectations and contracts can be changed based on the development of your own business models. It’s okay if you don’t have one designated contract form. Your contract will get more and more developed as you gain more experience as a creative entrepreneur.

Essentially, you want your contract to be an outline of standards and conditions you and your client will agree on. A client might also have their own contract; in this situation, you can ask to include your own language into the client’s contract. Include what legal protection and benefits you think you would need as the creative designer of the project.

Once you have these steps locked down, you’ll be ready to start all of your innovative projects with clear and defined expectations.


This content is from the course Project Management for Designers by Emily Carr University of Art and Design. For more strategies on project management in the field of design, sign up the course below:

Project Management for Designers

Project Management for Designers

Emily Carr University of Art and Design

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