Timeline planning is easy to neglect. After all, you need it done when you need it done, right? What more is there to know? Well, in truth, there’s a lot of preparation required when setting up your timeline. Determine if there’s any flexibility to the timeline. Are you in control of the due date or are you tied down by external forces? What can be accomplished in the time you have? Do you need to simplify your expectations or does time allow you to be more ambitious? If your timeline is not in sync with your budget and other project needs, then compromises will probably need to be made.

Flexibility

If possible, you should try to build some flexibility into your timeline, if for no other reason than the potential issues discussed above. Problems may or may not affect your bottom line but will most certainly tamper with your timeline. Also recommended is setting up your schedule in a way that keeps your providers from knowing that extra time is available, since they may decide to take advantage of that information. However, if you do not have any strict deadlines, allow some breathing space for your providers so they are not under unnecessary pressure.

Milestones

The importance of milestones cannot be stressed enough. Setting a schedule for when certain deliverables are due throughout the course of the project will allow you greater control over your timeline and help keep your provider on track (not to mention the fact that you’ll be able to correct any errors or redirect your provider should they fall off course). Utilize any special tools available to you – some may be offered by your freelance website – for issuing reminders to both yourself and your provider, so that your milestones stay on target.

Communication of Changes

Creating a well thought out schedule is not enough if something changes along the way. Expectations need to be kept up-to-date on both sides of the project, which means that changes in the timeline must be communicated to your

provider immediately. Remember that your providers cannot live up to undefined expectations, nor can they read your mind. Effective communication is perhaps the single most important part of a successful outsourced project, and timeline changes are no exception to the rule.

Imagine trying to build a house without first drawing up proper blueprints. It would be a disaster, right? Well, outsourcing a project without the proper planning is no different. Failure to be prepared in all aspects of your project will likely lead you toward a slow, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful experience. Any good provider wants to give you what you need within your budget and your timeline. However, if you are unable to define the parameters of your project, to calculate a reasonable cost estimate and budget for it, or schedule for the optimum usage of time, then even the best provider will not be able to save you from yourself.

Once you are confident in your preparations, it’s time to start looking for a provider. Use the information you’ve amassed to this point to create a strong, detailed project description. Along with the requirements for the project, establish what requirements you have for your ideal provider. You’ve adjusted your project to fit you – budget, timeline, etc. – but is the project compatible with potential providers?

Laura needs printed sales materials that she can hand out to potential clients. She’s decided to go with a large, full-color brochure. Before hiring a designer, however, she has plotted out a timeline and sequence of events that she thinks will be most effective and efficient. She’s broken down the project into five segments: design concepts, initial layouts, final graphics and copy, proofs and adjustments, and final art to printer. Each of these segments has also been broken down into smaller, more manageable steps. Using this timeline as a guide, Laura will be highly likely to meet her deadline and have a superior brochure that she can be proud of.

Once you’ve established that your project is, in fact, doable, you need to plan out your timeline. Simply giving a provider an end due date is not enough. Your timeline should be broken down into manageable segments that you can monitor.

A well- planned timeline gives your provider very clear instructions on how you want the project to develop and progress. However, be diligent whenever possible about building some flexibility into your timeline. Estimating how long any aspect of the project might take is difficult to do, even for very experienced people. Don’t get stuck on a schedule that cannot evolve with the project.

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