Project Management Tips for Independent Contractors

By MBO Partners | February 20, 2024

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Key Points

A scope of work (SOW) can help make sure you and your client are aligned on roles, deliverables, and timelines.

Good time management and communication are important to projects running smoothly.Good time management and communication are important to projects running smoothly.

Having a plan for scope creep can help prevent disagreements between you and your client.

Project management is an important part of every independent contractor’s business. How you handle a project from start to finish will have an impact on your reputation, and influence whether or not your client will want to work with you again. Project management can be tricky—even if you’re organized and it comes somewhat easily to you—because each project you work on and client you work with will be slightly different. That’s the nature of business as an independent professional!

While there are countless approaches to project management, having a few best practices in your pocket will go far. Here are five topics to keep in mind.

Lay the Groundwork Ahead of Time

Taking some time to plan before a project begins will help you start out on the right foot. Often, this planning begins before a written contract is even signed—with a scope of work (SOW). A SOW is a document that defines how a project will be executed through specific tasks, activities, deliverables, and timelines. You should work hand-in-hand with your client on a SOW. This will help ensure that you are both on the same page when it comes to project details and expectations.

Another task to consider taking on is making a project plan. This is a personal document that can be as detailed or as simple as you like. Think of it as a map of how you plan to meet milestones and deliverables. Break your project down into phases. You might include key contacts for each phase, deadlines, research you need to conduct, or goals you want to meet.

Lastly, hosting a project kickoff meeting can be a helpful way to gather a team together before starting a project. Even if the kickoff meeting is small, just between you and your manager, it can be your chance to firmly establish roles, responsibility, and workflow. Think of a kickoff meeting as your last chance before the project begins to make sure everyone is on track with plan and to get any remaining questions you have answered.

Check out: 8 Terms that Should Be Included an SOW (Scope of Work)

Support Good Communication with the Right Tools

As a small business owner, you likely already know the importance of good communication as part of project management. Before a project begins, check in with your client and establish a general communication plan. Decide what tools you will use (email, phone, project management apps etc.) and how often and what they would like shared. As you move forward with the project, be open to making changes if an initial plan for communication isn’t working.

Try it: How to Communicate Effectively with Clients

Manage Your Time Professionally

As an independent contractor, how you manage your time regarding work is entirely up to you (unless otherwise specified in your contract). That flexibility can be both wonderful and difficult. If you’re prone to procrastination and have a hard time getting work done on time, try to set a basic routine for yourself to organize your day. Build in scheduled breaks and set aside time for work during the hours when you are naturally most productive. Be sure to set aside time for general tasks as well like responding to emails or monthly invoicing. And always give yourself a little more time than you think you’ll need.

Another important part of project management is setting defined boundaries with your client. Your time is valuable, both for your work and personal commitments. Set defined work hours with your client and be clear on when it is acceptable for them to reach out to you outside of those hours. Take a similar approach with friends and family so they can remain respectful of your work time as well.

Here’s how: How to Set Boundaries at Work When You’re Self Employed

Have a Plan for Scope Creep

Scope creep—when a client adds new requirements, activities, or deliverables to a project that go outside the original scope of work—isn’t something you have control over. Chances are it will happen on at least one of your projects. When scope creep happens, it can be easy to miss deadlines and increase timelines or budgets.

No one is happy when scope creep happens, so if you can talk to your client about a plan to manage scope creep before your project begins. That way, if the worst happens, you are both in agreement about what to do next. Planning that far ahead isn’t always possible so be sure to document everything as your project progress, especially in relation to your initial contract. That way if requests come up that are not part of that contract you can validate what you’ve done rather than saying yes and making changes without asking for additional compensation or an amendment to your contract.

Learn more: Scope Creep: Definition, Causes and How to Prevent It

Always Keep Your Client Relationship in Mind

Our last project management tip is to always keep your client relationship top of mind. As an independent, client relationships are the basis of your business. While you shouldn’t always sacrifice your work-life balance for the sake of a client, keep an eye out for times where you can go above and beyond. Submitting a deliverable early, if it makes sense to do so, is one example of how you might make a client’s day.

Take some time to talk to your client about their business needs, goals, and values. As your p project moves along, think of ways that you might help them meet those goals through your work or contribute to things that they value. Small touches can go far in creating strong long-term client relationships, which will benefit your business in the future and make your current working relationship more enjoyable.


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