I have long been a fan of setting clear deadlines and milestones not only for myself but for the client. This started in my first year on the job when I was given an eBook project that turned into a bit of a nightmare. It was only 15,000 words – barely an eBook at all really, but the client provided no information other than “write an eBook” and so I did. But, there were back and forths about turnaround time, the final content was not what he had in mind and the revision process took twice as long as the writing of the eBook – all of which was ultimately my fault in his eyes.
So, when I did a post mortem on this project and asked myself what went wrong, I realized it was mostly an issue of poorly defined deliverables and milestones. Had I know when he expected to see a draft and when he needed to launch his project I would have scheduled accordingly. So I drew up a small list of things I would do the next time I was awarded an eBook project.

  1. Ask for the final deadline (after edits) – Don’t just ask for a deadline. Demand it. I won’t take a project unless the client gives me the date on which they need it. Because, while it might seem like you have “forever” to do a project when you have no deadline, invariably, the client will send a series of increasingly frenzied emails at some point when they realize they do in fact have a deadline and it will cause problems.
  2. Provide an outline of my deliverable dates for approval – I break down any project of more than 10 pages into milestones and then tell the client exactly what days I plan on delivering that content. I aim to give myself 2-3 days of buffer beyond what I think I will need for each milestone (unless it’s a rush job) so that I can deliver early if possible. Makes me look good.
  3. Communicate frequently – If the milestones are more than a week apart, I make it a point to send an update to my client at least least once a week. Ideally via Skype or on the phone so they know I’m taking the project seriously. No need to go in-depth on what you’re doing. Just tell them where you are and how much more you have to do.
  4. Request confirmation of all submissions and any changes – When you submit content or need to prolong a deadline due to extra edits or a change in project scope by the client, make sure they confirm it. Just ending an email is not enough. The client needs to see and read that email and then write back saying “okay”. If you don’t hear back in 48 hours, followup.

Fortunately, the next eBook project I took on happened to be with a larger publisher that had their own processes in place. They asked me to write a 2-3 page outline with detailed annotations of what each section would include before even starting the project, and I in turn integrated this process into my above list and it has saved me untold headaches over the years from poorly communicated project guidelines.
The bottom line is this – your clients usually know what they want, even if they don’t realize it. Fair or not, it is your job to pry it out of them and make sure that everything you plan on doing is approved before hand. If your outline and your deadlines and your milestones are all approved, the client will be hard pressed to find fault with your processes later on, plus having such a system in place makes you appear that much better organized when bidding on projects. Always a plus.