Track your copywriting projects the easy, low-tech way
This is especially important when you work for a busy marketing department or launch a freelance practice. You could have a dozen copy projects running at one time. Without a practical way to track all those projects, you’ll be a nervous wreck. And you’ll start screwing up and missing deadlines.
Does this mean you have to buy an expensive, complex project tracking computer program with a 300-page user manual? Nope. I use a simple low-tech system that you can set up in a few minutes.
If you can find a computer program or online tool that works for you, fine. I use a wide variety of programs and tools for my business.
But for tracking projects, most of the tools I’ve seen are vastly over-complicated. And if a program doesn’t make the job simpler, why bother? With my system, I spend less time wrestling with software and have more time available for writing.
So how does my copy project tracking system work? You’ll need …
1. A “job” spreadsheet. Use whatever software you have, Excel, Works, or whatever. I use OpenOffice.org.
2. A calendar. Since I already use ACT! for contact management, I decided to use the built-in calendar. It has the added advantage of tying projects to my client records. However, Windows includes a calendar. And there are dozens of other calendar programs available. Take your pick.
3. Computer folders. I have a big folder for active clients where I keep a separate folder for each client. In each client’s folder, I create an individual folder for each project.
4. File folders. These are just ordinary, manila folders with a tab at the top. If you plan to recycle folders like I do, you’ll also want some labels.
Now I’ll tell you how I set up my system, but feel free to modify it to suit your own needs.
First, set up your job spreadsheet. Click here to look at my spreadsheet template. This will make it easier to follow along. I’ve included a few sample projects just to show how it works.
Create the following columns:
Job/Invoice – This is for a unique 6-digit number for each job. It represents the year, month, and day the project starts. If the project starts on February 8, 2010, the job number is 100208 (10=2010, 02=February, 08=the 8th).
Client - The name of the business you’re writing for, such as World Wild Widgets, Inc.
Project Name – The name assigned to the project, such as New Widget Brochure Copy.
Contact – The name of the person you report to.
Start – The first day you work on the project.
End – The last day you work on the project.
Billed – The day you invoiced for the project.
Received – The day you received payment.
Invoice – The amount of the invoice.
Services – The amount you paid to hire designers or other vendors, if that is required. This may also include the cost of buying photos or other items that represent significant out-of-pocket cost.
Net - Invoice – Services = Net.
Hours – Your total hours worked on the project. I don’t bill per hour, but I track hours to see how profitable each project is. This is useful for making adjustments to a fee schedule.
Per Hour – Net / Hours = Per Hour.
Now that you have your columns set up, insert a formula to do totals for the Invoice, Services, Net, and Hours columns. Usually the formula looks something like SUM(L5:L151), where “SUM” means “add” and “L5″ (or whatever) represents a starting or ending cell in the column.
Insert a formula for the Per Hour column to track your average profit per hour. It should look something like K3/L3, where you’re dividing the Net column sum by the Hours column sum.
Don’t worry, these formulas are generally built in and you can apply them with a couple clicks. Or you can save my spreadsheet template and use it for yourself.
You’ll notice that I use colors for the data. Green means an active project. Red means a project that is finished and has been invoiced. Black means a completed, paid project.
That’s it for the spreadsheet.
Next, you’ll need your calendar, but all you have to do with this is mark the due date for each project. I use red to indicate due dates so they stand out. If your calendar offers an “alarm” to warn you when something is due, you can use that too.
Finally, when you start a project, create a computer folder and a physical folder.
Each computer folder is labeled with the job name and number. So, for example, if I’m writing a sales letter for XYZ Company starting on December 10, 2010, the computer folder is labeled “XYZ Sales Letter 101210. This is where I keep project briefs, samples, research, copy files, etc.
Each physical folder is labeled with the client name plus job name and number. I don’t use paper any more than I have to, but I like to brainstorm on paper and organize notes this way. Plus, I keep a job sheet inside this folder to track activities and time.
And there you have it. This simple system is easy to manage, tracks the status and profit of each project, provides basic information for later reference, and helps you meet deadlines. It’s mercifully low-tech, so you have no software to buy or learn. It’s worked for me for years.
When I find something better, I’ll use it. But so far, I haven’t. If you have what you think is a better system or a simple project tracking tool, let me know.