Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Don’t just Duck and Cover: Risk Management for Freelancers

Sometimes, things go wrong with projects. That’s life. If you are taking on a new project you can take one of two approaches when dealing with the risks that might cause your project to veer off track:

1/ Stick your head in the sand, your fingers in your ears, hum loudly and wish for the magic pixies to make them all go away, or

2/ Put together a plan for factors that could derail your project and decide what steps you can take to protect from them.

If you pick the first strategy stop reading now and Google ‘magic pixies will fix my project’ instead. If you think the second would be more appropriate for your project, read on.

Your risk management plan does not have to be fancy. The most important thing is that you are going through the process of identifying risks early on in your project planning and considering contingencies. If you get used to thinking in this way before problems arise, the battle is already half won.

Going through the following simple 4-step process with each new project should help to identify threats, decide how likely they are to occur and create a contingency plan.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Sit down, either alone or with others who will be working on this project (your project team) and take some time to think of all the reasons why your project might run into difficulties. These could be anything from

  • team members who are inexperienced in this kind of project
  • using technology that some of your team might be unfamiliar with
  • bad weather in a project that relies on outdoor work
  • a new client you haven’t worked with before
  • funding difficulties

to other, more unlikely ones such as

  • tornadoes, snowstorms or volcanic ash clouds
  • several of your team all getting sick at once
  • your client going bust

The main thing is to get them all down at this point.

Try to be specific. For example, rather than saying that the task of producing invitations to a launch party might overrun, say that producing invitations to the launch party might overrun because the outside company you are relying on to produce them might not be used to such a large order. It is much easier to come up with contingencies if you are specific.

Step 2: Ranking your risks

If you are feeling overwhelmed with disasters at this point, don’t worry!  The next step is to rank the likelihood of these risks actually happening, putting the most likely at the top.

For example, it might be very likely for a wedding photographer to experience bad weather on the day. The threat of the wedding being cancelled might be much further down on his list, with the risk of a snowstorm in July in Florida would be right down at the bottom.

Step 3: Contingency planning

This is the stage when you can start thinking of what you might do in the event that one of these risk factors starts to affect your project. Now you have ranked your risks you can decide

  • how far down the list you will look to make contingency plans
  • whether you will start that planning now or wait until the event of it actually happening.

You may decide that only the top risk factors are ever likely to happen, so you will only develop a plan for those eventualities.


Your project is to organise an event to launch a new brand of perfume. You have five people in your project team, one of whom has never worked on a launch event before. The event is in January in Boston.

You risk management strategy might look something like this:

Risk Contingency
The inexperienced staff member might underestimate how long each of their tasks will take, resulting in project delays Set up a thorough reporting schedule so that the team can track their progress against the project plan and report back frequently
Bad weather might cause transport problems on the night of the event Send out transport options with the invitations so that guests are aware of the alternatives
The client has had some funding issues so cash flow could become a problem Agree with client to be paid in stages, at each significant milestone
The catering company might be unable to meet the order Choose a second catering company to supply the drinks
Sickness may affect more than one member of the team resulting in delays to tasks Have other freelancers on standby in case of serious illness

In this instance, the team decide that the first three risks are very likely, so work on actually implementing the contingencies, but that the fourth and fifth are less likely as they have worked with the caterer before with no problems and they consider it unlikely that more than one team member will get seriously ill. They will only deal with those eventualities if they arise, rather than spending time on it now.

Step 4: Communication

It is no good in having a risk management plan if nobody knows about it. Make sure you communicate your plan with the rest of your team, and with other parties such as your client if you think it is necessary. After all, it could be you that is unable to work and your team needs to know what to do!

Photo by Flickr user Zolierdos


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