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5 Steps to Determine an Ideal Project Timeline for Your Service-Based Business

Want to know the secret to projects that run smooth every time? It starts with having a project timeline (and what you do with that timeline). In this post, I'm sharing the 5 steps to creating an ideal project timeline that doesn't rush either party, but always keeps the project on track!

Increase Efficiency and Improve Your Client Experience Through Optimized Project Timelines

Creating an ideal project timeline can be difficult, especially if you’re someone who wants to provide flexibility to themselves and their clients. Ironically, having more structure in your project timelines can actually increase the flexibility you and your clients have, because it allows both parties to plan ahead. In this post, I’m breaking down the 5 steps you have to take in order to create a project timeline where neither party is rushed but projects get completed in a timely manner and don’t drag on!

Before we begin, this process is most effective if done when you’re prepared to do some brain dumps! I recommend having a notebook handy, Notion open, or access to your preferred brain dump location.

Step 1: Brain Dump Your Actions

The first part of the process is to brain dump! Take 10-15 minutes (maybe even set a timer!) and write out all of the tasks that you have to do for your main service. And I mean every one! Even something like sending your client something to review.

(For the purpose of this exercise, start from the minute their project is officially booked -- not at the point of inquiry!)

Step 2: Brain Dump Their Actions

The second step of the process is to brain dump, again. But this time take 10-15 minutes and write out all of the tasks that your client has to do for your main service. Things like completing a questionnaire, scheduling a call, providing feedback, etc.

Step 3: Combine Both into One Chronologically Ordered List

Maybe take a little bit of a break and come back to this part later if you need a sec to recover from the brain dumps! Once you’re ready to tackle the second half of this exercise, take both of those lists and combine them into one long list, with all of the actions in chronological order.

This part of the process is super helpful for you to consider what things your client is ideally getting done before you start on certain parts of your process, whether that’s sharing information, sharing materials, providing feedback on things you’ve created, etc.

Step 4: Create Your Timeline!

This is when you get clear on when exactly each of these things is going to be done. It's most helpful to see this on an actual calendar so I recommend using a paper one if you prefer that, or using a Calendar view on Notion, ClickUp, etc. to get a visual for this. If your service is a VIP Week, for example, you can figure out what tasks need to be completed beforehand (and how far in advance they should be completed!) and what tasks need to happen on each day of your VIP week in order to stay on schedule.

If your projects have a longer timeline (multiple weeks, for example) this is a good time to break down your projects week by week, to get clear on what you (or your team) should be working on during any given week of a project and what your client should be doing/reviewing that week (if anything).

The most important part of this process is to be realistic. My friend (and extremely talented copywriter) Alethea often jokes that when she's creating project timelines, she makes them for robot Alethea not actual Alethea—meaning that she tends to set timelines for herself that, in hindsight, might be do-able but definitely aren't going to be fun. (Ex. Working on the same project for 8 hours straight in one day.)

When you're thinking about how much time you need to accomplish a certain task or how long your client needs to provide feedback on something, be realistic. Maybe you know a certain task is going to take you 2 hours. But what about when you're having a busier week? What about when you're struggling to focus or have low energy? What about when you’re juggling multiple projects at once?

Having project timelines that actually work is about making sure to add in flexibility up front for both parties so that you avoid putting too much on your plate at once (and having to rush to meet a deadline) or not accounting for the days when your brain simply needs to do nothing!

After you have this structure, you can do the same exercise for each of your services.

Step 5: Implement the Timeline(s)

Now that you’ve spent this time figuring out what an ideal timeline looks like, what do you do once you have it? You implement it! There are two main ways you want to be implementing the timeline: internally (with yourself / your team) and externally (with your client). Here are some tips on how to do that:


Implementing the timeline internally means making sure you have a way to easily keep track of what tasks you (and your team) need to be working on for each project, based on the timeline. The best way to do this is through a Project Management tool!

My favorite project management tool is Notion, but some other common ones are Asana, ClickUp, and Trello. Notion is the tool that I use in my own business, and the one that I work in for client projects.

I love how flexible it is because you have so many options for how to organize and view your content, but starting out with a blank page can be super overwhelming! That’s why I created my Project Hub Template—the exact template I use in my business, you can get and customize for yours.

It comes with video demos that walk you through using Notion and customizing each part of the template to align with your business. Plus you get access to a support group in Geneva where I’ll answer any questions you have and help with any troubleshooting!


Communicating this timeline with your client is the other half of the equation because, otherwise, they won’t know what to expect or what to adhere to! My preference for communicating a project timeline is through a client portal, but you could also include this in a welcome guide, make a shared google calendar for the project, etc.

The important part is that it’s being delivered in a way that’s easy to reference throughout the project, and having it as a part of a client portal can be super helpful so that you can easily adjust dates if something unexpected comes up and you need to adjust the timeline.

This is, again, something I accomplish through Notion, but could be done in any project management tool! Inside my Notion Project Hub Template, there is a customizable client portal template as well which is automatically loaded into each of your projects so that all you have to do is adjust the dates inside the portal for each client.

If you want less stress during projects and a smoother experience for you and your clients, you’ve gotta put in the work to get there.

BUT, you don’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to! If timeline creation, setting up a project management tool, creating a client portal, etc. don’t sound like your jam—that’s totally okay. I’m here to help whether you hire me to do it all for you, DIY it with my Notion template, or anything in between!

Want more free client experience tips? Join my weekly newsletter, Fridays with Fran: your not-so-average weekly newsletter with actionable client experience advice, hilarious (and sometimes embarrassing) stories, and the occasional cat photo.

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