Phases of Work

5 minutes


Updated September 19, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt from Art For Money, by Michael Ardelean. This small but powerful book helps every creative freelancer know their value and scale their business. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Break down the phases of work. Even the simplest job can be broken into smaller pieces that are easy for your client to understand and easy for you to deliver.

The objective of breaking the job into phases is to give your client a quick inside look at what goes into this stuff. Let’s say a client asks you to create a logo for her business. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say this client’s business is small, and she’s a bit less experienced when it comes to working with creatives. We’ll call her Tanya.

When Tanya first contacted you, she had a certain idea in her head. You asked her what she was interested in seeing, and she says that she wants something clean and modern but also retro and classic and also a little edgy. When you ask her to show you references (existing logos that she’s attracted to) she says, “It’s in my head. I’ll know it when I see it.”

Then Tanya imagines that you’ll take two hours to churn out 30 various logo options for her to critique, and then you’ll have an ongoing conversation for an undefined number of days while you produce limitless revisions until she sees something she likes, and then she’ll pay you, maybe.

By the end, some quick math will tell you, retrospectively, that your hourly rate for Tanya’s project was six dollars.

The phases of work section of your proposal is your chance to avoid that nightmare by taking a valuable opportunity to educate the client. Chop it up something like this:

  • Phase One: Concept

    • 3 days

    • Client provides references.

    • Artist presents Mood Board and Graphic Concepts.

    • Client agrees on direction within 5 days from start.

  • Phase Two: Creation

    • 5 days

    • Artist presents three possible Graphic Directions.

    • Client chooses one direction.

    • Based on agreed direction, Artist builds out three explorations: Logo, Wordmark, Lockup.

  • Phase Three: Finalization

    • 3 days

    • Client chooses their preferred logo, wordmark, and lockup from the directions presented in Phase 2.

    • Up to 3 revisions are made as Artist refines each.

    • Balance payment is due.

    • Assets are handed off in the preferred format.

This should take up one page of the proposal. For a more complex project, this could take multiple pages, but the bulleted style and concise language keeps it clear and manageable. Don’t overwhelm Tanya with complexity, just include what she needs to know.

Laying out the phases like this achieves a few things: First, your client now has a picture of all the steps involved in creating her logo. “Wow, this takes lots of skilled work, and I play a part in the process!” she says to herself as she realizes that her participation is expected at key moments throughout.

You’ll notice that this appears to be an 11-day project in total, but that no dates are mentioned, and each phase’s timeline is dependent upon the timely execution of the previous phase. And that timely execution depends in part on your client.

This project could take 11 days or 33 days—that’s up to Tanya. The workload for you is the same either way. It’s probably in your (and Tanya’s) best interest to do the project in as few days as possible, so you have the opportunity up front to encourage her to think through her references and provide them to you with urgency, because the clock on her project doesn’t start until she does.

The above is for a pretty straight-forward project, but you can imagine how the steps and details I’m outlining here are even more crucial when you’re dealing with a bigger project, or a larger team of Tanyas.

After the final phase, summarize the total project timeline, again avoiding dates—start and end dates can be added when the agreement is signed. Until then, speak in days or weeks.

Most importantly, at the bottom of the total project timeline, add this: “Work begins when client has sent all references for the work, agreement is executed, and deposit is received.” Perhaps your work doesn’t require references, but include anything you need from the client here, and name it.

Pricing Structure

Generally speaking (and this will vary according to the specific services you offer) it’s best not to present an a la carte menu of options with price tags on each service. If you do, the client will pick and choose in the way that leaves you with the least possible amount of money, and holes in the final outcome. For example, imagine you’re a pattern maker. A client wants to pay you to create and submit patterns, but not approve fit samples. Now you’ve got a final product entering the world, potentially with your name on it, that someone else has likely screwed up.

If you can work on a project basis, do that, and, divide the project into phases, with a cost for each phase:

  • 50% for phase 1

  • You’re reading a preview of an online book. Buy it now for lifetime access to expert knowledge, including future updates.
If you found this post worthwhile, please share!