Freelance Advice: Golden Rules of Project Management

You’ve got your first freelancing gig and you are super excited. You are going to be published! Awesome! Full of enthusiasm you start pounding away at the keyboard. And just like that, you’ve made your first mistake…

By William McAusland
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


It’s happened to all of us. (Well, it’s certainly happened to me). In the “rush to design” you dive into your new project and start creating super awesome stuff. You never stop to think about the project as a whole – focusing rather on the minutia of new feats, new spells, exciting encounters and so on – and utterly fail to deliver what the publisher wanted.

Before you start designing, you need to take a step back and look at the project brief. You need to understand:

  • What You Are Doing: If the publisher has contracted you to deliver 2,000 words of new spells, don’t give him 2,000 words of new feats. If the design brief calls for a dark and gritty dungeon don’t design a comedy homage to your favourite film. Read the design brief and then read it again. If you don’t know what you are meant to be designing, you vastly improve your chance of failure.
  • Who Are You Designing It For: That’s easy, right? You are designing it for the publisher, right? Wrong. While you are employed by the publisher, you are designing the product for the end user – the customer. That’s kind of obvious, but think about what that means. Are you designing the project for ten-year-olds new to gaming or old grognards who reminisce about deathtraps of old? Power gamers? Role-players? All those groups want to play the same game, but they have vastly different needs and play styles. If you don’t know who you are designing the project for, you vastly improve your chance of failure.
  • Why You Are Designing This Project: Obviously, the publisher is hoping to make money. Beyond that, though, you must understand the product’s purpose. Is it part of a line? Is it a standalone? Does it have a particular theme or is it set in a particular world? Understanding a project’s goal(s) – and there could well be more than one – empowers you to design outstanding, relevant material. If you don’t know what the project’s goal is, you vastly improve your chance of failure.
  • What Success Look Like: Failure sucks. You waste your time, the customer wastes his money, the publisher loses money and you (probably) don’t get another gig. Understand how to succeed before you start. If the publisher wants 4,000 words, give him 4,000 words. Turning over vastly more (or far less) is a disaster. Page counts, editing costs, art costs and even print cost estimates all get thrown out the window. Similarly, turning over the most awesome project in the history of game design is great, but doing so a year late is not so great. If you don’t know the criteria for success, you vastly improve your chance of failure.

The above advice might seem blindingly obvious, but in the “rush to design” often freelancers forget or ignore even the clearest and simplest of instructions.  So remember, if you know what you are designing, for who you are designing it and why you are designing it you massively increase the chances of your success!

Help Your Fellow Freelancers

Have you got any project management tips I’ve missed out or great examples of projects that have gone very right or very wrong?  Let us know in the comments below and help other designers in their freelance careers!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

3 thoughts on “Freelance Advice: Golden Rules of Project Management”

  1. Off topic- but I’m loving the countdown I just saw for the release of Wolverton! Feel free to delete, I’m just doing another test like you asked.

  2. Les remarques que je viens de lire sont parfaitement pertinentes. Si vous travaillez pour le compte d’un éditeur, vous devez absolument tenir compte de ses directives sous peine de vous voir dessaisir du ou des projets. Il convient effectivement de respecter les lignes que l’éditeur entend donner à son projet. Vous ne pouvez pas vous substituer à lui à ce sujet car vous n’êtes pas le maître d’oeuvre.
    En revanche, en ce qui concerne la présentation, il importe de savoir à qui va s’adresser le projet (adultes, enfants, spécialistes, etc). Ici, c’est vous le spécialiste. Vous devez convaincre l’éditeur que vous êtes la personne qu’il lui faut, que vous connaissez le sujet.

    En résumé. vos compétences de créateur sont importantes, mais pas déterminantes. Dans tout projet soumis à un éditeur, il faudra montrer :

    a) que vous êtes un professionnel et que vous savez de quoi vous parlez
    b) que vous êtes capable de convaincre
    c) que vous êtes ambitieux mais réaliste
    d) de l’humilité et de l’obstination car même avec toutes les qualités qui sont les vôtres, il vous arrivera sans doute une fois ou l’autre de “vous faire jeter”. Donc de l’humilité pour l’accepter et de l’obstination pour continuer. Rien n’est jamais perdu.

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