Let's talk about best practices for naming your projects and the related invoices, orders, proposals, and other files. Having a naming convention lets you instantly see which document goes with which client and project, just by glancing at the name. It’s key for organization–and for your sanity–when you’re juggling multiple design projects.
Benefits of Using a Naming Convention
Uplevel Your Business
Whether you just launched your interior design business or you have years of experience, staying organized is critical. Having a standard way to name all client files, invoices, orders, and proposals not only keeps documents easy to locate, but makes you look even more professional and polished to your clients and collaborators.
Find Everything Easily
Instead of spending time trying to clarify multiple vaguely named files, you’ll have a set way to name things that takes away any confusion about specific project components.
Better Tracking and Version Control
Tracking project progression becomes easier. When files share elements like project name, date, or version, you can view, sort, and compare multiple files more easily. For example, invoice numbers follow a clear numbering system, rather than random digits. Prototypes might follow Version 1, Version 2, and so on as designs progress.
Less Stress and Better Communication
I know this may seem tedious at first, but as someone who has been in your shoes, I can tell you that having a specific way of naming everything (and sticking to it!) will increase efficiency, lower your mental load, and make it easier for everyone involved on the project to communicate. It is absolutely worth the effort!
Naming Your Project
The first step is to decide how you’d like to name your projects. I’ve tried using clients’ names, their address, their street name, their neighborhood, and so many other things for project names, but by themselves, they don’t give me much information and can be confusing. If a client hires you for another project down the road, what do you name the new project? Or what if you have multiple clients on the same street or in the same neighborhood? Not to mention that it can make finding specific project documents a huge headache down the line.
There are many different ways you can go when deciding on a naming convention, but today I’m going to show you my personal favorite. It’s based on one that an architecture firm I worked for used and it works for an incredibly wide variety of design businesses–from solopreneurs all the way up to large firms with quite a few employees.
The format is:
Let’s say that I have a kitchen renovation project for my client Sarah Oswald that will begin on March 15th, 2024. The official project name would be:
Now, you may be wondering why I would start with the date and why the year comes first.
By using a date format of YY-MM-DD, the YEAR comes first when viewing files alphabetically. This automatically groups any files by year. So even in a long list of documents, all of the 2023 files would be grouped together, then all the 2024 files, and so on.
Then, by going with the structure of YY-MM-DD, any files created within that year automatically sorts chronologically by month in your list.
The files are also organized by the day of the month.
This will create an alphabetical list of your files that doubles as a chronological list of the files. Everything stays neatly organized by date created without you having to think about it at all!
Compare that to dates written as MM-DD-YY or other random date formats, which would mean your January 2023 and March 2023 documents are all mixed together rather than grouping by year and month. As you can see, that would be quite a mess!
The YY-MM-DD format keeps everything neatly lined up chronologically as a happy side effect of alphabetical sorting. Much better!
Before we move on, I want to point out that you don’t have to use the client’s initials. It works better for me, but you could just as easily use the client’s name.
P.S. If it doesn’t feel as client-friendly to have a name like that, you can always include a more inviting name on the project.
24-0315-SO | Sarah’s Kitchen Renovation
Naming Your Documents and Files
Now that you have a standard way to name your projects, let’s extend that to your documents and files. If you’ve ever looked at an invoice with the number 23844 or three drawings all named living room and had to open them all to figure out which project they belong to, you’re going to love this step.
The goal here is to make it easy. Start with the project name. In our case, 24-0315-SO. Then we’re going to add a letter that shows the type of document or file. Some examples are:
Order can also be broken down into PO and WO for Purchase Order and Work Order
So if we are creating an invoice for Sarah’s project, the invoice numbers will all start with:
After that, we add a number to show which invoice (for example) is which. To make sure my alphabetical/chronological order continues, I use two digits for the number.
Check out the examples below!
Example Invoice Numbers
Example Proposal Numbers
Example Drawing File Numbers
By the way, when it comes to the drawings, this will help you know exactly which one is the latest drawing. No more drawing files labeled final that then get revised (for whatever reason) and you can’t tell which is which!
Whatever naming convention you choose to use, remember that while it requires a bit more attention when you’re first getting started, it will be worth it to have an orderly, professional filing system that reduces headaches, keeps team members looped in, and allows you to scale your growing business smoothly. So even if it sounds kind of boring and tedious, take the time to establish clarity and consistency with your naming conventions. Your future self will thank you!
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