Going it alone – Freelancing tips and tools to keep on track

Going it alone – Freelancing tips and tools to keep on track

If you’re already a freelancer, then you know that there’s a preconceived idea of us swanning around picking and choosing the hours we work and the projects we work on. We all know that this isn’t the case all of the time. I’ve mentioned before on my blog that the reality is everyone you work for can become, in effect, your temporary boss. And it’s likely you’ll have to take work that isn’t what you’d love to work on because you need to pay the bills.
One of the huge attractions of going it alone is the flexibility.There’s also the independence and drive of running your own business. Whatever your motives for this – work life balance, family commitments, independence, entrepreneurialism – you still have to find a way to manage and generate work. I’m splitting this post about freelancing tips and tools into three areas: finding work, managing work, and managing your business. It’s a work in progress, but here are a few tips of my own and some I’ve picked up along the way.

Finding work

We’re all different with this one. Work with methods that play to your strengths and, although it sounds obvious, align with where your ideal clients are likely to be found. I hear many examples from peers about how effective networking events are. Others using LinkedIn, emailing prospects, or using digital marketing techniques via their website or social media to build relationships and attract customers. Nothing beats a personal recommendation.
I personally have largely found networking ineffective, but that’s probably due to the industry that I work in or that I live in a fairly rural town or that I am not a natural salesperson. Social media has been the most effective for me, then recommendations from my own personal network –  family, friends and old school pals. It’s important to be open and ready for work, be helpful and present and keep your social channels and website up to date, so when a client finds you and checks you out online, this matches the information they already have.

Managing work

When you work for yourself, the buck stops with you. This can be challenging at times when you’re relying on input from your client or other project members, so you need to find methods to manage your work and keep projects on track. This may mean following up, repeatedly, with clients to request vital information. Be clear about your client expectations and manage those if you feel they’re unreasonable. Commit to timescales and progress updates. It can be helpful to outline a working process from the start – one that works for you and the client. I am a huge fan of online tools to help manage projects and regularly use online shared spreadsheets on Google Sheets or on OneDrive that can be kept up to date. All project team members can see a snapshot of progress without endless emails to find out where we are. Slack is another great tool for working together in teams. It keeps communications linked under message threads and has options for file sharing, direct messaging and voice calls.
Whichever methods you employ for managing work, it’s also vital to set out enough time and space to actually do the work. Again, this is down to personal preference, you might suit working in the early hours or late at night or the traditional 9-5. You might prefer a desk or a kitchen table or a cafe. We have the flexibility to work anywhere and anytime.

Managing your business

One of the things I totally underestimated when I started working for myself was the amount of time I would need to spend on my own business – marketing, pitching, following up, admin, bookkeeping. It can be disheartening to pitch to clients and get rejected, you can’t help but take it personally. But that’s the reality, you don’t win them all, and this time has to be factored in from the start.
Setting aside time to work on your own business can seem counterintuitive if you have paid work that you could be doing instead. I try to set some time aside at the start of each month to work on my content marketing and social media and to review my previous month’s work. By grouping my blog writing and social media scheduling, I am using my time productively as they are linked tasks and once I have published my blog posts, I then plan and schedule my social media posts. I find Feedly useful for finding and curating content for my social media and Hootsuite is a simple method for scheduling posts. Buffer is another option for this, which has the functionality for curating and sharing content. To review my previous month, I use the online time tracker Toggl and look over my reports to see how I have been spending time and to evaluate my productivity on any project-based work.
Keeping track of finances should also be high on your agenda as a freelancer. There are many options for this such as a simple spreadsheet to record income and expenses or using accounting software such as FreshBooksQuickBooks or Sage or an app like Easy Books. This is something that I am personally in the process of reviewing for my own procedures as we approach the Making Tax Digital transformation. Keeping an eye on your accounts isn’t just essential to satisfy any tax obligations, it is essential for the planning, review, and sustainability of your business.

Update 15/06/17: This blog post contributed to an article on the QuickBooks business resource centre.
’6 Insider Tips for National Freelancers Day’ 
If you work for yourself, there are lots of hints and resources that fellow freelancers have shared.
Enjoy the read!.

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About the Author

Hi, I’m the owner of WriteCloud, a virtual assistant and freelance copywriter based in Kent. I help consultants, small businesses and organisations make the most of their time by taking care of their admin, online content or social media.

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