People ALWAYS ask me about freelancing – Always! As many of you folks know, I spent several years freelancing prior to making the jump into full-time (and now part-time) independent contractor-ship. When you’re just getting started, you can be overwhelmed by the amount of work you’re doing, underwhelmed by the amount of opportunities you’re finding, and dazzled by the dollars you’re raking in. Before you get too deep in the freelance game, you really should step back and organize yourself…or at least screw your head on right. Here are some helpful pieces of advice for doing just that!
1 – Set some of your profits aside.
And by this, I don’t mean in a fun-money fund for your next vacation to Fiji. I mean that taxes are impending (and may incite of feeling of dread or doom) reality, and you really don’t want to pay them out of pocket because you were so busy being pumped on the extra cash you were bringing in. If you fail to set cash aside, it actually turns out to be counter-productive and may make all of your hard work and hours spent moonlighting seem fruitless. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Here’s what I do: When I receive payment on an invoice, I take 30% of the payment and put it in a separate savings account. Next year I will be opening up a business account, but if you’re just sticking to occasional freelancing as a supplement to your income, a savings account should be sufficient. This 30% deduction can be a bitter pill to swallow, but it ensures that I won’t get strapped paying taxes out of pocket (and may even receive a refund – who knows?) come tax time!
2 – Get organized!
This advice might seem like a no-brainer, but unless you’re a planner at heart, the last thing most folks do is get organized, and failing to do so can get messy realllllly fast. As a freelancer, you should have several processes in place before you get too involved, such as development processes (for whatever it is you develop), get-money processes (for invoicing/collecting payment), kick off and close out processes (for kicking off and closing out a project with a client). Having these processes in place will save you a ton of time, streamlining the projects you work on from start to finish.
Here’s what I do: One of the first things I do when I start a project is open up my Project Management Software (PMS) and set up a new project. Prior to the kick off meeting, I review anything the client has sent me and compile a list of questions I have (deadlines, review cycles, etc.). During the kick off meeting, I document the conversation in a Word document, which I then save to the project in my PMS. After the kick off meeting, I itemize all of the project tasks and set deadlines in the PMS. Basically the PMS runs my life and keeps me on point. At the end of the project, I have a wrap-up meeting (or email exchange, depending on client preferences), document what was said, and upload the document to the PMS. Then, I generate an invoice…in the PMS (previously, I had a Word template for this, which I would email) and send it to the client. The moral of this story – find a PMS you love and use it! I recommend Pancake.
Before I caught on to the importance of being organized in my freelance life, things were messy. PMS has changed my life, and I find it so helpful (and refreshing) when I work with clients who use them too!
Another great way to stay organized (and productive) is to maintain a tidy office space and use folders for hard-copy paperwork (e.g. contracts, non-disclosure agreements, tax documentation). This will make your life a lot easier when you need to refer to a piece of paper you printed off once upon a time.
3 – Be considerate (to yourself and others).
In this context, being considerate doesn’t necessarily mean being nice to yourself and to others (but, that will happen indirectly). It really means being cognizant of your abilities and not over-obligating yourself. Furthermore, being considerate to yourself should also mean: don’t apply to every single thing your see – especially if you’re freelancing through odesk, elance, freelancer, or one of the many freelancing sites.
Here’s what I do: Initially I did not heed my own advice, and I paid dearly (over-committing to projects I wasn’t qualified for or which I absolutely hated). Before you start working at the freelance chain game, take some time and itemize your interests and qualifications. Then, bid or apply for projects that align with your qualifications or interests. This will ensure that you don’t get saddled bidding on ‘Spinning 100 articles for 30 dollars’ or writing some kids PhD thesis for a 250 bucks – neither of which are at the high of ethics and integrity…or profit. Be considerate and smart about what you apply for, don’t undervalue yourself, and don’t over-commit!