“I’d love to just read some stuff on the basics of being a freelancer.”
It’s funny, the more you do something, the more you begin to feel that “everyone” already knows certain things. As a full-time, professional freelance writer, I had gotten to the point where I forgot about “the basics” being something that isn’t always basic to everyone else. Let’s fix that.
Freelance Writer Time Management
One of the major difficulties with being a freelancer is properly allocating your time. Remember, as a freelancer, you are not only a writer, you are also a small business owner. So, there are a lot of important tasks vying for your time. The trick is to get to everything when you can, and in the much more likely scenario when you can’t, to do the most important things first. So, here is a quick and dirty way to properly manage your time as a freelancer.
- Do Paying Work First – This sounds obvious, but in a world of to-do list apps, planners, schedulers, and books all telling you what to do and when, it can get lost in the shuffle. Remember, the whole reason you are a freelancer is to earn a living. You do that by finding, and completing, professional, paying work. Many freelancers fall into the trap of waiting for the deadline. That is, if it isn’t due until next week, there is no point in doing it until next week. That’s fine, if everything proceeds according to your plan. Sure, there could always be trouble, but what if there is opportunity? What if a great new project comes along, but only if you can work on it next week? If you finished your paying work, you can jump on it. If not, that means long hours and late nights, and less efficiency. Do your paying work first, always.
- Do What Is Due First, First – Okay, now let’s make you a more successful freelancer, and you have a lot of paying projects competing for your attention. Do what is due first. Again, this sounds obvious, but it can be all too tempting to work on easy, or fun, projects first. If it’s due first, it gets your attention first. Remember, that “due” doesn’t necessarily mean a final deliverable is due. If you need to get an interview scheduled by Wednesday so you can turn in a draft by Monday, then that interview is DUE on Wednesday. Make sure it gets done in the proper order.
- Write Something Else – If you have completed all your paying work, it’s time to write for free. I’m not a big fan of writing for others for free, but writing for yourself pays dividends. Write a blog post, write a sample article you always wished you had lying around for pitches or responses. Remember, you are a writer, so write.
- Invoice and Record Keeping – Now, it’s time to do those other business things. Follow up on unpaid invoices, file your receipts, fill out records or time keeping. Send in those quarterly tax payments. This is here for a reason. Doing the work for the work you’ve already done comes before the next step.
- Find New Work – Too many freelancers fall into the pattern of feast or famine because they don’t spend enough time finding new work. The number five spot may make this sound like a low priority, but nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you have full days filled with paying work, writing, and record keeping (Do you? Be honest.) then, you need to being finding your next writing gig EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. No one is saying to cold call or go “network,” but some activity you do should be focused on finding new work. Check job boards. Send out responses. Send emails. Post on forums. Do what you do, but do it every day.
- Email – Unless the email falls into 1 through 5 above, you do it here. Talking to people, being helpful, and following up are all important, both as a human being, as because being, “a good guy,” quickly turns into marketing, networking, and referals, but make sure you don’t get stuck here.
- Social Media and Networking – Don’t fool yourself into thinking posting a joke on Twitter is marketing. Yes, maintaining a social media presence is useful and necessary, but it is not your highest priority. Tweet daily, on the way back downstairs from your home office if necessary, but don’t waste time until you’ve #1 through #7.
Sure, there is more to running a successful freelance writing business, but those things aren’t usually regular, or daily activities, or at least they shouldn’t be. And, those extra things come with priorities and deadlines of their own. Fit them in after #6. What if they are really important? Well, if they are truly important, I bet they fit into #1 through #6. (That IRS audit is a #4, and that new website you need to market in another niche is #3.)
Follow these steps, and work hard every day, and everything else actually just falls into place.