Finding a way to manage your time once you start running a successful freelance writing business is an important detail.
When you first start getting paid writing assignments, managing your time is easy. Do the work you are getting paid to do first, then use the remaining hours of your day to do everything else. But, eventually, there comes a point where you need to carve out time for important work that isn’t necessarily paid, at least right away.
For example, now that the new year is here, it is tax time. That means getting organized. I’ve been putting business expense receipts in a folder all year, so I’m good there. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to doing freelance writing taxes than just deducting my writing expenses. The biggest pain for most freelancers is getting all of the 1099-MISC forms from clients. Every client who paid you more than $600 during 2015, has to send you a 1099 form that reports how much they paid you. You use these forms like corporate employees use their W2 forms. Your biggest clients will fire these things off right away. Your smaller clients may drag their feet, or never send them at all. So, you need a list of clients that you had during the last year, and a way to check them all off. That means setting something up, and that takes time.
Then, there are things like updating your website. Both the content and the layout on my freelance writing business website are a bit out of date. It’s no small task to update them.
While linking this article to older articles, I’ve noticed that I need to update some of the posting on this website. I can (and will, this time) do these onesie-twosie, but the reality is that a full inventory is probably in order. Once I have the inventory, I’ll need a writing calendar, or other means of scheduling these.
And, of course, this is all before doing any marketing, responding to emails, sending off writing samples to prospective clients, and building that new financial newsletter template that I have all drawn up in my head.
Freelance Writing Business Organization
When it comes to time management and organization for a freelance writing business, you need to take a little bit of the time management advice from different gurus and systems.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story:
If you have a jar, and you fill it with pebbles, then there is no room for larger rocks. However, if you put the largest rocks in the jar first, then you can get smaller rocks and pebbles in around the larger rocks.
When it comes to a writing business, your paying jobs are the large rocks. They absolutely must come first. Things like marketing, updating websites, record keeping, and even cleaning your office all have to go in next. But, to take the analogy further, only so many rocks will fit in the jar. If we consider a single jar to be a day, or a week, then we have to figure out how to get the all of the big rocks in the amount of jars we have. Deadlines mean that certain rocks have to go in earlier jars, and so on.
So, how do you make it all work?
- Calendar – Yep. That’s the first step, a big, ol’ boring calendar. You can go all electronic, although I still have three paper calendars. One is on my wall, it’s the quick glance calendar that let’s me know big events (and in my case, as a work at home father, when the kids are out of school), and what day of the week it is. The second calendar is one of those desk blotter types. This is for jotting things down when I’m on the phone, as well as marking down things as I go. For example, I have a couple of clients that I write news articles for. Since those do not come on a regular, or predetermined basis, it is important to keep track of them so that I make sure to bill for every one (and not bill twice for the same one). Finally, I have a notebook calendar that I carry around in my work bag with my laptop. Jotting dates down, while away from your desk is important if you ever want to work in a coffee shop, or around other people.
- Online Calendar – I find that syncing up my paper calendars and online calendar is a useful way to reinforce in my mind what my schedule and tasks look like. However, nothing replaces the ability to get an alert reminder on your phone. This keeps you from missing important calls, emails, or other deadlines. I don’t put regular writing work in my online calendar. That makes it far too cluttered. Instead, use your online calendar for things you can’t forget when you aren’t at your desk.
- Client Database – You are going to need a way to keep track of clients, assignments, billing and payments. This is the one area where many freelance writers get into trouble. Billing on time, and making sure you get paid on time is a critical function. And, since no two clients are the same, you need a way to bill clients every week, every month, ever $1,000, or whatever your arrangement is. Then, you need to know when you should be paid whether it’s within 30 days, net 45 days, or whatever.
- Timer – For me, I like using a flexible, bastardized, version of a Pomodoro timer. The actual Pomodoro technique mandates 25 minute work blocks with a 5 minute break in-between. This is probably ideal, but it’s nice to be able to set a 45 minute block of work time, or a 10 minute block. What matters is that you break your tasks for the day into the blocks, and you do it for the whole work day so that you can see how much stuff you can actually accomplish in the amount of time you have.
- Filing – Eventually, you’ll have stuff that you know you need to keep but don’t necessarily have somewhere set up to keep track of it. This is the number one place for organizational problems. Typically, you will put it somewhere so that you’ll remember to “do something” with it. Unfortunately, it often disappears before you “do something.” For me, I have a standalone, plastic filing bin, that sits next to my paper shredder. Everything I need to keep but I don’t know where, or for how long to keep it, goes in the file box. Whenever I need one of those ‘somethings’ I look in the box. It may take a while, but it’s always in there. When the box gets too full, I go through it and find permanent homes for things that I still need to keep and shred and recycle the rest. If I don’t know what to do with it, I leave it in the box. Eventually, it becomes moot (shred) or it becomes something I know I need to keep.
This is a good start for most freelancers to get organized. It may not sound like much, but I guarantee that if you actually do these five things completely, any remaining organizational and time management problems you have will be minimal.