Whether you’ve been freelancing for years or are just getting started, there’s always room to improve on your work processes and become more efficient. The shifting economy has opened the door for many people to move into freelancing, but that doesn’t make everyone good at it automatically. Many freelancers start their business as a side gig. Others jump right in and go full time with freelancing from day one. Regardless of which direction you choose, here are nine of our favorite freelancer hacks to help set you up for success.
1. Think Like a Business Owner
You’re a freelancer. You may not think of yourself as a business owner. But if you want to be successful, you need to think like one.
So what does that mean? It means taking control of every aspect of your work life and refusing to let anyone else have the last word on your business. It means having a plan for how you’re going to do the work, what kind of work you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and why you’re doing it.
First, take control of your schedule. Do the hard stuff when you can focus best (when your energy is highest), and then schedule all the administrative tasks for times when your energy is low.
Second, take control of your project management system—it’s not just about keeping track of projects; it’s about making sure that every project is profitable for you and every client understands exactly how much time and effort goes into each task so they will pay you fairly for it.
Third, take control of your finances. Even if it’s something you have a good grasp on, you can probably benefit from having an accountant and/or a financial advisor. How much should you be saving? What needs to go back to the business? How much should you be paying yourself? These are all important questions that are best left to someone who is an unaffiliated third party.
2. Automate everything you can.
There’s a reason why time management is one of the most common topics of conversation in our modern era.
Between work, family, and the million other things that pull us in different directions every day, it can be hard to make sure that everything you need to do gets done. We are constantly being pulled in a thousand directions at once—and it can feel like there’s no relief from the stress and pressure of it all.
I’m a big fan of tools like Zapier and IFTTT. They’re sort of like duct tape for the Internet, because they take different websites and make them work together. For example, if you find yourself checking freelance gig sites multiple times per day, they can send you an email when an employer posts a new job. You can set up tools like HoneyBook to handle all of your client management for contracts, payments, and proposals. Of course, don’t forget to load up some TextExpander Snippets for those freelance job applications, too.
3. Focus on one task at a time.
Everyone loves being productive, but not everyone knows how to be productive.
And it’s not your fault! We’ve been conditioned to believe that we have to do a little bit of everything all the time through multitasking.
It turns out that multitasking isn’t actually a thing. We don’t have multiple brains, and even if we did, they wouldn’t both be able to focus on different things at the same time. The truth is that our brains are built for monotasking, or focusing on just one thing at a time.
So why are so many people convinced that multitasking works? Some people think that multitasking makes them feel like they’re making progress on more than one task at once. In reality, what you’re doing is switching from one task to another, again and again. When you try and fail to multitask, you end up experiencing something called “task-switching,” which means that your brain has to expend extra energy in order to get back into the right mindset for each task before it.
So how do we combat this problem? How do we make sure we’re always giving everything we do our full attention? One way is to employ different time-blocking strategies. This simply means deciding ahead of time what you’re going to work on when—and then working on only that thing until it’s complete.
If you need more flexibility in your schedule, try the “pomodoro technique.” This means working for 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break, then repeating that cycle four times before taking a longer 20-30 minute break. This method will also help you get into a routine.
4. Block out time for administrative tasks.
When you’re running a business, you sometimes have to take time for administrative tasks that aren’t the most fun. Whether it’s things like paying bills or managing taxes, it’s important to make sure you’re staying on top of those things—it could save you from a lot of headaches down the line.
One great way to do this is to hire outside help for certain tasks that aren’t your forte. For example, if one of your weak spots is accounting, consider hiring an accountant or bookkeeper to help keep your business in check. They can make sure everything is filed correctly, be another set of eyes on all your financial transactions, and ultimately help prevent any issues that could arise if you don’t have a good handle on your finances.
When you work with an expert, they can offer you more than just their expertise—they can also give you advice on best practices and how to stay organized.
5. Say no to clients who are not a good fit for you.
It’s time to say no.
No to clients who aren’t a good fit for you, no to clients who don’t respect your time or your business, and no to the idea that you need to take every job that comes along.
It’s okay to fire a client who is bringing you down. And it’s okay to do it in a way that reflects well on your brand, too. This can be especially important if you’re a freelancer because it reflects on you personally. You want your clients to know you’re reliable and professional, even when you’re giving them bad news.
When you have to fire a client, be polite and honest. You never know where they’ll end up next. But if they routinely miss deadlines, don’t pay on time, or show disrespect for what you do, share that information so they can improve in the future. You may end up working with them again at some point, so you’re doing yourself a favor, too.
6. Move away from email. Use video chat instead.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for email, text, and other asynchronous communication methods. They have their benefits, but they also have their drawbacks. One of the biggest risks with asynchronous communication is that it can lead to misunderstandings. You might not realize that your client didn’t understand an instruction until they’ve already taken action on it, and then you’re stuck redoing that work.
With video chat, it’s much easier to see if someone is confused. You can hear their questions right away, and you can figure out how to reword your instructions so they’re more clear.
Video chat also lets you talk through something in real time, which is invaluable for brainstorming or technical support situations where you need to understand a problem before proposing solutions. If your client is having trouble with something on their website, it’s a lot easier to help them fix it if you can see what they’re seeing at the exact moment that they’re seeing it.
When you spend an hour talking with a client over video chat, sharing ideas and working through challenges together, it’s much easier to forge a genuine connection that will help you as you work together through the project. You’ll be able to see when they’re excited about an idea and when they’re disappointed, which will help you tailor your approach going forward.
7. Create daily lists of business priorities
As a business owner, one of the most important things you can do to have a successful day is to create lists of priorities and make sure they’re in line with your goals for the business. When you map out your day, it’s crucial that you look at the big picture and consider what one thing will help you make the most progress toward your ultimate goals.
For example, if your big goal is to expand your client base, but today you’re knee-deep in a project for one of your current clients, try to keep them in mind when creating your list of priorities. What can I do today that will not only help me with this project and make this client happy, but will also help me retain this client and get more like them? If you can answer that question, you’re well on your way to success.
Is every single item on your list a step toward the company’s long-term goals? If not, I’d suggest that you make a few changes. In fact, I’ve found that it’s best to create two lists: one that aligns with your overall priorities, and another that deals with those less important items that still need to be done.
8. Build reusable templates
Whether you’re doing client intake, invoicing, or sending out a newsletter to clients, you can use templates to save yourself time now and in the future. Even better? You can save those templates inside of TextExpander to make them accessible via Snippets.
When you start a small business, you might think you don’t need to worry about creating templates because you’re not doing enough work yet. But if you wait until the work is coming in fast and furious before creating templates, it will take you even longer to get all those tasks done. You’ll have to use your brain-power repeatedly on the same issues when that energy could be better spent on new clients and new projects.
Also, if you wait until later to create your templates, then they won’t be as good as they could be. Why would you spend extra time on something that’s not really necessary yet? So when the work does roll in and your templates are subpar, it’s going to cost you even more time trying to fix them.
9. Develop a process for every type of service you offer
It may seem daunting to develop a process for every single type of service you offer, but it will save time in the long run. Creating a process can also help you provide better quality control.
Here are some steps to help you create processes:
- Identify the project: What is it? What’s the goal?
- List the steps.
- Do your best to estimate how long each step takes.
- Document everything: Put all of your notes into a document. Get a trusted colleague to help you sanity check them. Make sure that everything is clear and make adjustments as necessary.
- Repeat as often as needed: As you use these processes, you’ll find that there are opportunities for improvement. Don’t be afraid to note those opportunities and update your processes.
We’re bullish on freelancing, and love to help businesses of all sizes succeed. What tips and tricks have you learned that you want to share? Drop them in the comments below.