To those working as employees, freelancing might seem like the perfect gig. You get to be your own boss, make up your own working hours, decide which jobs you'll accept, keep all the profit AND work in your pajamas. What's not to like?
As a freelancer myself I can attest that it is indeed a sweet deal. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have its own share of issues. For one, you need to do everything yourself, including all kinds of mundane and tedious paperwork. Plus, being your own boss can be quite stressful, especially since you can't rely on a steady paycheck. Plus it's harder than it seems to find ways to stay organized at home!
In this post, however, we'll have a look at some other common issues among freelancers, namely distractions, procrastination and the reduced efficiency that results from them. We'll also suggest a few tools to help you overcome those issues. So let's dive in...
1. Take Notes
As a freelancer you have a lot of stuff to juggle at any given time: multiple gigs, ideas, client information, To-Dos, shopping lists and the like. If you're anything like me, then unless you have a way to write all of these down, organize them and find them when you need them, they'll inevitably be forgotten.
Fortunately this is a need which has been catered quite well from software vendors this past decade, and there's lots of programs and services out there to help you do just that.
The two most popular ones are Evernote, by the Evernote corporation, and OneNote, from Microsoft. Both let you create and manage text notes, organize them hierarchically and add metadata and tags to them. Your notes can optionally include content in many other types (images, webpages, audio, etc.). Both tools also let you search through your notes blazingly fast, and, last but not least, sync them to all of your devices. Both apps are extremely well built, and have clients for multiple desktop and mobile operating systems, as well as being available as web services.
2. Manage your projects
With your note-taking needs covered, it's time to organize your projects, deliverables and deadlines. For that you'll need some kind of project management tool.
On Windows, Microsoft Project is the indisputable king, although it's probably be a little too much if you're just running a one-man show. For Mac, OmniPlan by the Omni group is very popular, and has a very well made iOS companion app.
But perhaps the most popular option when it comes to project management is to do it online, through a web service. Options here include Smartsheet (a full featured web-based project management service), Asana, Wunderlist (recently bought by Microsoft), and my personal pick, Basecamp, a clean and easy to use project management service that's a perfect fit for the needs of the solitary freelancer.
3. Get things done
Just because you've kept meticulous notes of what you need to do for each of your projects doesn't mean you wont get sidetracked. Between email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and the internet at large, there's always something there to distract you. Suddenly you look at the time and it's already seven p.m. -- and you still need to deliver that damn thing by tomorrow morning or else...
Since procrastination and distractions are two things that millions (billions?) of people suffer from, it's not very surprising that there are tons of tools available you help you in your noble fight against them.
One of the most popular solutions to these issues is the so-called GTD (short for "get things done") time management method, invented by productivity consultant David Allen and adopted by millions of enthusiastic fans who went on to write books, create apps, write blogs and even teach it in professional seminars.
The GTD method "is based on storing, tracking and retrieving the information related to the things that need to get done", with a workflow that's split into 5 stages: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.
If you're read our note taking and project management advice, you've probably already have all you need to implement GTD, as some of the programs we've mentioned (e.g. Evernote and Wunderlist) also incorporate tools to facilitate a GTD approach to project and task management.
You don't necessarily have to fork out for an GTD app or service though -- for the simplest GTD workflow you need nothing more than a pen and some paper. The extra niceties you get with GTD-specific software are not as important as the mindset and determination to stick to the "get things done" workflow.
4. Know your customers
Perhaps the most important part of being a freelancer is dealing with customers -- and keeping track of all the little details about them, who's the contact person at each company, who owes you what, potential sales leads, etc.
Even remembering when it's your client's birthday and sending them an e-card can score you a lot of points.
For that you'll need a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. Almost all major players in this place are web based. We'll ignore those meant for huge enterprises, which would be too overwhelming for your simple freelancing needs -- not to mention pricey.
This leaves us with three picks: SalesForce (the undisputed CRM market leader) whose eponymous CRM has plans starting from $5/month, Nimble, a simpler affair that also includes a free plan that might just be enough for your needs, and Pipedrive CRM, a fully customizable solution that provides a clear overview of your sales pipeline that offers several useful features.
5. Get paid
We've covered beating procrastination, collecting notes and ideas, managing projects and keeping track of customers and leads. In this fifth and final section we'll have a look at software that helps you create and manage your invoices and keep track of your finances.
In fact we won't be looking that far in this case, as we happen to be the creators of Elorus, the industry leading invoicing management service that's the best and most cost effective solution in this space.
With Elorus you can manage, edit and send invoices to clients, accept online payments and credit cards, schedule recurring invoices to be automatically generated, and keep track of invoices, payments, cash flow and tax reports from a single, intuitive, user interface. Oh, and there is extended reporting functionality thrown in for good measure.
But don't just take our word for it: take Elorus for a test drive now, and see for yourself how a modern, cloud-based, invoicing tool can help you eliminate tedious paperwork and bureaucracy and stay ahead of your finances.
If you're just starting out or you only need to work with up to 3 clients/suppliers, our full-featured, non-expiring, free plan will let you do just that, with no hidden costs or strings attached. And when you need to cater to a larger clientele, you can always upgrade to one of our paid plans, starting from just €9/month.