Working for yourself is tough. It’s easy for people on the outside to think that being self-employed simply means being your own boss, working in your PJs every day, and sleeping in until noon. As a self-employed person, you know that’s not necessarily true (except for the PJs thing. But only in the winter when it’s cold. And sometimes in the summer when it’s hot. Ok, it might happen more than we want to admit.).
Here’s the real deal: working as a freelancer means wearing about 100 different hats. We have to be salespeople to drive new business, we have to be marketers to keep the pipeline full, and we have to actually do the work we get from clients. We also get to handle accounting, HR, and customer service. Being an effective Jack or Jane of all trades means getting organized. To help, we’ve put together some of the top tools freelancers can use to get—and stay—organized.
No, we’re not talking about a diary notebook where you write all your deepest feelings and thoughts. We’re talking about a journal: something that can be a safe-haven for reminders, on-the-fly ideas, and other notes.
A journal is a great way to keep track of your thoughts and your daily schedule. Ideally, snag a journal that has a calendar aspect (an app or another digital version of this will suffice, too). This allows you to keep track of important dates, anniversaries, and events so you can schedule all of the other tasks you manage accordingly.
Given the number of responsibilities you have as a self-employed person managing everything about your business, it makes good sense to employ a project management tool. You probably don’t need a solution that has the same horsepower a massive enterprise might use, but working with an easy-to-use tool can streamline your entire operation.
Trello is a handy kanban-style list-making tool that can help freelancers get organized. It’s a great tool to keep an eye on the big picture but also the more granular details of any project. Also, if you’re an integration nerd, it works with many other handy tools like Zapier and Evernote so you can get your productivity geek on.
Todoist is another simple way to get organized. It allows you to create simple to do tasks that can be organized into separate folders and even shared with other people. You can set up recurring tasks and easily manage everything from your desktop or smartphone.If your current system consists of crumpled sticky notes placed haphazardly around your room, a digital project management solution might be right for you. Whether you use one of the options above or another tool, consider finding a structured way to manage the many roles you fulfill.
Everything is digital in this day and age, which means that paper copies of docs, pictures, and spreadsheets are all but obsolete. Trade-in your paper filing system for a more organized (and less space-consuming) cloud storage solution.
Whether you choose OneDrive, DropBox, iCloud, or Google Drive, you can store and share your important documents and assets online. Most cloud storage options offer some freemium version with limited storage, but you can easily upgrade for a fee. These options also enable you to create folders and get hyper-organized so you can easily and quickly access your most important files.
In fact, consider the best way to organize your cloud storage before you get started. Perhaps it makes the most sense to create client folders and then to drop items where they belong. Or perhaps you have an internal folder that houses all of your important bookkeeping, HR, and tax documents. Find a method that works for you, then upload, create, and save all of your business’s most important information.
This is probably the least appealing aspect of being a freelancer (unless you’re a freelance CPA, in which case, we tip our hats to you). Thankfully, a myriad of cloud-based solutions can simplify this process. If you don’t already have a streamlined way of doing bookkeeping, consider Quickbooks, Zoho Books, or Freshbooks for starters. Each of these offers its own twist on bookkeeping at a relatively low cost while still enabling some personalization.
These also link to your bank account, allowing you to quickly and easily categorize transactions. Most enable personalized invoice creation, giving you that added touch of professionalism. If you’re not sure which to choose, they usually offer free trials to get started. Tinker around and find the best for your unique needs.
Having a solid health plan is an important part of staying organized. One serious illness or injury is all it takes to derail your business. Taking care of yourself and partnering with a reliable primary care doctor is an important step to keeping everything on track. Finding affordable, comprehensive health insurance as a self-employed person can be a challenge.
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While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it should be enough to help you simplify and streamline some of the challenges freelancers face. These ideas are applicable no matter your industry. It may take time to find the perfect combination of tools for you and your business, but testing and sampling different options can help you hone it down to the best options for you.
The most important thing is to find solutions and techniques that make your life easier. This, in turn, helps you grow your freelance business as you spend less time in the weeds and more time serving your clients and finding new ones. Best of all, you’ll be able to consistently demonstrate that you are an organized, capable professional.