How to manage your time as a freelancer

How to manage your time as a freelancer

When you are freelancer, the time you put in a project really determines how much you get paid. Regardless of how productive you are a 9 to 5 kind of job, you are probably bound to a salary, so you are not so dependent on how much you produce because you are getting paid the same at the end of the month. You are self-employed, however, you are reliant on how effective you are to finish a project. If it takes you longer than you expected to finish a project, that's money you've lost. If you get distracted while working on a project and it takes you longer to finish it, then your rate decreases.

That's easier said than done and you might get sucked into social media or your own marketing and that might deter you from being productive. That's why you need to stay focused to maximise your profits.

Wake up early

Although it is no easy task to wake up at 6 in the morning when you don't have to, once you've had a cup of coffee and a hot shower, you'll feel ready to work because if you do wake up that early, you better be productive. Besides, it's much easier to get work done before lunch time. There are hardly any distractions during that time of the day and there's rarely any background noise. Without any interruptions, you'll be able to focus on your tasks without having to stop to answer a phone call or an email and then having to resume your task.

Be organised

Try to create a better workflow by keeping a notebook by your side and writing down anything that takes up too much of your time, which could be email, social media, administrative tasks, invoicing or even the phone. By keeping a record, you are able to improve and create new workflows to be more efficient.

You might find the answer in an app or an accounting software. There's always a way to get things work faster or using an automated service so you can focus most of your time on the billable tasks.

Get assistance

Although it might be hard to pay someone else for what you can do as well as freelancer, this might save you time and allow you to focus on other more creative tasks. You can either get a personal assistance to help you do the admin work or a cleaner who will help you do your chores.

Time management tools

Never forget that time is money and if the project you are doing for you client requires calls, emails and research you should be accounting for the time you spend doing those as well.

To successfully invoice a client, you have to use time tracking tools to monitor where time is being spent. Along with the invoice, you can email an explanation of everything the client is being billed for. This report should detail how your time was spent. If a client complains, just make sure that next time you tell a client upfront what they are getting charged for.

When you track the time you spend on a project, you can more accurately calculate how much time you'll need in future projects. The more accurate your prediction is, the less chances are of you getting underpaid because of a job you underestimated.

Don't get dragged into social networks

There's nothing wore for ADD than social media. You check Twitter for business purposes and somehow something caught your attention on the news story, then you clicked on the link, ended up on Facebook and before you know it, you are watching funny cat videos on YouTube. You check the time and it's been an hour since the last time you were productive. While it's fair play to use social media for business purposes, you have to get a grip and avoid using it for social media. Yes, we all enjoy it when someone likes your photo, but you can save that ego boost for your leisure time.

Avoid your mobile

If you get a business call, of course you are allowed to take it but you might want to avoid looking your phone because with all its apps and fun notifications, it's easy to get dragged into all the distractions your phone provides.

Preparing your work station

desk setup

Image: by ThoroughlyReviewed.

One of the many joys of freelancing is being able to work from any suitable remote location, obviously dependant upon your type of work. This means that you can completing your invoices from you laptop in bed while still in your pyjamas, writing articles from your favourite coffee shop, or you can be responding to your emails while enjoying the sunshine from your balcony. While this is fantastic, the majority of freelance work is done from a computer, and it is important to have a tailor prepared workstation for you to claim as productive space. Here are some things worth considering when you are setting up your workstation.

Firstly, do you require a desk? If you are going to be on your computer for elongated periods every day, it probably pays to ensure that you are professionally set up for your own comfort and health, which entails that you have a high quality chair as well that can support your back and posture for longer periods of time. If you are using a desk, is it big enough for everything you need? Will you be taking lots of notes and require extra space for this?

The next point to look at is location. Many people find it helps them to have a seperate work space from a living space so that the two different sectors of their lives don't blend together, but other's don't have so many problems with this. Is a home office essential to your needs, or will a simple desk in your bedroom suffice? Do you require a phone outlet within reach or will you be using your mobile instead? Is there enough light to be able to work without straining your eyes? Is there too much that you can't see the computer screen properly? Would you prefer to set your computer by a window to let in as much natural light to your working space as possible, or will the neighbours provide too much distracting entertainment from the apartment across the street?

Talking of distractions, what else exists in your work space that could take you away from your productivity? One of the benefits of having a dedicated home office is that you are less likely to fill a home office with things that can distract you, as opposed to working in a bedroom for example which is much more likely to have televisions, musical instruments, interesting novels and any number of alternative uses of your time looming over your subconscious as you try to push through as much work as possible. Be aware of this and try to minimise this when setting up your workspace, as otherwise you run the risk of procrastinating your responsibilities and having to cram before deadlines which can effect your productivity and, most of all, your quality often diminishes under increased stressed.

Other things to consider are your environment. Are you able to open a window to let in some fresh air? Are you able to control the climate to a comfortable level so that it doesn't distract your concentration? Does it help you to have a plant in the room to make it feel more pleasant to stay in there? If you are taking Skype or video calls, is there anything on the wall or in the room that could be considered unprofessional or inappropriate that your clients might accidentally see?

It is very important to tailor make your working space to all of your personal and business needs, and careful consideration of all of these elements will ensure that you can maximise productivity, maintain a good flow of work, and to work without distraction or discomfort. One last thing to consider, somewhat contradictory to the rest of this article, is that you shouldn't overthink all of this and you should just do what feels natural. If you worry too much about this, you might find that optimising your workstation becomes an obsession and in fact a distraction from your work itself, even if all done with good intention. If, after some time, you need to change, of course sometimes it pays to simply move your desk a few metres for a slightly different atmosphere and view, but don't allow this to cloud your mind and steal you from your work.

Overcoming common problems

freelance desk

Freelancing often feels like a dream come true - you can be working in a field that is interesting and engaging to you from a desirable location on a schedule that you planned yourself, but it's not an easy way to earn an income. There are lots of bumps in the road between you and your pay check, but a lot of these are easily solved or avoided.

Technological problems

- A computer is often very central to freelance work, and is probably one of the most, if not the most expensive piece of equipment a freelancer requires to successfully complete a piece of work. When a computer is experiencing problems, it is frustrating enough, but when you are paid by the project and you are unable to make any progress, it is absolutely infuriating. Always make sure you have all of the contact details of the support team in charge of looking after technical problems in line with the make of your computer, for example, knowing the number for Apple Support for when your Macbook won't turn on. If you can solve technical problems yourself, it's great, but if not then you should know who you can contact who will be able to help you. Sometimes, it's also a good idea to have a backup plan, for example a second computer of a friend or relative you know you can borrow to finish off any projects close to a deadline when yours just won't co-operate. It might also pay off to know of another place you can connect to wireless internet on days when they might be doing maintenance to yours, or on days when yours isn't working to it's usual capacity, but the joy of working remotely is that this can be anywhere.

Finding work

- Even after you have established yourself as a freelancer, there will probably be months where the work flow is a little dry and you struggle to find new projects to apply yourself to. The best way to maintain a steady workflow is by having clients who request repeat work from you, but when this isn't enough there are plenty of websites that connect freelancers to clients that might be able to help you score a one-off project to fill the void where your regular clients aren't requiring so much of your services. It is also a good idea to have some money saved to fall back onto for months where work is a little harder to find.

Getting paid

- Sometimes clients are very reluctant to part ways with their cash, and this can create a lot of tension between you and them and an overall bad working relationship. Some freelancers like to request half of the payment before they start work and get paid the rest afterwards. Be clear with your clients when you can expect your work to be completed and how much you expect to be paid and by when before you start the project, and maintaining a good connection and rapport with them will help you to build up a trustworthy working relationship. If people fail to pay, if you are working through a freelance website, often they will help to be able to settle the debate, and if not, you may have to review your contract that you set up with the client and even approach a debt collection agency to assist you in getting your funds.

Meeting deadlines

- Every client will believe that their project is your top priority when in priority you could be juggling any number of projects, and balancing these expectations can be very difficult. Make sure to keep your work varied and interesting to you, and to set realistic deadlines that still push you to work and to stay ahead of your competition. Aim to completely your work before it is actually due to ensure there is a little extra time for when things do go wrong, and be sure to structure your time off around the fact that you do actually have to be productive in order to be able to survive. Something will always pop up to delay the finish line, but if you plan for this to happen, it will be much less of a problem.

Keeping Clients

Freelancer Meeting Business

Keeping clients is a key factor to ensuring a decent and fairly consistent flow of money into your account, and if you manage to maintain a good working relationship, it is very common for clients to keep requesting your work and services. As a freelancer, you are able to pick and choose your clients and associates to build up a professional circle of people you like to work with and who you trust, but keeping these relationships can often be hard work, especially with so much on the line from your side of the deal. Here are some good practices to make habit to ensure that they keep coming back for more.

Communication

- It is a frequently used cliche, but communication is key, and it is probably used so frequently because it is true. Keep your clients updated with your progress, about any hurdles you have overcome or any problems you are facing, as well as any victories and positive updated you can provide them with. Keep a friendly conversation ongoing with them, as much as they are comfortable with, as the closer they are to being friends with you, the more they will want to work with you and to help you out as a business person. Always be friendly, nice, professional, and approachable. Maybe even send them an email to wish them a Merry Christmas to remind them that they are still in the back of your mind.

Keep your promises

- Make sure that you adhere to deadlines, and maybe even provide work a little early to show that you are determined and to exceed their expectations, but not too early that they push you too hard to work to too strict deadlines that you can't keep up with. Schedule lots of checkpoints where you can talk to each other about the progress of the project. Provide all the work requested to the best standard that you can and within their requirements. Become like a reliable employee and put your money where your mouth is. If you can keep within your deadlines, they will be more likely to pay quickly and will trust you to deliver in the future when they need somebody to do some more work for them.

Make them feel like they are your top priority

- You may well be balancing numerous projects in your freelance life, but every client will think that they are your number one priority, even though in reality they probably are just as important as everybody else. Always ensure your clients that they are important to you, and make yourself approachable and contactable while you are working on their projects, and also after you have finished them. Your client will likely know that you are working on multiple projects, but make them feel like they are special and that their work is enjoyable for you.

Appear professional

- Okay, you are good at what you do, but do you appear like you know what you're talking about? If you have meetings with your clients, always be prepared so that they can put their trust into you. Always present yourself as well organised, reliable and friendly. Have an agenda prepared before the meeting, and ensure that all of their questions are answered and all of their worries are put at ease. Clients want to have a good relationship with you, but they also want to know that you can deliver results and be a professional when you need to be. Which leads us onto the next point.

Creating contracts

- This will not only ensure that you should get paid, and if not it gives you a basis for legal backing, but also it ensures that the client and you are both reading from the same page of the same book. While this might seem quite cold and formal, it gives you both something to support yourself with, should there be any disagreements, and you should be able to settle arguments quickly.

Looking after your clients is a very important part of freelancing, and you should structure this into the time that you plan to work on a project. Good relationships will keep them returning for more work and will help you to establish yourself even further in the field.