When you’re busy pitching for work, quoting for work and – oh yes – doing work, it’s easy to forget that as a freelancer, you’re a small business owner too.
That means you need to ensure you’re keeping an eye on the business side of business.
Stay productive: A tidy desk, a tidy mind?
You are your business, and like all businesses, you need a regular audit to make sure you’re as productive as possible!
A designated work space, where everything you need is to hand and doesn’t need to be packed away to make room for the dinner plates, is highly preferable.
However, if it’s not kept tidy, it’s likely to slow you down on a practical and mental level. You can work more quickly if you know where to look for anything you need.
Are you eliminating all the distractions you can to ensure you remain productive? Are you letting family and friends view you as something less than a self-employed professional, always available for a visit, favour or call because they haven’t got ‘a proper job’?
While flexibility is a key benefit of freelancing, ensure you don’t allow yourself (or others!) so much flexibility that you’re not getting enough work done. This links to a need to…
Track your work
Have you ever worked out your hourly rate? If you charge by the hour, you probably think there’s no work to be done here: you already know your hourly rate.
Now factor in communicating with existing and potential clients, advertising your services, pitching and quoting for work. If you kid yourself you work full time but only worked 25 billable hours last week, you need to look at what’s eating your time.
You may be happy with £20 an hour, but once you’ve multiplied it by 25 and divided it by 38, an hourly rate of £13.16 doesn’t look so good… yet that’s the reality.
And what about that project you didn’t take the time to look at properly before quoting for it? You thought it would take about 20 hours but instead, it’s taken 50. Are you likely to get the difference back from the client?
Always ‘diary in’ your work, and do so with a generous hand, making sure you build redundancy into your schedule for unexpected events or work that takes longer than expected. Refer to this before you take on more work. Can you really fit this new work in and do all the work to a standard you and your clients will be happy with?
Regularly review your work to make sure you’re taking on the right projects and clients to earn a living without overloading yourself. Make sure you’re quoting realistic prices and putting in the work to earn the money you think you’re earning!
Keep filing, keep smiling
All your documents and notes should be filed away in a logical and easily-accessible manner, both digitally and physically. Get into the habit of spending five minutes a day, or perhaps 20 minutes at the end of the week, making sure everything is in its place so that you know where it is when you need it.
It’s not professional to be scrabbling around for something important mid-Skype call. It’s time-wasting and potentially costly not to be able to track down financial details when it’s time to submit your tax return.
Track your money
Keep track of all quotes, invoices and payments, ensuring you’re paying and getting paid on time. The easiest way to do this is using a cloud accounting software package. This allows you to keep track of your real-time finances anytime, anywhere, sending out professional-looking invoices and, if necessary, payment reminders, helping you get paid swiftly for all that hard work.
Keeping track of your expenses is just as important as getting your invoices paid. Costs can creep up steadily without you noticing and some of them can hide, particularly if they are costs for things that are partially for personal use too.
Make sure you’re clear on how much your business costs in terms of energy (heating, lighting, use of powered equipment such as a photocopier or PC etc.), services (accountancy, shipping, broadband, software, landline and mobile phones) and consumables (printing paper, ink, laminates, stationery, pens), travel and research costs (e.g. subscriptions, archive access, memberships).
Track your finances
No, I haven’t made a mistake; I’m differentiating between money and finances because, well, there’s a difference.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of your expenses as suggested above, look again at your rates. Do they cover both your work and expenses adequately? Now factor in a financial safety net for the unexpected (health issues, family issues, injury), the expected/necessary (e.g. holidays, even if that just means taking a break from work and staying home) and the future (pensions).
Most of us aren’t saving anywhere near enough to survive our old age, let alone live at the standard we’re used to. As for cruising the world; forget it. Experts have calculated that today’s 21-year olds need to be saving £250 a month now to be living on just £20k a year when they retire. It’s a sobering thought.
Keep in touch
Your client may have made it clear how, when and how often they want you to communicate with them. Some will want very regular, detailed reports, but at the other end of the scale are clients who only want you to contact them if you have a question and when you’re done.
Bearing their wishes in mind, make sure you keep your client up-to-date with your progress and ask any relevant questions as soon as possible, so that you can get on with your project.
Spread the word
Waiting for opportunity to knock on your door isn’t a great business strategy. Nobody will be hiring you to work if they don’t know you exist or know what skills you can offer.
Ensure you’re advertising and promoting your skills and your service, and that you regularly review which kinds of promotion are producing results so that you can adapt your strategy if necessary.
Insist on a contract
You need to have a written work agreement between you and your client. A brief sketch of what’s expected and when, and when and how much you’ll be paid is the baseline. But ideally, a contract should include details such as ownership and use of the finished product and what happens if either side defaults, become bankrupt or is unable to see the project through to completion.
It’s easy to see yourself, and let others see you, as someone who just ‘does some work at home’ and let standards (and your business!) slip. Always remember than you are a professional, one-person business – and make sure you act like it!
Are you struggling to see yourself as a business owner? Which part of doing the “business” side of freelancing do you find most tricky? Please share your thoughts.