Freelance Tips For a Productive Work Week
When I first started out I read dozens of articles on how to be my own boss and still had a tough time managing everything. As a full-time freelancer, you’re essentially running your own small business. You wear many hats—your industry specific hat (in my case, designer), accountant, coordinator, social media + marketing manager, the list goes on. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in client projects and forget about all the other not-so-fun responsibilities (tax fines, anyone?).
And while it’s kind of fun to wake up wing it in your pj’s for a while, you quickly realize that there needs to be some sort of routine in place so that you don’t lose your mind.
It can be really overwhelming at first, which is why I came up with a simple Monday—Friday schedule to make sure I was covering all of my bases. Trying to complete tasks in everyone one of your freelance ‘To Do’ categories on a daily basis is distracting and really inefficient. I find it’s best to set specific goals for the day, then block out your schedule and power through! Every day of the week I block out 1-2 hours for a specific aspect of the job and then fill the rest of my day with client projects.
Read through my weekly routine and feel free to remix/try out them out for yourself!
RESEARCH + INSPIRATION | 1.5 Hrs
Monday morning. Your brain is running at a glacial pace, waiting for the coffee to kick in (like NOW), and slightly depressed that the weekend is over. Take a few hours to look at pretty pictures, browse a few design blogs or magazines, and read up on anything that inspires you. You’re a creative professional, getting inspired is your life source. Without inspiration you have no gas in the tank, and well, that’s not going to get you anywhere. When I have a case of Monday-brain what I need is something to get me excited and motivated. Finding a really amazing design board on Pinterest or reading an inspirational book usually gives me a kick in the butt. As a designer (or an artist/creator/curator) you need to keep the creative juices flowing. So sit back, drink a giant cup of coffee, and spend a few hours getting inspired. Don’t feel bad about soaking up inspiration for a few hours, this isn’t considered distraction—it’s part of your job—and it may just make Monday morning your new favorite.
BUSINESS + FINANCE | 2 Hrs
Yay, accounting! If you don’t have an accountant this will be one of your responsibilities as a freelancer. It may not be your strength (most creative people have a hard time in this area), but it’s important. Take the time to do a bit of research. If you’re just getting started, create an invoice template or lay out a budget for yourself. Set up a spreadsheet that will auto-calculate your estimated tax payments (Total Earned x Your Tax Bracket% = What you owe uncle Sam). Figure out what your hourly/fixed rates should be if you’re unsure whether you’re charging too much or not enough. Use this day to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Freelance is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. You have to be organized and as financially savvy as possible. If you already have spreadsheets and templates use this day to update your numbers and make sure you’re on track . If you don’t like DIY excel charts I recommend setting up savvy web tools. There are so many out there to use now. I recommend Expensify (web + app to keep track of receipts), Mint.com, and Bonsai (<–literally life-changing! Use this *referral link to try it out and get 2 months free.). These online tools are completely free and some connect to your bank accounts and credit cards. If you have an Etsy shop, GoDaddy Bookkeeping will auto-fill your income and expenses.
GET SOCIAL | 1 hr
On Wednesdays we get social. In reality you should be posting something on at least one of your social outlets every other day, but when you’re busy that can be hard to do. I highly suggest setting yourself up with post scheduling tools like Later, CoSchedule (WordPress), and Viraltag so you can get ahead. I’m also an avid preacher of ‘Quality over Quantity”. If I have nothing of value to post, I don’t post at all. However, not being active means missed opportunities to connect with future clients, new friends, and customers. That’s why I think it’s smart to set aside time on Wednesday to brainstorm blog ideas, share recent news/projects on Facebook or Twitter, & engage + reply to followers. Let your clients get to know you, your process, and your life. People are starting to realize the benefit of a more transparent approach to marketing. Especially when you’re marketing yourself. Eva Chen, the EIC of Lucky Magazine, (crowned by none other than the devil, Anna Wintour, herself) is a master of social media. Before she took the Lucky throne she was a Teen Vogue Beauty Editor, as well as an Instagrammer, Tweeter, and full-fledged Tumblr user (who actually responded to almost every message she received!). She doesn’t hide behind a veil of mystery and Chanel sunnies. She lets us into her life. We feel like we know her—we kind of feel like we’re friends with her— and that’s really cool. Being active on these feeds allows people to keep up with your work, allows you to become part of your industries community, and sometimes it even brings the clients to you.
MARKETING + NETWORKING | 1.5 hrs
When you first start out as a freelancer, odds are you won’t have clients knocking at your door, cash in hand. You’ll have to go out and find them yourself or spend time and money marketing your services. I don’t recommend spending money on marketing in the beginning—especially if you’re strapped for cash. There are so many free ways to market your services these days. Platforms like Dribble, Behance, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram can all be used to promote your work and in turn bring you clients. I’ve had clients find me on every one of these platforms. Another way to market your services is through what I call “cold-emailing”. You’ve probably heard of the term “cold call”, but these days everyone seems to be more attached to email which is much less invasive. When I first started freelancing I asked my husband for some advice—he founded a menswear e-commerce site and happens to be very numbers + business savvy. His advise was this: reach out to 5-7 possible clients each week and then measure the success rate based on those numbers. Over time you’ll start to see that if you send out 5 proposals a week, 3 people will reply, and 1 person will be willing to do business with you. If you send out 10 proposals you may be able to land 3 clients, etc. Don’t worry, over time you’ll be doing less hustling. Clients typically come back for more and they’ll also end up referring you to friends and relatives. It’s also important to attend events both in your industry and outside of it. I once met a client at a Goop event in New York City. After having a 10 minute conversation with her she handed me her business card. 1 week later I was working on her 12 page editorial portfolio. It happens just like that.
GET ORGANIZED | 1 hr
Chances are you’ve made a complete mess by Friday. The week can get crazy and it’s ok if you can’t make time for organization Mon-Thurs. That’s what today is for! Now, in order to avoid the crazy unorganized mess throughout the week I suggest you invest in a “to file” bin. It will change your life. That way when Friday comes along, you can just pull out your super organized binders and sort out your “to file” bin one paper at a time. You should be filing things like paper receipts, contracts, invoices, and tax documents. When it comes to computer folders delete everything on your desktop that does not ideally live inside of an important folder. I promise you, if you neglect to do this for weeks on end, finding that PSD (that your client wants you to edit) will be nearly impossible. Also if you work from home like I do, your friends will stop coming to your apartment. So there’s that.
As a freelancer, what goals do you set for yourself each week? What other freelance tips have you learned to help you keep track of your many responsibilities? Let’s discuss!
x – Candace