When you work in a structured office, one of the blessings and curses is that your time is fairly managed for you. There are people around to tell you what to do and when, to remind you of things, to hold meetings to go over things, and who typically do the things that are outside of your main skillset. Staying motivated and being an organized freelancer means taking control of your processes, testing, and finding what works for you.
Here are some techniques and programs that work for me. Take what you like and leave the rest!
Monthly to Weekly Breakdowns
I’ve recently developed a system that helps me to remain organized every day, remain productive, remain motivated and reach all of my goals.
Sounds like a miracle? It’s not! All you need is some sticky notes and a planner.
First, I wrote down the things I need to accomplish for my business once a month. Here are 3 examples:
- Curate and schedule content for all social media
- Release 1 freebie on my website
- Write 4 different types of blog posts
These things, on top of client work and all the other things I need to do, tend to fall on the back burner. But remember that a journey begins with a single step! I broke each one of these monthly goals into 4 weekly goals:
- Curate and schedule content for all social media
- Week 1: Facebook
- Week 2: Instagram
- Week 3: Twitter
- Week 4: Pinterest
- Release 1 freebie
- Week 1: Plan Freebie
- Week 2: Design Freebie
- Week 3: Build Freebie Landing Page
- Week 4: Promote and Launch Freebie
- Write 4 blog posts
- Week 1: Write a business-focused post
- Week 2: Write a design-focused post
- Week 3: Write an SEO-focused post
- Week 4: Write a social media focused post
I have 4 post-it notes, one for each week, with that week’s tasks. When I finish Week 1, I move that note four weeks ahead so that when I finish Week 4, the next week, Week 1’s note will be waiting for me.
One of the hardest things for me as a freelancer, in addition to being an organized freelancer, is to continue working when I don’t have a client deadline. There are so many other hats we have to wear – marketer, writer, accountant, designer – managing all those tasks can be overwhelming. Especially when we have things that have to get done on a regular basis.
Using Trello for Project Management
I started using Trello in my old job and it’s really stuck with me. I’m very visual and I like being able to move pieces of my project around like a puzzle. If you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend it.
One of my favorite ways to use it is to systematize my projects. Here’s how I did it.
- I created a board that serves as a template.
- I created a column for each phase of a typical web design project: Intake, Kick Off, Project, Launch, or Post Launch
- I created a card for each major event or sub phase underneath the main ones: Proposal, Design Questionnaire, Wireframe, Testing, Launch, etc.
- Within each card – if necessary – I created a checklist. For example, in the Testing card, I have a list that includes things like “test links” “test e-commerce products” “test all plugins” “test responsiveness”
- Every time I get a new client, I copy this board, rename it with the client name, and simply follow the process!
Using Trello boards like this also allows me to manage the project with the client. I can invite them to the board (if they have to sign up for the first time I get another free month of Trello Gold – yay!) and we can share files, talk in the cards, and they can see the process as it goes along.
I’ve found that managing my projects this way with my clients helps me a ton. It eliminates annoying email back and forth, it makes it easy to find all the necessary files for that project, the client meets deadlines faster because they can see how close or far they are from the finish line, and the client is more grateful because they can also see how much work I’m actually doing for them.
Make Others Wait
This is more of a philosophical belief than a method or technique, but I find it’s worth sharing.
I used to worry so, so much about the client. At every stage. Receiving an e-mail gave me anxiety. I was terrified of my clients and the power they had over me. But I came to realize that, like any other relationship, it’s only healthy if the power was balanced and flowed both ways. My clients depended on me just as much as I depended on them.
That changed a lot of my behaviors. While I still struggle a little but with it, I’ve learned not to answer emails outside of my designated business hours (unless it’s some kind of emergency). I’ve learned that if they don’t like something I’ve done, I can find a way to politely find a compromise. I’ve learned that I don’t have to jump at every demand, but can explain why I won’t do something. I’ve learned that I can ask them to wait while I open up my planner to make an appointment instead of scrawling it down on a sticky note that I will eventually lose. I’ve learned to trust my gut, be picky and only work with people who seem like they will genuinely be good clients.
Use a CRM
Please, for the love of God, use a CRM. Even if it’s a notebook or a Trello board and not a full-scale CRM, you need to keep track of your leads and your clients. The best, most organized freelancer will have all their client info in one place and reminders in place for when and how to follow up with potential clients.
I highly recommend Hubspot, but use whichever one you are comfortable with. Just make sure that it
Half of this post could have been about the importance of Admin Day, but I’m just going to redirect you to this post I wrote about it. 🙂
Develop a Routine
People say that the main downside of freelancing is losing the structure you’d normally get in a 9-5 job. I argue that it’s about creating your own structure. No matter how much you like your job, there are gonna be times and days where you just don’t want to do it. Having a routine that fits you, your life, and your personality makes those times and days way easier.
Personally, I find that the key to staying an organized freelancer lies in my routine. Certain things done at certain times. Limits. Boundaries. It prevents everything from being all over the place!
My morning routine goes something like this –
- wake up between 7-8:30 (sometimes I wake up at 6 and that makes up for the 8:30 days)
- get dressed as though I was going to leave the house (I can’t be productive in my PJs)
- make coffee/breakfast
- check social media and emails
- reply to any messages that have come in
- check my planner and Google calendar and add anything I have to do to my planner
- check all my lead forms (website and Google) for new submissions
Only after I do all these things do I start in on my to do list or client list. I purposefully try not to schedule meetings before 10 am so that I have time to get ready for the day.
Another important part of my routine is that, unless there is an emergency, I don’t work after 5pm. This helps me create an organized barrier between my personal and professional life. When you try to do things outside of “work time” it’s easier to get confused, forget things, etc.
How do you stay organized as a freelancer? Leave your tips in the comments below.