I am a freelancer. I write, I consult, I build websites, I put together creative digital marketing strategies for brands and companies, and I help entrepreneurs, business owners, and aspiring thought leaders build and amplify their personal brand.
But being an effective one-man band is a lot more than just making coffee at home (or finding a local coffee shop) and being productive for a few hours. In fact, it's more of a test of your ancillary skill sets than anything else.
1. Create your own daily schedule--and stick to it.
One of the first challenges you will run into as a freelancer is understanding the art of personal time management. You might not be showing up to an office 9-5 anymore, but you should still have it in your mind what time you "start work" in the morning and what time your day ends.
There reason is threefold: First, a daily rhythm will keep you focused and accountable. Second, you need something to get you out of bed in the morning (otherwise you'll waste a lot of time lounging around). Third, you need to know when your day is "done," otherwise work life and normal life will blend together in a bad way. Know when to shut off your computer for the day.
2. Review your To Do list every morning.
Great advice for productivity in general, but a law to live by as a freelancer. As soon as you sit down to begin that day's work, review your To Do list. Cross off items you accomplished yesterday, and if necessary, make a new list for what you want to absolutely get done today.
At the end of each week, you'll want to recap all the things you did--and create a brand new "master list" for the week to come. The more organized you are, the better. Otherwise, important e-mails and tiny deliverables will fall through the cracks.
3. Do your most difficult tasks, first.
Especially in the mornings, get the tough stuff done first.
If you wait too long to tackle the big projects, they will either be delayed or completed half-heartedly--a death sentence for your business.
Instead, hit the pavement hard by doing your big ticket items first. You'll feel so much better crossing those off your list anyway. Then move on to the smaller, more tedious items.
4. "Chunk" similar items together.
For maximum productivity, learn from the king himself, Tony Robbins.
"Chunking," he explains, is where you group similar tasks together. For example, instead of responding to an e-mail, then writing a blog post, then editing a video, then mapping out your social media content calendar, separate each one of those deliverables by category. Then look for all the smaller tasks you need to do along with each one of those categories, and tackle them all at the same time.
Block off four hours to write a whole bunch of blog posts. Then, later, block off two hours to do nothing but edit videos. By "grouping" similar tasks together, you will more easily find your flow for what those types of tasks require.
5. Organize your e-mail.
As a freelancer, you cannot ignore your e-mail. Cannot.
Your inbox needs to be constantly looked after to ensure that things don't slip between the cracks: important introductions, client questions, follow-ups, etc. A poorly managed e-mail shows, and you will lose clients and work this way.
Personally, I do a deep scrub of my e-mail each morning and each night. And usually, I'll write down on my To Do list the e-mails I need to follow up on, just to make sure I don't forget.
6. Keep track of your finances.
You might be a freelancer, but you're also your own accountant now too.
It's crucial that you keep your own cash flow chart. Each month, you should know how much money you made, how much you put away for taxes, how much you saved, and all the different clients and revenue streams that money came in on.
The reason for this is because you are going to want data. Just like a business, you need to know whether you are operating (for yourself) profitably, or at a loss. You'll need to know who has paid and who hasn't. You'll need to keep track of how much you're making so you can effectively pay taxes. Etc.
Do not be lazy with this portion of the freelance lifestyle. It will come back to bite you.
7. Project your finances for next month.
In addition to keeping track of what you've already made, you should also be keeping track of what you are set to make within the next 30+ days.
There is so much to be said for knowing whether you have income in the pipeline or if you need to be focusing more time on getting new clients. If you don't know what you have coming up, then you can't plan effectively. Sometimes, you'll have so much work that you will have to turn down new clients (or postpone them). And other times, you will realize that you will be out of projects within a month--and suddenly need to get a new roster of clients.
The more you can plan ahead, the less you will find yourself in sticky, stressful situations.
8. Save, save, save.
The life of a typical freelancer is not consistent or guaranteed. Some weeks, you will be absolutely swamped. Other weeks, you may have an empty plate. You need to be aware of this from a financial standpoint.
As much as possible, I would encourage you to put as much money as possible away toward your savings. Not only is this a fairly standard best practice for anyone seeking financial independence, but it will help tremendously for the weeks or months when income is not as consistent. Having a savings account allows you to keep a clear head and make more rational decisions--and may just be the difference between you saying "yes" to too many small, difficult projects simply because you need money now.
If you can get in the habit of saving, you will be able to ride the ups and downs of the freelance life a lot more easily.