Are Your Freelance Business Details Overwhelming You?

In this episode, I am going to nerd out with some of my favorite strategies, systems, and software that will help keep you organized.

When I first launched my freelance writing business in 2012, it was okay to be a little bit disorganized.  It was also okay to not really have one consistent place where I was communicating with clients or keeping track of my research and deadlines.  Why?  Because I didn’t have that many clients at the time and wasn’t so worried about all the freelance business details.

So whether you’re starting right now or you’re already in the intermediate stages of your freelance business, it is much easier to build in these strategies and tools now.  They’ll be there to support you when your business grows. So these are some of my favorite tools for keeping projects and clients organized so that you can run a successful freelance business online.

My very first tip, no matter where you’re at, and whether you’ve invested in software yet or not, is to write everything down that comes in as a potential project.

You have to have a way of key keeping track of the projects that have deadlines associated with them. But you also need a place to store where you’re going to keep the contact information for people.  You need to follow up with people that you’ve sent proposals to and with someone who asked you to circle back in three months, etc.

So I sort everything that comes into my freelancing world by need. So is this something I need to do? It’s an actual project.  It’s instructions that I need to review and follow up with the client again to ask questions about.  Is this something where I need to follow up and see if they’ve had a chance to review my pitch or proposal? Do I need to ask further information or request a meeting? Or do I need to edit something? Do I need to submit something such as if I’ve sent in the piece already, but we’re waiting to submit the invoice?

So there’s lots of different tools out there. And one of the best pieces of advice I can tell you is to always be researching and looking for ways that suit your individual business style.  The tools that everyone else uses might not be the right fit for you. So a great example of this is that a lot of academics that I know use Trello for organizing their big academic projects. For me, even though I love Trello, and that’s one of the tools I’m going to talk about in this episode, it wasn’t right for me to organize my dissertation project. [Check out this related post on why I love Trello for managing digital teams]

So be open to trying something out and giving it a week or two weeks to see whether it could be a fit for you. And then ultimately changing and using that information that you’ve learned.  What did you like about the process that you had?  And what could be better?

One of my favorite tools is TEUXDEUX.

It is a very simple tool.  And it is very affordable at  $24 a year the last time that I checked.  It really lists out, almost notebook style, the entire days of the week. Now what’s cool about this is that you can easily add things into it. And then you just have to click on it for it to strike a line through it and it won’t delete right away anything that you struck the line through.

So if you have made a mistake or something, you can go back and fix that.  You can also see how much you’ve done during that day,  And you can customize it with sort of a color background.

It’s a very simplistic tool, but it’s one that I have used for over four years. So every time a project came in, I put whatever I needed to do related to that immediately into this particular website.  It was easy to access from my phone as well as from my laptop. And I loved that because it was really all I needed at that point in time.

So I would split things into different projects like research, write, edit, or turn in the invoice.  I love the simplicity of Teux Deux and how easy it is to capture information.  It also ensured that there was much less of a chance that I would forget something and then not be able to meet a freelance deadline as a result of that.

Now my second tool I’m going to recommend is similar to that it’s called To Do List.

There’s a little bit more flexibility with To Do List like add drop-down sub tasks and customize things into different projects. Whereas on TeuxDeux, you’re just going to have a daily vision of whatever it is that you need to do. So you might have to drag and drop and sort on your own to make things you know work together.

Like all the emails you have to send to sort of lump them next to each other so To-Do List is sort of a next level up from the above-mentioned tool when it comes to keeping track of all of the different things you’ve got on your plate.

As a freelancer, you’re wearing many different hats and doing many different things inside your business. So having a place to track all of this marketing, client communications, actual projects is a great way to be able to keep track of that and make sure that you do not lose things.

Now I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of Google Docs as well.

For quite a while, I also use just a Google document with a table of five different boxes in it to keep track of my to do list. And I did that to sort of plot out how much I was doing per day.  I was estimating how many hours or minutes it would take me to do certain tasks. That gave me a week by week view of seeing if I was overloading myself on particular days.

Being familiar with Google Docs and Google Suite can also be very beneficial when pitching yourself to clients. Oddly enough, not everyone you know has Microsoft Word. And it’s also sometimes easier to work from the same version of a document.

Google Docs can be beneficial to you if you’re a writer or not a writer. Google Docs allows you to see the different changes that are being suggested or have been made in the document so that everyone’s working from the same version at the same time. And this is really helpful when you’re turning something in.  You don’t want multiple people editing it on their own and then you have to sort of merge all of those edits together.

Google Docs is an easy way for people to see, edit, and print material that you have turned in.  I use Google Sheets and Google Docs pretty much every single day. So it’s a great way to be able to communicate with clients, respond to comments, and make sure that you don’t miss particular edits as well. You can also accept all of the changes or suggestions when it’s in suggest mode. So that is another great benefit that I find to be easier to use than Microsoft Word.

Now if you’re looking for something for an advanced project that has a lot of moving parts, I love Trello.

Other similar tools include Asana and Basecamp. Trello is very visual in comparison to those two.  It’s best for complicated or advanced projects. I use Trello for the project management of my own virtual team. So we have something like this podcast episode,  we’ll move through the process on the Trello board, where we’re adding images, making sure that the audio engineer has access to the audio for the show, making sure that we’ve pulled out quotes for social media, and have the show notes uploaded.

So we often connect back and forth with Dropbox. One of the challenges with Trello is that there are limits on how big the file sizes can be. So a lot of times when we’re working with a big file, like a podcast episode that gets uploaded into Dropbox, and then we link to it inside Trello.

And I love Trello because you can see where everyone has contributed to a certain project.  You can see when things that are overdue.  And you can ask questions there and tag people. So it works really well for advanced or complicated projects.

I have been a Content Manager for several different companies.  And I have used Trello for all of those to organize teams of as many as 6 to 15 writers and editors working on the same project. I love the visual aspect of it. And it’s very easy to go in and see all of the places where you have been tagged.

One of my other favorite tools is called Boomerang for Gmail.

Now you can get a free version of Boomerang and it will limit how many of the benefits you can use.  I pay for the premium version.  It’s $5 a month. In my opinion, it’s well worth it. There are two different features of Boomerang that I love.

One is called inbox pause. It allows you to stop emails from showing up in your inbox.  And it hides them into a secret folder. Yes, you can still get to that secret folder if you need to. Boomerang is a great thing if you’re trying to respond to a bunch of messages or work on a very focused project and you don’t want to have people who are replying to you filling up your email inbox.  Or if you’re just trying to reduce the amount of time you spend in your email inbox.  This can help break some of that addiction of waiting for the next email to populate.

So inbox pause, you can set it so that you just have to click unpause.  It will then deliver all those messages at once to your inbox. Or you can put it on a schedule. So if you check your email three times a day, it can come back into your inbox on a schedule and help break some of the lost time and productivity that so many of us experience due to email.

The other aspect of Boomerang for Gmail that I love is being able to schedule messages to go out at a certain time. And sort of in conjunction with that, send emails to come back into your email inbox later. So I usually never have less than 50 open emails in my inbox at a time. I use Boomerang to the ones that are not urgent.

So if it’s something where someone’s proposing an idea someone sending in something early, I will Boomerang those to come back into my inbox later.  It will remove them from showing up as unread in my email inbox. And then I will decide when they come back in. So if my Friday mornings are my administrative time and someone’s sending me administrative questions like password issues or invoices, I will receive that and then immediately Boomerang it to come back on Friday.

So it doesn’t seem like that’s something I need to deal with right away. The other aspect of that is sending messages later.  You can decide when emails go out. So you can schedule it to go out.  For example, if you’re working on the weekend and don’t really want your clients to know that you’re in the office on the weekend, you can schedule that email to go out on Monday morning.

You can also set emails to come back to your inbox, if you don’t receive a response from the intended party.  This can be great as a simple way to track follow up. So if you pitch to somebody over email, they don’t respond to you, then you don’t want to forget about that. So when you send the email, you can click a button that says send it back to my inbox in two days no matter what, or in two days if I don’t get a response. And that can prompt you to make it very easy to respond.So I love Boomerang for Gmail, the free version is great. The $15 a month is well worth it for all of the benefits that you get.

Now speaking of tracking email, HubSpot email tracking is one tool that I have consistently used.

Another program that is similar is called Streak. It’s great for those of you who are sending out a lot of pitches over email and want to be able to keep track of when your emails are being opened. So in the free version of HubSpot, you can track activity for up to 200 notifications. So it’s going to track a notification every time someone opens your email.

Now this is great for if you send someone a pitch proposal and you can see if they got the email.   If it is sitting there sent, you might be wondering why I don’t know if my email message went through. And then secondly, it’s also helpful to see who’s opening your messages. So if you send a pitch or proposal and someone’s opened it 17 times, there’s something in there that’s calling their attention. So it could be a great opportunity for you to follow up.

You don’t need to mention that you’ve tracked the email and that you know, they’ve opened it so many times. But it can be a great way to pull out from all the pitches or proposals that you’re sending which ones deserve a response.

So you’d want to follow up with those people who are opening your email a lot.  There may be something there that is really making them interested or they have further questions. So it’s a perfect opportunity, while you know that you are top of mind for them, to be able to follow up. So I’ve used the paid version of HubSpot email tracking for one to two months.

It’s about $50 a month for the basic upgrade into the premium version. And I did that when I was pitching literary agents. So I was sending a ton of emails.  I wanted to make sure my emails were being read.

I also use that in conjunction with Boomerang for Gmail, because each literary agent had different guidelines for how long to give them space to read your material before following up. So someone say if it’s been six weeks, and you haven’t heard from us, you can follow up. So when I would send those emails, I would use Boomerang as well as the HubSpot extension that you can add into your Gmail account. So I would send it with the tracking so I could see that they opened it. And then I would send it to Boomerang back into my inbox if it had been six weeks and I hadn’t heard from them to do the follow up.

So the free version is probably sufficient for most people.  I think you can get a lot of benefits out of the free version. So definitely check into that. It’s a very easy extension that you can connect to your Gmail account.

Now my last tool that I’m going to mention for this podcast is Google Calendar.

If you don’t want to use something like Boomerang or HubSpot because that feels too technical or you think you’d need the paid version. You can use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I love using Google Calendar in connection with an email scheduling or with a scheduling tool that I use called Calendly. When you have multiple clients, meetings, and projects at one time, your freelance business details can easily get lost or forgotten.

I like Calendly because rather than having emails going back and forth,  it makes it easy for them to book a time that is on your schedule.  And you can set it up where it sends a calendar invitation immediately to their email address after they’ve booked a time. So they’re going to get reminders and other information about speaking with you.

You can also use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I’ve used Google calendar to create my ideal week. So I don’t know if you know that you can go into calendars and set up different ones to show up on your schedule at the same time.

So on the left side, inside Google Calendar, it says my calendars, I’ve got a goal week calendar. And I’ve got my regular calendar. You can merge those together so you see all of the things that you have coming up. But Google Calendar makes it so easy to see what your week ahead is looking like or to determine if you’re traveling, which weeks look kind of slow, where you might be able to easily get out of the office and do some different things, or take some time off. Google Calendar just makes that so easy so that I can focus on other freelance business details.

And like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, you always want to test things out and see what’s going to work best for you.

Because what works for me might not work as well for you. So test things out. And if you don’t love something about a software or tool, figure out how you can tweak it. So go into YouTube and look for tutorials and other information where you can learn more about it. Or ask in entrepreneur groups.You can say, “Hey, this is what I love and don’t love about you know Boomerang for Gmail.  Does anyone else know of another program that is similar, where I can still get some of these benefits without some of the downsides?”

So this has been Episode 83. I’d love to hear what other strategies, tools, and pieces of software are essential for you and your freelance business. What are you using to scale up and to be able to get things done efficiently and never let any of the different projects or freelance business details slip through the cracks? As always, thanks for tuning in. You can send topic ideas or questions to info at betterbizacademy.com.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.