5 Essentials to Put Your House in Order Before Jumping to Freelance
Freelancing needs much more than your laptop and the internet
Freelancing is fun, right?
My friends often comment this when I meet them. In fact, that’s the first thought about freelancing — you can work from anywhere, anytime without any worry. But don’t you feel there’s a catch?
It’s true, we have the liberty to work from anywhere, but let’s accept it, not all freelancers are digital nomads. Freedom to work from anywhere comes at a price — you have to stay organized right from day one.
Let’s be more clear on this.
When you work in a company, office or with someone, the onus to manage things lies on someone else. That’s why we have IT departments, admin departments and support staff in every office. But when you’re a freelancer, you need to take care of everything on your own.
From your morning tea to the broken Ethernet cable, from admin to marketing, legal to accounts, you need to handle everything like a one-man army.
If you don’t have some processes in order, you won’t be able to sustain and work, let alone scale your freelance career. Or I should say, you won’t even be able to service your first client effectively.
I am not here to talk about pitching, marketing or things like that. You can check my other blog on cold pitches if you came looking for that.
5 Steps to Create a Successful Cold Pitch or Proposal
You can’t just keep flaunting about your past experience, every time.
I am about to talk about something so basic, that everyone forgets about it. It’s about building a system that you can rely upon. The tools you would need every day to make things happen, sign contracts, manage workflows, get paid on time, and more. The biggest mistake you can make is to not care enough about these aspects. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot.
You have to stay organized and ready for business from your first day as if you’re already a ‘hotshot’ professional. Never give anyone a single reason to question your professionalism. And how do you do that?
You don’t need money or people do to all that. There are hundreds of SaaS tools that allow you to promise ‘the moon’ if you want. But let’s stick to the basics today.
Have a Cloud Storage System
If there is one thing you’ll despise about freelancing, it is managing documents, inputs and project files you’ll gather over the years. After a point, you’ll even lose count.
And there is always a client who would ping you at ‘odd hours’ to resend the last deliverable because someone from their office accidentally deleted all the files.
Don’t even get me started on hardware failures like a crashed hard disk. If you want peace in your life, it’s better to get hold of a cloud storage system.
Even I have lost important files while working and after project completion, making me regret not taking backups. I learned it the hard way. I don’t want you to face the situation. You must have cloud storage before you begin. If you can even work on the cloud, that’s cherry on top.
What You Can Do?
Google Drive would be good for starters but can also think of something that offers flexible plans, as you grow. You can start by having a common OneDrive or Google Drive folder. Here is a simple way to manage your files:
- Create a master folder in your drive for every year
- Segment again in sub-folders based on the month
- Start creating a unique sub-folder for every client within the month’s folder
- Create multiple folders based on inputs, edits and the final deliverable
You can create separate folders for personal projects, passion gigs and things you take up from time to time.
Just make sure to either configure an automated backup at the end of every day or set a daily backup alarm if you don’t mind taking care of your files manually (if you work locally). Trust me, this single habit will save you the trouble of going back and forth in e-mails just to search for a single file.
Start Using eSign Systems & Contracts
I have seen many freelancers skipping this important part just because they feel it’s too technical. Others don’t want to pay for an eSign solution. Hell, some even use the old ‘Print-Sign -Scan’ system even in 2020.
If you want clients to love you, you must offer an easy way out, for everything. This includes the ease of onboarding, for them. eSignatures are legally enforceable these days. So, you’re doing yourself a favor with a legal contract signed through an eSign system.
What You Can Use?
If you don’t want to pay for a tool that seems ‘not-so-important’ because you have a ‘thing’ with your client, you should still start creating and sending contracts through eversign. It free for up to five documents per month.
Now, if you still don’t have a formal contract for your work engagement, I suggest you hire a lawyer or use Docracy to build your own contract. Docracy has hundreds of pre-made, free-to-use contract templates.
Have an Invoicing Software On Your Side
Two down, now another interesting part- how to invoice your client, or send an estimate. Some freelancers use MS-Excel templates for this but I have a better way, which is again free.
You won’t like the pile of excel sheets at the end of the year when you need to sort your taxes. Right?
Then you must keep your finances in order. You should have a clear picture of cash flows while working as a freelancer.
You also need a system to keep an eye on the payment schedules for your clients. Because we all know, some clients would always default on the due date.
But you don’t want to spend time just following up on email or a chat every time. It’s better to automate reminders for invoices that aren’t paid yet.
What You Can Use?
If you haven’t been using WaveApps, you’re missing out on something big. WaveApps is a free solution for SMEs and freelancers that take care of invoicing and bookkeeping.
You can create estimates, invoices, send payment reminders, receipts, record your expenses and more. Also, at the end of the year, you don’t have to fiddle with your mailbox or Excel sheets for taxes. You can see everything you need on a single dashboard.
The UI is clean and clients will appreciate the payment receipts that WaveApps allow you to generate. All you need to do is just add your information and get started.
If you like to try a few options, I recently discovered refrens.com which is similar but it also supports international payments collection at a competitive fee. So, your payment gateway issues will be resolved too. If you’re serious about the international market, you should definitely look into this.
Streamline with Project Management Boards
The other day, someone asked me how I manage so many client emails. I simply said, “I don’t.” He was surprised.
Then I told him a way to manage work, without sticking to your mailbox day-in and day-out. A project management board can be visualized like an elaborate ‘To-Do’ list.
If you work with multiple clients (or are planning to work), you would eventually need a system to stay on top of everything. That’s where a project management board would help.
What Should You Use?
I have been using Trello since 2016 and it has only improved over all these years. What started as a love for organized workflow soon gave way for better coordination between me, the client’s point of contact, and the decision-makers.
I usually create a Trello board every time I onboard a client. Here is one standard board template I use for most of my clients to manage their work throughout our engagement. Here is another template you can use.
Using Trello saves a lot of time and also ensures that the client has access to all the files, forever. I save a couple of hours every month that would have been spent on forwarding files again and again.
I also keep several personal Trello boards for lead management, managing daily workflow, organizing content ideas, developing content calendars and a lot more. People use Trello for organizing information, getting better at managing tasks, etc.
My friend Abhijeet has a public Trello board of some interesting marketing resources. He carefully created it over months and shared it with everyone to enjoy. You can check it out here if you love an organized learning approach.
The possibilities with a project management board are limitless. You can also check Trello board template library for inspiration and build a system of your own.
Have a CRM System in Place
“I don’t need a CRM. I am no corporate and frankly I don’t get so many leads, too.” — A fellow freelancer.
Okay, accepted that you don’t get many leads, but still, you need a solution to manage all your interactions with prospects. Or you would be back to square one in just a few months.
In the freelancing world, follow-ups matter a lot. If you get a lead, you should learn how to nurture it. And what’s better than nurturing a lead than a full-fledged CRM system.
With a CRM, you can add leads into a central system, record your interactions, log calls, schedule tasks and a lot more. And if a lead ghosts you, you can remind them again without stretching your daily schedule.
Trust me, if you manage to automate your lead management and CRM function, you would save at least 10 hours every month, if not more. And your conversion rates would improve definitely when you learn the art of nurturing a lead.
What You Can Use?
HubSpot CRM is a free-to-use tool for this. You can connect it to your mailbox, website and social channels to keep everything at a single place.
I took some time to automate lead management with the help of Zapier, Trello and HubSpot that saved me a lot of time over the past few months.
‘Free’ Freelancing Stack Anyone Can Use- Infographic
Takeaways From This Piece
- Cloud Storage — Google Drive
- eSign System — Eversign
- Contract Templates- Docracy
- Invoicing & Bookkeeping Tool — WaveApps
- Invoicing & International Payment Solution: Referens
- Project & Workflow Management — Trello
- Lead/Client Relationship Management: Hubspot CRM
- Workflow Automation: Zapier
- Free Trello Board Template for Ghostwriting Project Management
- Free Trello Board for Freelance Project Management (Thanks Abhijeet Kumar)
- Free Public Board for Marketing, Content & Writing Resources (Thanks Abhijeet Kumar)
- All in One Freelance Workflow Management Tool (Paid): Bonsai
It’s All Basic But it Works
I know there are several freelance management SaaS platforms that can do all this and more in a single bundle like Bonsai. Bonsai is actually a powerful platform for managing your freelancing journey. But the thing is, not everyone is ready to commit to a monthly or annual fee. This doesn’t mean they can’t get organized.
For those of you who knew all this already, kudos, you’ve doing a brilliant job at staying organized.
I wrote this for freelancers who are learning to manage their time, clients, and projects. This post is just my effort to share some FREE resources that freelancers can start using right away without any investment. After all, we all know, how hard it can be in the beginning.
So, if you’re just starting up and reading this, trust me, you’ve got all you need to shine. All the best!
Disclaimer: This is not an affiliate post or a paid blog. I am sharing what I believe can help freelancers who are just starting their journey.