Freelance In 40 Days [Day 22]: Project Management Tools (Until You Get a Secretary)

Posted: October 28th, 2009

Photo by Pinprick (Flickr)

Photo by Pinprick (Flickr)

This is Day 22 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today will be an introduction to project management software.

The Do-It-Yourself Secretary

I’ll admit that I got into the concept of project management tools fairly recently, but I became very open to it after a couple of realizations:

1. I would occasionally get dates mixed up when completing stages for larger projects.

2. Writing all your tasks to complete on sheets and scraps of paper eventually get tangled in a mess on your desk. The image above actually illustrates a cleaner version of my desk.

3. Tasks get lost even in that organizer “book.”

Organization is a key to being efficient in freelancing and taking the time to learn and utilize a tool for managing clients and projects makes this easily possible. In fact, here are some major advantages:

You Save Time

When you deal with multiple clients and projects it becomes tedious keeping up with tasks, deadlines and communication. A lot of time can get eaten up just figuring out what you have to do in a given day. Project management tools keeps this all organized in one place.

Better Client Management

Like I learned, you do not want to ever make the mistake of missing a deadline or forgetting to do a task for a client simply because you “forgot.”  Needless to say, it doesn’t make you nor your business look good. When you get busy, you can’t rely on a written to-do list nor your memory either.

It’s Portable

In case you need to travel or change your office location for the day, project management software is web based so it goes with you too.

Project Management Software For Freelancers

Since project management software is becoming ever so popular, there are actually a number of open-source software that can be used free of charge. The downside is that it requires your own web server and a bit of tech savvy to install (they all have installation instructions though).

Not to worry. There are some that are web based services and can be used for free or a small monthly fee. Here are some of the favorites I’ve looked at:

  • OpenGoo: This one is my personal choice due to it’s ease of use and many features such as a calendar view, contact and email management, plus the ability to upload documents and save those web links you find useful. This does require you to install on a web server, but is well worth the effort or paying someone to do this.
  • Subernova: This is a web based service that is free for the first 30 days and 5.99 USD monthly on after. In addition to the usual client/project management, it has cool features such as time tracking, scheduling client emails and handy reminders that can be emailed to you.
  • ClockingIT: This can be used as a web based service or can be installed on a web server and is free to use either. It is not quite as robust as the above two but does offer client/project management and time tracking. To download the software go to their wiki page.
  • Collabtive: Provides a simple interface for client/project management and timetracking. This can be downloaded free and installed on a webserver or you can utilize their 40 EUR (about 60 USD) fee to have them install it for you. They can also host the software for you for a 10 – 40 EUR (about 15 – 60 USD) monthly fee depending on features.

Your Homework For Today

Start using a project management software of your choice. They take some time to learn and get adjusted to but it will be well worth it to help you be an organized freelancer.

Top Ten Famous Last Words of Freelancers

Posted: October 16th, 2009

Similar to General Custer, who’s famous last words were (unofficially) “We’ve caught them napping,” those not-so-lucky freelancers who fell off of face the planet also had some last words to be remembered by. Here are the best of them:

10. “Naw, I won’t charge you just this one time.”

9. “Why yes, billable time does include calls, emailing, invoicing, showers, naps and Twitter use.”

8. “If you don’t mind me saying, it looks way more professional with Comic Sans.”

7. “Here’s my cell number in case anything goes wrong.”

6. “A contract before starting? No thanks, I’m an independent.”

5. “What’s this W-9 I got in the mail?”

4. “Who needs you? I got my other client anyway.”

3. “Sure I can write out your website copy and blog posts on top of the layout and design. Plus tweets while we’re at it.”

2. “Be patient. I’m kinda new at this.”

1. “Aaaaah… mañana. Don’t worry.”

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 21]: Do Not Treat Freelancing Like a J-O-B

Posted: October 13th, 2009

Photo by Atconc (Flickr)

Photo by Atconc (Flickr)

This is Day 21 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll see how to break the old habits of  work and be more efficient as a freelancer.

Ok Freelancers, We’re Not At Our Old Jobs Now

Since many of us have worked in an office environment at some time, it is hard to realize that some of the habits we had as employees do not transfer over well to freelancing. I’m not talking about the clock-watching, surfing the internet and goofing off either (though, duh, these are bad habits too).

For example, if you did have some kind of an office job, think back to exactly how you worked during those hours. Was it half-ass at times and productive at other times? How many times can you say you were working so hard that 5 PM came around and you didn’t notice? Maybe a couple?

How many times can you remember “working” and just going through the motions hoping time gets killed in the process? More than you can count?

Well, as freelancers we have that awesome freedom to set our own hours whenever the hell we want. We have to make sure, however, that we are productive during those hours since there’s no guaranteed checks coming in every two weeks.

Going through the motions won’t get you by here.

You’re Also Not An Hourly Employee

One common but anti-productive habit of new freelancers is unknowingly making themselves a worker with an hourly wage. To explain, the average freelancer typically charges an hourly rate and, by logic, will calculate earnings by that rate times the number of hours worked.

So let’s say, for example, if you work an 8 hour day and and have a rate of $25/hour then at the end of the day you just scored $200. Where the mistake lies, however, is focusing on working those 8 hours instead of taking account the actual productivity for the day.

To further explain, when your mind is focused on working X number of hours in day, isn’t it a similar mindset to working at a job? Sure, work gets done, but there is a tendency to “drift off” and work lazily while at other times you are working hard. Those lazy moments go unnoticed since you are “working” those hours you set regardless of what gets done.

Let’s paint a different scenario. Using the above example, we’ll say you gave the client an estimate of $200 which takes you an average of 8 hours to complete. Now you could work those 8 hours and be satisfied with $200 you get at the end of of it.

Isn’t it possible, though, that you could finish this work in 5, 6 hours, or even less, if you worked at the times of the day that suited you best and were most focused and concentrated? You’ll still earn your $200 but are more productive in the process, shaving off some hours that can be used for other work or enjoyment.

The lesson here: time does not equal productivity. A freelancer does not earn his bread by what he works on the clock, but instead on what he gets done during the day.

The Easy Ways To Structuring The Workday

  1. Structure your workday by creating a list of tasks you want to get done, NOT setting the number of hours you want to work. Focusing on your tasks at hand keeps your attention on work. Focusing on number of hour worked keeps your attention on the clock.
  2. Work your most productive hours. Remember, you don’t have to do the whole 9 – 5 thing. If you work best just after breakfast and coffee, but also after 10 PM, then work during those hours.
  3. Read The 4 Hour Workday article from Think Simple Now. There’s great advice on increasing your productivity while shortening your workday and covers some topics of this tutorial.

Your Homework For Today

Evaluate your typical workday as a freelancer. Are you evaluating your results by what was earned (hourly rate X hours worked)? If so, try out the easy tips above. They do not require a serious change in your routine and you will notice some serious improvement in productivity.

The Week In Freelance: October 9th

Posted: October 9th, 2009

Top Ten Things To Do When There Are Just Too Many Things To Do

Posted: October 6th, 2009

Freelancers will surely get into times when they are juggling five projects, having to answer a million client emails and then finishing up the invoicing for the month.  All of which has to be done yesterday. Before you get burnout or any of that stressy stuff happening to you, stop, take a breath and try one of these ten remedies:

10. Wait patiently for that rainy day to come around… from the Bahamas.

9. Look into getting a paid position for all that other time you spend on Twitter.

8. Skip out for a six-day siesta.

7. Aw hell, might as well look for more work  instead.

6. Hire 10 year old brother to do your work for a Happy Meal and softer punches.

5. Might as well start spending all those checks you’ll get when the work is done.

4. Get much needed sympathy about your constant flow of work from Twitter/Facebook friends.

3. Write up a quick top ten list sippin’ on a beer.

2. Come up with some killer excuses for the clients.

1. Just take the damn day off and relax for once, OK?

The Week In Freelance: October 2nd

Posted: October 2nd, 2009

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 20]: Twitter, Stumbleupon and Freelancing

Posted: October 1st, 2009

Photo by Johnny (The Freelance Rant)

Photo by Johnny (The Freelance Rant)

This is Day 20 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll see how social media is useful in your freelance career.

Social Media Was Made For Freelancing

Today I’m going to introduce you to the concept of social media. Alright, I’ll cut the bull.

If you haven’t been hit in the face with social media yet and hanging ten on the Twitter wave, pull yourself from under that rock and read on. Admittedly, I did several months ago and haven’t looked back since.

One thing learned was that, for freelancers social media is an invaluable tool for networking and promotion. Before you get the idea of using it to sell yourself as the freelancer, though, it helps to understand the real benefits:

  • Networking
    Social media is the best and easiest means to network with other freelancers from around the world. It’s helps immensely to know you can turn to a group of chums for advice or just chat and joke around with.
  • Keep up with trends
    Since the primary function of social media is to spread around useful information, you can keep up with the latest and greatest happening in your field.
  • Promote your blog
    If you have a blog or are just starting one, social media is the best way to share it and drive traffic to it instead of waiting around for the search engines to give it some love.
  • You’ll eventually find article gems from other users
    Every once in a while you will come across an article passed to you that offers the perfect advice, makes you spit coffee on your computer screen from laughing or is one to print out and hang on your wall as a motivator. You won’t find these articles on your own otherwise.

There are a gazillion social media websites out there but the two most useful for freelancers are Twitter and Stumbleupon. Twitter is definitely the more “social” and is great to interact with others as well as promoting your blog while Stumbleupon tends to be used strictly for blog promotion but is a great tool for it’s ease of use.

Sure, there are other large social media sites such as Digg and Mixx, but keeping up with many different ones eats up a freelancer’s time. That’s why it is recommended to stick to the two basic, most popular sites which, realistically, is all you need.

You may have already started using Twitter and Stumbleupon but, no matter if you have or haven’t, read and bookmark the following articles which will show you the proper way to use Twitter and Stumbleupon, especially for you as the freelancer:

Your Homework For Today

If you have not set up an account with Twitter or Stumbleupon, create one for each. Hopefully you already did from Day 5. Remember to get a username with your company name or a slight derivation of it.

Then read through the articles above.

From here on out, make an effort to spend at least a half hour a day on Twitter/Stumbleupon (an hour if you can). You’ll be surprised at how your network will grow during that time.