E-learning Freelancers: How do you manage administrative and project management tasks?

Got a good question from a user in a recent Live webinar who was looking for ways to better manage the business side of her company.

Specifically, she was looking for help with answering emails, invoicing, writing proposals, social media, and networking. 

Just curious if anyone has any tips, tools or suggestions to help one-person design teams do it all.

16 Replies
Magda Diaz
  1. Wake up early and manage your day as if you were going to a job. 
  2. Put recurring tasks on a schedule (checking email, invoicing, etc)
  3. Create templates for every type of proposal so you can easily customize as needed.
  4. Build up libraries of customizable visual assets that you can include in your proposals rather than create everything from scratch every time.
  5. Have a well structured file system for everything on your computer. Reduce cognitive overload by being organized and neat.
  6. Find a calendar or project management software that you like, to actually schedule projects deadlines, meetings etc.
  7. Keep a notebook or use your phone to capture ideas whenever inspiration strikes. These can sometimes become solutions to projects you are working on later. Good to browse through them at least once a week.
  8. Embrace the power of checklists.
  9. Most importantly schedule time for personal development, mindfulness, exercise and reflection. 
  10. Go outside everyday.
  11. Complete your tax returns on time.
  12. Find a process that works for you. It shouldn't feel painful.

All of these thing help me reduce stress and make work more enjoyable.

 

Christy Tucker

I like Magda's tips; most of those are things I follow myself.

Building on what she said, I batch many administrative tasks together. For example, I do all my invoicing once a month. (I use Wave for my accounting software, which is mostly free for small businesses and makes invoicing faster.) I answer email first thing in the morning when I'm waiting for the caffeine to kick in. When I need to focus on a project, I ignore emails and social media. When I need a break from heavy work, I do light work like checking emails and responding to social media questions.

Even as a one-person business, it helps to document and create systems for your business processes. That can be checklists, like Magda's #8. Writing it down means you don't have to think about each step every time it comes up; you just follow the checklist. For example, I have a process for responding to prospective client queries. First, they contact me through my website or email. Second, I email them a list of 5 questions to learn more about their project and screen out people who aren't serious (e.g., they want $5000 of work for $300). Third, assuming they reply and pass the screening, I send them a link to my Calendly so they can schedule a preliminary call (no more sending 15 emails back and forth to schedule meetings!). I have a checklist of questions and topics for those preliminary calls to explain my process.

One strategy I have found very helpful is to figure out my most productive time of the day and reserve that for my most taxing work. I'm most productive in the morning, so that's when I do my writing or complex development. I save lighter work for later in the day. My pattern wouldn't work for everyone, but it's important to figure out your own natural rhythm and work with it rather than against it.

Phil Mayor

I am most productive between 7am and 2pm after that I probably do half the work I can manage in that time.

I use Freeagent to manage my accounts and invoicing, it also does time tracking for those projects where I need to account for my time.

I use Things 3 for tracking tasks and projects, and screenshots and my phone capture any inspiration (shop windows, user interfaces etc)

I have an inspiration folder where I put samples that I want to build, or UI that I want to recreate.

I am not great with social media/blogging.

I havent used Calendly and really like the idea of that. 

I love the idea of moving everything over to 17 hats which has a great workflow for on boarding new clients, and prospective clients. 

I try to be as responsive as possible and it is a fine line to balance that with also doing work, for taxing work I prefer silence as far as Skype/email/messaging goes, but I also work better with music (as long as I have no voice over to work with).

 

Nancy Woinoski

There are a lot of great tips here. 

I set up my email client to only check for incoming mail every hour so that I am not constantly bombarded with incoming mail that can distract me from my work.

I also make it a policy to read and respond to email the same day it is sent. I don't have a set time for responding but typically do it when I need a break from the development work.

The other thing I do which has not been mentioned is that I record business expenses as they are incurred instead of waiting til the end of the month so that a) I don't forget to record them and b) I don't have a big pile of unpleasantness to deal with at the end of the month.  I use QuickBooks Pro for invoicing and all my business accounting.

My view on social media is that it is mostly a time-sucker at least for me. I know of some instructional designers who have made big names for themselves by judicious use of twitter and LinkedIn but have no idea if it translates into business. I still think networking is the best way to build a business and having a visible presence in the Articulate Community has definitely helped me gain clients. I also think having a focused and well-designed website, and a strong portfolio are important. 

Ryan Hall

I think Magda nailed pretty much everything I would say.

I wanted to highlight #10 though - making sure to get outside everyday. This is a big one for me, as it is too easy to get sucked into work, and find that a day has passed without feeling the sun on my skin! Learning to take time away, and not feeling about doing so, was the single most important key to a successful project for me. Having that chance to refresh, clear my mind, and organize my thoughts was crucial. Plus, I found that I appreciated the little things around me more.

Dario Dabbicco

I would add mine to the previous heroic answers, even if it is not strictly administrative or related to PM: if you have the available space on your desk, get yourself a double monitor (maybe with a docking station if you don't use desktops). Ours is a job in which you have to continuously switch windows (look at resources / look at storyboard / copy&paste/ fix that Spotify playlist that's going in the wrong path :)). A double screen greatly speeds up things and reduces cognitive fatigue instantly, you can also undock SL panels and place them in the second screen. Try and you will never look back :)

David Anderson
Nancy Woinoski

I set up my email client to only check for incoming mail every hour

I do this as well. Reducing email notifications has been a big help for mitigating distractions.

Our company lives on Slack and that's reduced email usage by 90% for me. If something's urgent, Slack notifies me.

Phil Mayor

I think as freelancer we have a lot of background noise as we have to fit into other clients processes and systems.

At the moment I have basecamp, Asana, Google Docs notifications coming in regularly. As well as email, Skype and the
Phone, I try to filter these and any emails I am copied into automatically go into a holding folder with a auto reply that if it
Is important please add me to to field.

Sent from my iPhone

Tracy Carroll

I use Quickbooks and a dedicated business bank account & credit card for finances. 

To keep track of my time, I use Toggl (free version). I've found that my clients appreciate having a Toggl report included when I sent my invoice.

I use Buffer (free version) to schedule Twitter posts--when I remember to do it.

I use Zoom (free version, again) for client meetings, when I have a choice.

I also recommend dual monitors, and a walking desk!

 

Bruce Graham

I guess I must be a bit of an oddity here...as I do not use hardly any of the tools that have been mentioned!

I have my email constantly pinging me...I have found that RAPID replies to queries often win the business. When I start a piece of work, I start the invoice, and I record all time spent on the project on that invoice. I've been recording my work life, every 15-minutes in one way or another since I started working in 1985, so this just comes naturally to me! I use Gmail calendar to prompt for actions, and I always make sure that ANY email in my Inbox ALWAYS has an action for me, or someone else, on a specific date. I use Skype when I need to, but most of the time try and phone them rather then emailing them, and I have wonderful (better?) relationships with most of my clients because of this.

Also - getting downtime is important, as the "work-life-balance" of a freelancer can often become a myth!!! Walk the dog as much as possible. Great thread, with great contributions :)