At some point in your career as a freelancer or consultant, you realized that there’s a built-in limit to how much you personally can make. You can try to charge more per hour, sure, but there are only so many hours in a week. And it’s downright maddening how many distractions compete for your attention every day (maybe even some self-inflicted ones). :0
Besides raising your rates (not always easy) or working all the hours (exhausting), what can you do to be more productive, so you can make more money and/or enjoy more downtime?
1. Don’t just manage your time – own it!
Time isn’t just money. It’s most likely one of the big reasons you went solo – so you could have more control over your time. So, it’s time to exert that control. Get the work done as efficiently as you can, so you have that freedom you dreamt about!
Step one is to create and commit to a routine. Not a boring routine, but one that acknowledges your unique energy patterns. When are you are the most productive? Most inspired? Worthless? Use that self-knowledge to create a day that makes the most of your company’s greatest resource – you. If that means no meetings before 10 a.m., THEN DON’T EVER AGREE TO A MEETING AT THAT UNGODLY HOUR!
One of the biggest considerations in creating a routine is to protect creative time, especially if you’re in a field that requires lots of time writing, designing, strategizing, etc. We’re talking about tasks that require large chunks of uninterrupted time without bothersome texts, emails, calls, etc. Let people know that you’re going to disappear for a stretch and that they can expect to hear from you afterwards. Your goal with this time is to think deeply and clearly, which will be reflected in your work product.
Also, schedule productive downtime. Maybe for you that means getting up 2 hours before anybody else and meditating or reading. It may also mean social time. So, feel empowered to put lunches and happy hours in your calendar or schedule dates with friends (for positive energy).
Finally, you should give serious consideration to tracking and billing your time, using an app like Harvest or one of many alternatives. I know, I know. Your last job made you track your time and you vowed never to do it again. Think about it from this perspective. If you sell your time, you want to get paid for all your time. And don’t waste a precious minute trying recall how much time you spent doing what. You definitely did not go into business to do that. One bonus of using a tracking app is that you can construct invoices in seconds and get them out the door, which means getting paid faster!
2. Make your tasks less of a chore
Some of us are born list makers. If that’s you, then you’re off to an awesome start. The next step is to take your to-dos out of the paper realm and digitize them, where they can effortlessly become the foundation for better time and project management and more rewarding collaboration with both colleagues and clients.
If you collaborate with other freelancers or work closely with clients, you should consider more robust project management tools, like Asana or Trello, which allow you to create and share tasks within broader projects. Trello is known for a more visual display of projects, which might appeal to you. Asana has also created a similar project view. If you require Gantt-style charts, which show task dependencies, you can use Asana’s Gantt feature or look at a more sophisticated project management app like Microsoft Project.
3. Rule your finances with an iron fist
Sure, finances matter, but entering expenses, sending invoices, issuing W-9s and 1099s – none of that directly adds to your wealth or prosperity. It all steals time that you could either be working billable hours or relaxing. So, let’s get on top of this once and for all, so you can focus on what made you go into business in the first place.
- Step one is to start using an online accounting tool like Freshbooks or Quickbooks. That’s the foundation of professionalizing your finances because it organizes all your income and expenses in one place, in a manner that allows you to produce reports, make cash-flow projections and work more effectively with an accountant.
- Step two is to start working more actively with an accountant or CPA throughout the year. It’s not as expensive as you might think and, considering the benefits, could be one of the smartest spends for your business. Since one of the big chores is simply entering and categorizing all your financial transactions, you might ask your CPA if they can recommend a bookkeeper who will do that for you. Your CPA will help you with the higher-level tasks, like annual planning, filing quarterly estimated taxes and, of course, year-end taxes.
Like having a good lawyer, knowing that an accounting professional is keeping you out of trouble can give you tremendous peace of mind, so you can focus on what you do best. How do you find a good one? Ask your network! (More on that below.)
4. Build a more productive network
Networking is not often thought of as a productivity tool, but it should be. Knowing the right person at the right time is a time savings at least and a secret weapon at best. What’s more, a healthy network works on your behalf, even while you sleep, which is the ultimate in productivity. So, what do you need in a network?
- Fellow solopreneurs to call with urgent and important questions (how to handle client situations, technology purchases, business decisions, etc.).
- Freelancers who you can call on when you land a bigger or multi-disciplinary project.
- Business professionals, like attorneys, accountants, and consultants, who can help you make smart plans and stay out of trouble.
- Other professionals for hire, such as admins, travel agents and event planners, who you take routine or time-consuming tasks off your plate.
- Prospective clients, who may not need you today but could someday call you for some help.
- Acquaintances and fans, who will speak well of you and send leads your way.
How do you build such a network? We wrote a whole other blog post with 10 tips for making networking easier.
5. Find a workspace that actually works for you
Of course, at some point you need to sit down and actually get some work done. Where does that occur for you? Is it home? Or a coffee shop? Or some other hideaway?
Home and coffee shops might make sense on some days. But if your work requires focus, without distractions, like pets, kids, dishes, laundry, internet outages, etc., then you should consider a membership at a coworking space like Fueled Collective.
Coworking spaces are designed to be productive environments, not only because your kids aren’t there, but because you’re surrounded by other motivated solopreneurs, small business owners and corporate teams. At a coworking space, you’re not responsible for anything – desks, chairs, internet, coffee. You just get to sit down and produce. One bonus about coworking spaces? They can help you find more clients and colleagues. You don’t have to work real hard at it. Just be friendly and introduce yourself to the people sitting nearby. We’ve seen this happen for nearly 10 years. Friendly conversations lead to collaborations and business deals, that simple. That would never happen in your home office.