Freelance writer Ellen Goldstein wrote today’s post. Enjoy!
Some freelancers derive organizational joy from spread sheets, writing down numbers, and following up on unpaid invoices. Others of us would like to just keep writing/editing/designing, thanks, and let the business take care of itself. The problem is, of course, that business never takes care of itself. As a clear member of the second group, I knew I had to change my ways when I went freelance.
- Embrace the business side of freelancing
You don’t have to love it, but business is like your Great Aunt Matilda, who helped pay for your college education; you owe her at least a peck on the cheek and monthly afternoon teas, listening to her talk about her elderly Pekingese. Just remember what is at stake. If you can’t find a way to deal with your business matters, it’s back to windowless cubicles and two-hour-long meetings about ordering procedures.
- Go to the places that scare you
Jump right in and do one of the scarier business-related things you have to do. You may find that the anticipation is the worse than the experience, and that making that call to the IRS wasn’t that scary after all. Last week, I finally called an accountant to help me take care of a tax issue that had been plaguing me for a while. It was painful, but it is such a relief to not have this issue hanging over my head any longer. It also frees up my brain to work on the rest of my freelance career.
- Do one business-related task a day
It doesn’t have to be big. Check up on an unpaid invoice, research CPAs, or even just take a month’s worth of receipts out of your wallet and put them in your deduction folder. Every little bit that you do will help free up time later to do your writing/editing/designing work. Don’t forget to bribe/reward yourself afterward. It works for the toddlers in your life, doesn’t it?
- Find support
Maybe one of your friends or relatives has experience writing grants or keeping books. Take her out to lunch and pick her brain. Think about hiring a professional, even if you think you can’t afford it. Having a lawyer to write up your contracts shouldn’t keep you from putting food on the table, but it is cheaper than a costly court case. This is the kind of math even business-phobes like myself can do.
- Enable yourself to be organized
It appears we are all chronically unorganized (this is a great relief to me), because there are scads of books (such as Organizing from the Inside Out, Getting Things Done, and It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys) and blogs (unclutterer.com and zenhabits.net) that can help you create a system and become more organized. There are many different ways of becoming organized and no right way to do it. Probably the most important factor in becoming organized is being honest with yourself about what systems will actually work for you, rather than what you merely would like to be able to work for you. Now is not the time to be idealistic.
After you set up an organizational system, try the piece-of-paper test. If you can’t find a minor piece of paper—whether it’s an unpaid invoice, a bill from last March, or someone’s business card from a networking event last month—in under ten minutes and without dismantling all or part of your workspace, tweak your system until you can.
The Examined Life
After you have been cautiously facing the business side of your freelance career for a couple of weeks, step back, congratulate yourself. Then ask yourself what you still need to learn. Make a list and think about what practical short-term and long-term steps you can make to strengthening yourself in these items. Take a class. Read some books. Call a professional. Ask your friends. Break larger problems down into manageable steps. Make a schedule in order to follow these steps. Think about your strengths as well—it can be as useful to know what you can do right, as to know what you need to work on.
Examine the work you have done. Usually on Fridays, I sit down and tally the number of hours I worked that week and what I did. I also keep track of where I sent my resumes, who I talked to about expanding my editing empire (as I fondly call it), and any formal or informal professional development I have undergone. Weeks and events have a way of slipping by when they are not recorded. The unexamined freelance life is not worth living, because it is too easy for it to slip away.
Ellen Goldstein is a freelance editor and poet living in Beverly, Massachusetts.