As your freelancing career grows and you take on more work, you may find it increasingly difficult to manage all of those pitches, assignments, incoming payments, and article ideas. In order to stay on top of all this information, its important to have a system that keeps your writing business in order. The right tools can not only help you keep better records and improve your organization--they can also boost your productivity.
Here are five free tools I use to help manage my thriving freelance writing business:1. Evernote for Capturing Story Ideas
This popular cloud-based software suite lets users collect and organize all sorts of information. While there is a variety of paid subscription options with Evernote, Ive been using the free version for over a year and find it more than adequate to record article ideas and pitch notes.
As I carry a BlackBerry with me at all times but write articles and blog posts on my laptop, I like Evernotes ability to sync all notes I take across the multiple devices I use. Sometimes inspiration strikes when Im away from my desk, such as when Im eating lunch and reading a print business magazine (yes, I still subscribe to print newspapers and magazines).
I used to keep a notepad and pen nearby to write down story ideas, but recording them on Evernote with my BlackBerry cuts out the step of transcribing my written notes onto my laptop. Im primarily a business and personal finance writer, so I label each idea with either BI or MI, for business idea or money idea. I will also tag each note with the names of potential publications to pitch once Ive massaged and expanded the idea. I do this on my laptop, where I can access the notes I had input previously on my BlackBerry Evernote app.2. Toggl for Time Tracking
One thing Im really keen on in managing my freelance writing business is tracking how much money Im making per hour and per project. This helps me to determine which projects and subjects earn better hourly rates--in addition, I can use my tracker to make decisions about accepting future projects. Time tracking can expose surprises as well: What seems like a low-paying assignment may actually yield a better hourly rate than an assignment that pays more but takes longer to write due to interviews and/or extensive research.
Ive been using the free version of Toggl to track my writing time for over two years. I input clients and projects, and time myself as soon as I start working. I track the time it takes to find sources, carry out research (reading reports, statistics, etc.), outline the article, draft it, prepare the final version, and--occasionally--complete revisions. At any time I can see how much time Ive spent on a project or worked for a client, and how many hours Ive worked during the week.3. Gmail for Organizing Sources
Ive found Gmail to be the most efficient way for me to organize source emails. As my freelance writing business has progressed, I sometimes field twenty or more emails per day from business, enterprise, and financial sources responding to my requests for experts on various topics. After a couple of instances where I was frantically combing through my cluttered inbox, I recalled the advice of Linda Formichelli, a well-known writing mentor and freelance writer. Linda suggested setting up a secondary email address just for accepting emails from potential sources. Gmails robust tagging and tracking systems organize them into categories for future reference. This is what I did, and its working like a charm.4. Google Calendar for Scheduling Due Dates and Works in Progress
Another handy, free tool from Google helps me schedule deadlines: Google Calendar. Google Calendar keeps my entire life in order. I use it to color code everything, including my household responsibilities, each childs activities and appointments, and all of my writing deadlines. I set deadlines as tasks within my calendar, so they appear at the top of each day in red preceded by the word DUE so I dont miss them. I also use Google Calendar to schedule and monitor my works in progress (WIPs), working backward from the due date. And, since I have a large, busy, and unpredictable household, I try to allow one extra day as a cushion prior to due dates to accommodate various kid-related, time-consuming mishaps. Google Calendar and Gmail are also accessible from both my laptop and my BlackBerry.5. Excel Spreadsheets for Tracking Freelance Writing Business Finances
At the moment, Im using two different Excel spreadsheets to track my monthly and year-to-date freelance writing income against my monthly and annual goals. The first spreadsheet is based on a template a fellow writer, Tracey Sandilands, emailed me three years ago.
Column A lists each day in the year, grouped into twelve months with a row below each month for Company Totals. Columns B through F (and sometimes G or H) are allocated to each of my current freelance clients, and how much Ill earn from each client each day. Column I shows my daily total, J shows my monthly total, and K shows the amount still needed to meet my monthly goals.
My husband created the second spreadsheet, which tracks my year-to-date total, billing date for each article, and when the payment was received. This helps me spot overdue accounts. Though this was easy to monitor when I first started freelancing, it became more difficult as I began to make steady money with a full freelance editorial calendar.
Are there more efficient or alternative ways for freelance writers to manage and organize their workload? Undoubtedly. Just as each writer has a different writing style and niche, we each have a different way of processing information and arranging our work schedules. The key is to experiment, ask other writers, and try different tools to find what works best for you.
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