Time. We’ve only got so much of it each day. For freelance writers who are also parents, we’ve certainly never got enough of it.
What’s the best way to spend our precious work hours? I’m often asked this question by my mentees. I had one say, “I wish I could follow you around all day and see how you do it!”
While I don’t think that would be pleasant for either of us (and might reveal an embarrassing amount of screwing off and/or snacking on my part!)…I realized that after five solid years of freelancing, I have developed some strong opinions on how to prioritize tasks.
Here are what I consider to be the seven most important activities a freelancer should spend their time on, in order of importance:
- Send a bill. Have you finished a project, but not billed it yet? Stop everything and send that bill out right now. Every day a bill isn’t received by a client is a day it can’t be processed and paid. Many companies only cut checks once or twice a month, so a little dithering on your part could easily result in an extra month’s wait for your money.
- Finish a project. Do you have a project you’re almost done with — say, an article that’s ready to write? If you don’t have another immediately pressing deadline, then write it today, even if it’s not due now. Clearing mostly-done projects out of the way has a number of benefits — it means a chance to send a bill sooner (notice a theme here?), you write while the topic is fresher in your brain, and getting that assignment off your plate declutters your brain to focus on other pressing tasks.
- Find sources. This is one I have to admit I am guilty of procrastinating on sometimes…but you shouldn’t. Locating great sources is often key to writing great stories. The longer you wait to start your search, the more pressure you’re under to find someone, and the more likely you are to settle for a less-than-ideal interview subject. Start early and you’ll have the time to hunt down better sources. You’ll also be able to schedule their interview times when it’s most convenient for you, as you’re not in a rush.
- Write. Once you’ve billed, wrapped up anything close to completion, and done whatever source-finding is needed for upcoming stories, you can look at other writing you might want to get done. The more you write, the better you get, and making a habit of writing helps you avoid writer’s block. So find as much time for writing in each day as you can. This is the point where your personal blog might get written, or you might write ahead on a big project that you want to rewrite and polish up a lot before deadline. (If you’re a designer, substitute “do design work” here, or whatever else it is you do as a freelancer.)
- Market your business. Even if it’s just a half-hour of connecting on your social-media sites, try to spend a little time each day spreading the word about what you do. Send one query. Sign up for one networking event. Whatever is in your marketing plan — break off a little chunk of it today and do it.
- Do interviews. If you looked for sources early and left time to prepare for your interview time, you should be ready to rock your interviews and get fantastic quotes and information. You can schedule your interviews or research time for current assignments after your marketing time because you planned well.
- Analyze your progress. This is an often-overlooked but critical step to building a lucrative freelance career. Every month, see what you billed, and what you received. The gap between those two gives you a quick snapshot of your month-to-month trend — is it going up or down? Compare this year to date with last year to date, or this month with the same month last year. Data about earnings, and about how your client mix is changing, can help you budget better based on what income is really coming in the door, and can also help shape your marketing strategy.
How do you prioritize your time as a freelancer? Leave a comment and let us know.
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(P.S. I’m filing this early because tomorrow, I’ll be at the Seattle Society of Professional Journalists’ All Access Pass seminar and networking event! Hope to see some of you there…and hope to report on my experience later this week. Speaking on a couple of panels…and hope to learn from others as well.)
Photo via Flickr user enigmachck1