To me, time is the most valuable commodity in life. And in business, time can either be your friend or your enemy. Which one is it for you?
Most freelancers suffer from what I like to call the, “just scraping through syndrome”. This is basically where you get overwhelmed with everything that has to be done in your day-to-day operations.
This could be; responding to clients, staying on top of your accounts, posting on social media, writing guest posts, or spending time networking.
Doing so many different tasks means that you either need to one, work more hours, or two, neglect important activities to move your business forward.
That is, unless you have systems in place.
Systems allow you to leverage your time and gain control over your business.
So how do you go about setting up the right systems? Well I’m going to show you how.
In this post, you’ll learn how to streamline your freelance business in 5 simple steps, leaving you with more time to do what you want. Sound good?
Let’s get into it.
Step 1 – Systematize your client intake process
For the purpose of this exercise, I want you to think about how much time you spend thinking about what to write and say to your prospective clients.
For example, when a prospect, enquires through the contact form on your website, how do you typically respond? Go through your old emails and see if there are any patterns.
Before you do that though, make a list of all of the possible communication points between you and your prospective client. List everything from initial inquiry to project start date. Here’s an example of what a list looks like:
- Respond to inquiry
- Sales conversation
- Send proposal/package
- Follow up 1
- Follow up 2
- Send invoice
- Follow up 1
- Follow up 2
- Confirmation of receipt and project date
- Reminder email
- Project start
In step 3, you can either create the template yourself, or use software like Bidsketch for something more professional.
From here, I suggest you sit down and map out all of your communication points and see if you can create a template and referencing process. If you get stuck, look back at past emails you’ve sent to clients and incorporate them into your new templates.
Step 2 – Set up a financial management system
Ugh finances…not the sexiest topic, I know. But there’s no disputing that this is an important element of your freelance business.
The good news is, this doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, with the right tools, this process can be quite empowering.
First things first. Set up a business bank account. It doesn’t matter if you’re trading for your first day, or have been freelancing successfully or 5 years. Having a separate business bank account will make your record keeping much much easier.
What’s so great about accounting software is that it enables you to link your business bank account directly to the app. This means you don’t have to waste time entering data as it will automatically feed through over night. All you have to do is allocate the transaction when it comes in. Pretty cool huh?
You can also use the accounting program to follow up invoices. You can set up automatic reminders, so you don’t even have to worry about it. And like Bidsketch, you can see if your clients have actually opened your email.
Having a financial management system in place is relatively easy to setup and will do wonders for your business. You will be able to see how much you’ve earned in any given period of time and your accountant won’t need as much time to do your taxes.
Step 3 – Establish a contact management system
There’s no denying it, having a strong contact list will lead to more clients, speaking gigs, access to larger audiences, you name it. Plus, the people you surround yourself with will only motivate you to take your business to the next level.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to aggressively approach people at conferences and meet-ups. Personally I’m not a huge fan of this approach. I prefer building my contacts organically one person at a time.
There are a couple things you need to consider when creating a contact management system. The most important consideration is who do you want in your influence? Is it clients, friends, other freelancers who could promote your business? Beyond the category, think about what type of values you want the people in your network to have.
From there you need to find a tool to store all of your contacts. Try to find a system that allows you to add notes so you can keep track of your relationships. For this, I recommend Nimble or contactually. Both tools track all of your communication with people, through social media, email or manually added notes.
The final step is to figure out how often you want to touch base with your network. Is it once a week or maybe every couple of months? It is likely that your contact frequency will largely depend on the type of relationship? For example if it is a close business friend in your mastermind group, you might catch up weekly as opposed to checking in monthly as you would with say, a past client.
The last thing to remember is to always be looking for ways to grow the number of quality relationships you have. The best way to do this, is to join online communities or meet people in person. Once again, you don’t need to go out and be someone you’re not. Be mindful of the opportunities but let your relationships grow organically. There’s not much point staying in touch with people you don’t like.
Step 4 – Create a marketing system
Once you’ve identified what marketing strategies work best for you, it’s then about putting systems into place to ensure you always have a leads flowing into your business.
For example, you might identify that blogging, social media email marketing get you the most business.
However, do you only use these strategies when you’re low on opportunities, or do you have a system that keeps these strategies going? If you don’t, here are some questions to consider.
- Have you created a list of topics that you’re going to blog about in the future?
- Have you determined how often you’re going to publish content? Is it 1, 2, 3 times per week or month?
- Have you thought about what time your post goes live?
- Have you scheduled 2 weeks worth of content in advance?
- How often do you top up you topic list?
- Do you have a checklist for formatting your blog posts?
- Have you created a list of content ideas for each social platform?
- Have you signed up for a social media management tool like Buffer or Hootsuite?
- Have you determined how often you want to post on each platform?
- Have you determined the best times to post on each platform?
- How often will you schedule posts in advance?
- Do you have either a PDF, video series or email series to give away to your audience in exchange for their email address?
- Have you signed up for an email service provider like MailChimp?
- Have you embedded signup forms on your website to capture email addresses? The Magic Action Box plugin is a great free tool to help you do this.
- Do you have a specific landing page that just promotes your freebie?
- Have you set up an email newsletter template every time you publish a new article?
Answering these questions will give you a snapshot of your marketing system, which you can then tweak and improve over time.
Step 5 – Streamline your business administration
To me, administrative tasks add no value to your business. So you need to quickly find ways to systematize it so you can get on with your work.
Admin tasks include things like, email management and task management.
Here a some quick tips to help you streamline your admin.
The key to staying on top of your email is having a way to process messages into tasks, and then archive the rest. You can do this in Gmail using Todos or you can use third party software like IQTELL, which enables you to process your inbox efficiently.
I also suggest using unroll.me to management all of your subscriptions.
This is one of the most talked about topics when it comes to productivity. There are hundreds of task management apps in the marketplace and to be honest, they all do the same thing. Whether you’re using Trello, Wunderlist, Asana, Basecamp, Workflowly, it doesn’t matter!
The main thing is to record all of your projects, both for business and personal, then list all of the actions required to finish each project. Once you’ve mapped out everything you need to do, pick up a pen and paper and extract all of the important tasks in your software and write them down to complete today. That’s it!
Are you ready to systematize?
You now have a step by step guide to help you streamline your freelance business and free up your time.
Now it’s over to you to implement theses processes so you can benefit from it. I suggest that you spend 30 minutes a day over the next couple of weeks to implement these changes.
If you have any other systematization tips? I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.