Time truly is money for freelancers. Every hour counts, but it’s easy for large amounts of time to get sucked up on tasks that don’t lead directly to money in your pocket. Whether it’s invoicing, taxes, contract signing, or setting priorities, freelancing involves a fair amount of busy work that is necessary, yet tedious.
Fortunately, there are tools out there to help automate the busy work, freeing you up to focus on what you do best, and what actually translates into cash in the bank.
Here are 5 ways freelancers can save time:
1. Landing new clients
Hustle is part of freelance life. As a freelancer, you work for yourself, which means you always need to be on the lookout for new clients. Whether your main methods are in-person networking events, word-of-mouth, or social media, nurturing leads is key to prevent the pipeline from drying up. Maintaining relationships can be time-consuming, which is why tools like Contactually and Streak are helpful. Contactually manages your contacts, provides helpful prompts for follow-up actions, and tracks your progress. Streak provides a CRM for Gmail with color-coded categorization for live leads and closed deals.
2. eSigning software
Every time you start working with a new client, you should sign a contract and tax forms. These documents protect both you and your employer, and help ensure you get paid on time. Depending on the client they should have a whole process for you to follow - although that's not always the case and the responsibility might fall on you. If you are someone who works with a large number of new clients, all that back-and-forth of contract signing can feel like a huge waste of time. eSigning software, like DocuSign, is great because it lets you save your electronic signature and information, like your address, to quickly populate new contracts when they come through. You can also save templates, like a W9, so you don’t have to fill out the same thing over and over.
3. Project management and time tracking
Freelancers often have multiple projects going on at once and/or multiple tasks for one client. Keeping track of what assignments are due when, along with other relevant details, can be pretty time-consuming. Tools like Asana, or the simple To-Do list app Wunderlist, can help freelancers stay organized and set priorities for how you spend your time. When you sit down to work, you know right away what you need to do. Cushion is designed to help freelancers plan and visualize your year and get a better grasp on your availability (and avoid overbooking).
In addition, time tracking apps can help you minimize distractions, optimize your work day, and stay abreast of your billable hours. For example, RescueTime tracks and analyzes how you spend your time on your computer, so you can make changes accordingly. If hours are absorbed on social media or in sending invoice follow-up emails, that’s useful information to know. Freelancers who bill by the hour can use Toggl to track time with a single click and include those time reports in invoices.
4. Invoicing and expense tracking
Ah, invoicing—the bane of many a freelancer’s existence. Invoicing can be a pain, especially for freelancers who do high-volume, short-term projects. Creating, sending out, and tracking dozens of invoices is a ton of work, and using a tool that automates the invoicing process can save a ton of time. Fortunately, there are many options out there. To name two, Freshbooks includes a straightforward invoice creation tool; Wave bundles together accounting, expense tracking and personal finance; and Bonsai auto-generates invoices and sends automatic reminders. Expensify automates expense tracking, which saves time and money during tax season. Or better yet, introduce your clients to a Freelance Management System like Kalo which can handle all the invoicing and expense tracking for you, freeing you up to focus on other things.
Every freelancer needs to pay estimated taxes, which means you need to keep careful track of how much you earn each quarter. Quickbooks Self-Employed, in addition to generating invoices and tracking income, estimates what you owe in quarterly taxes and lets you pay from within the system. That way you don’t have to laboriously go through all your earnings every few months to guess how much you owe. Quickbooks also has tools for tracking expenses and makes it super easy to do annual taxes thanks to integration with TurboTax. It’s a great, comprehensive option.
Another pretty great tax time saver is Painless1099, which automatically withholds what you owe in quarterly taxes based on your income, so you don’t have to.
These five types of tools can transform you into a lean, productive freelancing machine. Why invest your precious time and energy in busy work when you don’t have to? Automate the nitty, gritty administrative tasks and spend more time focused on your expertise.