During my first year as a small business owner, I have learned that staying organized is the most important thing I can do to keep my business running. Between phone calls, consultations, emails, and keeping up with my company’s budget, it’s easy to forget or lose track of details – I never fully understood that until I became self-employed.
Over the past year, I’ve developed several systems to help with organization. There are also a few more that I plan to implement in 2013. While finding the time to plan can be difficult (and sometimes frustrating!), it pays off in the long run as I spend less time floundering and more time actually doing work.
Budgeting/Accounting: Is there anything more important to a business than its income and expenses? It’s essential to stay on top of your financials, whether you’re a solopreneur or the owner of a larger company. The first thing you need to do is bite the bullet and hire an accountant. I resisted for a long time, but when it comes down to it, nothing beats having a professional to make sure I’m doing the right things in preparation for tax time. I also use the free online software from Outright to organize my day-to-day spending; I highly recommend it!
Scheduling: It took me an embarrassing amount of time to get into a groove with scheduling client projects. I tend to be optimistic when planning my work, and sometimes I forget to allow time for things like eating and sleeping. I have also reached a point where things that aren’t written down don’t exist – my memory is maybe ten minutes long. So while I’m still working on perfecting this system, a combination of iCal for Mac, an old school paper planner, and a whiteboard are helping me stay on track and remember what I’m supposed to be working on.
Billing: When I first started freelancing, I would just kind of send my Paypal email address to clients and assume they knew how to initiate a payment. That still works in a lot of cases, but I prefer something a little more professional for most of my projects. There are tons of invoicing programs and apps available. I use a billing system built into my web hosting server to send invoices, accept payments, and send quotes. For projects that don’t quite fit into that system, a good old Paypal invoice is way better than saying “Just send the money here.” Plus my accountant really likes it when I send invoices with details about my work.
Employee Management: As of right now, my business is a sole proprietorship, but I do hire contractors on a regular basis. In 2013, it’s entirely possible that I could end up with a few part time employees, especially if I ever get over my fear of hiring a virtual assistant to help out with certain tasks (like my inbox, which I admit is currently out of control.) If that happens, I’ll need to look into payroll software to keep up with the taxes and withholdings associated with operating as an employer.
Email: Speaking of email, am I the only one who absolutely cannot catch up? I send and receive literally hundreds of emails a day, and I generally leave messages in my inbox if they require some kind of action on my part. Which results in an inbox which currently has 29 emails in it, and that’s after spending 3 hours working on the backlog this morning. I’m a beta user for Mail Pilot, which I think will help tremendously once its mobile apps are available – it allows me to clear my inbox and set certain emails for review at a later time. It’s amazing how much calmer I feel when I see that delightful “inbox zero” message on my screen, even if I know I still have things to do.
These are just a few of the ways I keep my freelance business operating smoothly, but they’re essential for the continued success of my company. What tools do you use to keep your business on track?