by Rachel Dawn Hayes
When my husband and I made the decision for me to leave my corporate job (and corporate salary) and start freelancing, I know he harbored skepticism. He has confessed that he thought I was angling for early retirement. Within a few weeks, however, he had a turnaround. What changed his mind? He’ll tell you himself that it was how I approached my writing like a real business. I set up accounting and time management systems and practiced a lot of self-discipline. To this day, he has actually never come home early to find me watching soap operas and eating bon-bons—not even as a part of my “creative process.”
Despite what we’ve learned from Jessica Fletcher, Carrie Bradshaw, and other writers from the screen, making a go of freelance writing as a full-time job leaves little time for solving mysteries, attending fashion shows, or sauntering into coffee shops mid-morning to shoot the breeze with the barista. The beauty of working for yourself is that you do have the flexibility for those things, but if you actually want to keep eating and pay your bills, you have to set yourself up as a business and behave like a professional.
There are a few practices I adopted and tools I utilized along the way that helped me. I’ll share a few in the areas of bookkeeping, time management, and business development.
Business Checking—For the cost of whatever your financial institution’s minimum deposit is (mine was $100) you can have an entirely separate account (and debit card) for all of your freelance-related expenses. While it’s nice to keep your writing income in one place, the best reason for doing this is keeping up with your expenses for tax preparation. If this account is tied to the bookkeeping app you use—all the better.
- Produce and track professional invoices
- Sync with bank account(s) and track expenses
- Create and export reports such as Profit & Loss
Time Tracking Apps—At first, I was tracking the time I spent on different projects in a Word document. Yes, Excel would have been the better option, but…writer. Then I discovered Toggl—a free time tracking app. Its intuitive and visually simple design makes quick work of setting up new projects and the built-in timer allows me to easily track my time and generate reports for projects I bill by the hour. I also use it to keep track of the time I spend on flat-fee projects, business development, and pet (read: unpaid) projects like my short-lived food and wine blog. So Toggl is my pick, but here’s a list of some paid versions with more bells and whistles, if you’re into that.
Schedule—I’m a morning person, and while I don’t understand you night owls AT ALL, to each his own. Make a schedule that works for your life and makes the most of your productive time. As long as coffee is involved, I prefer to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and work until noon. That’s when I’m at my best. After lunch I’m less brilliant, and by evening my 3-year-old could write better copy. Therefore, I’ve always had a schedule that was morning-loaded. The schedule you keep is not the thing—the thing is that you keep a schedule.
The Query Hour—As client lists and workloads grow, business development is the area that is most often neglected, but it is so important to the continued flourishing of your freelance business. “I’m so busy! It doesn’t make sense to look for new work right now.” You don’t do business development because you need work now, you do it because you need work next month. I do my best—I’m certainly not perfect—to spend a fixed amount of time on business development every week. For me, that looks like brainstorming story ideas, researching publications and editors, writing and sending pitches, and sometimes working on my website. Whatever it is for you, make regular time for it and stick to it.
Join a Group—If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re already a member of the Evangelical Press Association. Great job! In addition to the national organizations, local groups are great because when we’re not in a pandemic you can often meet in person for great educational programming and networking opportunities. Join committees and show off your expertise a little—it often turns into paid work.
And of course, there’s a group for everything on Facebook and it’s a great place to get almost instantaneous feedback and connection. In your PJs.