The days of 8-hour work shifts at a dedicated building, answering to a boss, are quickly fading away. Today, independent contractors and freelancers earn their own income and are successfully transitioning to a new way of working.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 55 million people in the US considered themselves "gig workers" back in 2017. At the time, it also predicted a sharp increase by 2020.
Gig workers, as the name suggests, get paid per project and are part of an emerging on-demand workforce.
Now, with a global pandemic and more people working remotely than ever before, freelancers are arising in all industries and offering services for everything from blog writing to web design and even party planning.
The benefit of freelancing is that you can be your own boss, set your rate, hours, and enjoy a more flexible work-life balance.
If the gig economy keeps growing at this rate, industry experts say that by 2027, more than 50 percent of the US workforce will participate.
“Call it gig work, call it a side hustle, or just call it freedom from an office cubicle. But with remote working trends and easy business tools accessible in the cloud for only dollars per month, more people are choosing to freelance,” says Shiv Kapoor, CEO of cloud project management solution, Nifty.
While there is freedom in taking employment terms into your own hands, it also comes with responsibilities that fall outside your core competency. Things that weren't part of your department at traditional jobs will now be inherited as a freelancer. Clerical duties, invoicing, and client project management all fall onto your plate.
“This trend not only is accelerating, it also is pushing freelancers to be more professional given the tools available and the competition today,” notes Kapoor.
If you've decided to transition to freelancing and want to be successful, organized, and always on track, here's what you'll need to do.
You Need to Get Organized for the Long Haul
Choosing a system that works for you and sticking with it is essential. There's nothing worse than juggling multiple projects for different clients and trying to remember specific details for each only to drop the ball because you forgot where a critical detail was placed.
Instead, get organized.
Pick one place where you will store all of the information about each client project that’s open for reference. This can look different for each freelancer. If you enjoy a visual layout, you may want to use color-coding and calendars. For others, a project management tool that does the work for you is the answer to staying organized and on task. Whichever you choose, be sure you select a method you'll stick to for the long haul.
You should be able to quickly access information and see what's nearing a deadline, what is a priority, and how much work you have on your plate at any given time. That’s the format that will give you the best overview.
Create fields such as “client name,” “project description,” “due date,” and “special notes” to always give you access to the information you may need to make critical decisions about your work quickly.
Part of this organization task should also include creating and knowing your own schedule. Outside of the project, you'll need to budget your personal and work time effectively in order to get everything done. Even if you've decided the 9-5 work hours aren't for you, you'll still need to budget time for actual work. It's far too easy to put off tasks when you aren't answering to anyone above you—but waiting until the last minute is never a good idea. Sacrificing quality and feeling like you're drowning in work was never the goal when you decided to work for yourself, was it?
Learn to Record Your Time and Gauge Project Loads Better
One thing you probably didn't have to think about before becoming a freelancer was how long it took you to get a task done. Sure, there were deadlines. But your income didn't depend solely on how every moment was spent. Now it does.
Most freelancers and gig workers are paid hourly or by the job (which means hourly internally even if the client doesn’t see it) for a very particular task. This changes how you track and bill for your work and will require accurate timekeeping.
Set realistic goals of when you tell the client how long it will take you to complete a job and also when making a schedule for yourself to do the actual work. Being ambitious is terrific, but it's easy to lose money and even clients if the gauge isn’t set just right. You want to get an even balance between the hourly rate or project value and the time and effort you’re putting into completing it.
The good news is that after a while, you'll start to realize which projects are taking you more time and which will require more effort than others to complete. This can assist you in setting your rates for a project and getting the most out of your time.
Save Valuable Time by Auto-Sharing Updates for Clients
If there's one thing that can quickly eat into anyone's day—freelancer or not—it is those dreaded “Checking in” emails. Sometimes, taking the time to update clients on a project's status can take more time than merely providing them with access to your management spreadsheet for the project. If you've set-up a separate task sheet or are using a project management tool that allows you to extract project details, you may want to grant clients access. This saves you valuable time drafting new emails where you have to detail and explain things and gives clients the confidence to peek in on the progress whenever they’d like.
Client communications are still a vital aspect of customer service. As your own boss, it's up to you to provide clients with peace of mind that you're doing the work they've contracted you for. Even when emails are necessary, make sure they are adequately formatted, checked for spelling and grammar, and laid out in a concise, easy to follow format. Nothing is worse than an email missing an attachment or worse - multiple emails back to back about the same issue. Streamlined and efficient communications should always be the goal.
Take the Time to Review & Refine Your Process
As you master your project management skills and implement the steps mentioned above, don't forget to review and refine everything you’ve accomplished, learned and the pain points you’ve faced weekly or monthly.
The frequency depends on how much work you’re doing and how much improvement is needed. Either way, the data you collect and the ongoing experience you will gain as you grow your client base can continuously help give you a feel of how to streamline your business further.
There will always be bumps in the road, but with better project management skills, running a successful freelance business can be a lot less painful than it is today.