I’m not necessarily going to write these notes out in order but here is a quick run down of my bootstrapping for a freelancing business.
Use tech to bring freelancing work to you:
I find that my work comes through being the first person to email someone as soon as an opportunity comes up. I also find it useful to work across time zones.
So how do you bootstrap this? And for free?
Facebook groups: figure out which group has the most posts for the sort of work you want to do popping up and change its settings so that you are notified by Facebook of new posts popping up. You also should tell people you know what you are looking for and let them know to tag you whenever they see a useful or relevant opportunity.
Twitter: Using IFTTT, you can set up a little applet/sequence of commands, that states that each time a tweet matches a certain set of criteria such as the words “need an editor” or “editor wanted”, a copy of the tweet is saved into a Google Docs spreadsheet along with any links in the tweet as well. You can then log into the spreadsheet from time to time and go through the list. This method will have a lot of repetitions especially if someone retweets a tweet so be prepared for that. But it means you have a means of capturing information that you would otherwise miss in all the Twitter chatter and it allows you to respond when you have time.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn’s job search function will also let you save searches that match certain criteria and you can set it to alert you each time it finds something that does match it. You can then receive the alerts via the LinkedIn Job Search app or via email and go through to the post on LinkedIn.
Sites with RSS feeds: An RSS feed is a summary of posts on a site, usually used for blogs but in some cases for websites too. Some job sites have an RSS feed. You can specify search criteria on the site and then use the relevant RSS feed along with IFTTT again to put it into a spreadsheet that will automatically update itself and you can then go through it at your leisure.
Sites without RSS feeds: Sign up for newsletter updates if possible and set up a filter in your email inbox that signals it as important, puts it into a set folder or stars it or all of the above. You can also, using IFTTT, set it to alert you on your phone as soon as you get such an email.
Mailing lists and email networking groups: Sometimes I get news of a job opportunity via email from the freeline oz network or other groups I am part of. I then tell IFTTT to notify me as soon as a new email from such networks comes through so that I can respond as fast as I can.
Other options: Slack is a messaging service and I use it with some journalism clients to respond quickly to work they need people to take on. It can pop up in my browser and tell me if I am working on something else even when I don’t have it open.
Booking clients for meetings:
I can often only see clients on certain times on certain days. Rather than going back and forth via email, I send them to Calendly which is a scheduling app. Doodle is also another good one.
They are able to see my free times and days and pick a slot that works best for them. The appointment goes into my Google calendar and confirms it with them and I don’t have to do anything. I can also then use IFTTT to search for such appointments and set up times beforehand for me to use to prepare for them.
You used to be able to schedule appointment and meeting times straight into Google Calendar with all this functionality built in but this has been moved into the paid Google For Businesses section.
Calendly also allows you to ask a few questions upfront as the client makes an appointment such as what sort of services do they need and so on. If you keep a client mailing list, you can integrate Calendly with IFTTT and any mailing list software that you use such as MailChimp.
Accounting, billing and tax time when freelancing:
Billing: I use an online cloud based app called Rounded. It’s not free but it is very affordable and it is built specifically for Australian freelancers. I use it to invoice clients and it keeps track of people who haven’t paid and allows you to send quotes and reminders and it then also totals your income and expenses and calculates GST and presents you with a lovely profit and loss statement come tax time.
This allows me so much time because I don’t have to fill out invoice templates any more. I can track hours and bill by the hour as I go and it will update an invoice. It allows me to bill by word if I want to or add a specific cost in.
There is also Billings for Mac which is a very good option as well though built with US small businesses in mind.
Super: I set up and automate weekly deductions into my super. This allows me to claim the co-contribution payment at the end of the financial year. $20 per week is enough to get the $1000 you need in order to get $500 from the Federal Government.
This seems like very little but your fees for managing super are usually around $2-300 and so the co-contribution means it can pay for your fees and a bit extra and you can keep more of your own money in super working for you. I also recommend changing the investment pattern with your super and choosing how to invest it and letting it do its thing.
General finance stuff: Please put your money into a savings account, ask your bank manager for a higher interest rate with no fees on that account (St George’s Bank will give you 3% per annum) and then withdraw a set amount of money to spend per week and make it an automatic transaction into your checking account whether it is $50 or $250 or more per week that you think you will need for expenses apart from rent/mortgage and bills. Pay your bills out of the savings account and set up a debit card to use for business expenses that takes it out of the savings account so it is easier for you to track your business expenses but you aren’t tempted to use it for personal expenses.
Every three months look online to see who has the best interest rate offer and if you find a better deal, discuss it with your bank manager to see if they can beat it.
Set up bills to be automatically deducted. Use your credit card very sparingly or only for emergencies or try to get rid of it alltogether. All this should ensure you save as much as possible, earn as much interest as you can and spend as little as you can.
Promoting myself and my freelancing services:
Every single time I publish a blog post, it goes out to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Some of these things are built into WordPress’s functionality. Some aren’t.
When they aren’t I use IFTTT to make sure that they go through. This ensures that some of my Facebook page posts go through to Twitter. And if I have images I post them on Instagram so that they can go through to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr automatically.
It saves me a lot of trouble with having to make sure I post each new article or blog post on each social network.
I also use IFTTT to automate certain messages – I ask people regularly what they are up to at the start of each week on LinkedIn and I post political updates on Twitter using IFTTT as well.
I try as much as possible to automate the parts of social media where I am providing information to people or making it accessible. See a writing gig? Set IFTTT up to retweet it for example.
It’s important to remember that you should not automate any part of a social media conversation that needs you in it and communicating. I do have to get on and chat and be myself – the people I am speaking to on social media don’t need just a robot, they need some genuine interaction too so while this does save me time I am very careful about exactly what sort of communication I use it for. So if I write an original social media post in my own words, I can use IFTTT to push that through to other platforms and networks but automating a message to turn up at a set time each day or week as some sort of routine can’t be done all the time on every platform.
I also use a hacked together system of IFTTT and Google Calendar where it regularly reposts or shares older blog posts of mine. You can pay for this to be done using an app like MeetEdgar but it is rather expensive so I hacked together my own but it is still a work in progress.
This would theoretically save me time because I can then ensure new audiences get to see my blog posts and come visit my site and see my services.
Back up and other odds and ends:
Make sure you scan and back up all documents to an online folder like Google Docs/Drive or Dropbox. This allows you to have important documents ready and right there when you need to apply for something online or send them to someone. It gives you a back up in case of emergency but is also safe even if your computer crashes.
I also use IFTTT to back up all attached documents I receive in my email inbox to be saved to Google Drive so I never lose anything from a client.
That’s the end of my specific topic on the freelancing panel. I will be adding notes I took while the other speakers were chatting in a few minutes to the end of this blog post, so please check back again as I have a lot to say about what they had to say too.
Robin Bower’s notes on promoting oneself and other tips and tricks
Robin Bower had an awesome model of “Sand, River and Ocean” whereby you set yourself up with a website, three social media platforms and a free incentive for people to join your mailing list. The Ocean section of that is about going out and building a profile by guest posting on other sites and answering questions on Reddit and Quora so that people can be aware of your expertise.
You can also check out her website and a PDF of tips and tricks.