Five Time Management Basics

Development of time management skills is a key to freelance success.

20110508-223655.jpgI’ve been freelancing full-time for almost a year. Prior to that, I was working in an office job and fitting freelancing in around that work. By necessity, my time was tightly managed. However, when I went 100% freelance, my diary was far more flexible. That meant I had to develop a new level of discipline with time management.

Here are the five things I do to manage my time.

1. Workflow management

I’ve been using a self-developed workflow system using a program called Bento on my Mac. The neat thing is the system can be synchronized to my iPad and iPhone easily so I can record ideas, pitches, commissioned work, work in progress and submitted work.

Without this system, I’d lose track of my work as in a typical week I’d have several deadlines on the go at any one time.

2. My whiteboard

I have a small whiteboard (900 x 450mm) on my wall that lists the week’s deadlines, to do items (such as bills and invoices) and other stuff I need to keep track of. It’s a low-tech solution but it works to keep my focussed each day.

3. Set daily goals

Each work day I set targets. The nature of the targets varies depending on where I am in my work cycle. Sometimes it’s to conduct a certain number of interviews or write a number of words or submit a number of stories.

Daily goals are important. By setting small, achievable targets that are linked to deadlines and budgets it makes the somewhat daunting tasks of hitting monthly or annual earning goals mo achievable.

4. Mix it up

I know my personality pretty well and know that I need to vary my work otherwise I lose focus. So, I try not to fill consecutive days with the same work. If I have a full day of writing, I make sure my next day involves something different.

If it’s not practical because of pending deadlines then I try to introduce some diversity by planning work for different clients. If I have a day of writing about consumer tech, I make the next day about enterprise or management. That gets my brain working in different ways.

5. Schedule some fun

In order to get the most out of my work time I always slow for some social time during the work day. If I was in a 9 to 5 office I’d occasionally grab a coffee with a friend or chat in the lunch room. There’s no reason that has to stop just because I’m self-employed.

Each week, I plan to catch up with a couple of friends on the phone and go out for lunch with my wife. While those activities can cut into work time, they actually help me be more productive by keeping my brain fresh.

So, what do you do to get the most from your time?

Building up your profile

When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. A great way is to engage your local community.

When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. You could turn to advertising in freelance directories or the like but a great way is to engage your local community.

On the weekend, I spoke at a local Mac user group called AUSOM. As someone who writes about technology, I often talk at user groups and community events. This serves two purposes.

1. It’s a great way to support local organizations in a meaningful way.
2. It’s a low cost way to increase your profile.

From a business point of view, increasing your local profile can be useful as potential clients are likely to be close by.

Your direct skills and those that you’ve collected in addition are all valuable assets. There are photography groups, writing workshops, computer users, schools, churches – lots of places looking for quality speakers.

Seek some groups out. Go to a meeting or two and offer your services as a speaker.

Is the iPad 2 made for freelancers?

The iPad 2 might be a perfect fit for the busy freelancer.

Perhaps Apple has created a perfect tool for freelance writers and content creators in a hurry.

As a technology writer, I love to get my hands on the latest gadgets. I had an iPad 1 almost as soon as it was released and decided to join a long queue to get my hands on an iPad 2 when it was released in my home town.

On paper, the differences between the iPad 2 and its predecessor look modest. Front and rear facing cameras are the big ticket items and the Smart Cover, which looks great, is really just eye-candy – designed I suspect to extract a few extra dollars from shoppers as they hand over their hard earned as they pay for the latest Cupertino slate.

But is this a tool for freelancers? Is it just for writers or is there something for photographers and video producers?

Firstly, the iPad 2 is a lot thinner and lighter than the original version. 6mm and 60g mightn’t sound like much but it’s very noticeable – particularly as the iPad 2 has tapered edges making the edges seem razor thin. For the traveling professional, those small differences are of great value.

I’ve already discussed the value of Evernote as a note-taking system. It works the same on iPad 2 although the ability to take video notes is a handy supplement to the audio recording facility.

On video, the ability to do video conferencing using Skype, FaceTime or other conferencing facilities is a great advantage while traveling. While email and VoIP calling is great, seeing a face on the line is a great advantage.

There are times when editing and image or video on the road is important. The iPad 2, like the original iPad, supports capturing and editing images using the Camera Accessory Kit and myriad third party applications.

Video editing is new with Apple creating a version of iMovie for the iPad 2. There are some great videos that have been produced using iMovie already, showing that it’s a capable tool. Videos can be shared by email, MobileMe, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and other services.

In other words – the ipad 2 can be used for capturing and maipulating lots of differnt content, communication, research and filling in spare time while traveling.

In short, the ipad 2 could be a great accessory for the traveling freelancer.

The 7-step guide to using social media for small business owners

Social media can be an immensely useful tool for small businesses. Here’s our 7-step guide to getting the most from social media for your business.

This guest post is by Phoebe Netto, the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses. Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives. Visit www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there) or follow her on Twitter at @Phoebe_Netto

In marketing yourself and your business, you should aim to be at every watering hole where your ideal clients congregate. After all, if people do not know that you exist and what you can offer, how else will they become clients? For many of you, one of those waterholes will include social media.

Social media opens up a whole new audience to you, provides a means to make new connections, and gives you the tools to introduce yourself and your services in a subtle way to your ideal clients.

It allows you to extend the reach of your thought leadership and gives you the opportunity to share examples of your work and testimonials. Social media can also provide you with a constant flow of advice, ideas, and links to resources that are focused on your area of expertise or interest.

Regardless of what social media platform you decide to use, there are universal principles or golden rules that you must adhere to. You will notice that these rules are not much different to society’s rules for social engagement offline.

1.        Do things on purpose

If you are on twitter, know why you are on twitter and let your tweets reflect your purpose. The same rule applies for every social media platform. For example, I help small-to-medium businesses and sole operators grow with marketing and public relations. I need to ensure that the majority of my tweets on twitter are about small business, marketing and public relations. My twitter followers should know what to expect of my twitter content.

One of the mistakes that many small businesses and sole operators make when using social media is that they do not choose the right platform. This results in busy activity rather than productivity. Only focus on social media platforms that are a gathering place for your unique target group.

For example, young pet owners would be more inclined to interact with you on facebook than on LinkedIn. If you are a freelance journalist, twitter would be best as there are countless editors to interact with there and you can share links to examples of your work.

2.        It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason

Always remember that social media is not a foreign land speaking in another language. It is real life with real people, real relationships and real conversations.

This is why many of the same social etiquette principles that we value and operate by in business and in life, also apply to social media.

3.        It is better to give than to receive

In my business there are a couple of principles that lead to successful marketing and public relations. In media relations if you give others (journalists, editors and the publication’s readers) what they want, you will get what you want. For example, if I help a journalist by giving them a great piece of news or a well-written bylined article, I will get what I want which is great coverage for my client.

Similarly, marketing is most successful when it is focused on meeting needs and making life easier and more pleasant for others. When a small business addresses the deepest concerns and desires of both its clients and potential clients, and makes them feel special, they will attract leads and repeat business.

When operating by the following rules, social media can deliver your message to new audiences, provide you with new connections, and act as a platform to share your expertise and thought-leadership:

4.        No yelling in the hallway (or on social media)

Would you ever walk into a room full of strangers and announce, “I can take your business to the next level at half the price”? No? Didn’t think so. So don’t do it on social media.

If you notice that someone on your social media platform asks for a recommendation or complains that they can’t find a good provider of a certain product or service, then sure – feel free to suggest a solution or offer to discuss offline with them. You might even land a nice piece of new business. The point is to be helpful, with brings me to my next point.

5.        Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you

Use social media to share, give value, help others, provide helpful information, collaborate, and create a reason for people to want to know more about you and what you do.

You can give value and at the same time promote your business by sharing links to your blog, provide thought leadership, expertise and helpful advice. This shows that you are passionate about your industry area and gives people a non-confrontational and subtle way to experience your knowledge.

Make sure you also share other people’s blog posts, links to useful website, spread great social media content (such as tweets) from others, and promote other businesses (if worthy of promotion). Remember, it’s not all about you!

6.        You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason

My mother always used to tell me this and she was right (as usual). Social media is not a forum for monologues. Those who do not interact or listen to what others are saying on social media will eventually find themselves very lonely (offline and online).

Worthless tweets and overactive robots cause more harm than good.

Instead interact with others by asking questions, offering advice and responding to other people’s online questions.

7.       All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Show your personality. People do business with people, not companies. So make sure show your personality so people can feel a connection.

Be sincere. You can’t fake relationships – even on social media. Put a smile on the faces of those who follow you.

These principles are also golden rules of social media. Zig Ziglar summarised it by saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” When you follow these principles you are well on your way to building important connections with your ideal clients.

Social media is one of the greatest tools available to small-to-medium businesses and sole operators. You can communicate directly with your ideal clients without going through a ‘middle-man’ such as a journalist, advertisement or website.

Overcoming the loneliness of freelancing

There are some great benefits in being self-employed. A whole stack of advantages came out of a recent post on the best things about freelancing and the comments.However, it’s not all plain sailing. One of the benefits of a normal nine-to-five job is the contact with other people. In another recent post I mentioned that loneliness is one of the potential disadvantages of the freelance life.

I’m a fairly gregarious person by nature. While I’m OK with my own company, there are days when I thirst for some human contact. At the moment I’m doing a contract job that puts me in an office with other people for part of the week but I’ve also had to come up with some strategies for the days when I work at home.

One thing I do is schedule a social/work day every couple of weeks. In my home city of Melbourne, there’s a social media breakfast every Friday morning. So, I plan to get to that every couple of weeks or so. As well as breaking the week up a little, it’s an opportunity to meet and network with new people. On that day, I also make a point of setting at least one other meeting with a potential client, interview subject or other business contact.

Email lists are also a great way to expand your network and keep in touch with people. Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn are great places to look for discussions on topics of interest and for contacting new people.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are excellent as well although you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of self-discipline so that you don’t waste time on them.

Finally, I use the phone a lot. Rather than just emailing or tweeting my contacts I get on the phone a couple of times a day so that I hear a human voice and get a chance to interact more directly.

What do you do to overcome the solitude of working alone? Have you come up with some special tricks to help you through the day? Please share your ideas through the comments.