“The thing that bothers me most about freelancing: the way the managing of the business is a time-suck from actual design and production.”
That phrase, “time-suck”, is PERFECT. I’ve often used time-sink to describe grunt work that I personally don’t bring value to, but time-suck… I like it!
This week I want to share with you some ways to reverse menial tasks that suck up your time, suck your business into stagnation, and in general — suck.
I can’t begin to praise the effectiveness of a solid Virtual Assistant (VA). Think about a task as simple as generating invoices or making sure your invoices are getting paid on time. For a quarter or less of your hourly rate, someone else can do this for you.
How to get started with a VA: oDesk is my go-to place to find VAs. Post an ad, interview a few qualified candidates, and hire someone (not an agency) that you ultimately feel comfortable with who also fits your budget. Next, record a few screencasts (use ScreenFlow if you’re on a Mac) detailing how you accomplish these tasks, and share them with your new VA.
No one likes managing their books for their accountant, but death and taxes are the only two certainties in life. If you’re still manually categorizing your transactions or playing around in Excel, it’s time to upgrade to something like LessAccounting, Xero, or FreeAgent.
How to get started automating your bookkeeping: Sign up for a free trial for one of the above and link it to your bank account. Make sure your accountant is comfortable with you using something other than QuickBooks. Want a new accountant? All of these products have directories of accountants they partner with.
Hiring a part-time maid service or VA should be worth significantly less than an hour of your time. If it isn’t, you need to buy my book right now (and use the coupon “TIMESUCK” and get $20 off — expires tomorrow.) But anyway, it’s important to think about the opportunity cost you’re missing out on when you’re calling your bank to reorder checks, cleaning your living room, or finding and booking a Valentine’s Day restaurant.
How to stop waiting on hold to make a reservation: Hired a VA yet? Have them do it. If not, checkout services like Ask Sunday for on-demand virtual assistance. If you’re like me, and had a significant other who really wants you to help them clean, let him/her know all that extra money you’ll make by delegating out your cleaning will be appended to their Valentine’s Day gift 🙂
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
I’ve often told clients, “If I’m on the phone with you, I’m not writing code.” The time directly before and after meetings is dead time. You’re out of “flow”, and probably just looking at cute pictures of cats. I’m a big fan of asynchronous communication — I prefer being able to digest and respond to a message on my own time. (For this reason, I hate, hate, hate getting phone calls.)
Satisfying — but not being disrupted by — your clients: Invest in a good project management tool, and use it to gather feedback and post questions to your clients. Ideally, it will also have some sort of daily digest feature, which will automate progress updates on your behalf (this is one of the core features of Planscope.) If you must meet synchronously, timebox and schedule each meeting (“Let’s meet for no more than 15 minutes this Monday at 10:30. I’ll call you.”) Random, impromptu meetings are just not cool.
By far, the #1 cause of business stagnation is being “stuck in the weeds.” By focusing so much on your immediate client and their immediate project, it’s hard to step back and really think about your business and the direction you need it to go in.
How to slay stagnation: The tips above will give you more time, but this time doesn’t always need to be spent on client work. With this new surplus of time, invest in yourself and invest in your business. Put together a solid set of Carrots for your website. Submit to speak at a few regional conferences or user groups. Spend some time thinking about your business and how you can help it grow. Hell, get a massage or two.
This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list, but if there’s even just one thing that will help you reclaim an hour or two of your time each week I’ve done my job. What do you think? What menial tasks or concerns can you free yourself of?