If you are anything like me, office organization is something that you struggle with. After all, we creative people (web developers, writers, graphic artists [substitute your own specialty here]) should be given a little leeway when it comes to keeping things organized — right?
Proper organization is critical to freelancing success. While my personal tendency may be to put off straightening things up, I’ve learned that disorganization is bad for business. As a freelancer, I’ve had to put into place some organizational methods to help myself become more efficient.
How Disorganization Costs You Money
It is important to develop a good organizational system that you can live with because disorganization can be costly and even lead to lost clients.
If you’ve ever had to really hunt for something in your office that you’ve misplaced, then you’ve spent time that you cannot really charge to clients.
Here are a few other ways that being disorganized can cost you money:
- In the United States many business expenses are tax deductible (consult your accountant if you have a question), but before you can deduct a business expense you will need to know how much it was. That means that you will need a receipt for the item or expense.
- Speaking of income taxes, in the United States you are required to report everything that you earn, regardless of whether a client sends you a Form 1099-Misc. Accidentally misstating your income could lead to costly penalties if you are ever audited. So, it is important to keep good records of your income.
- From time to time you may want to contact existing and former clients with specials or new products or services that you offer. What if you lost the contact information for a potential client? Would you know how to contact him or her? Every missed contact is a missed potential opportunity for income.
- Every freelancer knows that meeting deadlines is key to success. To meet your deadlines it is important to keep and maintain a schedule of your projects. If you don’t keep your project calendar organized you may miss a deadline or accidentally schedule yourself for more work that you can actually handle.
- Even though the costs for running a freelance business are low compared to other business ventures, you will still receive some bills. Imagine if you lost a bill and forgot to pay it! Most companies charge a penalty for missed or late payments.
As you can see, disorganization is much more disastrous for your freelance business than you might have initially realized.
How To Pull Your Act Together and Get Organized
Even if you’re not naturally neat, you can organize your freelance business and save yourself both time and money. The key is to find methods and techniques that make sense to you.
Read organizational suggestions (here and elsewhere online) with an open mind, but don’t feel pressure to accept an idea that doesn’t make sense to you.
Here are few organizational ideas:
- Eliminate paper wherever possible
Many vendors will allow you to set up automatic or online billing. Take advantage of this feature if you can. Likewise, many accounting packages will automatically bill your clients.
- Organize project files by client name
Or use another system that makes sense to you… If you are a client of mine, then there is an electronic folder on my computer with your name on it.
- Master your e-mail
Most e-mail systems allow you to create folders and rules. I keep an electronic e-mail folder for each client’s correspondence. Rules can send client correspondence to “their” folder automatically.
- Keep an accurate calendar
I know that many freelancers organize this online also, but for me it really helps to have a paper calendar visible that I can eyeball regularly to see what I have to do.
- Find a home for papers you must keep
For transactions that cannot be handled online, keep similar papers together. Designate a single location, a “home,” for such papers. Place each paper there as soon as you receive it.
- Bulletin boards are not just for teachers
Remember the classroom bulletin board from school? Well, those old-fashioned bulletin boards are helpful in the home office too. Post anything you want to remind yourself of.
How About You?
Do you struggle to keep your freelance business organized, or are you neat as a pin?
Either way, feel free to leave a comment with your own organizational tip.