I’m always adjusting my personal sweet spot between paper and digital systems, but I find that I’m always most efficient and comfortable when there’s a mix. Especially, being a visual person, seeing certain things on paper helps me understand what’s going on. And, of course, nothing can beat sketching in a notebook!
Client project next steps: for each client project for the day/week
Most important meta tasks for improving my business for the week
Admin tasks for the day/week
Quarterly plan: a grid of what projects are scheduled for when (in pencil, since the further-out ones are always moving!)
Client projects master list (so nothing gets forgotten and I can get a quick overview of everything going on)
Waiting: information I’m waiting for from clients or collaborators
Hold: projects on hold or inactive for now (this list keeps my mind less cluttered)
Websites I’ve built: (this will be a different list depending on what you make or do). Handy when I’m trying to show someone an example of a particular thing, or when I’m curious what old clients are up to.
Meeting notes: with clients (read about my format here)
Project notes an sketches: Stick a title and a date on the page and it becomes a playground for brainstorming, things to do and sketches for a particular project.
Weekly review notes: Honestly, this is something I wish I were better at. It’s useful when I do it, but I admit that that’s not often. My process is, on Friday afternoon or evening, to look back at the week and figure out what I accomplished, what went well, what didn’t, what lessons I learned, and ideas for the future. I also usually set up my next weekly to-do list during this time so I’m ready for Monday.
Side-project ideas: projects I might do someday
Side-project next steps: for projects I’m actively doing or looking into, what’s next?
The icons I use in my bullet lists for things to look into more.
Check it out: books, music, podcasts, and websites I hear about and want to look into [include symbols]. I track these in whatever notes I’m writing at the time or on my weekly to-do page. The symbols help them not get forgotten.
Yearly revenue projections and tracker: I keep a month-by-month chart of money coming and and when, in the future, additional payments from clients will come in. This shows me (without pouring through my accounting software), where my business stands for the year, and if there are any feast or famine times coming up I need to plan for.
Conferences I’m going to (dates, travel arrangements, costs, etc.)
Useful SaSes: as in Software-as-a-service. As in, those websites that do a specific thing for you, which you hear mentioned or read about in an article and think, someday, I’m going to need that service, and I’m not going to remember this site. Today, for example, I wrote down rev.com, which does transcription, video captions and translations quickly and inexpensively. (I haven’t tried them yet, but they were recommended by an author I think is clever.) Last week, I made a whole collection page of WordPress maintenance services, along with their pricing and features.
Learning notes: I take notes when I’m at a biz-related talk, watching a webinar or taking an online course. Within these, I flag links and books to check out and ideas to come back to.
Procedures: how I do certain processes (set up a website, create the initial paperwork for a new project, etc.). At the moment, these are rough notes I jot down while I’m doing the process in question, but my ultimate goal is to get all of this information out of my head and into an “Operations Manual” for my business. But that’s a whole big kettle of fish I’ll write about when I’m further into it!
Talk ideas: I speak at events and conferences from time to time and I keep a page for each topic I’m developing to jot notes as they occur to me. (I don’t do it now, but I could also keep a list of possible places to speak, write guest posts, be interviewed on podcasts, etc.)
Someday/Maybe List: (this idea comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done) Ideas for my business that I may or may not pursue someday, but don’t want to forget, for now.
A lot of freelancers starting out, especially when they’re doing something creative, feel very uneasy charging money for their work. This is totally human. Our society perpetuates the contradiction that art is an exclusive luxury item but that artists are poor and long-suffering. Although certain art should be very expensive, artists should give away their work for free. Especially alive, non-famous artists.
It’s also just uncomfortable to make such a direct exchange. My work for your money. New freelancers are often used to being in the far more abstracted situation of working for a big organization. The fruits of their labor go out into the world through some complex process, and magically, a salary gets direct deposited. However, if you’re going to freelance, and you want it to really be a business (not a hobby — which is also a fine way to do art, if you have income from elsewhere) you’re going to need to learn to get comfortable charging for your work. Here are nine reasons reasons you need to ask for money for your creative work and deserve to be paid.
No. 1: You have a special skill
Although it might come easy to you (after a six months of practice or your year-long unpaid apprenticeship!), your skills are not easy. Not everyone can do them. Whether you’re taking amazing wedding photographs, designing, illustrating, hand-lettering or some other creative work, think about what it took you to get from zero to where you are now. Sure, you might have been “good at it” off the bat, but surely there was also a good deal of learning and practice involved. You’ve invested in this skill and have expertise. Even if you’re a relative newbie, you have far more experience and skill than the average person. People pay for expertise.
No. 2: You are unique
Don’t just brush this off as a hackneyed sentiment. You may think that designers are a dime a dozen (or letterers or photographers etc.). You may feel intimidated by the competition. But every single person doing creative work has a different hand. No two people have the exact same style. No two people move their hand in the exact same way, with the exact same pressure while drawing a line. Try it… you and a friend both draw a simple subject with the same pen and note how there are characteristics of each of you in the quality of the drawings. People will pay for your hand. Or your eye, or style or sense of composition or color or whatever it is you’re bringing to the table.
No. 3: Your portfolio is not a philanthropic institution
Clients of new creative freelancers often come out with lines like “I can’t pay, but it will be great in your portfolio!”. They act like they’re doing you a favor by giving you a commission. But it’s not a favor, it’s a business transaction. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the scene, you still deserve to be paid for you time and creative output. It is nice if they let you use the work in your portfolio or their name on your client list, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker or the reason you take the job. Even if you’re just starting and you secretly feel desperate for clients and experience, its so important not to project that or to act like you’ll take anything (even if you will). Start as you wish to go on and let clients know that you’re a business and you charge for your work. Thank them for helping you promote by allowing the inclusion of their finished product in your portfolio. (By the way, you should always ask permission for this.) You’re probably (rightly) charging less than more experienced freelancers in your field. Your client is still getting a good deal.
No. 4: People don’t want to DIY
There’s a reason people hire people like you. They do not want to do it themselves. Aside from learning how (see No. 1), they’d also have to find time. And people are busy. They’d also have to assume the risk of it not going well and having to figure out how to fix it. That’s frightening. Many people are risk averse with stuff they don’t know much about. They’d much rather hire someone who knows what they’re doing and who will handle things. And they’d much rather trade money for your time then find time of their own.
No. 5: It’s a whole economic system
You may feel guilty charging someone for your work, feeling bad that they have to fork over money, that it is expensive for them, what-have-you. Whoever is hiring you probably has a job (or lives off the income of someone with a job). They don’t feel guilty getting paid for their work. They earn money so that they can buy things and live the life they desire. If your services are part of that, great! There’s no reason the buck should stop with them, as it were. Join the economy. Earn money from your clients, Use it to live the life you desire. Pass it on to the next person. It’s a system… until everyone is working for free or bartering goods, you should participate.
No 6: No guilty pleasures
Just because you enjoy your work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get paid for it. On the contrary, make a big check mark next to one of life’s major goals: do work you love.
No. 7: Art doesn’t want to be free
By the same token, just because you’re doing creative work doesn’t mean it’s not worth money. People are bad about this. They know that they have to pay their accountant or lawyer or lawn care person or plumber. They don’t question it. But for some reason, the person doing the calligraphy on 150 wedding invitations for them… well, maybe their work is free? Nope. Not free. You are providing a professional service. Just because you shop for supplies at Jet Pens rather than Home Depot doesn’t mean you are somehow an amateur who deserves no respect. Resist the starving artist myth. Try solvent artist on for size.
No 8: Don’t let us all down
If you don’t charge, or you don’t charge a reasonable amount, you’re devaluing your entire industry. If people see they can get have a logo designed for $5 (ahem, fiverr.com), why would they pay someone $5,000 or 50,000? (Why? Because that person is extremely experienced and business savvy and will do in-depth analysis of the business issues involved, do research and will provide them with a deep, consultative experience not just a bit of clip art.) If you do a weekend’s worth of wedding photography and image processing for $200, you’re commodifying your art. You’re saying it’s not worth much. You’re saying wedding photography is a cheap product. Don’t do it. It brings down all creative workers.
No. 9: Building good neural pathways
If you’re not comfortable charging for your work, or act unsure when you give a price to a client, you’ll make the client unsure about paying you, or paying you the stated price. Right now, you might not care that much — you might feel like getting paid anything is a win. But again, start as you mean to go on. You will, eventually really care about how much you get paid, and you’ll care even more about clients taking you and your pricing seriously. It’s a great feeling when you quote a high (albeit justifiable) price and the client doesn’t flinch — because they feel like they’re getting a good value. So, start practicing earlier and often, being confident about charging, and the amount you’re charging. Even if you have to “fake it till you make it”, just go ahead and pretend.
When I was learning how to saw metal for jewelry making, my teacher immediately pointed out to me that I had too tight a grip on the saw. She showed me how to adjust the way I was holding it. She came back to me many times and reminded me to adjust my grip. Why? Not because what I was doing was all that terrible, but because she knew I was developing a new neural pathway around a new skill. She didn’t want me to get set in my ways with a bad habit that would always make my sawing kind of inefficient and herky-jerky. It’s much easier to start out the right way and set in a good habit. Likewise, it is so worth building the good habit early of charging a reasonable amount and talking about money confidently. Become so comfortable with the icky money part of freelancing that, after a while, you won’t even notice it’s icky anymore.
This is my July 2016 “Plan with Me”. It’s not the regular serving of dailies, weeklies and habit trackers though. Rather, I talk a bunch about mapping out my upcoming half-year for my business (and my life) and the importance of work/life balance. There’s also a section on a novel budgeting experiment I’m trying this month using a combination of the envelope system, Simple bank and some words of wisdom gleaned from Galia Girchon’s course Personal Finance for Artists and Freelancers. And finally, there’s my hybrid personal/work weekly/daily big ole planning checklist. Also lots of freelancing philosophy and dramatic weather!
In this video I go over the framework I often use in my bullet journal when I’m conducting a meeting with a client — something I do pretty frequently for my design and branding business. It’s a bit visual, so watching the video will probably be more useful than reading a whole lot of words about its content here.