Can the app you use make you write faster? (An experiment)

Can an app help you write faster? A roundup/review of four writing apps

In case you missed it, last year, during NaNoWriMo, I wrote a dang book. A book that is now being serially published and will soon be available for purchase on Kindle. Because I am physically incapable of not being a total nerd at any given time, I wanted to try something: testing my writing speed and seeing if the tool I was writing in had an impact on it.

The baseline: Before I started experimenting with these apps, my average words per hour across 2-3 weeks of writing was 1,417 words per hour.

Before it comes up: I have used Scrivener and I wasn’t a huge fan. I couldn’t stand the interface; it was really hard for me to learn, and as someone who has notes/outlines/etc. in both Evernote and Google Docs, getting anything to copy and paste into Scrivener without the formatting getting messed up is so hard. So that’s why it’s not in here!

On to the apps and my findings…

Google Docs: Writing app roundup
My old standby: Google Docs

Overview: I mean, this kind of goes without needing an overview. It’s Google Docs. It’s basically most of the same features/functionality/interface as Pages or Word, but online. And it’s free.

Words per hour: I tested a few different times and it had a range; probably because I used it so often. Most of these other apps I tested over two different sessions and averaged it out. Anyways, my baseline average of 1,417 wph was inside Google Docs. My GDocs best was 1,978 wph.

Draft: Writing app roundup


Overview: Draft is a surprisingly full featured, yet minimalist online text editor. Like most of these, it uses a variety of Markdown formatting. It’s totally free, too. You can review other features here–there’s some cool ones.

My thoughts: 

  • On the day I tested Draft, I was a little bit slower getting into it because I hadn’t written on the project in almost a week. So that probably impacted my writing speed a little bit.
  • I liked that I could hit cmd+i or cmd+b and it’d bold/italicize things for me.
  • I wish the auto scroll was slightly smoother, it seemed a little jumpy.
  • Also, I kind of hate the font, but it’s not enough hatred to really detract from the process.
  • I didn’t experiment with a lot of the more advanced features, but I did really like that it saved whatever doc you’re working on and re-opens it when you login at your leave off point.
  • I had a lottt of issues copying and pasting from Draft into a backup document on Google Docs. The formatting kept getting funky.

Words per hour: 1,713

Byword Screenshot: Writing app roundup


Overview: Byword is a Mac app that costs $12. Apparently, it’s had some major updates since I used it in November. Or that’s what their website leads me to believe. The core functionality looks about the same. Like Draft, it uses Markdown. There’s also an iPhone and iPad app that sync with the desktop app via iCloud.

My thoughts:

  • The user onboarding process needs some serious work. When I opened it up, I expected to find at least a little tutorial…but nope. So my initial impression was “Okay…I just paid $10 for TextEdit with a better font. Um. Yay.”
  • I do like the font quite a bit better. I did not like that I was initially forced into having my writing automatically be at the very bottom of the screen.
  • However, once I did some digging around (I’m not even sure where I found this, but I don’t think it was on their official site–again, onboarding! FAQs! please and thank you), I discovered that there is a typewriter mode and a focus mode with the choice between paragraph or line focus. The above screenshot is full screen with typewriter mode and paragraph focus enabled.
  • It does copy and paste without the formatting getting all funky.
  • There is now the feature to publish to WordPress or back up to Evernote (along with other services) for an additional $4.99, which isn’t really relevant here, but interesting if you’re looking for a way to write your blog posts offline without distractions and easily load them into WordPress.

Words per hour: The first time around, when I wasn’t aware of the typewriter mode and paragraph/line focus features, it was 1,999 wph. The second time, with those two features enabled, 2,305 wph. Obviously, those two features make a big difference in speed for me.

Ulysses Screenshot: Writing app roundup


Overview: Ulysses was by far my favorite out of the tools I tried, so I’ll try not to get too fangirly. The price point ($45) would usually deter me, but they had a NaNoWriMo 30-day trial, which let me test it out and totally converted me. It is so, so worth it. It’s a Mac app and they just released an iPad app, which I haven’t tried yet. There’s a few different color schemes, a full-screen mode, and it uses Markdown as well.

My thoughts: 

  • Whereas most of the tools on this list are text editors, Ulysses has a whole other layer of organizational tools on top of it. You can set up projects and folders within each project, keep separate files in each folder, add notes, photos, and tags to things…honestly, I’m not sure I’m even using all the extra functionality. But it’s easy enough to just use it to keep track of all of the notes and files that come with a longer form project, and the extra features don’t interfere with using it that way.
  • It has typewriter mode and line focus (shown above). The above screenshot is in the one panel view; you can also do two panels (to see what you’re writing on + the various notes associated with a particular project) or three panels (to see those two screens plus the main sidebar that lets you navigate between projects).
  • The one thing I don’t like is that it doesn’t have built in Dropbox syncing. Or it didn’t last time I talked to support about it, anyways.

Words per hour: 2,650 (!!!)

The end results, and the features that made a big difference:

The clear winner was Ulysses, where I averaged 2,650 words per hour (an increase of more than 1,200 wph from my previous baseline, and an increase of ~700 wph from my Google Docs best). The next best was Byword, with paragraph focus and typewriter mode enabled, at 2,305 wph. Based on my experiences, if you want a basic text editor with some blogging functionality, go with Byword, if you want a full-fledged writing experience that lets you organize all the notes and sections that come with a long-form project, go with Ulysses.

After reviewing my notes, the resulting words per hour, and the feature sets, I came to the conclusion that these are the features that make a big difference (for me, at least): 

  • Offline apps! When there are my tabs visible right there, the temptation is too great to click away. Being able to make something totally full screen and know that to poke around on the internet I have to go do extra work was a big productivity boost for me.
  • Typewriter mode, where the text is at center of the screen and scrolls consistently. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s really annoying and distracting to me to have to manually scroll, or to have my text at the very bottom of the screen.
  • Paragraph/line focus, where the line or paragraph I’m working on is highlighted. These two features (typewriter mode and paragraph/line focus) made a noticeable difference in my Byword wph, so I think it’s fair to say they’re important.
  • Not having to move my fingers to the mouse when typing. I assume this is why most writing focused apps use Markdown, and it definitely seemed to have a

I’m definitely using Ulysses for all of my long-form writing in the future, fiction or non. I can’t gush about it enough, and I’d like to do a full video review of it soon-ish. I might buy the upgrade for Byword and use it to write blog posts offline (with less distractions and faster), while still being able to back up to Evernote and push to WordPress without tedious copying and pasting.

Have you tried any other writing apps you’d recommend? I’d love to hear in the comments or over on Facebook!

PS: If you aren’t already reading Worldslip, the series that I was writing book one of while testing these apps, head on over here and get on that business. Five chapters up already! I especially recommend it if you’re into dystopian urban-ish fantasy or snarky lady protagonists/narrators. A full-length Kindle version is coming soon! 

The Freelancer’s Financial Toolkit (What keeps me sane + saving)

Money. We all have (at least some of) it, we all want (at least a little) more of it. And one of my personal goals this year is to get better at managing it, along with making the aforementioned more of it. Along the way, I’ve come across some amazing apps that help me out…all listed below! I’d love to hear your contributions too, so chime in in the comments, on the Facebook page, or on Twitter (tweet @_chelleshock). Without further ado…

Harvest: Invoicing and time-tracking for freelancers


If you’re a long time reader, you know I love Harvest. I just can’t gush enough about it: their customer support is personable and fast, their social media people are fun and have a sense of humor, the interface is great, and it’s so easy to find my important data. I use Harvest to invoice, get paid through Paypal or Stripe, see past transactions and incoming payments, track my time, and do client audits. I’ve been using it for something like three years now. It’s my favorite.

Digit: automated savings


I talked about Digit in my last favorite things post, but I’m going to rave about it some more. Whether you use the account it creates as a personal account or a business account, the end result is the same: it makes saving easier. And where savings are important for anyone to have, they’re extra important for us freelancers, who can have unexpected business expenses (or unexpected cash droughts). Digit makes saving painless and its daily text check ins keep me aware of my current money situation, too.

Fundbox: Fix your freelance income gaps


We all have that one client that is a little off with their payment schedule. Sometimes they pay in less than 24 hours. Sometimes…not so much. For those awkward situations or any other payment gap you’ve got, Fundbox gets you paid, faster. The idea is simple: you hook it up to your invoicing/accounting tool of choice (in my case, Harvest), and it tells you how many invoices you can clear. You select an invoice and get the money for it in the next 24-48 hours, directly in your bank account. Then you pay Fundbox back over 12 weeks or so, or quicker if you want (no penalties for paying back early).

Obviously, you don’t want to use this for all your invoices–the fees would cut into your profit margins. But if you’re in an “I need money right now” situation for whatever reason, or just want to even out your cashflow a bit for the time being, it’s a good backup to have.

Cheddar: mobile banking and budgeting

Up-and-comer: Cheddar

Ugh, I want Cheddar now and it’s still in beta/development. *angry foot stomping* As a freelancer, I have several bank/financial accounts to balance–business, business savings, personal checking, personal savings, Paypal…and the idea of being able to look at it all in one spot, with a good UI, transfer between accounts without using gawdawful mobile apps (here’s looking at you, Wells Fargo), and get reports on spending/saving/net worth…yeah. I want this.

The main hole: accurate bookkeeping/expense tracking

This is my shortfall right now. Currently, I’m scanning things with Scannable into an Accounting notebook in Evernote, so that I have receipts on file, and keep track of expenses/income in a Google Docs folder. I have Xero set up, and have it set to sync with Harvest, but am slightly (possibly unreasonably) intimidated by it, and know that I’m not using it to the fullest of its capabilities. I’ve heard good things about Expensify, but it seems to be mostly intended for teams/employees. The praise I heard about it was from a fellow solopreneur, though, so I may give it a go regardless.

Also, I’m still finding that perfect budgeting app. Everything is either way too automated (and automates badly/inaccurately) or way too manual. Or ugly. Sometimes being a design snob makes things difficult. So, I’m totally looking for suggestions there. Or your suggestions in general–what do you use that’s a total lifesaver? Anything changed your money game? I want to hear it!

(Disclaimer: Most of these links are referral links, which means if you click through and become a user, I save money on my own account. I promise they’re all things I actually use/want to use and that the promise of a $10 credit isn’t making me go mad with power and link out willy-nilly to shitty products.)

Dear freelancers: we’re better than this

dear freelancers, we're better than this

I love talking to other freelancers. Sharing battle stories, celebrating our successes together, helping out people who are earlier along on their journey. It’s all fantastic.

The one thing I’ve noticed is that as a community, we are really bad at giving each other advice sometimes. This was highlighted for me in a recent incident, in which I received an email from a (now ex) client that totally floored me, in which they called me tacky, unprofessional, and told me I had wasted their time, seemingly out of the damn blue. Flabbergasted and unsure what to do in response, I posted the story in a local freelancer’s group. Let’s stroll through some of the replies I got…

On awful, terrible, no-good clients: “You can probably still salvage this!”

Every time I’ve asked for help in replying to a terrible email, when I thought it has been clear that my main issue is in composing a break-up reply that does not turn into just one big long blue streak of swear words, I’ve had people respond suggesting ways I can salvage the project and keep working with the client.

And that horrifies me. Nononono. No. I don’t want to salvage this. I don’t want to work with people who think it’s okay to send hateful emails to…well, anyone. I don’t run my business that way. And you shouldn’t, either. Why do you think you have to do that?! Stressful clients are not worth their cost to you in time, money, or health. Dump them and move on.

“You don’t want to burn any bridges…”

In that aforementioned thread, I got more than one response along the lines of: “You probably don’t want to keep working with them, but you also don’t want to burn any bridges. So make sure to email them back and apologize before moving on.”

Um. What? Apologize to who now? For what, exactly?

Another variant: “Make sure to be super polite in your reply, because this is a very small town and word gets around!”

So first off, I thought this was kind of funny, because while Austin isn’t a metropolis on the scale of NYC, it’s certainly not Gary, Indiana. Come on guys. It’s not that small of a town. (I’m from a real small town, where my high school graduating class was 65 people, so yeah.)

My second thought was of someone I worked with at one point who was like the Devil Wears Prada but an actual bad person* with substance abuse issues piled on top of that hot mess. I literally sat in the room with this person (cringing all the while) while they called a client who had fired them and left a voicemail telling him that his wife owns his balls. They work only with local clients. If they’ve been in business some five+ years and still not run out of local clients, I could tell one person that they were being a douchebag and it wouldn’t ruin my career. Did I? No. Could I? Yes. Going out of your way to grovel to people who have treated you like dirt, in fear of some ridiculous nonexistent blacklist retaliation, is just. I don’t even have a word. Don’t do it.

And last but not least: HELLOOOOO *waves arms around wildly at the vast expanse of the internet* 

95% of my business comes from the internet. If you’re relying solely on local clients, you’re putting too many eggs in one basket. There is no dearth of people out there who need your services. I promise you. Expand your reach. You don’t need to kowtow to clients who don’t treat you right. You deserve more than scraps of politeness and you do not deserve to be berated for being human.

This is your new business mantra: “I do not have to put up with jackasses to make a living.” Learn it, live it, love it, stop getting eye twitches from reading client emails. In that order.

“You can’t charge that hourly rate, because…”

This isn’t directly related to this most recent incident, but definitely falls under the category of “bad advice from other freelancers.” I posted in a forum consisting of business owners and freelancers, asking for input from other marketing/writing professionals on pricing retainer clients for consulting-heavy work. I don’t normally charge hourly, but didn’t want to set a flat monthly rate and wind up with awful profit margins because I didn’t have an accurate time estimate.

One of the replies I got basically said, “Packages are always the way to go. You can’t let business owners know your hourly rates. In this case, it’s likely he’d look at that rate, do the math, realize that’s the same as paying an employee a salary of over $100,000, and decide it’s too expensive.”

Number one, packages and flat fees are great, but they have their downfalls…such as when you don’t have a very specific list of what a project will consist of. Like, you know, this instance. (Also, anyone who tells you a business practice is always the way to go is full of shit, most of the time. Just FYI.)

Number two, OH MY GOD NO. That is some bad math. Bad, bad math. Contractors have to pay for their own health insurance, savings, taxes, rah rah rah, all out of their rates. Employee hourly rates are never a 1:1 conversion to contractor rates. Never. Most people who have been in business any amount of time know this. Like, the vast majority of them. And that tiny leftover minority is either inexperienced or cheapskates. Neither of which typically make amazing clients.

Here’s the thing, guys: freelancers are actually an amazing deal for business owners. And smart business owners know this. By using a freelancer, a business owner gets the experience, skills, and deliverables of a much-more-expensive salaried employee, at a fraction of the cost. (Employees are expensive, y’all.) Acting like business owners are doing you a favor by hiring you at fair rates is not only bad business, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.

A common thread that seems to run through all of these responses is that we should live in fear of our clients because they make or break our business. That we can’t ever stand up for ourselves or charge fair rates because we live and die by the almighty client. That is so much bullshit I cannot even stand it.

In short:


You are in control of your power as a freelancer and a business owner. Don’t give it away. And don’t tell other people to, either.

We are better than this, as a community. We deserve to be respected by our clients and by each other. So we have got to stop giving each other such shitty advice. I was sharing some of my bafflement about this with Shenee, who is one of my biz besties (psst, we’re re-starting our business podcast again soon–yes, get excited!). Her comment was so good I had to include it: “Freelancers are businesses. You deserve just as much respect as the business you’re freelancing for.

Yeah. That.

*I know I’m not the only one who thought the assistant in that movie was kinda whiny, right? And her boyfriend. Gah! 

Favorite things: February edition

New feature! Because why not? (Really, it’s because I am obsessed with Product Hunt–it’s my new Pinterest–and I’m constantly finding new things and looking for new outlets to share them in, and what better outlet than my own blog?)



Scannable is another home run from the Evernote team. Super quick, easy, high quality scans using your iPhone, with one-click send to email/Evernote/message/etc. It’s free, it’s well-designed, if you’re without a scanner, just download it already. Now that I have it, I’m obsessed with digitizing all my records. I love it a weird amount for such a mundane app. Anyways. Moving onward.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 5.09.30 PM


I’ve written before about my anxiety issues, and the last month or two has definitely not been kind as far as that arena. Pacifica was created to help users deal with depression/anxiety, so when I found out about it, I thought I’d download it to give it a try. Thus far, I feel like the Thoughts and Experiments modules are kind of useless–but I haven’t tried them. I don’t know if something useful happens after you use one of those modules to record thoughts or experiments. But checking in more than once a day and rating my mood helps me spot trends (if I’m going to have a swift downturn, it happens at night), the Health tracker keeps me mindful of my daily habits/actions, and the mini-activities that are available under Relaxation are great for when I don’t have a full 10 or 15 minutes for meditation.

Digit: automated savings


2015 is the year I really, really want to get on top of my money stuff–both logistically and emotionally. (Fun side-story: I filled out an apartment application last week, wrote down my estimated average monthly income, then went back and did the math when I was gathering my proof of income…and realized my actual income was about $1k/month more than the estimated income I’d written done. Hi, money issues!) Anyways, Digit is great, because:

  • It’s automatic saving
  • That is done in tiny increments, so you hardly notice it
  • That is also not obvious every time you log in to your bank (if I can see the savings account when I log in, the temptation is too much to switch it back to my checking account and use it to pay bills)
  • And as a bonus, the cute lil robot (in my head, Digit is definitely a cute lil robot) texts you on a daily basis and lets you know how your checking balance is doing. It is actually more johnny-on-the-spot than the push notifications from my actual bank app, go figure.

In short: I really love it. If you traditionally have issues with savings, I highly recommend checking it out.

(Yes, that is a referral link. I get $5 if you use it. If you don’t want to use it, just google Digit app and sign up anyways, because it is really that great.) 

Runner ups: 

  • Handle, which I couldn’t quite fit into my workflow but I love the idea of–if you’re a freelancer/solopreneur using Google Apps, check it out
  • MixMax, which I don’t use 100% of the time because it interferes with my email workflow (outlined here) but which still has amazing features
  • Headspace, which I like in theory but I find really annoying that their onboarding process requires you to go through a crash course in meditation. At least, as far as I can tell, it requires you to. And I don’t want to pay to upgrade to get out of the “10 days of meditation for beginners”-esque thing until I sample something that isn’t a very basic meditation. Le sigh.

Semi-related to favorite things/awesomeness: I’ve got a sale going on in the shop until next week, 30% off everything. If you’re a creative solopreneur/freelancer looking to get more organized + efficient, check it out

How to Get to Inbox Zero Faster (The Best Free Tools/Apps)

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

Email was definitely on my list of things to do better this year. And there’s a lot of subsections of that: processing email, sending email, communicating more effectively…you get the picture. I’ll probably do another post on sending better email, but for today’s Workflow Wednesday post, I wanted to zoom in on how I’ve tweaked the way I process email to make it 2-3x faster than it was before. Like, I can whip through 30-50 emails (most of which need replies) in less than an hour. Watch the video to find out how:

The apps/features mentioned:

  • Inbox Pause
  • Streak CRM (watch my full Streak review here, to learn about all the awesome things it does–couldn’t cover them all here)
  • Boomerang
  • Under Settings->General, turn on the Send and Archive button
  • Under Settings->Labs, search for and install the Auto-Advance feature
  • Set up Filters for people who commonly email you, to tag them with the right tags or folders. I have a master “Clients” folder set up with a sub-folder for each client, and have it set up to automatically tag incoming emails from with Client/Bigcommerce, for example. The purpose of this is that you don’t have to manually move to the folder when you’re processing email: it’s automatically tagged, so you just send it, then it’s archived and the next email shows up. (Got a video on setting up filters, too.)
  • For bonus points: Install the Canned Responses add on (through Gmail labs) or use a tool like aText or TextExpander to save templates of certain emails that you find yourself sending a lot (My guest post policy is, I’m currently not accepting new clients, a new client checklist…you get the idea)

Got all those apps installed and set up? Good! Here’s your next steps:

The process:

  1. Pause your inbox.
  2. Start at the top and open the first email. 
  3. Can you take action on it immediately? If yes: do you need to do something outside of your inbox to do so? If yes to that, then open another tab for that action. You’ll do the action after you’re done with your inbox. Right now, we want to keep you inside your inbox and cranking through emails as fast as possible. So open that other tab, make sure you know what you’ll be doing in it, and then either sort/archive the email or set it to pop back in your inbox in two hours after you’re done with this, so that you can reply to the email and say it’s done.
  4. Do you have to wait a few days before you can take action on it? Use Streak or Boomerang to set it to come back into your inbox, when you can actually do something about it. No sense in having it taking up space until then.
  5. Does it just need a reply? Then reply to it!
  6. Remember those tabs you opened to take required actions? Once to get to the bottom of your inbox, open the first tab to the right of your inbox tab, and work through them in order. Don’t multitask and don’t get off track, just consider it part of processing your email.
  7. Last but not least, batch your email processing. I do one big sweep through (this process) on Mondays and Fridays. Other days, I only reply to emails (or act on them) if they’re both important and urgent. (Or if a client has a question, obviously.) I do one quick 15-20 minute burst of email work at the end of the day Tuesday through Thursday to take care of those.

I made a little flowchart to illustrate:

What to do with that email: a flowchart

Any questions? Let me know, I’ll do my best to answer! And if you’ve got some tips & tricks like this, I’d love to have you as a Workflow Wednesday guest poster–sign up right here.

Looking for a gift for the freelancer in your life? Look no further.

The 2014 Freelancer Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again. The time when we all buy our gifts last minute while praising the wonders of the modern world (Amazon Prime, ahoy!). Or, alternately, we sit at our computer screens and frantically search for the right gift.

If you’re looking for something to send your friends/family/relatives for gift guide ideas, or if you just wanna buy something awesome for the freelancer in your life, look no further:

Sharkk Wireless Mouse (The Freelancer's Gift Guide)

A mouse that doesn’t kill wrists

Depending on how practical your recipient is, this might be something to ask for rather than something to buy, but I’m telling you: this Sharkk mouse has made the difference between my wrists killing me after two hours of work and letting me work a whole day in peace. And it only took me an hour or two to adjust to using it. Plus that matte plastic just feels good. Kudos to Shanna for sharing it with me!

Altego Laptop Backpack: The Freelancer's Gift Guide

A stylish backpack

I love a good messenger bag, but my back does not. After getting tired of dealing with angry muscles and neck-aches from toting my portable office around, I searched high and low, trying to find a backpack that fit the following criteria:

  • Sturdy
  • Not ungodly expensive
  • Didn’t look like something that belonged on a preschooler
  • …or ridiculously dwarf my 5’2″ figure

The above backpack fits all of that criteria, is under $50, has all kinds of useful compartments, and comes in my two favorite colors. DONE AND DONE. I can fit an absurd amount of stuff in if, and I’ve had it for almost a year and it’s not showing much wear yet either, so I think it’s sturdy enough for most people. Unless you’re going to go skydiving or some shit, in which case you probably don’t need a laptop backpack.

Pens: The Freelancer's Gift Guide


I’m not necessarily particular about what kind of paper I write on (though I do love a pretty notebook), but I’m weirdly picky about the pens I use–especially for longer writing. Considering that none of these are expensive, they’re great stocking stuffers.




Working with music is essential for my productivity. Pictured above:


Motivational posters

But not the kind with eagles and shit. I have the above manifesto from StrikingTruths (Show the world) and they have others that you can buy here. Alternately, here’s a Firefly-themed typography poster for the misbehaving freelancer in your life. You can even grab a Buffy one instead, if you want. Heck, just dig through all their nerdy posters. Or pick up a motivational “Get Shit Done” mug, because then it’s doubly motivating since it probably contains coffee (the lifeblood of 99% of freelancers).


Organizational tools

Because what freelancer doesn’t need to be more organized? Above:

All right–that’s not a ton of stuff, but it’s my best picks for freelancer gifts. What say you–what’s on your wishlist/shopping list?

Other gift guides I love:

Behind the scenes: the November recap

Behind the Scenes: November recap

Monthly recap time! And I’m more on it than last month, since it’s only going up on the tenth! Go me.

How I spent my time:

Harvest Report

I tracked more time in November than in October (114 hours vs. 90), but not as much as September or August (where I did about 125 hours each). This really surprised me, because I tracked all of my NaNoWriMo working time as well as business working time.

Out of that time:

  • It looks like all of that extra 24 hours went into writing the NaNo project–so the time spent both on internal biz/client work was pretty much the same. Actually, a little less, because I tracked just shy of 30 hours on the book.
  • This doesn’t surprise me, since in October it was “I don’t have any energy so it’s client work + bare minimum for my biz” and in November it was “I’ve taken on a ridiculous amount of work this month so it’s client work + bare minimum for my biz.”
  • Nearly 75 hours (20 more hours than last month) were spent on my internal projects; not just business work, but the book, too.
  • The other 39.91 hours went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time), about four more hours than October.
  • I spent about a half hour each meeting prospective clients and pitching. I’m still mostly interested in maintaining longer-term work with my current clients, but I feel like a few things may be shifting with certain clients soon, and I’m also finding that the more I work with retainer clients and nail their brand tone/messaging/etc., the less time the actual work takes. I’m not actively seeking out tons of new clients–I still have very limited new client space–but I’m keeping an eye out for specific gigs that interest me and fit into longer-term schemes.
  • Other breakdowns: Slightly more email time than October (13 vs. 12), but still lower than I had been averaging before October, 5 hours on social media, 2.67 on marketing, and 10 hours on admin work (up three hours from October, breaking the downward trend, and since I’ll be onboarding a new assistant soon, it might be up this/next month too).

How I made my money:

Total income: $4,718.21

About $600 more than October–not too bad, considering the extra work of NaNoWriMo. Once I get a year of these recaps, I’m going to plot Kindle sales vs. service income vs. other income vs. products/courses. Because it seems like they all fluctuate independently month to month and I’m curious to see if there are any patterns. And, looking at my Youtube ad reports, my plan (that I mentioned back in the summer slump series, in June), to increase ad revenue is working…and it’d be working better if I hadn’t fallen off the video bandwagon again. I need more apps to review, so if you have suggestions, send them to me. (If you’re a PR person: in a non-spammy fashion or I’ll cut you. I’ve got some really bad PR pitches.)

(Observant readers will note that I nixed the biz expenses section–I feel like it’s pretty repetitive month to month and I just say the same things. If you want me to add it back in, I’m happy to, though.)

November client audit:

Recap of past audits: 

  • In August, when I did my first audit taking into account June/July/August, my hourly rate varied from $45-117 depending on the client and project.
  • In September, my hourly rate ranged from $57-164–an improvement, but still quite a lot of range.
  • In October, the range was $72-140, with an average hourly rate of $105.
  • In November, the range was $63-185/hr.

For November, the range was again wide…but with another low-lying outlier. If you take out the $63/hr client, it’s $102-185. And interestingly, if you take out the high outlier (which isn’t a writing client, but rather a video contract), the range narrows in quite a bit to $103-117. With both outliers included, the average was $114. I guess that means I need to change my hourly rate (which I have listed on my portfolio site, although I don’t currently use it). They’re currently listed at $75/hr, but it doesn’t really make business sense for me to charge that hourly if I’m making more than that with my other clients.

I’m a bit puzzled over this low lying outlier. I don’t know if I had an off day or something, because I’ve been working with this client for a while and averaged higher in the past ($100/hr or so), and looking at the article, that’s an absurdly long time for me to have spent on it. So I’m going to chalk it up to overwork and not take action, as I normally would.

Looking ahead and lessons learned overall:

  • I LOVED writing a book. I cried when I finished it. Writing fiction is super, super relaxing and fun and even though I had a few minor meltdowns because I was worried I wouldn’t meet wordcount goals, I noticed I had a sense of peace and contentment in November when I wasn’t hyperventilating about that. (I will probably write a post about my NaNo experience if I can get to it while the experience is still fresh in my mind.)
  • Which leads me to, I really want to write more long-long form in general. I’m working on a Kindle book that will probably be 15-20k words total, and I’m also working on a nonfiction book, and the fiction book that I wrote is the first in a trilogy. It’s just a matter of making and keeping time for it, which leads me to…
  • I really want to focus on keeping my client work streamlined and low maintenance (while of course, still providing kickass work to my clients). That way, I can dedicate that time to the aforementioned writing. Any new clients will be looked at under that lens, as well, and I’ll probably be raising my rates in February or so to account for that as well.

Previous monthly recaps:

Workflow Wednesday: Evan’s Filofax system

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

Evan's Filofax System: how this designer uses notebooks to stay organized

While I love the tactile appeal of analog systems, my usage of them is typically haphazard at best and I always wind up mostly relying on digital means of staying organized. So when Evan Leah Quinn posted a photo of her Filofax that kinda made me drool a little, I knew I had to pester her with a million questions about how she used it. Happily, she indulged me, and you can find all her answers below!

Can you introduce us to you + your biz?

I’m Evan Leah Quinn. I’m a digital strategist & designer/developer. I own a small studio called SixteenJuly. I work with creative and wellness-based small business owners to help them create brands that flourish on the web. My business turned 5 this year! Most of my days consist of coaching calls, designing websites & other brand assets, coding, and all of the regular details involved in running a business.

I live on the seacoast of New Hampshire, in a drafty colonial I call my city cottage. In my (carefully scheduled) time off, I create mixed media art, take a lot of photos, spend a lot of time hiking in the mountains, and am currently really into bouncing on my mini trampoline while binge-watching Netflix. I’m obsessed with jellyfish and stationery (as you’re about to see).

How did you start using Filofax to stay organized? How long have you been using it?

I bought my first Filofax in December of 2010. At that time, my business was a year and a half old, and I also had a part-time development (coding) job, so I had a lot of various projects and clients to keep track of. To that point, I had mostly been keeping track of everything (even meetings!) from memory, but I was exhausted — I have a great memory, actually, but it was taking a lot of mental energy to keep everything straight, as you might imagine! I wanted a way to quickly and easily keep track of everything in one place. Paper really appealed to me because it seemed both quicker to access and more tangible — once I had it on paper, it felt safe to free up that space in my brain, if you will.

My system has evolved a lot since that time, but one thing that has always remained consistent is daily to-do lists. They are absolutely essential for me.

Freelance/Personal Filofax Layout

Can you describe your Filofax system?

I have several sections in my Filofax, including sections for keeping long-term to-do lists, health goals, and lists of movies/books/etc. that I want to check out. But the star of my Filofax is definitely the week-on-two-pages planner section. I decorate each weekly spread with washi and stickers — I look at it so much throughout the week that I want it to be whimsical & happy instead of just functional. Spending the time decorating it & putting down my appointments and goals every week is also something I enjoy — it’s a way for me to have fun managing what can be a really chaotic schedule. In addition to client meetings & appointments, I also track health goals (e.g., hydration & exercise), and I use foil star stickers to ‘reward’ myself for daily goals like hitting 10k steps on my FitBit or having a green smoothie.

The Filofax I’m using currently is a personal size. Because it’s smaller and I’m primarily using the Week on 2 Pages format, I also use a Field Notes notebook for my daily to-do lists.

How’d you create your system–was it all at once or was it a gradual building and changing and revamping? How long did it take to evolve from your starter Filofax system to where you’re at now? 

It’s constantly evolving, even now. For the first couple of years, I used Filofax’s day-per-page calendar and swore by that. Eventually, I realized there was too much space for daily to-dos, though, and it was causing me to set unrealistic expectations for my days. In 2013, I used A5 pages I designed myself (and actually moved away from Filofax for a bit altogether). I started this year with an A5 size and a Week on 2 Pages layout, then moved into using the DIY Fish pages in my A5, then in the personal.  When I went back to the WO2P layout in the smaller personal size (September of this year), I added in the second small notebook, which just sits between the pages of my weekly spread (or somewhere nearby on my desk, when the planner is open).

So, while most (or at least, a solid percentage of!) entrepreneurs and freelancers, especially those that work online, use online tools to stay organized, you’re using an analog tool. Did you ever use an online tool? What made you switch? Or has analog always been your jam? Do you ever worry about losing information or the notebook?

A surprising number of entrepreneurs I know use paper systems, actually! I’m definitely not alone in my love for all things paper/stationery or in my preference for writing things down. That said, I’m a gadget geek with a technology-based business, so I do sometimes get fed up with the limitations of a paper system and try to go all digital. (That happens about once a year.) Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work as well for me. I used Wunderlist for my daily to-do lists for awhile last year, and I have the Dayboard extension for Chrome, which I actually really love when I remember to use it — but therein lays the problem. It’s much easier for me to have the paper planner handy than it is to try to easily reference/sync all of the various systems I would require to keep track of everything digitally (although I do use those as well – see below).

My systems are fairly redundant, so I don’t worry about losing my planner any more than I worry about a tech glitch wiping out my gCal. I do keep some personal mementos (ticket stubs, letters, etc.) in my Filofax and I would be sad to lose those if I misplaced my planner, but the operations of my business/daily life would be unaffected.

Coffee, a laptop, and notebooks: recipe for happiness

Do you use any other organizational tools?

Absolutely! I would describe my actual organizational system as a digital/analog hybrid. I love my WO2P planner layout to show my schedule + goals at a glance, but all of the information I put in my planner comes from or ends up in another system. I use Basecamp for client/project management (I’m hyper-diligent about assigning due dates to project tasks/milestones, so most of my schedule planning comes from Basecamp), Google Calendar for appointments (even though I duplicate them into my planner — I use Calendly to let my clients schedule appointments, so it’s important that my availability is accurate + up to date online), Wunderlist for to-dos that don’t have a specific due date and/or aren’t tied to a project in Basecamp, and Evernote for keeping track of… well, everything. 

So, my systems are probably pretty similar to those of your typical small business owner, with the addition of the paper planner, which I love as much for organization/convenience as I do for the ability to decorate & customize. I love that I never have to worry about my appointments not syncing properly or other tech snafus — I hate that it doesn’t alert me a half hour before an appointment or that it isn’t as easy to change things up if something gets bumped to another day. (Erasable pens do help, though!) There are definitely pluses and minuses to using an analog system, but I feel like I’ve found organizational peace as a result of incorporating it. I never have to worry that I forgot to check one of the various systems — nothing falls through the cracks.

evansmile1121aEvan Leah Quinn’s made-up job title is Creative Identity Agent. She is a full-time digital strategist and web designer/developer, part-time artist & wannabe blogger. She lives on the seacoast of New Hampshire with her husband, dog, cat, parrot, and two chinchillas. You can find out more about her at, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram for weekly planner photos & too many pictures of her pets. 

Behind the scenes: the (very late) October recap

Behind the Scenes: October Recap

Yikes…the latest recap yet. NaNoWriMo has been kicking my ass, y’all! But since I know you guys enjoy them, I figured better late than never. So here’s the October breakdown:

How I spent my time:

Harvest Report

I tracked a lot less time than September or August in October–a 45 hour decrease. That’s about a 1/3 decrease. I was super, super low energy in October; not quite depressed (although I had kind of an emotional hangover for some of the month, remembering how bad things were last year), but just no energy for anything. So for the last two and a half weeks of the month, I was pretty much doing the barest minimum possible–keeping clients happy, and writing the newsletter, but not really expending much effort past that.

Out of that time:

  • 54 hours (about 60% of my time, slightly up from September) were spent on my business/internal work.
  • The other 36.13 went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time).
  • I spent no time meeting with prospective clients, and pretty much no time. As with last month, it makes sense that these numbers are trending downwards, since I’ve put my focus on acquiring longer term/repeat clients. Not to mention the aforementioned lack of energy meant that I wasn’t focused on growth–just on maintenance.
  • Quite a bit less email time than September (nearly 12 hours, vs. just over 16), slightly less time on social media, about half the time on marketing, and just over 7 hours on admin work (down about an hour from September, which was down from August–so it’s on a downward trend, which is good).

How I made my money:

  • Total invoiced for freelance writing services in October 2014: $3,658 (decrease by roughly $1,500)
  • Products/courses: $585 (over twice as much as last month, since those SWTSC payment plans kicked in)
  • Kindle: $19.11 (only a ~$2 difference)

Total income: $4,162.11

A little over $1,000 less than September–which doesn’t really surprise me, because as mentioned, I was SUPER low energy for a lot of October. Some of it was fatigue (I need to go back to the doctor and get my vitamin levels tested again…), and some of it was emotional stuff. I’ve got a lot better at managing the fluctuations that come with freelance income, at least.

Business expenses:

  • SAAS tools (Google Apps, Coschedule, Harvest, Clicky, Xero, Dropbox): $51
  • Coffee shops/meetings: $54.13
  • Web hosting: $15
  • Coworking membership: $95
  • Transcription and audio editing services to accompany blog posts: $131.72
  • Administrative assistance: $200
  • One-day conference: $75

Total: $621.85

Same commentary as last month. Pretty high, and if I tried, I could get it lower. But honestly? All of this stuff makes things a hell of a lot easier on me, and means I spend less time working (or at the very least, less time working on stuff that’s not making me money). My administrative fees might go up, but it’ll be worth it, because I’ll be able to hand off more stuff–as I mentioned last month, I wasn’t completely blown away by Zirtual, and then I had an experience with their customer service people that literally gave me an eye twitch. So I’m investigating alternative options right now.

In September’s recap, I noted that my personal expenses went up greatly, and I think I was better with my personal spending in October than in September. Got back into the habit of cooking for myself instead of winding up in the “crap need to eat or I’ll pass out better order in” trap, things like that.

October client audit:

In August, when I did my first audit taking into account June/July/August, my hourly rate varied from $45-117 depending on the client and project. Way too much variety. And, interestingly, most of my time went to the two clients that I had the lowest hourly rates with. I stopped working with both of those clients and replaced that income. In September, my hourly rate ranged from $57-164–an improvement, but still quite a lot of range. In October, the range was $72-140, with an average hourly rate of $105. Clear upward trend, which is good, and though the range is still wide, it’s narrowing in, with the lowest outlier not being a factor after November.

Looking ahead and lessons learned overall:

  • Next year, I should just take October off, or at the very least plan on having no energy. This has been a two year in a row thing now, so I think it’s best to assume that there’s a solid chance it’ll happen next year, too.
  • Same lessons as last month: simplify, avoid burnout. I’ve decided not to do any long classes next year–maybe a few one day workshops, but my focus is and will be on my writing.
  • And I want to get way better at delegating as I move forward. Same thing as last month–outsource more of the blog post editing/queueing, etc.
  • Also, I want to do more interviews and stuff. SO HEY. If you have a podcast, I’m a great interviewee, I promise!

All told, I am superincrediblyawholelot grateful that even though I was so low energy in October, I wasn’t scrounging in the couch cushions for loose change to buy cat food with. And it definitely seems to be a seasonal thing, as it’s got better in November. Go figure. How was your October? 

Previous monthly recaps:

Workflow Wednesday: Do a client audit, fix your profit leaks

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

This post is from lil ol’ me and you should definitely watch the video for a cameo of my new favorite mug (and my awesome t-shirt, and also my dog…lots of cameos here), but there’s also notes below the video if you don’t want to watch!

When I say “client audit” what do I mean?

Even if you haven’t done the math, you know that all clients aren’t created equal. Client A is super low maintenance, and Client B is not (even if they’re not a bad client, per se–some clients just require more administrative, email, and meeting time). When I talk about doing a client audit, I’m talking about figuring out what your hourly rate is with each client.

Who should do these on a regular basis?

If you charge hourly with all your clients, this doesn’t apply to you (there is one exception, see pt 3). Otherwise, if you fall into one of these categories, you should be doing a client audit at least quarterly–if not monthly: 

  1. If you work primarily on a per-project fee basis (ex. $350 for Service Package A)
  2. If you work on another non-time metric fee (I charge per word instead of hourly)
  3. If you don’t bill the client for all of their tasks (for example, you don’t bill for admin or email time)

The math is simple:

Just go inside your time-tracking solution of choice (mine is Harvest). Grab:

  • The money you made from that particular client in any given period of time
  • The amount of hours you spent on that client in that same period of time

Divide A by B and bam, your client hourly rate is staring you in the face. 

If you don’t track your time, sign up for something right now or I will whack you on the nose with a newspaper. Read more here.

How it works in action:

  • In August, when I did my first audit taking into account June/July/August, my hourly rate varied from $45-117 depending on the client and project. Way too much variety. And most of my time went to the two clients that I had the lowest hourly rates with (I believe it was almost half of my client work time). I stopped working with both of those clients and replaced that income.
  • In September, my hourly rate ranged from $57-164–an improvement, but still quite a lot of range.
  • In October, the range was $72-140, with an average hourly rate of $105.

You can see there’s a clear upward trend, which is good, and though the range is still wide, it’s narrowing in.

Sometimes it gets a little tricky–with October, for example, I have two retainer clients vs. just one, and I bill both of them every two weeks instead of per piece of weekly. That’s why the top-hourly rate is a little lower, because I was too lazy to go in and figure out what the real hourly rate was given that billing periods (because I know the “real” hourly rate is higher than that).

I’m pretty convinced that doing this on a regular basis, keeping an eye on the low-lying outliers, and taking steps to improve the hourly rate (or eliminate the client/project) is one reason my income has stayed fairly steady without me working myself to death.

Do you already do this on a regular basis? Has it helped your biz? Any questions? 

This post is part of November’s Word Carnival blog-post round up. Ever wanted to peek behind the curtain? Wanna know what’s going on behind the scenes of a small business? What little inspirations, daily reminders, and hidden dangers await in the treacherous waters of working for yourself? Check it out, here’s your all-access pass.

Page 4 of 20