5 ways to increase your freelance productivity by 60%

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This is the first installment in a new 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!

5 ways to boost your freelance productivity by 60%

I’m a writer by trade, which means that the more I write, the more I get paid. A few months ago, I mentioned that my daily wordcount tapped out at 2,000-2,500 words no matter what, and that if I did 2,500 words a day, that was it for the day. No admin work, no social media, no nothin’.

This is pretty typical for writers (and I know I write ungodly fast, so a much lower wordcount is fairly standard), so I could have just settled with that and not experimented any more.

But then what kind of blogger would I be? A bad one, that’s what kind.

Instead, over a few weeks, I made one tweak at a time. And I found a routine that’s now letting me average 3,000-3,500 words/day, and leaves 1-3 hours where I’m not totally fried and can do other light work.

That’s a daily increase of 500-1,500 words, or 20-60%.

That percentage increase is based purely on my wordcount, not factoring in for the other work that I can get done in a day after writing. Not too shabby, right?

And while my focus here is on writing, I’d argue my takeaways are relevant to all service based business owners. Wanna know what I did?

Write first

Don’t do email or social media (or anything else) first thing in the morning. I’m no angel, I check it from my phone while walking my dog like everyone else, but when I get on the computer, it’s my goal to write first. About 50% of the time now I’ll do a “why today will be awesome” post on Facebook (a habit I’ve shamelessly swiped from Shenee) before I dive in to work, just because it puts me in the right mood and it takes less than 5 minutes.

Other than that, it’s straight into the writing. I’m not really an early bird, especially by writer’s standards. I consider 9 AM the start of my office hours and I aim to be at my computer by then and be in the writing no later than 9:30.

The takeaway for creative professionals here is to do your most important work or your most brain-heavy work (shock: this is often the same damn work) first in the day. It’s tempting to look at your to do list and think, “Oh, I’ll do these three little admin tasks that’ll take 5-15 minutes each, and then I’ll start my day with some momentum!” Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way in reality. What actually happens is more like:

  • You do an hour of admin work…
  • ….which means your most important work gets pushed back
  • …which mean you wind up working on it later into the day
  • …which makes you feel much more drained when you do get it done
  • …which means you have no time or energy for anything else.

Once you get your block of “most important work” done, take a freakin’ break. I typically write from 9-1 (sometimes 9-2 if I really feel like I’m in a groove and can keep going), and then I take a 30-60 minute lunch break.

I’ve experimented with this and if I take a break less than 30 minutes, or worse, just push through, my productivity takes a nosedive after the writing block. I’m not even good for basic math problems. On the other hand, if I take a break and let my brain reset, when I go back to my work I can actually get things done. Not typically writing (although it happens every now and then), but I’m good for light admin work or brainstorming on my marketing strategy or processing email.

No morning meetings

This goes hand in hand with writing first, but is such a productivity suck that it requires its own heading. Don’t do meetings during your writing block of time. Just. Don’t. Do. It. This is especially important for introverted people, but I’d argue it’s important for everyone, for the same reason as not doing admin tasks in the morning.

There’s the added side effect of meetings often running 5-15 minutes later, which means that instead of starting on your most important work first thing, you’re starting it two hours into your day. Then, you only have an hour or two until lunch, which is actually plenty of time to work, but it doesn’t sound like it is, which leads to the famous “I don’t have enough time to really work on this project, so I’m going to dick around on Facebook instead,” syndrome. It’s a negative domino effect that can sidetrack your whole day.

Schedule your meetings for later in the day, when you’d typically be doing your lower brainpower work anyways. Let’s face it: meetings don’t usually require you to be “all there” in the same way that writing or designing or (insert creative work of your choice) do. Don’t give them the same priority in your workflow. (In general, I’d recommend cutting meetings whenever possible, because they’re just not great for productivity overall.)

Do the pre-work and post-work separately (and batch it)

Outlining brain is different than editing brain is different than writing brain. You probably know this intuitively, but are you doing anything with that knowledge? I realized I wasn’t, so here’s what I did:

  • I outline all articles for the week on Monday. My articles, client articles, everything. It all gets outlined on Monday. If I know going in that I’m going to be citing a lot of sources, I’ll do research for the articles on Monday too, and slot the links into the outline. That way, I don’t get lost in the research rabbit-hole in the middle of writing an article.
  • I edit articles later in the day, after the writing-work is done for the day. Editing doesn’t draw the same amount of brainpower as writing for me, so I can do it after I’m halfway tapped out. If I have a few articles from the last week to edit, I also edit them on Monday with all of my other admin work/pre-work.

This is why I can jump straight into writing at 9 AM–because the pre-work is already done. And I get the editing and outlining done much faster (without a drop in quality) by batching it, as well.

The idea (and science) behind batching is that switching tasks is a productivity drain–every time you change tasks, it takes you about 25 minutes to regain your focus. By doing things all at once, you cut out that “switching cost” that normally happens when you change tasks. For my workflow, when you add that up for 5+ articles a week, it amounts to 4+ hours of saved time a week (25 minutes of focus regained between outlining and writing, and between writing and editing, for each article). Given that, once I’m in the flow, I can write 700-1,000 words an hour, that adds up to a big increase in output.

The takeaway for your business: What’s your pre-work? You know, the work before the work. Or, as with editing, the work after the work. How can you batch it and otherwise separate it from the “real work”? (Read more about batching here: A Day Without Distraction: Lessons Learned from 12 Hours of Forced Focus)

Work to music

People tend to be starkly divided on the topic of listening to music while working. The science itself is even conflicted, with one researcher saying that music improves productivity because it puts you in a better mood while working and several other articles I found saying that music can actually downgrade productivity for cognitively-draining tasks.

This article gives a breakdown of what tasks music works with/against, although the writer concludes that lyrics-based music is awful for writing or other language based tasks. (They also suggest video game soundtracks, which I’m personally quite fond of–Chrono Cross OST for the win!) Music with lyrics works for me, although I typically steer away from lyrics that I don’t know or super-lyrics-driven music.

Music works for me because: 

  • It’s a Pavlovian trigger to focus. It’s a really simple signal to yourself of, “Self, it’s time to work now. Let’s do this business.” Having rituals around your creative work lets you get more done, and this is part of my ritual.
  • It drowns out distractions. I typically work from coworking spaces and coffee shops. Coworking spaces are sometimes quiet and sometimes not (since sometimes people are having discussions or meetings or phone calls, which is totally fine!). Coffee shops are almost never quiet. The temptation to people-watch and/or make conversation is too strong for me if I don’t have a way of blocking it out, and headphones do that.
  • Side benefit: Headphones give you an automatic out and are a universal signal of “no talking right now kthx.” This is great if you regularly find yourself in situations like I do. (“Hi, person I don’t know! You want to talk to me for 20 minutes about your dog while I’m trying to work? Sure! Why not! I will let this conversation go far longer than necessary because I don’t know how to stop it!”)
  • It makes me feel like I’m in a movie. Nothing like the feeling of participating in an Epic Work Montage in the Movie Starring You.

My work music tastes tend towards the upbeat, often with some kind of synth-y elements. I think upbeat music works well for me because it puts me in a good mood, which makes sense given the aforementioned research.

Some of my favorite bands to work to: Architecture in Helsinki, Matt and Kim, Alt-J, and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (because Joe Strummer is appropriate for all situations ever and I’ll fight you if you say otherwise).

Do sprints

I’ve talked about the Pomodoro technique before and this is the same idea, although I modify it. The Pomodoro technique stresses working for 25 minutes, then taking a 5 minute break. I usually work for 45 minutes, then take a 15 minute break. You could argue that with the Pomodoro technique, you only have 10 minutes of break in every hour (vs. 15 minutes with my version), but I found that the offset of being able to stay in flow longer without a break interruption is worth it.

When I experimented with working longer (I’ve seen people suggest 60 or 90 minute work sprints), I found that my attention span took a flying leap at 45 minutes anyways, so I might as well have a break there. This lets me focus more knowing that I’ve got a break coming up, and it adds a sense of urgency and self-competition. (I’m totally that dork that’ll be all “Let’s see if I can finish this in one sprint! LET’S DO ITTTT.”)

The common thread between this and work music is the sense of focus they both add to your workday. When you’re a creative professional with seemingly endless ideas and a whole day of your own planning (that’s simultaneously huge and waytoosmall), it’s easy to get overwhelmed and meander.

Think of a kid (or uh, me) at a buffet: “I want some of this. And that. And that. Oooh, what’s that one? It looks fun! Look at this dessert table! So many options!” And then they come back to the table with three plates full of food and no way to eat it all because of physics and the sad, sad limitations of the human body.

Giving yourself “blinders” eliminates buffet syndrome. In this case, that’s a 45 minute work sprint that focuses you on the task at hand. (Or headphones that reduce distracting sensory input.)

Bonus: have an accountability partner for sprints

Sadly, I haven’t found an app or an online replacement that works for this. I’ve been coworking with Shenee quite a lot lately, and we do our work sprints together. We set a timer for 45 minutes, “go in,” and then take a 15 minute break together while stretching or refilling our water/coffee or snacking. I am measurably more productive on the days we do this vs. the days that I work alone, even if I’m doing sprints while working alone.

I suppose in theory you could do accountability partnership via Twitter or chatting (whether via G-chat or Slack or Facebook messenger) or a Facebook group. The problem is that each of these (barring Slack, which I admittedly haven’t used) opens you up to a whole new level of distraction. You go to check your Google chat window and wind up answering emails for 15 minutes. You check in on Facebook and–hey is that a video of a BABY PANDA?

What’d you think? Are any of these going to work for your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts below & again, if you want to participate in a Workflow Wednesday post, sign up here–I’d love to have you!

The return to freelancing, month three: August recap

Behind the scenes: August 2014 recap

It’s a little bit late, but here it is: the August recap!

How I spent my time:

Harvest report: August 2014

In August, I tracked just shy of 125 hours, a 22 hour increase from July, which breaks down to about 30 hours a week. The fact that I logged more hours than July is fairly impressive considering that the aforementioned adorable-yet-distracting kitten kept me from sleeping for more than two hours in a row for a solid two weeks of the month. (We’ve figured out a system that keeps everyone happy, thankfully. Sleep deprivation is not my look.) In other words: I fuckin’ hustled, man.

Out of that time:

  • 76.32 hours (about 61% of my time) were spent on my business/internal work
  • The other 48.63 went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time)
  • I spent about the same amount of time meeting with prospective clients as I did in July (2 hours), but I spent about half the amount of time pitching in August that I did in July (just shy of 4.5 hours), which makes sense because my client roster got pretty full
  • Roughly 17 hours on email (up five hours from July – eesh), just under five doing social media (down four hours from July), just shy of three hours marketing (mostly the email newsletters), and just over 12 hours on administrative work (a seven hour increase from July, again – eesh)

If you wanna see the whole breakdown of my internal work, here’s a screenshot. It might be useful if you want to set up time-tracking for your biz (which you totally should! Harvest is my jam). As mentioned last month, I like to drill down and be really specific about what I’m spending time on. Which came in handy because I did my first client audit this month and the results were enlightening to say the least–more on that in a second.

How I made my money:

Total income: $3,770.69 – a nearly $1,000 increase from July 2014. CAN I GET A WHUT-WHUT?! And I friggin’ passed my $3,500 income goal. *drops mic* (Fun fact: I actually went to do the “mic drop” motion at the coffee shop I was working at when I wrote that sentence.) 

Business expenses:

  • SAAS tools (Google Apps, Coschedule, Harvest, Clicky): $32 (I cancelled Contactually, SendOwl, and Paypal Pro – yay for cutting down expenses! That saved around $100, even though I immediately spent that money on other stuff.)
  • Coffee shops/meetings: $52.19 (drastically down because I signed up for a kind-of-coworking solution about halfway through the month)
  • Web hosting: $15
  • A gawtdang charger for my MacBook Air since my charger that had been clinging on for dear life finally died: $85
  • A new mic and headphone splitter so I could use that mic: $45
  • Entre: $95
  • Accounting: $200 (I have an amazing bookkeeper working on getting my clusterfuck of a three-year-back tax situation fixed and setting everything up gloriously organizedly for the future…and psst, she has client spots available!)

Total: $524.19 (over twice last month….eep)


  • An update on the administrative work: I wound up absolutely needing someone (most of that admin work happened in the first half of the month) so I went with my colleague/friend/total badass as a stand-in (she’s also got a few client spots available, though she’s booking up fast) until I’m done with the Zirtual onboarding process. Of course, now I’m still not done with the Zirtual onboarding process and wondering if it’s worth doing all the onboarding with another assistant when Alexis is doing just fine, but there’s still the tax paperwork of a contractor and shit that I don’t want to deal with. I’ll figure it out.
  • Entre turned out to be a fantastic in-between coworking option, is an absolute no-brainer at that price, and has already more than paid for itself in increased productivity. Shenee and I have been going places together to get the most out of it, and working in 45m sprints with 15m breaks together, and it is absolutely crazypants how much I get done working that way.
  • The accounting: It’s just time to fix this and it’s way more than worth the peace of mind.
  • The equipment was fairly necessary (a screencast that I’m getting paid for prompted the mic upgrade, and obviously I can’t work if Raphael doesn’t have a charger) so I have no guilt about that.

My first client audit & the results:

One of the reasons I’m so wildly adamant on tracking your time is so that you can know where your time is going and improve those numbers. This is crucial for me because I charge per-word, not hourly. I generally do this because:

  • I work really fast and hourly rates typically penalize that
  • I think it’s better to have both parties going in know exactly how much will be made/spent
  • It’s a lot easier to sell someone on my per-word rates than what my hourly rates typically break down to

Now that I’m a few months back into freelancing, I wanted to see what kind of hourly rate I was making across the board with clients. So I took the amount of time I’d tracked vs. how much I had billed (or had earned but had yet to be billed because of billing periods or publish dates), and the results were pretty astounding. My hourly rate varied from $45 to $117. Holy ridiculous range, Batman!

In order of time spent, I had 10.28 hours on Client A, 8.10 hours on Client B, and 6.17 on Client C (and several others, but these are the pertinent ones). And here’s the kicker: Clients A and C were the least profitable clients in August, at $45.22 and $45.49 an hour, respectively. (With Client B, I averaged $98.70/hr…so you know, we’re five by five there.)

Over a third of my client time in August (37.5%, to be specific) went to those two clients, but the total income from those two clients was only 24% of my total client income. Not quite the Pareto principle in action, but certainly disproportionate.

My average hourly was $69.30, but once you took out those two low outliers, it went up to around $88. That is a big difference. I’d recommend everyone do this exercise quarterly, at the very least–it was an eye-opening experience, and it gives me a 100% certainty what I can charge hourly if someone insists on doing so ($75 or higher). Because I am making that or more with most of my clients, so there’s no reason for me to take less.

So what did I do afterwards?

  • I heavily weighed what to do with Client A, because while my hourly was comparatively awful, it was also steady work and I did like the people I was working with inside the company. After re-assessing during the first week in September, I told them that I really loved working together, but that with the amount of research and meeting time involved,  I needed to switch to an hourly pay structure of $75/hr, and if that wasn’t doable, I totally understood and I would be happy to refer them to other writers.
  • I was fairly confident in doing this with Client A, because I had just lined up another gig that I’m very excited about, which would more than replace my income from them. So if they said yes, awesome, boost to my bottom line, if they said no, I already have replacement income lined up. They said that wasn’t within their budget and I referred them out, no hard feelings. Awesome!
  • I was all ready to refer Client C to someone else, but then they got back in touch and said that their content strategy is on hold for the time being. So that solved itself.
  • I learned that meetings really, truly are the productivity killer for me, and that the types of assignments/clients I work best with are where I’m given pretty free reign. Both clients required meetings to different extents. Both of them also turned out somewhat different than the original scope (i.e. more time involved), and I’m still pondering if there were any warning signs there that I missed, that I can pay attention to in the future.

Looking ahead and lessons learned overall:

  • I finally finally set up a business bank account! HUGE DEAL.
  • I learned not to sign noncompetes.
  • I’m actually pretty much booked solid for at least the next month or two, and arguably the foreseeable future. I’m not sure why I have this weird resistance to that, but I keep wanting to pitch gigs anyways even though I know I wouldn’t realistically have the time to work on new projects, and I keep qualifying it when I say it to people. (Notice how I said “I’m actually pretty much booked” and now “I’m booked”? What is up with that?) Go figure.
  • I’m interested to see how well I juggle launching Six Weeks to Street Cred with aforementioned full client load. The admin assistance will probably become more and more crucial, along with sticking to the systems and routines I’ve set up.
  • I also did the math and realized that with the word-counts I’ve been averaging (stay tuned for a post soon on how I got my daily averages from 2-2.5k to 3-3.5k or sometimes more) I can work on client work Tuesday-Thursday, leaving Friday entirely for my own writing, including the not one but two books (in addition to the blog posts here. yeah, I’m crazy, I know).
  • I feel like I’ve got some pretty sweet momentum behind me! BRING IT, REST OF 2014.

Yay! How’d your August go?

The return to freelancing series:

Review: Casual.pm

Casual.pm is an interesting beast–it’s visual, but not color coded; it tracks dependencies, but is still easy for a freelancer or creative person to use without getting a headache. You’ve really gotta watch the video to see it in action; past that, here’s an overview of their features & pricing:

  •  Features include drag and drop interface, the ability to link tasks in dependencies (and show which ones can be done at the same time), task groups inside of projects, and an overview that shows you both what you’re working in across projects and what’s almost due across projects.
  • Interesting grid layout that, combined with the other features, Those features combined give you a bird’s-eye view of how tasks are related and what needs to get done before you can move on to the next step, easily spotting any bottlenecks in the process.
  • One thing I didn’t really get into in the video because it was already bordering on long (for my review videos, anyways!) is that you can also add tasks that aren’t related to any other tasks.
  • The big benefit of Casual is that it keeps you and your team focused on what’s now and what’s next, which makes you less likely to get overwhelmed and confused.
  • Tasks have a “notes” section, can have files attached, and allow for comments/discussion.
  • Free 14 day trial, paid plans start at $9/month for two users.

Also, because I didn’t quite show it in the video, I wanted to show the updated dashboard for the projects:

Casual.pm: Progress bars for projects

Notice how the progress bar shows not just what you’ve completed, but how many tasks you can currently work on? It’s a nice touch that gives you a view of what you actually can work on right now. And here’s the updated overview:

Updated overview screen in Casual.pm

You can see that it lets you see tasks that are assigned to you AND tasks that are upcoming across all projects. A more thorough (and yet easy to use at a glance) cross-project overview than many project management tools!

All-in-all, if you want something visual but Droptask wasn’t your jam, I’d seriously consider checking out Casual.

Review: SpringSled

SpringSled is a new project management tool that looks really enticing–but does it stack up to their claims of “the world’s simplest project management tool”? Watch the video for more details, and here’s my notes: 

  • SpringSled is currently in beta, and you can sign up here
  • Except that once you get 5 sign-ups from your referral URL (thanks, cooperative friends & boyfriend who understand my rabid app obsession!), you get directed to Horizonate. Which I tested with a different email, and…you can sign up for without doing the whole invite business. I understand this is clearly a marketing and/or split-testing deal but it seems disingenuous and somewhat annoying to me.
  • If you do get 5 sign-ups, you get it free for a year; otherwise after the trial, it’s $5/month for one project, $20/month for 10 projects, and so on. I can only assume that’s for unlimited users because I don’t see a user limit listed anywhere. (I’d think so, because if that’s per user it’s kinda high.)

Marketing ish aside, here’s my notes on the features: 

  • It does have a very intuitive interface and should be easy for even the least tech-savvy person to pick up and learn.
  • It’s got an drag and drop interface, pulls tasks from different projects to give you a daily agenda (but that doesn’t include overdue tasks, which is an oversight), a calendar-based monthly and weekly view, the ability to assign tasks to other users, discuss on a project-level and attach files on a project-level.
  • There’s also per-project color coding, but the colors can’t be customized.
  • The use-case that comes into my mind for SpringSled is someone who has really, really un-tech savvy clients and just wants a way to keep them in the loop on projects without having to teach them Basecamp or Asana.
  • All in all, it’s a pretty solid, very lightweight visual task/project management tool.

If you’re looking for a fully developed, out of beta solution that’s got a similar look and feel (but arguably more features), I’d check out Sandglaz. If you’re stuck between the two, they both have free trials, so sign up for both and see which you like better!

21 apps under $10 that’ll boost your biz & make your life easier

20+ apps (free or under $10) that'll boost your business & make your life easier

In case you’re new around here, I love me some apps. Love. Me. Some. Apps. So much so that I actually have, you know, a Youtube channel and a whole subcategory here at the blog dedicated to reviewing them.

So when I found out that the theme for this month’s Word Carnival was “your favorite tool that costs less than $10/month but is hugely beneficial to your biz”, I may have gone a little…overboard. Because I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. Instead, I collected my faves, and for each category, I’ve got ones that I use + love and the runner-ups that I don’t use, but are still awesome & might work for you…so without further ado, let’s get on it!





What it is: Timeful was developed by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist. The idea is that we easily let ourselves be overbooked because we plan in for meetings, but we don’t really plan in for tasks or other events. I don’t use it every day (yet? that might change with the web interface that’s coming very soon) but when I do use it, it immediately lets me see if I’ve overbooked myself for the day or if my expectations are fairly reasonable. I also like that it builds in the ability to remind you of habits you want to do and shows you how they can fit in with your day.



Free for up to 15 users

What it is: Asana is a project management tool that’s super lightweight and flexible. It looks rather minimalist at first–which is why I avoided using it for the longest time. However, now they’ve added color coding, they’ve got subtasks and lists and “smart” recurring tasks (which I’ll cover when I eventually get around to doing a review of them), and they have project templates for everything from a product launch to an editorial calendar. It looks so simple but can be hacked into working for almost any business, no matter how weird or specific their need. In short: I love it.




What it is: IFTTT can help you make completely different tools play together nicely. I mentioned it in my post on how to fill your client funnel fast, and it was definitely a factor in saving time while I pitched like a fiend to book up my writing roster. (Say that three times fast.) Another example is that I have it integrated so that when I favorite something in Pocket, it automatically goes into my Buffer queue.

Runner ups:

Zapier functions in a similar manner as IFTTT, but is more business focused and includes apps like MailChimp, Contactually, and more. Free with paid plans starting at $10/month.

Droptask, previously reviewed here, is free with a paid option ($6.50/user/month) and would be incredibly useful for super-visual thinkers. I cannot, for the life of me, work in a task management tool without a calendar view option, so although I gave it a solid go for my own task management, it didn’t work out. But I still think it’s an awesome product and would recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative to list-based task management.

On the other hand, if you are looking for something list-based, Wunderlist (free with a $5/month pro option, previously reviewed here) is gonna be right up your alley. 

Notes & reading:



Free with paid plans starting at $5/month

What it is: If I’m totally honest, I think Evernote probably tries to do too much. I just don’t think it makes sense to have task management and event reminders and notes all in one spot. However, if you can find even a few use-cases that make it work for you, it’s worth it. Here’s a few ways I use it:

  • I have an “Accounting” notebook where I scan in receipts using the document scanner with a few notes about why it’s a business expense.
  • I regularly scan in blog post or product/service ideas that I’ve handwritten, with the app’s built in scanner. Their text recognition somehow manages to even figure out my messy handwriting, so I can find it later if/when I need to. (All of my world-building and plot notes for my eventual fiction serial/trilogy are in here, too. Can’t leave that lying around in just paper form!)
  • I use it to curate my newsletter links, explained here.
  • I use it to keep track of all client meeting and invoicing notes (for the very few clients that I don’t invoice per-piece with). Google Drive (see below) is where the actual articles go, but I have a notebook for each client where I store notes and article ideas for when it comes time to pitch them.

Honestly? That’s not even all of them. I use it primarily for its note-storing capacities and I love it for that, and I honestly haven’t even scratched the surface of how it can fit into my workflow, given the other apps I use that integrate or can integrate with it using IFTTT or Zapier. Maybe this calls for another blog post…


Google Drive


What it is: Google Drive has tried to be a bunch of different things (and now, in a totally head-scratching move, they’ve separated back out Docs…whatever) but it’s totally essential in keeping me organized. All of my ongoing clients have a folder inside my “Clients” folder on Drive, at the beginning of the week I create an outline for all of their posts with a note in the title about the date I’ll write it, after I write it I send it to the client via link for edits/comments, implement edits, then re-share and download a Word file for them as well if they like to get the final file that way. I also have a “Bombchelle systems/ops manual” folder that  I can easily share any time I’m working with an admin assistant or outsourcing.

It’s probably worth noting that I use Google Apps ($5/month) for email, which should technically be another item on this list, and that makes the Drive integration with my work email totally seamless. If you like the Gmail UI, seriously consider having a techy person (here’s my guy) set it up for you–it’s so worth it!



Free with paid version at $5/month

What it is: Feedly is a nice-looking and easy-to-use feed reader, which I use mostly via their iPad app. It integrates with Buffer, Pocket, and has a handy-dandy “email to yourself” feature (that I regularly abuse). The paid version includes more integrations, with Evernote, LinkedIn, IFTTT, Dropbox, and OneNote being a few. This is what lets me alternately browse FYeahTattoos and industry blogs and my webcomics in a visual manner that lets me skip the stuff I’m not interested in and save the rest.




What it is: Pocket is essentially like Instapaper or Read It Later or any other “save for later” app. I just like it more because it’s easy to use, saves video (and saves your place!) as well as text posts and it integrates with tons of other apps (see above re: Feedly). Also, it has an offline sync option and an easy “add via email” feature, too.




Free for three documents a month

What it is: HelloSign is a contract-signing app that integrates with Gmail/Google Apps to make it simple & easy to send and sign documents straight from your email inbox. They also have an app for iOS and Android to make it easier to get signatures on the go.


The Freelancer’s Union Contract Creator


What it is: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like–a quick and easy way to create contracts. It’s not entirely bug-free, I used it the other day and my final contract somehow wound up with a lot of the explanation text in it, but it’s definitely better than not getting it in writing. (People: always get it in writing. Learn from my mistakes. ALWAYS.)

Runner ups:

PandaDoc is an intriguing alternative to HelloSign that I haven’t had the chance to fully play with yet. It integrates with Nimble, Harvest, Capsule CRM, and other apps–which has got my wheels turning on ways it could fit into the workflow and easily move someone along from contact to lead to signed contract to new client in Harvest. Free for the first three documents, after that you can either sign up for the enterprise plan ($30/month for unlimited documents) or pay per document starting at five documents for $9.

Shake is entirely engineered around making contracts easier. Until I started researching this article, I didn’t realize it had an online version in the works; I’d installed the iOS app but had only played with it enough to see that the UI is awesome. Definitely going to give it a whirl with my next contract! Oh, and it’s free.



Google Analytics


What it is: Google Analytics isn’t necessarily easy to learn, but it’s powerful and did I mention free? If you’re not tracking analytics for your business site, please start now. It’s easy, I promise. Here’s a list of 50+ resources to get you started and here’s a free plugin to help you set it up. Setting up analytics will let you know how people are finding you, what posts are the most popular, what parts of your social media or content strategy is working (and what’s not), what guest posts are actually driving email or customer conversions…it’s crucial stuff to creating a solid marketing strategy.





What it is: Where Google Analytics deals with your website (and the data that goes along with it), SumAll pulls data from mutiple sources (including Google Analytics, Paypal Pro, most e-commerce platforms, and MailChimp, among others) and puts it together on one dashboard so that you can see the patterns while setting and tracking goals. Previously video-reviewed here.




Free starter plan for up to 2,000 subscribers

What it is: MailChimp has always been my email marketing tool of choice. It’s got a great UI, the support people are friendly and fast, it’s deceptively powerful despite the somewhat cutesy branding (although I love the branding and the comments it gives me make me laugh regularly), and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a user since 2008-ish, which means I’ve got a super-awesome-grandfathered-in free plan.



Free with paid plans starting at $10/month

What it is: Easy to use social media scheduling. The thing that makes Buffer preferable to most other social scheduling tools is that instead of having to manually pick a time for the tweet/post/siren song to go out each time, you just set up a schedule (for example, weekdays at 9 AM, noon, and 3 PM), and when you put in a tweet, it automatically gets “buffered” up (get it?!) to go out at the next time in your schedule. The fact that it integrates with Pocket, Feedly, Chrome, and IFTTT doesn’t hurt, either.




What it is: Not technically a marketing tool, Streak lets you easily keep track of people you need to follow up with–whether that’s guest posting pitches or potential clients. It integrates with Gmail/Google Apps, has become my CRM of choice, and was previously reviewed here.




Free or $15/year for the pro version

What it is: Screencast-O-Matic might have a cheesy name and kind of an ugly homepage, but it’s how I record all of the video reviews here (and record class content). It integrates with multiple services–in my case, Youtube is the important one–to upload right after recording is done, and for someone who is fairly inexperienced at video editing, its built-in editing tools are awesome. They’re just enough to get the job done without being overwhelming.

Runner ups:

Jing is another free screencasting tool, but it’s limited to videos under 5 minutes. Where SOM is great for blog posts, Jing is good for how-to manuals and documentation, because it automatically uploads videos to their servers and gives you a link that you can send to team members or clients.

Whew. That’s my list of apps under ten bucks a month that save my bacon on a regular basis–what’s your’s?

Everybody and their mom claims to have the magic panacea that will suddenly jump you from living out of a cardboard box to a six figure income, laughing from the penthouse suite as you throw coins over your balcony – not for the morbid fun of it, but just so you can feel something, anything, again. Anyway, here’s a lineup of the Word Carnival business experts favorite tools, all for under $10. No panaceas, just great tools that work well.

Review: Sandglaz

Sandglaz is a great, easy to use project management tool that’s affordably priced & would work well for teams or solo users. Here’s a few notes:

  • Drag and drop interface (y’all know I love me some drag and drop) for dates and priorities
  • The default view on “My Tasks” is a section for each day, on projects the default is a week (you can change both of those, though)
  • The “My Tasks” area functions as an inbox for miscellaneous tasks, and can be set to filter in a number of ways so you can keep an eye on other projects without getting overwhelmed
  • You can categorize both with hashtags and by priority (which is the default, but you can change the labels to also categorize tasks by area of the business or whatever, more on that here)
  • No mobile app but mobile optimized version (which I tested on my phone and it’s a pretty seamless experience), there are apps for Chrome, Firefox, and from the Amazon app store
  • A few other features: recurring tasks and subtasks, delegating, integration with Dropbox, uncompleted tasks automatically roll over, add notes to tasks, keep track of far-off tasks so you don’t forget them using the “X date and later” column
  • Free 21 day trial (in the video I said 14, but I was wrong!), $5/user/month after that (I got that wrong too in the video, dang Michelle get with it)

For more, view their tour here and their knowledgebasae here. All in all, it’s lightweight, easy to use and learn, and flexible enough for most work environments; if color coding isn’t a necessity for you or your team, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

How I replaced my day job income in 90 days

How I replaced my day job income in 90 days

May 16th was the last day at my day job, almost exactly three months ago. When I left, my salary was $47,500, which converted to a take-home pay of about $3,300 a month. My projected income for August is roughly $3,700…which means that, come end of August, I should have replaced or exceeded my day job income within three months of going back to freelancing. And I’ve got some pretty solid guesses as to what did it – so I’ve got four tips for you. The last one is the most important one, so make sure you read to the end!

Have something “pitchable”

Part of my theory on what has made such a big difference this time around vs. doing project management/systems consulting work is that writing is a lot more pitchable than project management. People want project management – they want the end result – but they don’t really understand what it is and it’s not very concrete, which oftentimes means that they want don’t to pay for it. Writing is way more tangible, so it’s more pitchable.

Ideally, yeah, you’ll have people coming to you through referrals and as a result of your own marketing, but you can’t always rely on that, especially when you’re just starting out. If you’re a service based professional that isn’t pitchable, think about creating some kind of product that is:

  • high quality
  • which doesn’t necessarily mean complicated – but don’t just spend five minutes on a PDF and then charge $147 for it
  • answers someones’ questions or serves a need
  • and is easily promoteable

It won’t be passive income, but having even a few small products for sale can bolster income – my planners were invaluable for that when I first created them.


Set up IFTTT triggers, as described in this post. And then, whatever else you do on a given day, make sure that you pitch yourself for 3-5 things that are open job/proposal/gig requests. And if you can or want to, another 3-5 things a week that aren’t open requests – whether that’s emailing agencies to see if they need designers, talking to local marketing firms to see if they have a need for contract work, etc. Even if your service isn’t as “pitchable” as writing or designing or coding, you can still get a much clearer view on peoples’ needs/wants/what they’re willing to pay for by just talking to a lot of people – this is the whole basis of Shenee’s 100 People Project.

Being this proactive is honestly, pretty uncomfortable. It can feel by turns hectic and disheartening juggling it on top of a day job’s workload (and not hearing back on probably half or more of what you send in your information for). But you’ve got to get comfortable with it and I don’t know of any better way to do so than just acknowledging it’s going to be uncomfy, actively throwing yourself into it anyways, and making it a numbers game (as in, I’m doing this many pitches today, and then I’m done and I’m not going to think about it any more).

Plan ahead

In my case, this was pitching proactively (as described above), starting at about six weeks out. I was lucky in that I’ve been writing online since 2008, so I could just jump straight to pitching without having to worry too much about building up a portfolio.

In your case, if you’re currently lacking a portfolio, you’ll want to be pitching yourself and building a portfolio. If your portfolio is currently looking a bit thin, try adding:

  • designs (or whatever) that you did for yourself, not for a client
  • pulling together work from your current clients (at the day job or not – depending on how strict your employment contract is as far as NDAs and whatnot)
  • adding in other work as you get it and/or taking on a very small amount of beta clients as portfolio builders (this needs to be carefully navigated so you don’t wind up with cheapskate PITA clients)

And the last secret: it didn’t take 90 days, it took five freakin’ years

Can you do this, too? Is it possible? Yes.

But there are so many people blowing smoke out their ass on the internet about “X days to ONE MEEEELLION DOLLARS” and here’s the thing, guys: I have been doing this (“this” = some variation of self employment, freelancing, or entrepreneurship) for over five years now.

For the first three years, I had no idea if I was going to make $500 or $1000 or $2000 in a month. (And oftentimes, it was a lot closer to $500 than anything else.) If it wasn’t for my then-husband’s income and both of our family’s support, we would have been homeless multiple times over. I had not one but three nervous breakdowns last year because of my absolute bullheaded refusal to see what was working, what wasn’t, and change my business strategy and offerings accordingly.

We want an overnight success story because it’s fun and inspiring and sexy, but at the same time, it’s so easy to beat ourselves up when we can’t match it. And that’s because they’re just that: STORIES. So fucking many of the people who seem to have exploded “overnight” on the internet had (extensive) previous business experience or a strong network of fellow entrepreneurs with followings to help them kickstart their business, or both. And we forget that. (Or are, deliberately or not, misled into not realizing that.) 

I don’t ever want to play into this false mythology of the bootstrapped entrepreneur that started a business and six months later is lying on a beach somewhere exotic drinking mai tais. (I’m more of a margarita girl anyways. Though I’ve been really into bloody marys lately.) 

Yes. I replaced my day job income in 90 days. I also had these things on my side:

  • products to sell
  • an email list of 800+ people who already know and (I think mostly) like me
  • a solid social media audience
  • business friends and connections
  • a decent sized portfolio
  • and that previously mentioned insane bullheadedness

This is NOT to say you can’t replace your day job income in 90 days.

I’m not here to pee on your parade. Quality work and the willingness to be ridiculously proactive (and, you know, objectively assess your strategy when something isn’t working) can do a lot.

It IS to say that I don’t want anyone to beat themselves up over unattainable business goals. Just like I’m sick of photoshopped bullshit in our magazines making people feel bad about an ideal that is literally physically unattainable, I’m sick of stories that highlight the good and gloss over the bad. 

Is it worth it?

I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to quantify that. I know that I love the freedom. I know that I love the work I’m doing. I know that I love interacting with people and hearing how something I wrote or made or taught changed things for them. I also know that my body probably could have done without those three nervous breakdowns last year.

Am I glad I’ve stuck with it? Yes. Was it easy? Hell no. Was it fun? A lot of the time.

So there you have it.

That’s my “overnight success” story that was five years in the making. My suspicion is that now that I have a decent client base and some momentum built up, the next five years will be a lot easier than the first five. My other suspicion is that, really, it’s less about having business acumen than it is about just sticking it out long enough. Make of that what you will. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Review: Brightpod

Today’s review is of Brightpod, an awesome project management app intended for marketing teams (though it could work for most teams, really). Here’s a few notes to go with the video:

  • Pricing starts at $19/mo for 15 projects, 5 GB storage, & unlimited users (there is a free plan limited to 2 projects/3 users/100MB storage)
  • Intended for teams, which obviously I can’t demo fully as one person. You can watch their intro video that has an overview of some of the team features here.
  • The drag and drop interface is really nice – it’s a nice way to have some of the visual features of Trello (which I don’t feel like is the best full-on project management solution, though it’s great for things like editorial calendars) without losing other project management functionality.
  • It has recurring tasks, which is so basic I shouldn’t even need to mention it, but given that Basecamp, the industry standard doesn’t, I’m mentioning it anyways.
  • You can create tasks & task lists via email.
  • Other standout features include the focus priority list (with its own little GTD style Kanban board), the drag and drop cross-project calendar, built-in workflows and the ability to create your own workflows.

All in all: it’s super reasonably priced and I really like the interface; if you’re looking for a team project management solution and the lack of an app isn’t a dealbreaker, I’d say check it out!

The return to freelancing, month two: July recap

Behind the Scenes: the July recap

I wasn’t going to keep doing behind the scenes/monthly recap posts but last month’s got a fair amount of positive feedback, so I thought I’d keep going!

How I spent my time:

Harvest Report: 7/2014

As you can see, I tracked 103 hours on the nose in July – which breaks down to about 25 hours/week. Towards the beginning of the month I wasn’t working as many hours a day as I’d like, because I got an imminently-adorable-but-distracting-and-troublemaking kitten. So towards the end of the month I was working more like 30-40 hours a week. I was a lot more religious about time-tracking this month, so these numbers should be way more accurate.

Out of that time:

  • 67 of those hours were spent on my business/internal work
  • The other 36 went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time)
  • I spent slightly less time meeting with prospective clients than I did in June (2 hours), but I spent roughly the same amount of time pitching (9.8 hours); however, I wasn’t near as on-the-ball about time-tracking in June, so I suspect I actually spent a lot less time pitching in July than in June
  • Roughly 12 hours on email, 9 doing social media (that’s actual social scheduling or posting, not dicking around in Facebook groups), 8 hours marketing (including the email newsletters), and 5 on admin

If you wanna see the whole breakdown of my internal work, here’s a screenshot. It might be useful if you want to set up time-tracking for your biz (which you totally should! I use & love Harvest). Anyways, it shows all the tasks I’m actually using/tracking time for, so that I can drill down and be really specific about what I’m spending time on.

How I made my money:

  • $541 from the (currently running) guest posting course
  • $57 from other products
  • $25.31 from Amazon
  • $2,199.86 from services

Total income: $2,823.16

A note about my service income: Technically, I didn’t actually get all that money in July. One thing I didn’t anticipate for when it comes to tracking and doing these sorts of reports is the payment delay that comes with working with larger companies (or, for example, even smaller companies that pay when the post is published, not when it’s submitted). So this means that as of end of day on 7/31, I had $350 worth of work that was done but not invoiced yet because of publish dates, and $679.24 of my invoices for July were still outstanding. I’m still counting it as income for July just because that’s when I did the work and that makes it easier on me, tracking wise.

Other than that, my service income went way up from last month, my product/class income went way down – but that’s to be expected since I wasn’t having a sale this month like I did last month. My service income should also be higher in August because due to my continued pitching efforts and momentum built up/referrals/etc. I got or started several ongoing gigs that will seriously bolster my income and let me lay off the pitching some.

Still falling just shy of my $3,000/month income…but notably, aside from one clusterfuck at the beginning of the month that made me pretty broke until the 10th or so (caused by me overestimating how quickly some invoices would get paid), I didn’t have any major money stress this month. I’m getting caught up and for pretty much the first time ever as a freelancer, I paid my rent for August on time with more than $5 left afterwards, even with two later-than-expected payments.

Business expenses:

  • SAAS tools (Contactually, SendOwl, Google Apps, Coschedule, Harvest, Clicky): $112
  • Paypal Pro: $20
  • Coffee shops/meetings: $93.42
  • Canva images: $5
  • Web hosting: $15

Total: $245.42


  • I need to review what exactly I’m paying for with Paypal Pro, because it doesn’t seem to be cutting down on my percentage that’s taken.
  • I’m going to be canceling Contactually, SendOwl, or both in the near future; I want to give Contactually a second chance but given that most of my clients are longer term now instead of one-off service packages, I just don’t know how much I need it. I even talked to one of their account managers and he sent over some case studies (which of course I haven’t reviewed yet), but whatever he did to my follow up reminders just kind of turned them into a huge clusterfuck. Streak seems to have mostly taken its place, and it’s free. I might sign up for Capsule or Insightly and use them to manage the product/class purchases and CRM related to that, but as of right now, I just don’t feel like I’m getting enough out of Contactually to keep paying $20/mo for it.
  • I only still use Sendowl because that’s where Productivity for Multipotentialites is hosted, so there has to be some better/more cost effective way to deal with the logistics of that.
  • I like Clicky, but I’m not entirely sure I can’t do everything I need inside Google Analytics, so I probably will downgrade back to the free version and just work on setting up conversion tracking/etc. inside GA.

Even though I want to cut down these expenses some, I’m also looking at strategically adding other expenses. I’m still weighing if it’s too soon and if I’ll see the benefits soon enough to justify taking on the expenses now instead of putting them off, but the two things I’m looking at are:

Coworking space: This would be $200/month. So it’s only $100 more than I’m already spending on coffee/food at meetings a month, and it’s 100% tax deductible instead of 50% tax deductible (which pretty much all my coffee shop work is since I’m always meeting with people and coworking).

The main issue I have with coffee shops is that I can spend maybe four hours there before I’m hungry and have to go back home. On Monday, I worked at a coffee shop from 9-1, went home for lunch, came back at 2 and worked until 4, and I got an INSANE amount done. But I also spent more than usual, something like $8-10 – if I did that every day, I’d have paid for the coworking membership by the end of the month.

So by working at a coworking space from 9-5 and just eating lunch there, I should be able to get enough billable work done to more than pay for the membership. This analysis also doesn’t include the other benefits of a coworking space, like:

  • easy access/discounted rates on space for in-person workshops
  • working at a place where I can hide in a private room and do a Skype call instead of having to go home
  • networking with other people
  • the general benefit of having friends and not being isolated

Admin work: Looking at my time-tracking, I spent about 15.5 hours on social media (mostly scheduling social posts for either posts on Bombchelle, or shares of client work on their site and tagging the outlet + people I quoted on Twitter/FB), admin work (which is my catch-all category for any task that doesn’t fit into another category and that someone else could be doing), and website work (things like creating images for posts, setting them as featured, updating or installing plugins, etc.). I spent another 12 hours on email, too.

At least half, if not more, of that work can be done by someone else, and doing that would free up my time for marketing my own products, product creation, and doing more billable work – which would help me get past that plateau that I mentioned in this post, where once you take into account the admin work I have to do to keep my business running, my service income is going to plateau at around $3,000-4,000/month. Currently, I’m able to dedicate enough time to make $150-200 a day from service work, so if I could spend twice as much time on billable work (or even marketing my products) and half as much time on admin, that’d kill the plateau. KILL IT DEAD, YO. (Sorry. Dunno who I was channeling there.) 

Currently, I’m talking to one or two people about the possibility of admin work, and also considering signing up for Zirtual. I’ll probably start with someone else hourly though and then move to Zirtual if that doesn’t work out, because I’d like to slowly scale it up instead of just starting at $200/month. That way, my business will hopefully be seeing the positive side effects of outsourcing before I’m at the point of spending another $200/month, so it’s more of a give and take than a “I’m spending money on this and hoping it works out okay!”

Looking ahead:

  • I’d like to run the guest posting course one more time in 2014, with less hectic-ness caused by travel and life adjustments, so it’s going to be available to sign up for again in September and I’ll start in October, which will put it wrapping just before the holiday madness starts.
  • I don’t think I’m going to do a Kickstarter for paper versions of the planners. Not sure what I’m going to do with that, because at the moment, I probably don’t have the $700-1,000 to pay out of pocket to have them printed up, unless the round two of the guest posting class goes really well. I could do a Kickstarter in September, but I’ll be promoting the guest posting course then. I could do the Kickstarter in October, but I’m not sure if that’s too late in the year. I have managed to whittle down the amount of money I’d need quite a bit, and I think the success chances at $1,000 needed are a lot higher than at $7,000-10,000 needed, I’m just not sure when I can (or if I should) run it to keep from overwhelming and confusing people.
  • I’ve mentioned it in the newsletter, but not here, that I’m going to combine most of the products in the shop and add to them, and create some sort of group-work-product hybrid with two flagship products (systems for solopreneurs & the freelancer’s survival kit). The Client Follow Up Action Kit & the planners will still be available as standalone products because they’re far and away my most popular products and I think they function as super-useful entry level products, but everything else will go into those two and they’ll be pretty comprehensive products. I’d like to make them available in October or November.
  • Based in my income projections for this month, by the end of August I should have made enough in August to meet or exceed my monthly take-home pay at my day job. Going to have a whole post around that, watch for it soon!

And that’s it – my exhaustive (f’reals) behind the scenes breakdown of my second month back at full-time freelancing. Hopefully it was at least somewhat interesting/useful to you; I know I love reading stuff like this from other biz owners (because I am a data nerd), and it’s great for my accountability! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

Photo Credit: mayrpamintuan via Compfight cc

Review: Droptask

Droptask is an awesome visual task/project management tool. Its super flexible setup means that it would work just as well for solo workers as a team, and its reasonable price ($6.50/month) makes it accessible for pretty much anyone. Check out the review to see how it works, and here’s a few more notes:

  • The version in the video is the free version – as you can see, it’s still very full featured (and it’s not team limited: the free version works for up to two people and five projects)
  • The paid version includes, among other things, task dependencies, subtasks, file attachment, Google tasks & calendar integrations, project templates and themes (and y’all know how I am about anything that lets me customize my colors!), and the ability to forward emails into your Droptask inbox
  • iPhone & iPad apps currently available, Android apps in the works (and I haven’t tried it, but the iOS apps look really well designed from the app store previews)
  • I love that the changes as far as priority, effort required, etc. are immediately visible and that you can see them at a glance before you drill down into a particular group
  • I also love that you can see the list view and the visual view – great for teams that are a mix of left/right brain people (or people who are a mix of left/right brain types themselves!)

In short: Check it out. I’m hard pressed to think of another productivity tool as innovative and affordably priced, and there’s a solid chance that I’ll be giving it a go for my internal task management soon. (And if I do, I’ll do a full-blown tutorial showing how I’ve set it up!)

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