August 19, 2014

As a freelancer, it’s more important than ever to streamline your workflow and make your time count, especially when you are just getting started. Time is money after all.

In the beginning, I was so slow and everything seemed to take forever. As I got more clients, I started to feel so disorganized at keeping everything in order. There were so many little details I needed to remember.

I’ve (luckily) become more organized and smarter about the way I do business, so that I can spend time creating and not on the ever-pervasive follow-up (which is still necessary as a freelancer). Here are 4 tips for new freelancers to help streamline your work, stay organized, and work efficiently.

1. Set up a Google Alert for your name and your blog

Although I check my Google Analytics as well as my referrers in WordPress, I can’t keep track of everything. In order to stay on top of what is being posted about me or my blog, I created a Google Alert for my full name and my blog name. This is helpful, so you can keep track of what is being posted. Even if you don’t have a blog, this is useful for anyone to monitor their identity on the internet.

To get started, go to the Google Alerts page. Then enter the terms you want to be notified about. Then enter your email address and start getting alerts when those terms show up on a page.

2. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of clients, forms of payment, due dates, etc.

All clients are different and expect something different from you. To stay organized, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my clients, how much they paid, due dates, how they prefer to pay, how they would like me to send an invoice, etc.

Instead of trying to remember how each client prefers something, I’ve just kept track of it in my spreadsheet. Some people are flexible with deadlines, while others have firm dates. Some people prefer to use PayPal, while others write checks. I need to keep track of these details, so I can follow-up and get paid and so that I have all the important details in front of me when I need them.

Click here to download your own client spreadsheet

3. Ask important questions upfront

Goodness, how many emails went back and forth when I just started freelancing? I’d have a million questions and think of them at different times, resulting in a million different emails.

That’s annoying. Your clients are busy and so are you, so don’t waste anyone’s time. Ask important questions upfront. Here are questions I ask when taking on a new writing gig.

– How many articles are you looking for per month? What are the deadlines?

– Do you prefer to receive articles in a Word doc, Google Doc, or via WordPress?

– How many words are you looking for?

– Do you want me to pitch topics to you or just write what I want? Or do you have ideas in mind?

– What is your budget and how do you pay? PayPal or Check?

– How and when would you like me to send an invoice?

These are my standard questions, but there are other questions you should consider as well. Where will your writing end up? Who are you writing to — i.e. who is the audience? Do you need to source an image? Will you get a link to your site or just credit? These are also important things to consider when starting out.

4. Create a separate tax savings account & save 30%

This year was the first time in my life I owed money to Uncle Sam. Fun times. Right after that, I vowed to save 10% of my freelance income. Well, I hate to say it, but I was naive. I need to be saving about 30% to cover my butt from any crazy tax bills. I also need to start looking into paying taxes quarterly. Save yourself the trouble and just save more for taxes. If you don’t need it all, you can use it elsewhere later. It’s a good practice to get into.

These four tips have helped me streamline my work as a freelancer and get to the point when taking on a new client. It also puts my mind at ease, because I am empowered with information so I can do my job well.

I hope some of these tips are helpful for you, too! Feel free to use or modify as you see fit!


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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35 responses to “4 Tips for New Freelancers”

  1. Tre says:

    Thanks for the great tips! Love that you save 30% for taxes. It makes tax time much less stressful.
    Tre recently posted…Weekly Update #10My Profile

  2. Thanks for the tips, Melanie! I’m bookmarking this for when I feel ready to break into this market. You’re doing great!
    Brandy@bustedbudget recently posted…My Goals for 2014My Profile

  3. debt debs says:

    Good stuff, Mel. This will help many, I’m sure!
    debt debs recently posted…I Just Paid Off my Cash Advance Credit CardMy Profile

  4. Kirsten says:

    Thanks! I’m going to use that spreadsheet because I was already thinking about how hard it would be to keep track of everything!

    Love the questions! Do you normally ask in your pitch what their budget is? Or do you tell them how much you’d like?
    Kirsten recently posted…6 Ways To Earn Money For Being FitMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      It has helped me a lot! Hope it can help you, too. I don’t ask those questions until someone says yes to a pitch or confirms interest. I have done it both ways — asking what is your budget as well as telling them this is what I want.

  5. Lauren says:

    Great tips! I finally set up my Google Alerts, thanks to your post 🙂
    Lauren recently posted…How to Become a Minimalist Without Even TryingMy Profile

  6. Great advice Melanie, especially about tip number 3!
    Kassandra @ More Than Just Money recently posted…Financial Fire Drill – Are You Ready?My Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Awesome, thanks! I want to clarify that I don’t ask those questions until someone has said yes to an initial pitch or they have confirmed interest.

  7. Even Steven says:

    The blog looks great since you redesigned it, love it! Did you do it yourself or ?
    Even Steven recently posted…I make $0 writing about my Personal Finance LifeMy Profile

  8. Oh good tips! I really need to set up google alerts. I discovered people were pinterest-ing photos from my blog, which is awesome, but I didn’t realize it!
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…Behind the Scenes of a Happy Frugal MarriageMy Profile

  9. E.M. says:

    Awesome tips – especially about the alerts and questions to ask. It’s a good idea to get a feel for a potential client, otherwise it might not be the best fit. It’s easy to want to say yes to everything when you’re starting out, but it can really bite you in the butt!
    E.M. recently posted…Being Grateful: Thirty-Ninth EditionMy Profile

  10. Saving for the tax man is always a struggle! A friend of mine moves her % immediately upon receiving payment over to a separate account, so she can never pretend that it’s hers, or forget and end up in a sticky spot as a result.
    I’ve never had any luck with google alerts actually sending me anything… perhaps I should give it another try. I wish trackpacks were more reliable!
    Anne @ Money Propeller recently posted…Jet Setter Interview – Athena of According to AthenaMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      That’s awesome about your friend. Yeah, I don’t want to be caught in a bind. My trackbacks aren’t reliable either, so I’m trying any and all methods!

  11. This is really helpful Melanie!!! People should have a Google alert on their name just in general because you want to keep up to date on what might be happening. It’s funny because my work life got busy to the point where I had to do something like this and figure out how I was going to keep myself organized. You cannot grow a business if you haven’t set yourself up a scaleable model that doesn’t stress you out.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Shameless Plug Sort OfMy Profile

  12. Mario says:

    I’ve a couple close friends who are newly full-time freelancers. These sound important to pass along.
    Mario recently posted…In the U.S., why are poor people more likely to be obese?My Profile

  13. Layla says:

    Google alert seems worth a look. Thanks for the info. I keep meaning to set aside a set amount monthly for tax. It’s my mission this month to get my first tax return completed.
    Layla recently posted…My ClixSense StrategyMy Profile

  14. Melissa says:

    This was great advice! I particularly like the Google Alerts tip – although I’m not a freelancer, it’s good advice for copyright infringement issues too!
    Melissa recently posted…Shopaholic FriendsMy Profile

  15. Ah yes taxes are a joy aren’t they. That reminds me to call my accountant because I didn’t make a fraction of what I did in Q1 this quarter so I won’t be able to pay as much. You wear a lot of hats as a freelancers, the ones you mentioned are just a fraction! 🙂
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Healthy Acts of DefianceMy Profile

  16. megan says:

    Great advise! I love the list of questions to ask a head of time. And I will definitely be looking into google alerts. Thanks
    megan recently posted…Keeping Your Luggage Under 50 lbsMy Profile

  17. Mackenzie says:

    These are great tips, Melanie! I want to eventually dip my toe in the freelancing pool, so these tips you listed I shall take to heart 🙂
    Mackenzie recently posted…It’s All About Cannon BeachMy Profile

  18. John says:

    We all know that being a freelancer means you may not have any creative control of your job or projects. You’re working at the mercy of clients,so that always write and sign a contract with your clients before completing any work.
    John recently posted…What is bourbon?My Profile

  19. Great tips Melanie. I just set up a Google Alert and #3 is a good one too. I also think of things at different times and now I will try to be better about asking all these things up front and at the same time.
    Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore recently posted…Why I Use CashMy Profile

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