Seriously this has been a question that I have been asking myself for a long time. With online writers to employ, designers, then all my own tasks, business profit and personal finances it seems that every time I write a TO DO list, it never gets done. Sound familiar?
I believe after several years of working online that I have cracked it. This is without any software or magical tricks that take a genius to figure out. Literally I use an Excel spreadsheet for everything.
If you are having problems or find yourself in a constant mess, then read on because maybe there are tips you can pick up from me.
1.Use Tabs on your Excel Spreadsheet
OK so this is not going to change your life. It’s not even a genius suggestion. I am just starting with the simple steps that I started to do. Basically, having different tabs with different names help me organize all the aspects of my business all from one Excel spreadsheet. You can of course also use Google Sheets, which I also use – but I use this more for sharing information with writers, coders, and designers
2.Cash Flow Forecasts
Like many of us that run our own online freelance business, it is hard not mix business finance with personal finances. After all, our online earnings as freelancers are by and large for our own personal finances.
For me, use 2 tabs on my spreadsheet to record all my finances.
- Business cash flow forecast
- Personal cash flow forecast
Prior to this I had nothing. Then I decided to keep a cash flow forecast. After this I found it easier to separate the two. In my business cash flow forecast now all my income from any work I do is not counted as personal income; instead, I pay my self a set salary for my month to month expenses.
Effectively I have made myself an employee in my own business. That is exactly how it should be. All my customer payments are in my cash flow forecast. I have regular customers that pay on different dates, and new one-time or ad-hoc projects that come in also added on there as well as their expected payment dates.
TIP: Both these forecasts I have set to 12 months in advance
And wow… Having a 12-month outlook at my business has been the best thing I have ever done. I know when contracts end, I know when money in future months could go down. This is opposed to figuring it out 1 month before it happens and panicking looking for more customers.
What’s more is – I have stopped taking cheap jobs just for the sake of bumping up a bad patch. I know when there is a possibility of bad patch well in advance now and so I start looking for other contracts, prospects, and I only take jobs that pay for what I believe my time is worth.
For my personal cash flow, I can predict when I can take a holiday! I know when my son’s school fees are coming well in advance (again rather than panicking a month before thinking – dayum – I am going to have to live on pot noodles for a month and no Starbucks for a month ;-(
3.Keep a Buffer Tab
On my business cashflow forecast, it always shows my business balance. I then subtract $1,000 from this balance. This is my buffer. It fluctuates between subtracting $500 and $1,000. I make this up using percentages of projects as time goes on. This buffer is then put into a tab so I know what O have used it for.
Many of us also must pay for other people to do work for us. There are also those bad patches or even lazy patches. When I say lazy patches – I get days and sometimes several days when I cannot get motivated. My productivity is rubbish and time seems to fly past.
Basically, I was doodling. The next thing I know, I have not produced as much work as I should have. I do not have time to keep my customer schedule on track so I must hire help, and so on.
Rather than me working on those days, I should have just outsourced immediately. Instead I sat there not feeling at all motivated and wasted a day in front of the computer. I could have gone out, taken the family out, run, swim, gone to beach (I live in Thailand!), gone for bike ride – I think you get the picture – I could have taken the day off.
The same applies to when we get sick and cannot work, we have holidays, family visits, unexpected family or friend problems. At the end of it all, I work on holiday, I look for excuses to get an hour or two away from the family to get some much-needed work done.
Why? Because I did not have a buffer to.
4.Target Earnings Tab
We all have an idea of what our target earnings are. Many of my freelancer friends live day to day or month to month just earning what they earn. When their earnings are low, they cut back for the month. When their earnings are high, they are flush.
I also did this for a long time, but it also meant I would run into a lot of the issues I have already mentioned in the (keep a buffer tab) section.
Now I have target daily and weekly earnings. Well sort of! So, my daily target is $250 Monday to Friday. It almost NEVER works that way. The good thing is if I make $100 because I worked only a couple of hours, I can make up for it on a Saturday. Therefore, $100 Tuesday, I make up $150 on Saturday. I basically took most of the day off on Tuesday anyway.
Each day I mark how much I made compared to the set target earning. This really has helped me out to no end. If I am $20 short one day, I can easily make that up the next day and so on.
What did I do before I had the target earnings tab?
Honestly, it was all air and dust. I was just making calculations in my head. It became so bad that I would start thinking about it when I was trying to sleep. When I was driving. Questions running through my mind like “what did I do yesterday?”, “How much did I earn?”, “What did that job pay?”, and so on.
Every job pays differently and you imagine by the end of the week I was just sending invoices off blindly and watching the cash roll into my PayPal, Neteller, First Choice and bank account not really knowing if I had my target or not.
Now I never have that problem because my target earnings tab shows me:
- The jobs I need to complete to hit my target that day
- How much time I will need to dedicate
- Who that customer is
I can also rearrange this if the day does not go as planned. As opposed to having a day that does not go to plan and not knowing what I need to do the next day to catch up to hit my target.
5.Daily Time Management
Yawn, yawn, yawn. Yes, I know. How many people harp on about time management. I had the same opinion too. Why waste time organising time management when it takes time to organise your time. What a waste of time huh?
This is the one time in my life I could not have been more wrong. At the beginning of day I look at my “Target Earnings” tab, I organise my time for that day, add in any surprise tasks too, and I have a plan. I can take regular breaks, I can reduce stress and I have time to exercise, watch a quick episode of the latest series I am watching – I now even have time to eat a proper meal – (yes – eating properly!!!).
6.Progress (TO DO List)
Now this helps me organise my daily management and ties in with my targets. I call it a progress list rather than a TO Do list simply because I have read the book “The One Thing”. TO Do is mundane; while, progress means you are in fact making progress towards your target earnings and job completion.
This is a monthly “progress list” list. Every day of the month is on there on the left vertically, and the jobs I need to complete run horizontally. I have this planned 6 months in advance. 6 MONTHS!!! You might be screaming!!! Don’t worry – I have not set myself all the things I must do in 6 months. I have a 12-week plan for that, which I will discuss later.
Anyways – it is not as much work as you think making this monthly progress list covering each day of the week. Every month there are the same regular tasks you must do.
Here are some of my regular tasks:
- Customer report
- Customer invoice
- Pay myself
- Weekly Skype Catch Ups
- Email Comms
Invoicing or reporting can occur on different days of the month. I need to know on which day I need to do that. Now it is easy to keep track of. I never forget to pay myself!!! I know which days I have arranged for a Skype catch up if it is needed, and I remind myself I should answer my emails at some point in the day.
7.Customer Cost Tracking Tab
Always keep a separate tab for each customer if there are costs associated with their contract. I do a lot of SEO contracts. They may pay me $500 or $2,000 a month, which looks great, but there are a lot of outgoing costs involved. For instance, I only do White Hat SEO.
This means building relationships. I manage the relationship building by hiring Outreach experts, writers, and designers. All these people work together so they can create engaging content – in effect PR. To get people to your website, or to let them know there is a website that exists that has content or products that they be interested in or may help them means a lot of good content.
All this costs money. If I do not know how much I am spending on these contractors, then I do not know if I am making a profit. However, with this tab I always know, and I know how much profit I am making at the end of the month.
The sum is simple:
- Monthly Payment – Expenditure = Profit
This profit is directly integrated into my business cash flow forecast. Any changes in customer expenditure are entered on this tab. This is then auto calculated on my business cash flow forecast tab. This is because the cell associated with the customer on my business cash flow forecast is set to display the value of the profit cell on the Customer Cost Tracking tab’s for each respective customer.
How does all this fit together?
Honestly, it took me ages to set all of this up. It was more my accident. One Excel spreadsheet developed into 2 tabs, then 3 tabs and so it went on. Eventually I fit them all together to work in sync.
- My targets tab is coordinated with my Progress List. When I know the jobs I need to do to hit my daily targets, I can add this to the relative day on my progress list to get a visual of what I need to do each day. Regular tasks are that earn daily money are added to my progress list for the entire month.
- Now the jobs that have helped me hit my target earnings are added to my progress list, I don’t have to worry about the value of each job. I already know this as I calculated this in my target tab. His takes a lot off my mind because all I need to know now is what I need to do for the day without worrying about money. Sometimes this can work for an entire week if undisturbed.
- My Time Management from day to day comes next. At the start of the day I look at my progress list. I know what I need to do to hit my targets by using the progress list, which is already planned out for the week. To manage my day, this is a 5-minute job. I dedicate hours in the day to get the work done from my progress list. At the same time, I need to give my brain a rest so I can include breaks. This helps me become more productive.
Here is a simple break down:
- Target earnings -> (2) Things that need doing for the day -> (3) Managing the day
- My progress list dictates my entire month – it is not set in stone. It is a guide rather than a solid “you MUST do this”. It needs to be flexible with my day to day work. However, it is also designed months in advance too. I know when I have holidays. I know when I am not working, so I can plan to outsource when I need to. I don’t miss invoicing or reports for customers. So you can see how this also has a long term function.
- When I have completed work, I can tick it off as done. If by some chance it is not done, then I know my earnings have dropped. I can reflect this straight away by adding this to my business cash flow forecast sheet. This allows me to see if it is OK that this work was not completed, or whether I will need to make up the time. (in a way – this means overtime). If there is no huge financial repercussion, then there is no problem.
Read My Summary (especially if you think this is way too much management)
Now all these tabs may seem ridiculous. How many tabs do I have to edit? Isn’t this all a waste of time? For some it is… I have read many books whereby successful people have said that too much management or over management of your time, finances, targets, and so on are counterproductive.
Honestly, for me, this works. the reason I created each tab is because my brain was finding it hard to cope with all the information. I wanted to stop jotting down notes on pieces of paper or creating notepad files on my computer that I would never look again. Even I did, they made no sense, so I wasted more time trying to work out why I wrote what I wrote.
It may not work for you and it could well be counterproductive. For me, everything fits and so I know how to earn the money I need to earn and this fits into my finances.
I hope though some areas, if not all, apply to you and will help you become a better business owner or better freelancer.