Before I began my current job as a software developer, I was a freelance musician for a couple of decades.
My work as a musician included private instrumental teaching and performing. As a performer, I played everything from small house concerts to gigs with major ensembles and symphony orchestras. I
was fortunate to be able to support myself this way, but it wasn’t always easy, and it sure wasn’t predictable. While my income didn’t fluctuate dramatically over the years, it was often difficult to know how much income I was going to earn. Years with lots of symphony orchestra performances (paid high on the union scale) and a full teaching studio were good income years. Years without as many high-paying performances, and fewer students — or lots of student cancellations — were leaner years.
I eventually became better at estimating and regulating my freelance business, but never found a really efficient way of handling it all. I surely wasted hours that I could have been earning income trying to predict, track, and collect payment for my time.
For me, and for many of my freelancer friends (musicians and otherwise), maximizing the time we can spend doing what we love is key…but many of us don’t have much training in this area. Here are some of the things that we struggled with, and some ideas to help other freelancers earn more money and have more time to do what they love.
Billing, Invoicing, and Online Payment
Having a good system in place for invoicing and collecting payment can mean the difference in succeeding or failing as a freelance income-earner.
You may have set your hourly rate, and you may know how many hours per week (or month) your services are in demand.
Having a system in place to track your time — and making sure you are logging all billable hours — is crucial. I often struggled with time-tracking in my musical career. As a teacher, I would reserve hours for student lessons, and depending on the situation, prep time as well. As a performer, I was often asked to name (or suggest) my fee.
Having an accurate estimate meant getting paid adequately, and there were many times when I made less than what I should have because my estimates weren’t adequate.
As many freelancers know, projects can often take longer than planned, so building enough work hours into your estimate is important. Likewise, having a system for following up with clients and invoicing is part of this process.
A professional, customized invoice communicates your worth clearly to your clients. I found that clients were willing to pay more when my services — including invoices and estimates — were represented clearly and professionally.
Being able to automate your invoicing will save you time and hassle. Waiting around for checks from clients, as well as making trips to the bank for deposits wastes your valuable work time.
In my experience as a private teacher, clients overwhelmingly opted to pay online, and they tended to pay online on time — which meant no more waiting around for forgotten checks.
In addition, professional invoicing can help you enforce deadlines and cancellation policies and apply late payment fees where needed. It can also assist you in requesting deposits toward your work and gracefully handle reimbursements for goods or expenses that are incurred.
Assuming you have time-tracking and invoicing in place, periodic reports can help you track your profitability so that you can make adjustments if necessary.
As a freelance musician, it was difficult for me to project how much money I was going to make in any given year. I will admit that my methods for tracking were at times haphazard.
Generating regular reports would have helped me keep tabs on my workflow and income projections. When you monitor income and expenses on a regular basis, you can project into coming months what your income looks like.
Running reports also helps when you’re getting ready for tax time. Because you’ve tracked month by month, all of the information is there already, ready to go.
Freelancers often work from multiple locations and can be constantly on-the-go.
A cloud-based system for sharing important information like files, emails, and other attachments is necessary, as is being able to access this information on mobile devices.
Being able to see invoices and communicate with clients from your mobile device means that you can respond at the moment when needed.
You can bill clients, write emails, and resolve issues from anywhere, including standing in line at Chipotle!
How FreshBooks Helps
We live in a digital age with applications for nearly every conceivable need at our fingertips. Why not take advantage of resources that save us time and energy, maximize our communication with clients and increase our overall efficiency?
While there are many tools that can help freelancers become more efficient small business owners, few are as consolidated and effective as FreshBooks.
FreshBooks allows you to customize and automate all of the aforementioned tasks — billing, invoicing, online payments, and report generation — so that you can stay on top of things.
FreshBooks manages this all in the cloud and is mobile-friendly so you can access your information from anywhere. Your time is valuable — spend it doing more of what you love, and earning as much as you’re worth!