q + a: organizing a small business

(smokey and the bandit keeping guard of my ‘files’)

Sara asks: 
“I’m a graphic designer at a publication. I’ve recently started freelancing and I don’t have an organized system for the projects or business side of things. It’s so different than working in an office, where a workflow process already exists. Could you give me some tips about how you organize your small business? Do you have a planner or folios for keeping jobs organized? How do you set up billing and filing? How do you archive finished products? I’m at a loss. When I show up to meet with a client, I don’t feel as prepared or organized as I could. It’s not the work itself that is the stressor, it’s the running of the business. Any tips? Thanks so much!”
Personally I use a paper pocket calendar, week-at-a-glance so I always know what’s coming up. I keep a large paperclip holding the current day so there’s no need to flip around. Since a lot of my work is note taking, I have small notebooks for each client (sometimes 2-3 clients per notebook). A post-it note on the front lists things to do before our next meeting. I also try to do a general list of things to do for the next few days as not to forget. I love lists, but I update and toss old ones often. Not a fan of filing cabinets so old notebooks and datebooks (which I keep for tax back-up) are kept in boxes. 99% of the time get paid at the end of the day so I don’t invoice. The point is my needs are different from yours so how I do it may not work for you…
Think about what you have to store; papers, electronic files, inspiration papers (?); and what you need to have a productive meeting with a client. But tthere’s no reason to reinvent the wheel; was there a place you worked that had a good system that you can replicate, or a former colleague or boss who was especially organized that you can offer to buy lunch if they can tell you how they keep it all together? I find most people are willing to share and help others when asked.
I’m guessing since you’re freelancing that you’ll need to invoice then keep track of who owes you what from when which means an accounting software may be worth buying. Many accounting systems have biz and small biz/personal versions. Not sure what your financial situation is, but if paperwork is not your strength, think of hiring a bookkeeper who can handle all the billing for you.
The point is to keep it simple, easy to keep up, easy to reconcile at the end of the year for tax purposes and do what makes the best sense for you! I hope this helps…

3 responses

  1. the cats are adorable! i also use the post-it on the front of notebook trick. it's always nice to have a clean slate to start from.