by Emily Gable

Emily Gable is a freelance project manager, business consultant, and cheeseburger enthusiast. Available to work nationally, she’s consulted with large corporate clients as well as small business owners, and finds nerdy passion in helping people get organized. She lives in Minneapolis and always has a steady supply of coffee and Stephen King books. She blogs about project management and other things at www.bubblynerd.com and even uses this thing called Twitter: @bubblynerd.

I wish I could dive into this with some fancy-pants introduction about why project management is important for freelancers, but because I like to be efficient (in true project management fashion), let’s just get started.

I’m a freelance project manager, and I’ve seen my fair share of clients in various states of disarray. (“Chaos” might be a better word, but I’m trying to keep things light.) It doesn’t matter what your industry is—you could be a part of a multi-billion dollar, internationally-recognized automobile company or you could be a one-person design shop. If you’re not organized, then neither are your projects, and chaos (there, I’m using the C word) will ensue. It just will.

My goal has always been to help business owners improve their processes and find the joy in being organized. Being unorganized can make you feel lost and hopeless, and that’s absolutely not a good way to run a business—especially if you’re a freelancer and you’re trying to manage things on your own. In the world of freelancing, poor organizational processes can bring your business to its knees, and getting back up and running can be hard. Really hard. Frankly, it sucks. And (secret’s out) this happens to a lot of people. It’s not just you. If anyone tells you that they don’t need help in the organization department, they’re flat out lying.

Today, I’d love to share some of the tips and tricks that I use when it comes to coaching fellow freelancers on how to improve their project management processes, which ultimately improves their overall workflow and general happy feelings about their business. Ready? Yes? Okay. Let’s go.

Task Management

First off, there’s this thing called project management software. It helps you to manage your tasks. Super. Awesome.

Now, I know that some of you might not be very big on making lists (or maybe you’re good at making them, but not so great at managing them). Project management software is a freakin’ game changer. No, really. It is. Have you been tracking things in a Word document? Maybe Google Drive? Maybe (God forbid) . . . Excel? You need to stop, right now. Stop, and go sign up for a trial version of one of the following programs: Basecamp, Harvest, Siasto, or Apollo.

I have a personal favorite (spoiler alert: it’s Basecamp), but to each their own, and every single one of these programs allows for easy task management, client communication, deadline management, and recordkeeping, among other things. You’re able to keep everything in one place, which is key when it comes to maintaining effective organizational processes. Are you feeling better yet? Stick with me.

Time Management

Secondly, timekeeping. It’s the bane of our existence as freelancers, right? You might charge clients by the hour, and if you don’t, you might want to know how much time you’re putting into a project.

For me, I like to know exactly how much time I spend with a client, whether it be writing emails, one-on-one consultations, or doing an in-depth process analysis. This helps with both billing and peace of mind, because as freelancers, it’s important to know if we’re turning a profit or working overtime when we shouldn’t be. Toggl is a time-tracking program that allows you to track time (down to the second) on any project that you’re working on—which can be immensely helpful, especially when it comes to invoicing. Again, game changer.

Invoice Management

Speaking of invoicing, money is a touchy thing for freelancers, especially if you’re just starting out. You want your invoices to look professional and be detailed without providing unnecessary or redundant information.

The first invoice I ever created was in Excel (I know, okay?!) and I had absolutely no idea about what I was doing. Line items? Descriptions? What? It was bad. There are much, much better ways to go about invoicing your clients (in ways that allow you to come off as professional and creative!) while also tracking pending and received payments and, generally, staying on top of your income and expenses. Pancake and Freshbooks are two of these. Again, you may find one tool that you prefer more, but the importance of having something to track and manage your invoicing is what matters. Pro tip: don’t use Excel. It didn’t work for me, at least. (And if it’s working for you, I’d love to know how!)

So, in a nutshell, it’s possible to manage your freelance projects without wanting to pull your hair out! And the best part? It can be easy. And fun. It doesn’t have to be a chore. After you learn how to manage your processes, you’ll wonder why you never operated this way in the first place.