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My friend Andy came to Boston on Tuesday. He lives in LA and sent me an e-mail to let me know he was coming to town: “If you’re free and interested, I’d be glad to buy you dinner.”

Between you and me, I wasn’t sure if his invitation meant that he’d be eating along with me, but a free meal is a free meal, so I took my chances and said yes.

He told me he was staying at the Westin Hotel in Copley place, so I suggested Legal Sea Foods, a terrific restaurant that never disappoints. We agreed to meet at 6:30.

I arrived about 10 minutes early so I had a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. 20 minutes later he hadn’t shown up, so I sent him a text:

Me: Here at Legal!
Andy: Seated

Me: Stand by

I grabbed my half-full glass, walked into the restaurant proper and started looking around.

No Andy. So I asked a waiter: “Have you seen a guy sitting by himself in here somewhere?” Nope.

As I made my way back to the front entrance, things were starting to click together. I asked the hostess: “By any chance, is there more than one Legal Sea Foods in the area?”

She smiled and handed me a small slip of paper. I confess that for one fleeting moment I thought maybe it would be her phone number, but no, it was walking directions to the other Legal Sea Food.

I thanked her, sent a quick text to Andy and gulped the remainder of my beer. Eight minutes later, we were sitting down to dinner.

Now I don’t know why the people at Legal feel the need for two restaurants so close together. Some people go years between seafood meals; certainly the rest of us could afford to hang on for three more blocks.

Whatever the reason, clearly I was not the first person to make this mistake. The prewritten slip of paper was a smart idea – one that made the hostess’s life easier by her not having to keep repeating walking directions and my life easier by not having to remember them.

So, what kinds of simple, efficient tools have you developed for your business? If you find yourself creating things from scratch, over and over again, it might be worth considering.

Here are a few that I rely on, to help get you thinking:

Directions to my office. I don’t get a ton of visitors, but after typing it into an e-mail a few times, I developed a one-sheet direction page complete with a map, instructions for parking and my contact information. I e-mail it to people the first time they come.

Standardized cards. “Congratulations on the launch of your newsletter;” “Thank you for the referral;” “Good to meet you.”
 
Using an online service called Send Out Cards (my affiliate link) that automates the sending of snail mail cards from my computer, I’ve set up a number of standard templates. I customize the messages each time, but the format is done and ready to go.

Service descriptions. I’ve got a handful of client programs that I offer. These are invariably customized for different people and different situations, but here as well, I begin with a standard template that I modify.

New client questionnaire. I ask new clients to fill out a 30-question (or so) questionnaire about their company, goals, approach, clients, etc., before our first meeting.
 
It helps them begin thinking about our work together and gives me greater insight into who they are and what they need before we begin. Plus, it gives them the (accurate) impression that I’ve done this many times before.

Newsletter sign-up form. Speaking to a group is a terrific opportunity to grow your newsletter subscriber list. If they like you, you can easily walk away with 75% of the room signing up.
 
I’ve got a form that I pass out and that I’ve fine-tuned over the years to make this as productive as possible (click “reply” to send me an e-mail and I’m happy to share it with you).

Here’s the bottom line. Lots of solos don’t bother developing these kinds of simple tools and systems – they think they’re only for big companies and big projects.

Not me. The way I look at it, the more efficient we can get managing repeatable, often mundane aspects of our work, the more time there is for eating seafood.

Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, "The Professional Service Provider's Essential Reading List - 11 Recommended Business(ish) Books."