Wordslinger’s Tools of the Trade

Yes, freelancers, solopreneurs and small business owners have different needs regarding the tools with which they need to run their various types of businesses. I’m over a year into my full-time Erin Griggs: Wordslinger business, which focuses on writing and editing, and I’d like to share some of the tools, apps and programs I have found useful.

MONEY, HONEY

Get a Business Banking Account

DO NOT use your personal bank account for your business needs; that way lies madness and despair. Now, you may investigate your personal bank only to find that what they call “business checking accounts” require a deposit of some insane amount of money. My bank offered three versions of business accounts, and I had to make a minimum deposit of $100 to get my pick of the three opened. Since I had a personal account there, I didn’t have to carry a particular balance on the one I chose. Some banks’ business accounts require you to maintain a hefty balance—a balance I would LOVE to have, but let’s be real here.

So check out what your bank can do for you, but you should also look at other banks to see if they offer better deals for business owners. Make sure you get a business debit card and use it ONLY FOR BUSINESS; I don’t really use checks, since I’m a solopreneur, but you may want to get business checks as well.

I am a writer, an editor/copyeditor and a kick-ass researcher, NOT a business-school graduate and, in no way, an accounting expert. When I began freelancing full-time, frankly, the financial upkeep side of my business was hands-down the most intimidating part of starting up.

But I am the Queen of Researchville, so I did a ton of research on online programs aimed at business owners, and asked other freelancers and small-biz owners for word-of-mouth recommendations. I looked at Freshbooks, which has a lot of good press, but it seemed to be aimed at slightly larger and more complex businesses than mine. And the price point was out of my budget.

I decided to go with Outright.com, which let me try it free for 30 days, and then I went with the $9.95 per month package, since I wanted the capability to have Outright integrate my tax information for me, which has been perfect for my needs.

  • It’s very intuitive to use, and synchs with your bank accounts nightly—thousands of banks to choose from
  • You can check out what your profit is at a glance.
  • It tracks your spending, including deductions (it has the most normal business categories to select, but you can easily add your own and the data comes with lovely little charts you can look at and UNDERSTAND.)
  • It also has an awesome feature which alerts you when your quarterly tax payments are coming up, estimates what your payment will be and even creates a Schedule C for you. HOW COOL IS THAT?

What accounting system do you use? How well does it work for you, given the size of your business and your biz needs?

Most of my clients are not local. I needed to be able to send out invoices via email, since, frankly, sending out paper invoices and getting a check, waiting for it to deposit, making sure it doesn’t bounce—how 1990. WAY too time-consuming. (Although, I will do it for clients who prefer it.)

I set up a PayPal.com business account, and it allows me to keep information on all my clients, send and track invoices and payments, and withdraw my payments electronically to my business bank account. Yes, PayPal takes out a 2.9% fee + a 30 cent fee on every transaction under $3000 less, depending on the amount of the transaction—but as I mentioned, I use Outright.com for accounting, which syncs with PayPal and automatically marks the fees as tax-deductions. So, I am fine with the small amount taken out because it’s worth it for the convenience, and it’s tax-deductible for me as a freelancer.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE HERDING RABID CATS ON CRACK

I’m a pretty good manager of my time, but after I woefully underestimated the time it took me to complete my first couple of freelance gigs, I knew I had to find a system that would help me track my time.

One, it keeps me honest about how much time I’m spending on what tasks—is this a gig that brings in enough money for the time I’m spending on it? Am I spending too much unnecessary time on administrivia? Is my social media strategy taking too long—or am I not spending enough time on it?  Also, I needed a tool that allowed me to track time spent on various aspects of client projects; this is essential for clients who want to be billed hourly, but I wanted feedback to allow me to make accurate projections for project proposal pricing estimates for other clients.

Again, I did my research, and I chose the free version of Toggl.com. It’s very simple to use; it generates reports so you can easily track time spent per day, per week, per month … even per client or per project. You can import information or print the data out. It generates neat, easily-read and understood reports, with nice little charts, some of which will break down how much time you spent on different aspects of the same project. Nifty!

There’s a free trial for 30 days and, then, if you have multiple users in your business and want more bells and whistles—like tracking billable hours and creating invoices—then each additional user is $5/month.

Who uses Toggl.com? What do you think? Any suggestions for other project or time management programs or sites, and how they stack up?

I have my own website through WordPress.org, and my own domain name and e-mail hosted by Dreamtime, but I also have a personal Gmail e-mail account. I use the calendar function to keep track of all of my appointments and tasks; it synchs via Wi-Fi automatically to my phone.

I read a TON of blogs and sites; everything from books to publishing to writing, to beauty and DIY and décor (yes, this DOES tie into my biz, believe it or not), best business practices and website development and assorted geekery. Rather than bookmark them or have my inbox be even MORE inundated with e-mails than it already is, I set up RSS feeds for the sites I find most relevant and useful using Google Reader.

BACK THAT THANG UP! Your documents, I mean.

If you’re not using an off-site application to back up your files, you are going to regret it one day. I swear. I’ve used Dropbox.com for years, the free version and I still have a ton of space for storage … and I have a LOT of material! (And since I’m paranoid, I also back up my files to an external hard drive every week. Better safe than sorry.)

  • I use the free version, which gives me 2GB of space. But you can get paid subscriptions that will give you up to 100GB of storage space.
  • I used Windows, an iTouch, a Nook Color and an Android phone, and it works on all of them. But it works with Mac, Linux, iPad and BlackBerries, too.
  • You can edit the docs in your Dropbox, even when you’re offline.
  • You can set up Public folders to share documents and pictures with team members or clients.

NOTE: You may have heard about some security issues with Dropbox.com in the last few months. I’ve researched them carefully, and consulted with security experts and am staying with them … with a few added precautions.

Next time, I tackle social media apps and some more useful widgets that can make a freelance or small business owner’s professional life a little easier, more organized and more efficient.

But I want to know what YOU think! Which tools make your business easier to manage?

-Erin

Note: Some of these tools and resources are free, and some charge fees; I have not been compensated in any way, shape or form for promoting any of the above services, and I have not been asked by any of the companies to promote their services or products. 

Erin Griggs owns and runs Erin Griggs: Wordslinger. She is a multifaceted writer (articles, resumes, copywriting and much more) and provides editorial services for authors, businesses and individuals. In addition to this, she is a proud geek, organizational genius and take-charge kinda woman. You can check out her LinkedIn profile  or contact her at wordslinger@eringriggs.com or as @Wordslingeuse on Twitter.

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