Time Management Strategies for Freelancers and Entrepreneurs

How can you get everything done in a one-person business? When you look at corporations with separate departments for research and development, marketing, human resources, accounting, and more, it’s hard to imagine that a freelancer could possibly fill all those functions alone. If you focus on ROI (return on investment) and implement a few time management strategies, though, it can be done.

Consider ROI

Do the most important tasks first.The reality of a one-person business is that it can be messy—  interruptions happen. If you have a time management plan and a few strategies in place, crises and interruptions won’t derail your productivity.

Take time to think through which of your activities gives you the highest ROI. From which business activity do you earn the most? Is it

  • writing a new book?
  • teaching a workshop?
  • ghostwriting a full-length book for someone else?
  • working on your blog so that you can connect with your audience?
  • editing a manuscript?

When you know which activities are most profitable, you can plan your time so that your most productive working hours are spent on those tasks, and other tasks are relegated to less productive times of day. 

The 80/20 principle

For most people, 20% of what you do in your business produces about 80% of your income (Pareto principle). It’s hard to stay focused on the profitable 20%, because the other 80% — bill paying, shipping, customer service, filing, and other administrative tasks — clamors for attention, and must be done. Don’t waste your creative hours on these tasks; they are perfect for the afternoon slump when your focus is least sharp. 

Divide and conquer

Once you know what your highest ROI category is, and you’ve listed the tasks that contribute to the most profitable 20% of your business, create a weekly time outline that puts the most important activities first.  

My personal system for getting things done could be described as a divide and conquer method of management. Here’s how:

  1. Divide tasks by category
  2. Prioritize based on profitability
  3. Do the most important things first
  4. Outsource things that are not directly income producing.

You can find a brief, informal overview of the system at my Do What Matters, Make it Pay blog. The post is a response to a fellow writer’s question, so doesn’t cover everything, but is a start. You can find it at How to Get it all Done in a One-Person Business

Do you have any tips for time management that you’d like to add? Feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Originally posted Feb 23, 2012; updated 2017.

How to Kill Your Book: An Anti-Marketing Guide

Doom your book to oblivion with these helpful tips!

© Vladacanon | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Want to make sure your book languishes in obscurity? Or if it’s already popular, that it fades quickly away? If you’d like to ensure that your writing remains (or becomes) unreviewed, unshared, and unseen, these tips are for you.

1: Be very secretive about your unpublished manuscript. When you query agents or editors, let them know you hold the copyright to your work. Be sure not to give away details such as the complete title, character names, or plot outline of your work in the query. Assure them that your manuscript is very funny and certain to be a bestseller, as your mother, your dentist, and two of your children couldn’t stop laughing when you read a paragraph aloud. Emphasize the fact that no eyes but yours have ever seen the entire manuscript because it’s the original work of a highly creative genius whose voice must be preserved at all costs.

2: Don’t allow an editor to change a thing. After all, ain’t is in the dictionary and there’s no good reason not to use an apostrophe to indicate a possessive. Plus, longer is better. If Gone With the Wind sold over a million copies the first year with only 1037 pages, your 3789-page epic should at least double those sales.

3: Invoke your copyright at every opportunity. If a fan recommends your book, comments on its plot or characters, or even mentions the complete title in an article, blog, or social media post, be sure to respond with the news that your work is under copyright protection. If they quote a line or two, even in a complimentary context, threaten to notify your intellectual property attorney and possibly file a lawsuit.

4: Defend your work vigorously. If someone makes a neutral or negative comment about your work in a review, blog post, bookstore site comment, or social media outlet, be sure to launch a vitriolic attack on them so that readers will understand what idiots they are for not adequately appreciating your masterpiece. Teach them not to disrespect your work by posting rude comments on their blog and social media streams.

5: For children’s literature, require that teachers and librarians get signed permission from you to share your book during story hour. You might also make them sign an agreement that they won’t share the last page, as you want to leave readers hanging so they’ll run out to buy your book. Make sure teachers, fans, or librarians don’t recommend your book or share a story-hour-reading online– you wouldn’t want to accidentally reach new fans who might keep the book alive.

6: Be one of “those” authors. Carry your book everywhere with the title facing out. Always mention that you’re an author and you just happen to have a copy on hand and you’d be happy to take cash, check, debit, or credit. If the customers in line behind you seem impatient, just give them an evil stare and let them know you are an AUTHOR. If you get the opportunity to do a book signing, be sure the bookstore meets your publicity demands and refuse to sign any extra books for future sales. Be rude to people who look at your book but don’t buy it.

7: Choose your heirs carefully. If you’re getting older, be sure to leave your work to a family member who knows nothing about publishing or marketing, but who will protect your copyright at all costs. Make sure they don’t allow your book to be reprinted or e-published, as you want the first editions to hold their value. Leave your heirs this list of helpful tips so they can ensure that your work dies with you.

If you have other helpful tips, please feel free to share them. Many authors have already doomed their work by acting on these time-tested ideas, so fresh, creative ways of killing a book would doubtless be welcome.

Note: Image courtesy of © Vladacanon | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Originally published May 14, 2012; updated 2/2017.

SOPA and PIPA: Should Writers Oppose Them?

If you’ve been bouncing around online today, you’ve probably noticed a number of “Stop SOPA” labels and posts about SOPA and PIPA. If you haven’t noticed, perhaps you’ve been working (good plan). I’m working too, but since the internet is a huge part of my business, I’m paying attention to things like SOPA and PIPA, because I care about keeping my business alive.

I’ve already written about SOPA and PIPA on my entrepreneurship blog, Do What Matters, Make it Pay, so I won’t cover everything here, but I will share a link to the American Censorship infographic and a compelling Ted video by Clay Shirky that explains how SOPA and PIPA assume “guilty until proven innocent” and have the potential to turn the internet into a censored wasteland.


Remember, visit Do What Matters to find links to more information, a petition, and other videos.

You Need a Business Website–Really

People aren't looking for you in a phone booth any more; the internet is where they're browsing! No matter what kind of writer or editor you are, or what kind of business you’re in, you need a business website. And no matter what your budget or skill level, you can create a simple business website. Even if you’re in a very traditional market niche, potential clients like having the ability to look online to learn more about you.

The easiest kind of site to put up is a blog-based site that you can edit with the ease of writing an e-mail. If you’re a member of NAIWE, you already have this kind of site– it’s what I’m writing on now. The NAIWE sites all feature the same professional design with an internet address (URL) of yourname.naiwe.com. They serve not only as a business website, but also as evidence that you belong to a relevant professional association.

There are other simple blog-based sites available, some of them totally free. These include Blogger.com, WordPress.com. Weebly.com and others. These allow you the same point and click ease of the NAIWE sites, but most have long URLs such as yourblogname.blogspot.com, which is dead giveaway that you’re using a free public space for your site.

Having a free web address isn’t entirely professional, but if it’s all you can do at the moment, at least purchase your business name as a URL and forward it to your free blog (you can do this with your NAIWE blog as well). You can read about how to purchase your domain at my Do What Matters, Make it Pay blog. When you’ve purchased the domain name, just go into GoDaddy’s Domain Manager (if that’s where you purchased the domain) and click on “Forwarding.” Fill in the address of the page you want your domain name to open; click “Save,” and you’re done.

Now www.BusinessName.com will point directly to your free website, and it will be the only address you’ll need to put on your business cards. That way, when you’re able to move into a new site on your own domain, you won’t have to change cards, and you can just stop the forwarding by canceling it your domain manager.

After you move to your own domain, use the old free domain as a pointer site to your primary site. Copy excerpts from each of your new blog posts with “Read more . . . ” links attached so that your old free blog site can continue driving traffic to your new site.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, it helps to have the basics in place. Enjoy!

How to Find What You’re Meant to Do

Sometimes it’s not a lack of skill or motivation that keeps freelancers stuck, doing mundane jobs and wondering why they haven’t discovered their ideal business focus. Sometimes it’s just that they haven’t considered linking their personal passion with the work that they do every day. Here are three simple questions you can ask that will help you clarify where you’d like to take your career.

Time to “Do the Next Thing”- My New Year’s Resolution

I’m not inclined to get too detailed with my New Year’s Resolutions, and this year is no exception. Four words is all it takes to sum up my intent for 2011. Here’s what it’s all about:

Do this. Don’t do that. Be this. Don’t be that…

New Year’s resolutions sometimes sound like the barking of a Marine sergeant dealing with raw recruits on a sub-zero morning. Personally, I’m a fan of warm covers on sub-zero mornings, and I tend to ignore barking of any kind (just ask my terrier). But I still like to go through the process of thinking back over the previous year, considering what went well and didn’t, and focusing on what I’d like to make happen in the new year.

I’ve discovered that simple is usually better when it comes to resolutions, so I try to boil down what I want to accomplish into one sentence. This year…. Read more….

5 Good Reasons to Go to a Writers Conference

I enjoyed the James River Writers Conference in Richmond last weekend, and am combing through my notes for all the good ideas I wanted to apply. There are a lot of them, but they’re all lining up after the non-fiction proposal I have to finish and send. The best part of the conference was just being around so many other people who loved to write. We could talk writing morning, noon, and night, and no one started yawning after the first sentence!

Whether you’re an established writer or just getting started, a writers conference is a great place to be. Here are five good reasons to go: (Read more…)

Want to Chuck the Day J.O.B? Here Are a Few Tips

One of my sons is in the process of backing away from his cushy corporate job to strike out on his own. After a reflexive moment of motherly panic– what about health insurance? The 401K? The money every week whether you need it or not?– I thought, “That’s my kid.” Or not– he’s long since grown up and moved on and learned what he needed to know to make the move. Nonetheless, it’s a huge move, and it comes with a unique set of challenges.

If you’ve been contemplating a similar move, there are a few things you might want to consider before taking the plunge.

  1. Create at least one stream of passive income to augment your savings. This can be a short book or e-book that you sell online, a software application, a lucrative affiliate relationship, or even just AdWords on your blog.
  2. Join at least one professional association in your field, and do more than just sign the membership check. Get involved and share your information with potential readers, clients, and joint venture partners. In NAIWE, you have many ways to market your work. Once you add your own information, your member site can be the first place you send potential clients. They will see that you’re an active member of your professional association, and that can be a big boost to your credibility as a freelancer.
  3. Reach out to others in your field and get to know them, either online or in person. This will give you a pool of people that you can network with and refer for jobs that don’t fit your skills.
  4. If you are quitting to write books, have at least a portion written before you leave your job. This will give you something to build on and help you avoid the paralysis of the empty page/empty bank account syndrome.
  5. Be sure you know your chosen field backward and forward. Go to conferences while you’re still working and make contacts and learn everything you can. Knowledge is power… and money.
  6. Have a written business plan with cash flow projections. It may not be something that comes easily for writers and other creative types, but it’s essential. If you don’t know how to do this, visit your local branch of the Small Business Administration and schedule a consultation with a retired business person. This can be a tremendous help, and it costs nothing.
  7. Know your own personality well, and be sure that you have the discipline it takes to treat your freelance career seriously.
  8. Find other entrepreneurs to mingle with, and learn all you can about marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on a novel or landscaping or computer programming– the marketing step can make or break your business. One often-quoted statistic says that during the first three years of a business or project, you can expect to spend 75% of your time marketing. This may sound odd until you realize that marketing is just the process by which you notify the world of your creation. It takes awhile to effectively get the word out and create demand for your book, product, or service, but it can be done if you make it a major priority.

I’m always happy to see a new business launch or a new author be published. It takes courage to take the plunge, but it can pay off both financially and in lifestyle dividends. There’s nothing I appreciate more about my own freelance lifestyle than the ability to work when, where, and with whom I like. I believe that freelancing can be the best job in the world, and if you’re considering it, I wish you well!

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

Good tree, good fruit.Literary agent Rachelle Gardner writes one of my favorite blogs, and her post this week is spot on. In Your Lucky Break! she addresses a reader’s question about why stories about finding an agent so often seem to involve “some lucky break or some connection.” Right.

Gardner responds by clearly reminding us all that we each create our own lucky breaks. She states, “You create the potential opportunities by networking with other writers and people in publishing. You create preparedness by being the best writer you can.” Yes! I can’t even begin to suppress the “I told you so!” that bubbled up as soon as I read this.

I’ve heard some people use the phrase “some people get all the breaks” as an excuse for lack of success, but really, it’s a success tip in disguise. Some people do get all the breaks, but that’s because they’ve positioned themselves well, they’ve honed their craft, and they’ve made the effort to network with others in their field. They didn’t wait for manna to fall from the sky; they went out and plowed the field and planted seed. What you do today will bear fruit in season.