One of the best things about being a freelancer is the freedom to create your own schedule. It’s also one of the worst. Being in charge of all your project deadlines and filed invoices while also remembering to regularly pitch ideas and go outside once a day is a lot to keep track of. Luckily, with a few Google docs and the willpower to maintain them, it gets a little easier. So here’s a list of four lists you need as a freelancer (or, at least, come highly recommended):
1. Every industry contact you know
Everyone says this about freelancing, and it’s 1000% true: your connections are everything (so hopefully you were very nice to whoever you worked for in the past!) When you’re starting out, it can help to just type out all the higher up people you have even a basic cordial relationship with, including bosses from forever ago, loose acquaintances at a previous company, or friends of friends who are in the same industry as you. Write down where they work, what they do, and where they might be able to help you, either in taking pitches or even just being down to grab coffee for 20 minutes. And then just ask (obviously remaining polite and understanding if they decline.)
If you need to find more people, try joining groups like Study Hall or specific guilds or associations for your profession (be it graphic art, writing, or photography) so you can mingle with and meet more connections.
Also, if you have friends in the same freelancing boat as you, consider sharing your doc with them so they can add people they know and vice versa–it’ll help everyone out, and the idea that you’d somehow lose out on opportunities because you’re both pitching to the same person is a myth. You’ll always gain so much more from collaboration.
2. All your pitch emails
Following up on an unanswered pitch email is crucial to getting projects greenlit (and, subsequently, getting that $$$). Inboxes get cluttered quickly–especially if you emailed right before or after a holiday–and if you haven’t gotten a response, you owe it to yourself to circle back.
Buuuut, remembering to do this can get really overwhelming if you’re pitching to more than one or two people. That’s why having a spreadsheet of when you pitched (and setting a follow-up date to a week or two after) helps you keep tabs on the unassigned pitches.
And if you get a rejection or no answer to the follow up? Write down a few other places your idea might work for, and make any necessary adjustments so it’s a better fit for the outlet. It can also help you potentially spot any issues in your pitching process (like if you’re rushing through your writeup and sending something too long or typo-filled to begin with.)
3. Those pesky project deadlines
Seems obvious, but track your deadlines! If you tend to work on bigger projects that require multiple steps, break it down according to what needs to be done. So, if you’re assigned a long feature, set one deadline to find and email the sources you want to interview, another to transcribe the interviews and pull other research, and a third to actually write the first draft.
4. Your money
This is the most important one! Not only should you have a record of how much you’re earning per piece (especially in prep for tax season), but you should also have a date for when you’re supposed to get paid. It also helps to have an extra column for whether or not you actually sent an invoice yet, as some places won’t let you file one until after your project goes live.
For example, if I send an invoice when a piece is published, I set a payment deadline, because I know I’m legally entitled to be compensated within 30 days in NYC. Then I know I can confidently follow up after a month if I still haven’t gotten the money.
Freelancing is a lot of fun, but can quickly become stressful when you’re juggling so much on your own. Knowing where to go for more assignments, when you stuff is due, and roughly when you’ll be excited to look at your bank account again are all things that make this lifestyle as freeing and rewarding as you hoped it would be.