But while visions of book signings and big paychecks swirled around my head, I never once thought about the practicalities of being a professional writer. Namely, the not-so-fun aspects of running a business: Invoicing. Time Tracking. Taxes.
If you’re a professional writer or editor, or if you want to be, remember that you are running a business. That business can be a royal mess, or it can be relatively organized. (I say “relatively,” because you just can’t expect to be a creative genius and superior organizer. But you can at least try to not be terrible at the latter.)
I struggled for years trying to do things the cheapest way possible. I made invoices in Microsoft Word. I kept my time in a spreadsheet. I used Excel to enter my expenses (until I got smart and hired someone to do it for me for a relatively low cost). I was wasting my time and energy doing all of these administrative tasks—and draining my energy at the same time. Plus, I was losing papers, and I couldn’t get a quick snapshot of how my business was doing.
Now, things run much smoother. And it’s all thanks to two software tools. They are:
#1 Digital time tracker
I use: Tsheets (tsheets.com) for $10/month
A couple of years ago, I met the cofounder of TSheets (tsheets.com) on a plane to Boise. He told me about TSheets, a time-tracking application that allows you to simply click a button to track your time under specific job codes. The program then saves the data so you can generate reports. I use it to bill clients, but you could also use it to get a thorough picture of how you’re spending your days.
If you bill by the hour like I do, keeping track of your time is a must.
Even if you don’t, it can be helpful to track your time by project to get an idea of how efficient your day is. Since signing up for TSheets, I bill my clients more accurately, and invoicing is faster and easier. The upgraded version is just $10/month. Or, if you only have a few projects to track, it’s free for up to five projects.
#2 Online invoicing and financial management
After looking at my mess of tax records a few years ago, my accountant practically forced me to sign up for QuickBooks (quickbooks.intuit.com). I’m so glad he did.
Going digital with my invoicing has been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.
Now, I send all invoices directly from QuickBooks. With just a simple click of “send,” the system e-mails a customized invoice on my behalf. I can send statements or follow-ups to people who pay late through the system, too. One screen allows me a quick view of who owes me money, and another screen gives me a detailed view of each client’s invoice history, with icons to alert me if any payments are late.
I also use it to enter my expenses. (OK, OK, I still hire that done, and I’m glad I do.) Having my expenses in QuickBooks makes my life so much easier come tax time. I think my accountant likes me more now, too.
I use QuickBooks Online Simple Start, which more than meets the needs of my small business, for just $12.95 per month. Even if you’re only sending a couple of invoices a month or are just writing on the side, I highly recommend this base option. It’s well worth the nominal cost.
Both of these software programs have made a big difference in my business, and I’m always in search of other ways to make my life easier. Currently, I’m in search of a mileage-tracking app but haven’t found one I love yet.
What tools do you use? What strategies have you found to stay organized and run your business?
(Image courtesy Drew Coffman | flikr)