The 6 admin habits of highly effective freelancers

Habit #1: Create job bags

Want to be a highly effective freelancer? Of course you do.

Step 1: You’ve had a client meeting. They’ve given you digital content to read, marketing collateral to review, and other bits and pieces – plus you’ve taken copious notes. And now, two days later, your quote’s been approved and it’s time to get started. But where the hell are the notes? The content? The collateral?

Enter: Digital job bags.

Each is labelled with the client’s name and everything on my computer to do with that client (quotes, notes, invoices, e-mailed review materials, background material, testimonials, the actual work) goes into the job bag. And all of my job bags live inside a much bigger folder, brilliantly titled ‘Job Bags’.

I also use a Rocketbook so I can scan my hand-written notes into images and store those.

Habit #2: Use templates

This tip is so basic it makes job bags seem like Quantum Physics: use templates. For everything.

Take an hour when you’re done reading this article and create simple digital templates for a quote, an invoice, a rate card, a half-page bio, a letterhead, and maybe a terms and conditions document or a basic contract*. And if you’ve paid proper attention to the contents of this article, you’ll also make a 1-page client feedback form [please see Habit #3].

Keep these on your desktop in their own folder (the eponymous ‘Templates’) and update them every year or as you stumble across new or better ways to do things. And – I’m really hoping this goes without saying – when you ‘Save As…’ the newly titled item should go directly into the relevant digital job bag.

Habit #3: Request testimonials

This important part of being a lone ranger is simpler and less skaam if you make it part of your overall process; namely, take brief, send quote, get approval, do job, submit work, send invoice, thank client, send testimonial request.

An alternative but equally good time to send it is just after they’ve signed off your work, and their memory of how great you are is freshest. Whenever you choose to do this, know that a focused 1-page questionnaire is more likely to get a response from a busy client than a vague ‘What did you think of my work?’

So compile a standard client feedback form, with open-ended questions (‘How could I have done better?’) and statements that are linked to ranking scales (‘How did you feel about my time management on this job? 1 – Gobsmacked; 2 – Impressed; 3 – Okay; 4 – Underwhelmed; 5 – What time management?’)

Note: Maybe one in five clients will actually return the completed form. Don’t nag the others. Just make the most of the feedback you do get.

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Habit #4: Use online help

Correct me if I’m wrong: You entered the creative industry (writing, design, illustration, photography, etc.) because numbers weren’t really your thing. Because you didn’t want to be a book-keeper or a tax accountant or an administrator. Because ideas excite you.

Well, sorry for you. Because, as a freelancer, numbers, books, tax and admin are realities of your world.

Yes, your day job is the sexy stuff… But after hours, at night or over weekends, you’re a part-time bean-counter. And the more organised you become, the more professional your offering.

The good news is that you’re not alone…

There are hundreds of brilliant online resources and thousands of brilliant human resources out there, just waiting to help you. Go and choose one. As long as they charge less per hour or project than you do, and are quicker than you would be, it’s worth it. PLUS, IT’S TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.

And, on that note…

Habit #5: Keep everything

As a freelance anything (who operates, I hope, as a sole proprietor), you’re in an interesting position tax-wise. Because absolutely everything is tax-deductible: from extortionate shopping mall parking (meeting expenses) to the odd Quarter-Pounder with Cheese (mobile refreshment).

So get into the habit of keeping or scanning (so they don’t fade) slips and noting your cash expenses with all of the diligence and passion of a Tudor England money-lender.

And at the end of every month, take the five minutes required to put those little bits of paper into a large envelope or digital folder labelled with [Month Year], because, come tax-time, it’s a nightmare from hell to have to recon six months’ worth of bits of paper.

Habit #6: Bright shiny objects

Ermagerd. The mammoth list of things that distract me from my work!

Newsletter after newsletter.

Webinar after webinar.

Podcast after podcast after podcast.

Cheatsheets and e-books and swipe files and how-to guides… All conspiring to stop me doing my income-generating work and slide down a rabbit-hole of reading, learning, fiddling and side-hustling.

So I now have two ‘Bright Shiny Objects’ folders in my email programme: Work and Personal. And before I leave my computer in the evening, I check one or the other and do a quick extra thing. Act, diarise, decide, reply, delete.

Note: I’m not talking about spending another hour or two at your desk, but about tackling a non-urgent but important task.

Will it make a difference? Yup! At the end of the month you’ll have completed 20-30 little things that would otherwise never have been done and you’ll be a highly effective freelancer 😉


And that’s it. 6 habits. Off you go. High effectiveness awaits.

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