Today I'm starting a new column on the blog all about my freelance life and experiences. I didn't take the plunge into freelance life out of college or quit my job to pursue my dream full-time, like many other freelancers do in the beginning. As some of you long-time readers know, I lost my job in advertising in 2009. I was devastated at first, but I quickly realized I was only upset about losing a steady paycheck -- advertising wasn't my passion. I was about to turn 26, young and inexperienced, and I felt unsure of what kind of job or field I wanted to pursue in a difficult economy. I thought about going back to school to become a teacher, but for various reasons I decided against it. I started doing what everyone else was doing who was on unemployment at the time -- applying for any job I could (and there weren't too many great ones to choose from in 2009). In my free time I started exploring Etsy and the world of crafting online.
My aunt and cousins are all artists, and they had been printing their paintings and etchings on notecards for quite some time. I thought, I think I'd like to do that, too. I talked to them a little more about their processes, then started doing a little research of my own. I bought a small photo-smart printer for $39.99 at Walmart, a pad of watercolor paper and a cheap pack of watercolor pencils at Michaels (with a coupon.) I started experimenting, and I quickly realized I loved watercolor pencils -- a passion was born! I started super small in the beginning, because I was unemployed and totally broke. After I completed a few illustrations that I liked, I bought a small box of stationery paper and started printing my own notecard sets. I started placing my items on Etsy for sale, and very slowly I began making money through the site.
The Mister had popped the question right before I lost my job, and two of my best friends were planning weddings at the same time. I started making items for our weddings -- invitations, thank you cards...and maps. I wasn't making too much money on Etsy through notecard sales at the time, but when I added my maps to the shop, things started taking off. Throughout the following year, my sales on Etsy doubled, and they've been rising ever since -- mostly due to custom art requests, like my maps, house portraits and pet portraits. After I got married, I landed a freelance writing gig with TLC (by way of this blog!), so I began writing for them and painting for my Etsy biz full-time. This year I stopped writing and began pursuing my stationery business full-time. It's been a fantastic ride so far, and I'm always dreaming of where I can go from here. But that's a blog topic for another day...
I wanted to start this series with something pretty basic -- organization. I truly believe being organized and success go hand-in-hand. You can't have one without the other. So without further ado, here are a few ways I keep things in check every day:
1. I live by my Excel spreadsheet. I never thought I'd say this in college -- but I love Excel. It's the number one tool that helps me stay on top of things, and without it my business would no doubt be a hot mess. Also, let it be stated for the record that I have no idea how to actually use Excel -- I have never used a single formula in my project spreadsheet (although I'm aware it would probably help me even more if I did.) I use the sheer basics of the program to keep projects organized in rows with order dates, due dates, notes and shipping addresses. When a customer purchases an item from me, whether it be notecards, invitations or custom art, I enter their information at the bottom of my spreadsheet. As I continue to work, people move up the list. It's nothing too terribly special, but it helps me tremendously:
2. A desk organizer keeps loose papers in check. I work on a lot of custom projects, so I have quite the paper trail on my desk. Sketches that are currently in progress sit in a red wire file organizer on my desk, (from Hobby Lobby), with other supplies I use daily, like my watercolor pencils, erasers, shipping supplies and business cards to include inside packages.
3. I ask Siri to remind me. Siri is the best! If I'm away from my desk and I'm unable to make a note on paper or add something in Excel, I ask trusty Siri to remind me to take care of business when I'm back at the office. Even though I sometimes have to repeat myself more than once for her to record the message, (right?!) she's my girl.
4. I save templates in Word to use for custom inquiries. I get a lot of requests for custom artwork, and usually they're for the same projects -- house portraits, custom maps or invitations. Instead of typing the same information time after time, I use scripted templates to use when I reply. Of course, I tailor each response to all of my customers -- I don't want to sound like a robot. But at the end of the day, these templates save me a ton of time, ensure I remember to include pertinent information and keep me on track throughout the day.
5. I check upcoming deadlines every night. As my mom always says, "Don't put off today what you can complete tomorrow." I feel like this is good for anyone to do -- no matter what a job may entail. If I'm packing up shop early but I see that I've scheduled a ton of stuff for the next day, I usually stick around and finish some of it to balance things out. Similarly, if I see that I have a rough week coming up, I try to move projects around as much as possible to ease up the workload. Lessening work-related stress is always a good thing!
So in a nutshell, that's how I stay organized in this crazy, hectic, awesome freelance life of mine. Do any of you have similar -- or different -- tricks of the trade? I'd love to hear!
Above photos from my office tour -- found here.