6 Ways to Stay Organized in your Consulting Hustle
Being able to #CustomizeYourLife is one of the big reasons people join the consulting hustle. It’s flexible, it’s rewarding, and you work for yourself! So, what’s the catch? Well, it can be tricky to stay organized as a consultant or freelancer. After some struggling over the past few months on how to do this, I’ve landed at a place where I feel confident in the way I’m managing my clients, my projects, and my money. Without further ado, here’s the skinny on how how to stay organized ain the consulting hustle…
Running my UX Strategy + Design consultancy has been a series of experiments for me. With every new client, I’m tweaking my process to get a little more finesse and optimize my workflow. It’s been very important for to get this piece right. I want my business to run like a well-oiled machine so I can focus less on the logistics and more on the creative (FUN) parts.
As a principle, I decided not to rely on analog tools or methods to manage and stay organized in the consulting hustle. Historically, I haven’t been the best at keeping track of papers, sketches, and documents (my filing skills are amateur, at best). Not only does staying digital save trees, but it also means I can access my work from anywhere and any device!
Isn’t technology amazing??
Here are the top tech tools that help me stay organized as a consultant:
This is a nifty little app that you can install on your computer and use to track hours worked on different projects. (There is a iPhone app too, if you prefer to use that.) All I do is open the computer app, click on the icon in the top menu bar of my computer, choose the project, and click start! The app then records the time I spend working on a particular project until I hit the stop button.
I love this app because it also detects when you’ve “walked away” from the computer and it will ask you if you want to remove the idle time from your time for a specific project. I’m notorious for not stopping my timer, so this feature has saved the day for me many times!
Another feature I love about Harvest is that you can go into their online tool and look up how much time you’ve spent on each project for any given period of time. As a part of my consulting hustle, I have clients some that I bill monthly. Harvest makes it easy for me to find my client, filter by month, and see how many hours I should them bill for.
This tool has made my life so much simpler. In the past I used to use excel spreadsheets to track time, but it took some work to maintain these sheets and there wasn’t a great way to export them if a client asked to see the time tracked. Now, with Harvest, I can quickly export hours for any given week/month to share with my clients how much time is going into their projects.
Although some of my projects are not billed hourly, I still like to use Harvest for the ability to track the time I work on projects. It’s important to me that I’m watching the time/effort I’m putting into various tasks so that I know I’m pricing my services properly.
I’ll let you in on a little secret…
Finance and Accounting were my two lowest grades in college. I took them as a part of my business minor and because I knew I wanted to run my own business someday, but the concepts were challenging for me to grasp. Even to this day, I have to look up terms, call my accountant, or bug my brother or boyfriend who have Finance degrees.
That being said, I wanted to take the simplest route to tracking / categorizing my expenses for my consulting hustle. Right not, I’m using Freshbooks. This company is a cloud accounting software and helps you keep track of where your money is going.
Although tracking money is a great feature, I think my favorite feature of Freshbooks is their invoicing capability. Freshbooks lets you make invoices in a snap and you can even customize them to fit your branding (see a mockup of my invoice below!). Being a creative, that is very important to me.
Not only can you create invoices, but Freshbooks also helps you send invoices / payment requests to your client. The product notifies you when there are overdue payments and lets you visually see your accounts receivables.
This has been one amazing tool in helping me keep track of money.
As someone who wishes that money managing and taxes would magically figure themselves out (spoiler alert: they don’t) this has been an incredible tool to help the process be a little bit more manageable.
Now this little gizmo is definitely a “nice-to-have” but it has been something that I think helps my clients and makes their lives a little bit easier. As a consultant, one of my main priorities is to do whatever I can to make working with me seem “effortless.” This is why I started using HelloSign.
HelloSign is an tool that allows you to get electronic signatures from clients and contractors you may be working with. Before I used HelloSign, I was sending clients a digital PDF and then expected them to magically figure out how to sign it.
There are a few programs (like Preview on Mac) that can help with signing a document on a computer, but many people don’t know how to to use these programs. I would often get clients printing out PDFs, signing them, scanning them, and then sending them back to me.
With HelloSign, I can now quickly upload my written contract, highlight the fields that need to be completed and send it to the client or contractor. On the other end, the recipient gets an invitation to view the document and sign it. Once the contract is completed on their end, we each get a PDF copy of the contract. I love HelloSign because the recipient can also complete contracts on their mobile device (which is awesome since more and more people check their email on their phones these days!).
I love being able to provide a 5 star experience to my clients so if there are ways I can do so, I’m totally willing to research and experiment with them. This not only keeps me at the top of mind for my client when they have other projects coming up, but it also means they are more likely to recommend me to other people in the future!
Dropbox + Folder Structure (Free for limited space)
Dropbox is one of my all-time favorite tech tools. Think about it – being able to access your files from anywhere! You can access files from your phone, your iPad, or even your friends computer!! Magic.
If you’re running a consulting hustle, I highly recommend having your files on a cloud storage platform. You can decide what works best for you. I use Dropbox because of the simplicity, but there are several other options out there. If you need more space than Dropbox offers, I recommend taking a look at the $99/year plan for 1TB of storage. That’s the one I use and ever since purchasing it, I haven’t looked back. (My Sketch and Adobe Illustrator files get to be HUGE! So more space was a must for me.)
Now having space to store your files is great, but how do you store them?
Managing several clients at once means that it’s more important than ever to have an organized file management system. There are hundreds of different ways to manage your client files. Below is what I typically do for my company…
I like to keep all my clients under their own folder within a folder labeled “# Clients.” (Pro-tip: If you use ‘#’ in front of your file/folder names, it shoots that item straight to the top of the items list! Great to keep frequently used files easily accessible.)
Within the Clients folder, I’ve listed out all my current clients, each with a folder of their own. I also have an “xArchived” folder here for past clients. I want to make sure I keep their files incase I need to access them again, but I want to make sure my I can find my current client work easily. (Pro-tip #2: If you use an ‘x’ or ‘z’ in front of your file/folder names, it shoots that item straight to the bottom of the list. I just like the letter ‘x’ better so I use that!)
Inside the individual Client folders, my file structure tends to vary based on the client. If there is one main working file, I like to keep that outside of the rest of the folders for easy access. Again, I use a ‘#’ here so that file shows up on top. I also typically have a folder where I keep a copy of the clients contracts. This folder has an ‘x’ in front of it because I don’t use it much. The rest of the folders here are whatever the project needs. This will vary and depend on what you as the consultant feel is best!
I’ve used Asana on and off for the last 7-8 years for various projects I’ve worked on. There was even a time I used Asana for my personal to-dos! The product has definitely matured over the last few years and they even have a great mobile app now!
Asana is what I use as task board for some of my clients. These tend to be my longer term clients that have new items for me to work on every week. I throw these into the board as soon as I receive them so that they are on my radar and I know where in my process they are.
I typically have 5 columns in my Asana boards: To-Do, In-Progress, Review, Complete, and Hold. These steps are pretty self-explanatory and basic, but help immensely. I even screenshare my board with some of my clients so they feel secure about progress I’ve made on their projects. I usually keep Asana open on my Chrome browser as a pinned tab. This way, if I ever close Chrome and then open it again, it shows up without me having to open a new tab and type in “asana.com.”
Be Focused (Free)
I run my consulting business from home, which is awesome but can be distracting at times too…
I mean, come on, it’s just so easy to walk to the kitchen for a snack break whenever work seems to be too tough. Working from home (and even offices sometimes!) provides for many distractions, so I decided to try out the Pomodoro Technique.
Using the Pomodoro technique I have to break down my work into 25 minute intervals of focus. I usually give myself a 5 minute break after each 25 minute interval. This helps me maintain focus for that short burst of work, it helps me remember to take frequent breaks, and it makes me focus and work as soon as start the timer.
As someone who finds it hard to sit at a desk all day, I love using the Pomodoro technique. It means that I can work in short sprints, be effective in that period of time, and then earn a break. In fact, I’ve seen that the days I use the Pomodoro technique tend to have more output and completed tasks.
The app I use for this is the Be Focused timer. It’s app that I downloaded on my computer and lives in the top status bar of my desktop. All I have to do is click the “play” button to start my Pomodoro for the day!
These are just a few of the ways I’ve been able to save time and energy and stay organized. I’d love to hear what you think if you’ve used any of these tricks to stay organized in your consulting hustle! Do you have any other tools or tricks you use to make your life a little easier?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below and let’s chat!