1. Organise your emails
It’s virtually impossible to keep track of the dozens - if not hundreds - of messages you probably receive in a week unless you are careful to separate them out. Create folders for the different subjects you write about: one for ideas, another for commissions, pitches, submitted copy, images and so on. Sort emails as you go along – at least once a day – and delete those that are no longer needed so as to avoid clutter.
2. Classify your contacts
You may love your paper address book but online contacts systems allow for easy searching, multiple categorisation and all sorts of other useful things.
Most email accounts come with a fairly decent standard contact book, or you could choose an online version such as FullContact. You can even get apps that scan business cards and import data automatically.
Add everyone and anyone you meet or talk to, whether expert, case study, PR or celeb. The important thing is to include as many relevant key words as possible to make searching easier - use the ‘notes’ section and be as detailed as you can.
3. Set up Google alerts
Keeping up-to-date with your specialist subject area, not to mention the news in general, is vital for a freelancer.
Save time by setting up Google alerts, which will send stories straight to your inbox based on selected keywords e.g. ‘new study health’ or ‘percentage women UK’.
You can narrow your search by region or category (e.g. news sources, blogs, discussions, videos), and choose how many results you receive and how often.
4. Aggregate RSS feeds
RSS feeds from important online sources (anyone who produces research, releases trend information etc) are also useful for news gathering.
These can be organised through a feed aggregator such as Feedly, NewsBlur or Netvibes, each of which offer different options for organising and displaying your feeds. Some also have an offline reader mode, which is handy if you spend any time in WiFi blackspots.
5. Set reminders
Your diary is most likely packed with meetings, interviews, deadlines and so on, which makes it hard to juggle everything and not let an appointment slip through the net.
Using an electronic diary – ideally on your phone, which you can keep close by whenever you’re working – means you can set reminders (more than one if necessary) at relevant moments to jog your memory and ensure you get everything done on time.
6. Track your pitches
You don’t need to be an IT whizz to create a simple spreadsheet to help you track your pitches. Just create columns for date sent, publication targeted and idea pitched, as well as a couple of columns where you can note the date(s) that you chased, and a final one for whether you got the commission or not.
Use the ‘colour fill’ option to code each line - red for no, green for yes and ‘no fill’ if you’ve not heard back yet. If you really can’t face a spreadsheet, create something similar in a dedicated notebook.
7. Keep tabs on commissions
Once you’ve got a commission, transfer it to a separate list of commissions so that you never miss a deadline. Arranging your list with the most urgent piece first, include publication name, story and word count along with the deadline date, and again use colour to show whether a piece is upcoming, in progress or finished.
You can also include a column for the agreed fee so that each time you finish a piece you can invoice without having to go back and check your commissioning email for details.
8. Log your income and outgoing
This is vital for freelancers, and you’ll be glad of being organised in this area when it comes time to submit your self-assessment return.
There are many options available, from simple spreadsheets to full-on accounting systems. Make sure you keep a note of invoice number, date, amount, the nature of the work as well as when it was paid.
Likewise, keep track of your monthly expenses, filing each month’s receipts in a marked-up envelope - you could also log these on a spreadsheet or in a notebook, categorising them as you go e.g. travel, catering, supplies and so on, which will save time when doing that tax return.
9. Keep a tax account
This is worth a point of its very own, as there’s nothing worse than getting a tax bill and not having the money to pay it.
Whatever system you choose for monitoring your invoices, as soon as a payment is made try to set aside at least 20 per cent in a dedicated high-interest account or ISA – 30 per cent is even better, especially if you have student loans to pay off.
Keep track of what you’re saving and when it comes time to pay the taxman, you might even find that you have some left over.
10. Schedule in ‘me time’
This may not sound like a vital part of a freelancer’s life but burnout is common among journalists, especially freelancers, who are constantly pushing themselves to get more work and don’t have the benefits of a team around them.
Keep a firm grip on your diary and make sure there are times for you to sit back and reflect, relax, see other people and generally keep your well-being in check.
After all, you won’t be very efficient if you’re signed off with stress, will you?