Focusing on Your Highest ROI Activities Equals Freelancer Success

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Many of you have told me that you struggle with not having enough time.

Trust me, I GET THAT! I work full-time (some would argue more than full-time) in my online business and I STILL run out of time every week.

Every day really.

But here’s the thing, it’s not how many hours you work – it’s how much you get out of each hour.

Boom! Mind blown, right?

It’s not a new concept, but it’s a really great reminder to those of us that feel like we need more than 24 hours in a day.

Work Will Only Take up as Much Time as You Give It

Another huge mentality shift. But also totally true.

I feel like I beat “my story” to death, but when I was building my freelance business, I did so on the side of a full-time job and with two small children (one of whom I was still nursing) in tow. So I did what any other sane person would do.

I set my alarm each morning for 4:30am.

And I snuck downstairs trying to be as quiet as possible, so as not to wake up my two-year-old son (at the time) that loves any excuse to wake up early and hang out with mama. When successful, I hustled on my freelance business for an hour or two before I had to get in the shower and get ready for work at my day job.

I’d use my lunch break to check email and follow up on pitches I sent. And then worked for another hour or so in the evening.

And when I had client work to complete, I’d often carve out nap times or whenever I could on the weekends. It wasn’t ideal, but I was kind of trying to work two jobs there for awhile.

So it kind of had to work that way (if I ever wanted to build my business big enough to be able to quit my day job that is).

I Wasn’t Alone

One thing I’ve always had going for me is a super supportive husband. I’m not saying I couldn’t have done it without him, but it would have been SO MUCH harder.

So those of you that are struggling on your own, with small kids in tow – I feel for you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do this though. Or that you have to prioritize your work over family all of the time.

You can do this. You just have to be uber prepared to…

focusing-on-highest-roi-activities-for-freelancers-1Use Your Time Wisely

If you only have limited time to get your new freelance business off the ground, you have to realize that EVERY hour counts.

And that you need to have a plan for how you’re going to spend your time. Or it’ll go by in a flash and you won’t have anything to show for it.

Happens all of the time, right?

Don’t let it. Here are my four best tips for using your time wisely and getting the results you want.

1. Set Aside Specific Times to Work

Here’s the thing, if you want clients to hire you to write or as a VA (or whatever your freelance calling is), you have to have time to complete the work.

If you don’t… well, this might not be the right time for you to start a new business.

Do you have to have 20 hours per week? Nope. Sally didn’t and she was still successful in building a lucrative writing business.

What’s the minimum amount of time you should have? I would say at least 2-5 hours per week, but 10+ would be ideal.

Regardless, figure out how much time YOU do have and then budget it accordingly in your calendar. Then when it comes time to get to work, don’t sacrifice it for anything.

I.e. If you don’t yet have any clients, don’t not work on your business during the allocated time, because you “don’t have anything to do.” You do have stuff to do. It’s called prospecting!

And prospecting is really your number one job as you get going. It’s not building a perfect website or even having the perfect samples or resume. It’s about marketing yourself first and foremost – and spending the leftover time working on those things.

2. Have a Plan for How to Spend Your Time

So now that you know when you can work each day of the week (and this can fluctuate by the way, but the more consistent you are, the easier it’ll be for you to stick to it), you need to have a plan for how you’ll spend that time.

You need to pre-plan your work sessions, so you know EXACTLY what you’re going to focus on in that time. If you don’t, it’s too easy to get distracted, sucked into blog post after blog post or down the social media rabbit hole.

3. Don’t Try to Do Too Many Things at Once

So now that you know when you’re going to work and what you’re going to do, don’t let overwhelm get the best of you.

I.e. Figure out what your MIT’s (most important tasks) are and then order them in priority. Then focus on the first one. And don’t do ANYTHING else until it’s finished.

Put your phone on silent or “do not disturb.” Close out ALL extra browsers. Use one of those fancy programs to block yourself from Facebook or Gmail if you have to. Whatever you need to do to focus ON ONE THING AT A TIME, do it!

At most, you probably want to give yourself 3-5 items to tackle in any given work session. Any more is probably overkill. If you blow through your initial list, great! That means you can tackle the next thing or wrap up early for the day (that’s the biggest perk of working for yourself, right?).

4. Concentrate on the Highest ROI Items First

Not sure what item should be the most important one? Or the one that should come first?

Calculate each to do list item’s potential ROI (return on investment). Again, pitching or prospecting for new work is probably going to end up at the top. Because without marketing your business, you’re probably not going to land clients and if you never land any clients…

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle is a great illustration of this. Things are either:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important, but not Urgent
  3. Not Important and Urgent
  4. Not Important and not Urgent

And that’s the order that they should show up on our to do lists. But often we prioritize the not important and urgent over the important, but not urgent. I.e. Answering email vs. researching companies to pitch.

But it’s usually the important, not urgent that will get us the best long-term results – the ones with the highest ROI. What are those activities for your business?

Putting It All Together

My challenge to you – whether you have lots of time to work on your business or not – would be to start by figuring out how much time you’re willing to give yourself on any given day or week and block it out in your calendar.

Next, figure out what absolutely must get done (your MIT’s), prioritize them based on importance and potential ROI and then schedule them into the calendar blocks that you’ve set aside.Β Then keep yourself on track by limiting distractions at all costs.

Celebrate your small wins when you’re done. Then move on to task number two. And do it all again. And over time spot check to make sure that what you’re focusing on really is important, rather than just masking itself as important.

What’s one thing that is urgent, but not important that you find yourself spending too much time on?Β 

Mine would probably be email…

17 thoughts on “Focusing on Your Highest ROI Activities Equals Freelancer Success”

  1. If you were getting up at 4:30 a.m., what time were you going to bed? I am not productive if I am overtired (which is often since I have two young kids–I know you can relate!). I also had the unfortunate experience of getting mono this year, right as I was beginning my blog. πŸ™

    Some people can function on little sleep, but I am not one of them–at least not long term. I am grateful that as my kids get older and a tiny bit more autonomous, I can carve out a bit more time during daylight hours.

    This is such a challenge for any parent, and I really admire your dedication and tenacity in reaching your goals. But I’m also curious how much sleep you got in the beginning (working two jobs, two young kids–WOW!), and any tips you might have for actually functioning when basic things like sleep might be scarce.

    • Hey Amy!

      I need lots of sleep too, don’t worry. I would go to bed pretty close to when I laid the kids down at night (so probably between 8:30-10pm). I’ve always been “early to bed, early to rise” though. I would have to get up to nurse at night and most of the time get back to sleep. It lasted ~6 months, so it wasn’t forever, although I’ve been setting my alarm to get up at 5am lately to get a couple hours of quiet time (devotional, reading, yoga, some work). It’s tough having little kids!

      Now health issues (mono included) are a whole different beast. I was fortunate to be healthy.

      I think sufficient rest is key #1 – without it (for an extended period of time), you’re not doing yourself any favors. So I sacrificed t.v. time, quiet time with the hubby at times, etc. We’re all different and have to choose what’s important (not that my husband wasn’t important!). πŸ™‚ Hope that helps!

  2. Gina……. virtual clapping:
    (clap clap clap)

    Your story resonated a lot with me because i often pretend that i dont have enough time for additional work — when in fact im just not MAKING the time for work.

    You did whatever was necessary, even if it meant sacrificing that wonderful bed that always feels so good and inviting in the morning. You approached your dreams and desires like a professional and cut out all the nonsense.

    Although completely unrelated, this could also apply to those looking to achieve other things in life, such as a daily workout. All in all, it goes to show that your advice is rock solid and can help many types of dreams and people.

    That being said, I am slowly adjusting my schedule by cutting back on TV just a little, but enough to also allow me to get more done. It’s all about reasonable moderation and self-control πŸ™‚

    Thanks for sharing!
    Elvis

    • Excellent comment Elvis! I agree wholeheartedly! I suffer from many physical maladies including chronic fatigue (c.f.s.) and chronic pain. But, getting off my arse often makes me feel like a more worthwhile person! my kids are grown and I actually could lay around and watch tv all day! I turn it off at 10 am and do not allow it to steal what little energy I have until 7pm most every night (other than bowling nights, 2x’s / wk. lol) Gina has “Sage” advice that I bet we could all take to heart! I do! Great job, Gina!!!

  3. Hey Gina,
    Always inspiring reading about your wonderful journey. I make it a point to share with our freelancing community in my country.
    My take home is focussing on what is IMPORTANT & URGENT!! I am also learning to make time for my business. We all get 24 hours a day, including President Obama and His Holiness The Pope!!!

  4. Totally true!

    I particularly like point #3 because there is simply soooo much I have to do in my life.

    Fortunately, when life was beating me up, I did a ton of research on time management.

    I then compiled this information and presented it to a bunch of women entrepreneurs in my city.

    Then I turned it all into a blog post, and created a free planner for everyone! πŸ™‚

    Yeah, I’ve been productive ever since!

    The blog post is called How to Find a Good Work-Life Balance (+ a FREE Workbook/Planner)
    It is at http://wordingwell.com/how-to-find-a-good-work-life-balance/

    I think your freelancing audience will want to grab it.

    Enjoy!

  5. Hi Gina,

    As you and I have talked about before, we took very different paths to freelancing. You built up a side hustle, while I quit my day job cold turkey and dove in with both feet.

    (Both feet and no clients to start…)

    Two very different strategies — both of which worked quite nicely and suited our individual personalities.

    But one strategy where we definitely agree is to focus on the tasks that generate the best return on our investment.

    For most of us, in the early days, all we’re investing is time (not money) — so not only is pitching a high ROI item, so too is narrowing down what services we can perform for the greatest financial reward in the smallest amount of time.

    For me, that’s why I gave up on writing and focused on social media management. Easier to hire help and scale, easier to set up recurring monthly billing, and so forth. But I recognize that won’t be the case for everyone. πŸ™‚

    Great topic.

    Chat soon,

    Brent

  6. Hi, Gina!
    There’s so much wisdom in this post! I am preparing to start at freelance writing sometime in the second semester of this year, and I’m still trying to figure out how time management works. I am a very disciplined person, but my perfectionism often gets in the way. I am still trying to figure out how the MIT thing works, too (I tend to think everything is equally important, even though I know it is not true).
    My favorite tips in this post are #2 and #3. I’ll try to keep them in mind from now on.
    The ROI concept is new to me. I swear I had never heard of it. I love it! I’ll take note and pay attention to that, too.
    So, thank you very much for all the invaluable tips! Have a good week! =)

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