When Melissa first reached out to Gina, it was to share her story of leaving behind an engineering job in order to spend more time with her baby.
We started emailing back-and-forth, and at one point Melissa said she works part time, in ten-minute increments and with a baby at her feet, and still manages to make a few thousand dollars a month.
I was hooked! So I asked Melissa to let us in on (some of) her productivity secrets, and she happily obliged.
I am an engineer so by nature I am obsessed with efficiency and planning. I basically break all of my writing into ten minute increments so that I can make the most out of my time when I get it. I’ve also started using my negotiation skills to slowly raise my rates over time. I’ve also slowly transitioned into a different style/topic of writing than I originally planned.
If you are anything like me, you have a lot on your plate. You are trying to balance a family, a career, and a very full life. Sometimes you may wish there were more hours in your day. Unfortunately, all we have is 24 hours, and we aren’t going to get any more.
I started my freelance writing business in June, 2016. I work in my home office while also keeping an eye on my one-year-old tot and managing our ten-acre farm and three horses. I try to squeeze in most of my writing before my child wakes up in the morning or while he is napping, and after he goes to sleep in the evening. That gives me about 3-5 hours a day. That amounts to twenty hours or less per week to pitch for new work, complete the work for my current clients, do my accounting, and write on my personal blog.
Because I have a lot to accomplish in a small amount of time, I have to work extremely efficiently to get it all done. I’ll let you in on some of my secrets below.
Luckily, time management and efficiency are some of the skills I picked up through my engineering career, and I’ve use them to my full advantage in my freelance career. When I first started last June, I made about $1000 while working at least 30 hours a week on my writing alone. Now, after finding my groove, November’s income crossed over $4000, and I have reduced the number of hours I work per week. I am completely convinced that my income will continue to increase.
Here are the time management tips I’ve used to grow my freelance writing business:
1. Build Templates for EVERYTHING
I invest the time to build templates for as much as I can.
The initial time investment may seem high, but it will save you massive amounts of time in the long run.
Any time you find yourself doing the same (or similar) task over and over, build yourself a template. If you have five clients and do similar work in five different ways, you’ll waste a lot of time. The most efficient way to work is to build a process and a template that works well for everyone (or at least the vast majority). You’d be surprised at how much you can crank out if you start with a high-quality template.
Here are a few processes that I have built templates for:
I write for a few different specific niches, so I have a template pitch tailored to each one. For example, my technical writing pitch template is quite a bit different than my parenting pitch template. Each pitch has its own style, voice, and a list of published work in that arena. I can quickly modify the template pitch and send it out to multiple different venues in no time.
(Gina’s Tip: Pitching productively will boost your chances of landing clients, but don’t forget about email etiquette.)
- Writing Style
I have a general template I use to attack 99% of my articles no matter which niche they fall into. My writing template includes an introduction, 3-5 main points, and a conclusion with a takeaway or a call to action.
- Writing Sequence
I even write using a template methodology. I work in the same exact sequence for everything I write.
I know, how predictable!
I first develop my takeaway (what I want my audience to get out of my article). After that, I write a quick outline with my main points. I never write an introduction or a conclusion before finishing up the rest of my article.
After it is all written, I leave it until the next day when I come back, read through it, and do my editing and final touches. Because I write in a sequential pattern, I always know what the next step is. I don’t waste any time trying to remember where to pick up or what to work on next.
2. Build Your To-Do List with Tiny Tasks
I try to take advantage of every spare minute I get since I don’t get a lot of long breaks during the day, but I do get a few small openings.
If I get to a doctor’s appointment and have to wait, I know I can knock out a quick task or two if I’m organized enough. For example, if I have an article to write, I break it into tasks I can complete in about ten minutes. So if I show up to a meeting a few minutes early or if my baby gets occupied with his building blocks, I can jump on my computer and cross off a task on my to-do list.
What can I possibly do in only ten minutes? I can do research for my next article in ten minutes. I can write an introduction in ten minutes or track down a stock photo to use in my blog post. I can send an invoice or a follow-up on an email. You get the point.
Never underestimate what you can get done in ten minutes.
Doing research for a potential pitch is also something you can do in ten minutes, if you’re organized.
3. Establish a Routine
Having a routine takes away the stress of my day so I’ve built a routine for myself that I stick to religiously.
Of course, I have to be somewhat flexible when I’m working from home while caring for a young child, but as much as I can, I stick to my routine.
As much as I believe in scheduling work, I also schedule times specifically to not work.
If I’m playing with my son, I don’t want to be worrying about what I should be doing or trying to work on my phone. That is his time, and he deserves my full attention.
Following a set routine helps build those good habits.
4. Find the Strange Things That Make You More Productive
Everyone has something different that motivates them to be more productive. I have picked up on several things that may seem odd, but they work for me.
- I get up early (before the baby does). Find the time you are most productive and really try to rock it. For me, it is early in the morning.
- I wear my shoes. I can’t explain it. I’m more productive when I have shoes on my feet.
- I jump on the treadmill for 15 minutes before I sit down for a long writing session. It really gets me focused, and I can write like crazy after a jogging a mile or two.
- I make my bed. I can see my bed from my computer desk. Having a freshly made bed is nice to look at, and for some reason makes me feel good about myself. Plus, I’m less likely to jump back in it if it is already made.
- I adjust my attitude. I have found that a poor attitude leads to low productivity. I have discovered a few different ways that I can turn my perspective around if I find myself falling into a negative thinking pattern. For example, I have a list of ten things I am thankful for on a sticky note hanging off the side of my monitor. Anytime I read it, I immediately feel a rush of gratitude and positivity. It is nearly impossible to be down on yourself when you are grateful for all of the wonderful things you have.
(Gina’s Tip: Lisa Tanner wrote a popular post for us a while back in which she outlined 50 tasks that will help you grow your business and that will only take 15 minutes or less to do.)
5. Ask for More Money Efficiently
This tip isn’t time management per se, but it does help with me to make a living while working part time.
Since I’m new to the freelance writing world, I had to start low. In fact, I wrote a few articles for free when I was first starting. Obviously, we can’t sustain that if we want to make a living. Once I had a few regular clients, I knew it was time to raise my rates.
Negotiating is tough for a lot of people. It is awkward and generally unpleasant. I don’t particularly like it either. This is why I started an approach that I found very efficient and less uncomfortable.
After securing a new (low paying) client, I write 2-3 posts for them and then ask for more money. I’ve been able to double or triple my pay. The clients got used to the quality content and quick turnaround that I provided and didn’t want to go looking for a new writer.
It has worked for me on all but one customer. I simply write to the client explaining that I would love to continue writing for them, but I can no longer afford to do so at the current rate. I remind them of everything I’ve written, what makes me worth the extra money and throw in any data that is available such as number of shares or comments on my posts.
We can’t get more time in the day, so the next best option is to increase our productivity. By working efficiently and properly managing your time, you can get more work done in less time. All it takes is a little creativity and a lot of self-discipline.
So here’s my challenge to you: what is one thing that you can do in the next ten minutes that will help you further your freelancing business?
Melissa Ricker is an engineer, a freelance writer, and a mother to a beautiful baby boy. She specializes in technical writing topics ranging from career growth to business management and entrepreneurship. Melissa runs a blog (Engineered Motherhood) where she offers working mothers productivity tips, time management hacks, and life advice. She hopes to help career-minded mothers balance the two competing worlds and prove that you really can have both!