Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Staying organized is one of the most important keys to success for freelancers. You need a task management system that ensures that nothing falls between the cracks. The best system will be the one that works for you.

I’ve known people who write everything on post-it notes and others who prefer to digitally record all of their tasks.

I do a mix of both. I keep all tasks online, using the free app Wunderlist, and I also write up a to-do list on paper each morning.

Tracking tasks with Wunderlist

I use Wunderlist to keep track of all client and personal tasks.

When I receive a task in my email, I read it over and then copy/paste into Wunderlist. I save these tasks individually in the client’s list.

If a due date is provided, I add it. My standard turnaround time is 48 hours unless a different deadline was agreed upon.

I set a reminder on each task for the day before it’s due.

When the deadline approaches, Wunderlist will display a pop-up reminder and send an email about the task.

How I organize Wunderlist

To set up Wunderlist, I created two main folders – Clients and Inactive Clients.

In those folders, I create a new list for each client labeled with the client’s name.

In those lists, I add all of the daily tasks for the client.

I also keep my personal to-dos in Wunderlist under categories such as “Housework, Admin, and Things to Buy.” I also record tasks for this blog and The Sturm Agency in Wunderlist.

Other features of Wunderlist

The free version of Wunderlist has numerous other features including:

  • Subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can add these components to each task.
  • Setting recurring tasks. I have numerous recurring tasks, usually involving invoicing or doing some specific task each week or month.
  • Starring. This allows you to prioritize or distinguish a specific task.
  • Sharing. You can share lists with another person.
  • Emailing and printing list

Paid plans include even more features like:

  • Unlimited subtasks
  • Unlimited files
  • Unlimited assigning/delegating tasks
  • More backgrounds

The pro plan makes collaborating with teammates on Wunderlist streamlined and simple.

Using a paper to-do list

I prefer to be a little old school in my daily approach. Each morning I look at Wunderlist to determine which tasks are due that day then I write up a to-do list on paper. I previously used a small notebook from Amazon ($10), but am now using Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year to-do list that came with her 2017 planners.

I write down my to-do list items in order of importance. Typically the first 1-3 tasks must be done that day while the others have some leeway.

I enjoy both crossing something off a tangible list as well as clicking on a checkbox online. My system works for me because it allows me to keep everything in place while focusing on what I need to do today.

Finding a system that works for you will ensure that you never miss a deadline again. 

**This post contains affiliate links**

 

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

March 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

Things started looking up a bit in March although I feel like leads are slow everywhere. Some of my best resources for finding freelance leads have been very sparse this month. I also underestimated the impact that losing two major clients would have on my feelings about freelancing. I felt very defeated for most of the month and had a hard time getting in the right headspace to look for more clients. I do feel like this is a low point during my self-employment career, but I know that I will bounce back from it. I’m sure some of the feelings have to do with being pregnant, taking care of a toddler all day, and being exhausted.

Here’s what happened in March.

Positives

  • Hired a designer to redesign and rebrand Freelancing Mama

After spending some time looking at other great websites, I decided to hire Pixel Me Designs to create a new look for Freelancing Mama. I cannot wait to unveil the new look this summer. I’m redesigning my blog as part of my effort to monetize and grow this site. I’m finishing up an ebook on virtual assistance and hope to have some courses and other products available before the end of 2017.

  • Did project work for a former pitch

Freelancing is a tricky game. I applied for quite a few jobs in February and didn’t get most of them. I have a 10-20% success rate when pitching which is totally normal. One of the client I pitched for, who ended up going with another freelancer, contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some research work. I took the assignment.

  • Was referred by a few people

I had three different people reach out to me based on referrals from former clients. I don’t know if any of these referrals will turn into gigs, but hopefully I will find out in April.

  • Negotiated a raise with a long-time client

I was able to negotiate a raise with a long-time client that helped boost my income a bit. I only spend about 10-15 hours per month working with this client, but every extra dollar per hour helps. If you’re looking to raise your rates, check out my post on how to do it.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I have not recovered financially from February’s client dropoff. It will probably take some time to get back where I was. I don’t expect to be at January 2017 income until after I return from my maternity leave in September.

  • Negative mindset and decreased motivation

I’ve had issues with feeling defeated this month. The combination of losing clients and the stress of my son’s approaching due date got to me. I spent some time on self-care and read a bunch of books in my downtime. Near the end of March I started feeling more optimistic and started putting myself out there again. Hopefully, things will continue to improve in April.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I have a lot of ground to make up from my lost clients before I will be at the “increasing income” level. Right now I’m trying to get back to where I was in January.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by April or May. This goal has moved down on the importance list for now.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’m thinking that sponsoring something in the summer or fall would be the best bet. It may take that long to get my business back on track. I was in a much better position when I made this goal in December 2016 than I am now.

Income Snapshot

As you can see, my income went down in March. I had no remaining payments coming in from the February clients and I didn’t add any other income sources.

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

Overall, March continued on a downward trend, but I’m hopeful that the rest of the year will improve.

Freelancing Mama: Amethyst Storey

The Freelancing Mama interview series features women who run their own businesses and balance working, often from home, with raising children.

 

I’m excited to kick off the series with Amethyst Storey!

Amethyst started her business, The Infinite Virtual Assistant, in December 2016 to provide medical billing, claims account management, scheduling, accounting, customer service, project management, troubleshooting, strategic positioning, and other virtual assistant services.

She has over 14 years of experience in customer service, billing, claims, and administrative work.

She is also a single mother of three amazing children, two with special needs.

1) What’s your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur/small business owner?

Amethyst: Setting my own hours and being able to work from anywhere I want and being able to spend more time with my children.

 

2) How has being a mother affected your business or drive to succeed?

Amethyst: Being a mother has given me more motivation than ever before. I want to spend more time with my kids so I work my business harder since I’m working to support 3 children on my own.

 

3) What challenges do you face as a mother and entrepreneur/small business owner?

Amethyst: I have 3 children and 2 have special needs so I have to balance raising my kids with working. I currently put in a lot of hours on my business because I’m a startup. I’ve been in business since December 2016 and am trying to build up my clientele.

 

4) Did becoming a mother change you? How?

Amethyst: Yes, it changed my entire focus in life for the better.

 

5) What is your favorite thing about being a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: My favorite thing about being a virtual assistant is that I get to help people build their business while earning an income and I get to network with some great people.

 

6) What’s your favorite thing about working from home/working remotely?

Amethyst: Working from anywhere I choose.

 

7) What’s the most challenging thing about working from home/working remotely?

Amethyst: Not letting myself get distracted.

 

8) Which tasks do you enjoy the most?

Amethyst: Graphic design and social media.

 

9) Which tasks do you dread?

Amethyst: Data Entry. I’m good at it but it bores me. I type at a rate of 85+ words per minute accurately.

 

10) Who could benefit from having a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: Anyone who has a business and wants to have more time to focus on what they are passionate about, wants to delegate out tasks that they aren’t great at because the right VA can get those tasks completed quicker, and anyone whose business is growing.

 

11) Why should someone hire a virtual assistant/hire you as a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: I offer a FREE 30 minute consultation to see why your needs are and if we are a fit. You can schedule a call on my website. I also offer package deals to keep my prices down and am flexible on pricing. I work with the client to meet their needs while staying within budget. Most VAs offer 2 revisions for free and I offer up to 5 because I want satisfied clients that will want to refer me to their friends.

 

12) What advice would you give someone who wants to start a virtual assistant business?

Amethyst: My advice would be to sit down and make a list of the softwares and online skills you have. Narrow it down to find your niche. Decide who your perfect client is. Choose a name for your company. Create a logo for your company. Get yourself out there on social media and network, network, network.

 

You can connect with Amethyst here:

Twitter.com/TheInfiniteVA
Facebook.com/TheInfiniteVA
Linkedin.com/in/amethyst-storey-6088613a
Instagram.com/the_infinite_virtual_assistant


Contact me
if you’d like to be featured in a future interview!

Freelancers & Mamas, Work When You Can

As a freelancing mama, it’s hard to find time to get everything done. During my first year freelancing, I struggled to find a balance. I was working when I should have been doing other things like cleaning, exercising, relaxing, or spending time with my family. I didn’t get to enjoy my self-made schedule.

I thought that working from home meant I needed to be working every moment that I was at home. This was exhausting because I’m home 95% of the week. I couldn’t possibly work during all of my waking hours. That wouldn’t be fair to my husband, daughter, or myself.

After a year, I got into a better routine and became more comfortable with the idea that I didn’t need to constantly work. I realized work was always going to be there. I wasn’t ever going to reach a point where I completed absolutely everything, emptied the 4-6 inboxes I manage, and wrapped up all of my personal projects and goals.

Instead of worrying about working all the time, I started working when I could.

I used these methods to find a better work/life balance.

Wake up earlier

One way to I was able to get things done without feeling the panic of needing to do other things was by waking up earlier. Sleep is very important and I make sure to get at least 7 hours per night, but I didn’t need to get 9-10 hours every day. Instead, I would wake up before my daughter and get some work done in complete silence.

I found that 1-2 hours of concentrated work, without my daughter, was often more productive than 3-4 hours of work with my daughter around.

I don’t particularly like getting up earlier, but I know that I always have the option especially when my workload is heavy.

Dedicate one evening per week to working

Thursdays are usually my working nights. I go down in my office around 7 pm and stay there until 10 or 11. I don’t do this any other day of the week (unless there’s an urgent request or emergency).

Only doing it one night per week makes it tolerable. If I did this every night, I wouldn’t have any time with my husband. I chose Thursdays because my husband and I stay up later on Fridays and spend time together. Even if I’ve had a frustrating night working, I always go to bed thinking “It’s OK, tomorrow night I’ll relax.”

I also sneak in a little more office time when my husband travels. He travels for work anywhere from 2-10 days per month. When he’s gone, I typically spend the evenings working after I put my daughter to sleep.

Do a little work on the weekends

Most weekend days, I go downstairs and shut myself in my office for two hours. I typically do this as soon as I wake up.

I do my 30 minutes of writing and then tackle client work for 90 minutes. I can get a surprising amount of stuff done in that time because I’m 100% focused on completing tasks. When I come back upstairs at 10:30 or 11 am, I don’t feel like I’ve missed any of the day and my stress levels are decreased because I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Work in spurts

It will be years before I can work for an uninterrupted eight hours again. I plan on continuing to grow my business and work for myself for the rest of my life. This means that I probably won’t be working eight hour days until my daughter goes into kindergarten in three years. At that point, I hope to have more children that would still be home. With the amount of children I’d like, I estimate 3 – 10 years from now before I would work full-time hours again.

Instead of worrying about how much I’m working, I grab 10 minutes here and there throughout the day. My daughter can entertain herself long enough for me to respond to a few emails or jot down some thoughts for a future project or blog.

My brain has learned to run on spurts. I’ve gotten so much better at getting focused immediately. In college, I would sit at my desk for hours before I began writing a paper. Now, it’s do or die. I use the 10 minutes or I waste it. And I don’t want to waste it.

Take on less

At some point, you may realize that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. As my daughter has gotten older, I had to become comfortable with taking on less. This has many perks. I’m able to take my daughter to lessons, mom’s groups, playdates or the library in the middle of the day without worrying about not being able to finish my work.

Having a decreased workload means that I only take on high paying, quality work. I’m no longer pitching for things on Upwork or accepting content mill jobs because it’s not worth my time.

It’s hard balancing a business and a family. Much like running a side hustle when you’re a full-time employee, you just have to find the time where you can.

You won’t always work a consistent schedule each week. Some weeks you’ll find more time and other weeks will be so packed with personal obligations that you may feel like you’re getting nothing done.

When you look at your accomplishments, try to take the long view. It doesn’t matter if today was unproductive if the past two weeks have been great. One of the greatest benefits of working for yourself is that you decide when you work – and you work when you can.

work-when-you-can

7 Lessons I’ve Learned from Two Years in Business

On March 1, 2015, I made a life-changing decision. I started my business, The Sturm Agency. My first day, I had one virtual assistant client and two marketing clients. Two years later, the business has grown to support nine clients and numerous one-time projects.

Here are seven of the most important lessons I’ve learned from two years in business:

1) Get a contract

I did a few deals early on without any formal contracts. The end result was not good for my business.

Contracts keep you safe as a freelancer. They help add a small element of security into an otherwise insecure job.

Contracts should include the following:

  • Your payment schedule and what happens if a client pays late
  • Your cancellation policy and how much notice a client is required to give you when they want to move on
  • Your terms and agreed upon duties/tasks

2) Expect the best, prepare for the worst

One of the most challenging things about being a freelancer, or someone who owns a small business, is the unpredictability of income.

In a traditional workplace, you can lose your job at any time, but usually you’re spoken to about the status of the company or your performance before that happens.

I’ve had a few issues with clients who refused to pay me. One client owned a particularly large sum and was 2+ months late with payment over the holiday season. They eventually paid up, but it was a stressful situation.

This year, I lost my largest client due to restructuring in his business. I have to admit, I wasn’t prepared for this. I let myself have a few days to mourn the loss and then sprung into action. I began submitting proposals for new positions and created a pitch log in Google Drive. Even though I remained optimistic, the hits kept on coming and I lost another long-term client that same month!

I needed to make up a certain amount of income per month to match what the clients were providing. I knew this would be difficult as they were two of my largest clients. However, I had always known that it wasn’t a great idea to have one or two clients constituting around 45% of my monthly income. I wanted that number to be no higher than 30% for one client, going forward.

Preparing for the inevitable loss of income, or lean times, is something you should do as a business owner. You don’t want to be left surprised and unable to pay your bills.

3) Get your systems in place

  • Use a project management system

I use Wunderlist for keeping track of my client’s tasks. I copy and paste each task into their list and give it a due date. Each morning I look through my Wunderlist tasks and make a paper list of what I need to do for the day. This ensures that nothing gets overlooked. It also keeps me from using my inbox as a to-do list.

  • Have an onboarding process

I onboard my new clients with a 20-30 minute introductory phone call. I get to know their needs and how they like to work. From there, I send an email that says how I work best, how to get in contact with me, and what my hours and turnaround times are. I also send over an engagement contract.

  • Use an organization system

I keep everything in Google Drive. This frees up space on my computer and allows me to access my files anywhere, should I need to.

I organize my folders this way:

Main folder: Current Clients

Subfolder: Client Name

Subfolder(s): Documents, Projects, Contracts (all with their own folder)

I also keep a Former Clients folder and a Potential Clients folder for people who decided to go with another person for the job or put the job on hold for the time being. These connections may come in handy in the future.

4) Get help from professionals

Although I have an MBA and could do my taxes and accounting, I choose to hire this work out to a CPA. I want to use my time to further my talents, not do work that I dislike. This minimal expense saves me a lot of time and frustration.

If you don’t like marketing, hire someone out. If you don’t do graphics or images, find someone who does. Trying to do everything in your business will cause burn out. One person cannot do everything.

5) Ask for reviews/testimonials/referrals

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to ask for reviews or testimonials with my first few clients. I only recently started chasing people down for reviews after we completed work together.

Testimonials and reviews strengthen your brand and legitimize your business. The more you can get, the better. Start a reviews/testimonials page on your website and begin adding them as soon as you start working with clients.

6) Make it easy for people to find and contact you

You need a website. It should look good and be easy to navigate. You should have a place where people can easily find your contact information.

Recently, I added a contact form to my website. I should have done it a long time ago! Within one week of adding it, I had two clients contact me asking about my services. I can only assume it was because I made it very easy to work with me.

Create a separate page for contacting you titled “Hire me” or “Work with me” and have an easy-to-use form. People don’t want to have to copy your email address, open their email, and write up a message.

7) Stay grateful and humble

On a more philosophical note, I feel that having the right attitude does a lot for your business and your success.

There are a lot of people who are running their businesses with massive egos. These people are very difficult to work with. Often the biggest egos are the easiest to bruise.

I credit a lot of my success to staying grateful and humble. I am so thankful every time a new client reaches out to me. I think my appreciative attitude, both in my heart and outwardly to my clients, is something that sets me apart.

Running a business is no easy task and I’m proud to say that I’ve done it for two years. I hope to continue running my business for the rest of my working life.

Seven Lessons I've Learned From Two Years in Business

February 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

Starting this month, I’ve decided to share my monthly business reports. In these reports, I’ll discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I’ve made towards my 2017 goals. I’ll also give a snapshot my earnings.

Although I’m starting the recaps this month, I have to admit, it’s been one of the worst months I’ve had since I started my business in 2015.

Here’s what happened.

Positives

I should have done this so much sooner! Within a week of adding an easy-to-use contact form to my Squarespace website, I received two client requests. Ultimately, one did not work out, but the other did.

I got a brand new client without the effort of pitching or self-promotion. I have always had my email address in a visible location on my page, but adding the Work With Me contact form made a huge difference. If you don’t have one, get one!

  • Raised client rates

I had two long-term clients (1.5 years and 2 years) who had not had a rate increase since I started working with them. My work load had changed and my experience had grown so I knew I needed to raise my rates. I wrote about this topic as I was doing it so saying “feel the fear and raise your rates anyway” was as much for readers as it was for myself.

  • Started regularly cold emailing

As you’ll read in my negatives section, I unexpectedly lost two clients this month. Although, this was a negative, it led to a positive. I began cold emailing local businesses and organizations on a daily basis. I set a goal of sending out five emails/messages per business day. I began this practice near the end of February and have not had sales yet.

  • Set daily social media goals

I know how important an active social media presence is for small businesses, but I’m often so busy doing client work that I don’t practice what I preach and put time into my own business. In February, I set the goal of following 10 people on Twitter and pinning 10-20 things each day. I’ll continue to up my social media game once The Sturm Agency site is live in March.

I decided to shift some of my attention to making this blog more successful. I enrolled in Elite Blog Academy and have started working on the lessons. I’m really excited to see where this takes me!

Negatives

  • Loss of two long-time clients

A client that I’d be working with since Zirtual days (August 2014) who was also my highest paying client, made a business change and no longer needed my services. The announcement was a bit of a shock, but I had noticed a slowing down in usage over the past few months. There was a sudden problem with paying my invoices on time. This client ultimately refused to pay me for my last month of service.

Although this is not the only client I’ve lost, this experience was a learning lesson for me on several fronts. I was given no notice that work was ending, but was simply told “don’t work from today on”. That day happened to be my birthday.

I also lost a client who decided to use another company. This client loss surprised me because we’d also been working together for two years. Unfortunately, I’d made a small error about a month ago that the client was very upset about. I have to believe it contributed to my dismissal. This client gave me a week’s notice, but then canceled payment three days later.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Always have a contract in place. I had never put together a formal contract with these clients and I wished I had. It may not have gotten me anything more than 30 days notice or an extra payment, but that would have made a difference.

2) Don’t have too much tied up in one client. I preach diversification and am working towards that model, but one particular client still held too much of my monthly income (around 45%). Their leaving caused me to scramble for new clients.

3) Don’t assume that small business owners or entrepreneurs will give you the same courtesy that they’d want. I was very surprised to find that both clients ended the relationship with very little notice and showed a lack of caring, respect and integrity during our final interactions. These clients are entrepreneurs who have fluctuating incomes based on booking gigs or securing projects. This experience made me vow to have a more compassionate approach should I ever hire someone and need to stop services.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

The goal took a hit with the loss of two clients. I think I can recover from this, but it will be a bit of a struggle. I’ve had to look for more opportunities and ask for more subcontracting work in the meantime.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet. I hope to have at least one new local client in March.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

I think we’re going to use Squarespace for The Sturm Agency, but I’m not sure yet. I really love the simplicity of it and because I don’t intend on monetizing the site. I intend on keeping it as a “business information only” site while maintaining Freelancing Mama as my blog and future monetization opportunity. I plan to get something live by the end of March.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

Nothing jumped out as the right opportunity in February, but I will continue to keep looking for possible sponsorships in the Roscoe, Rockton or Rockford, IL areas.

Income Snapshot

untitled-presentation

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

Overall, it was a rough month, but I’m confident that March will bring better luck.

feb-2017-business-report