Okay, let’s get real for a minute. If you actually want to become a successful writer, you need some major productivity skillz.
With a Z.
LIKE A REAL WRITER.
Okay, no. I just like to get a little OG once in a while to keep it tight. Because, you know, fun. *rolls eyes at self*
Anyway. These skills keep your productive, and the whole act of being productive really boils down to a single word. A word you need to keep at the forefront of your mind at all times, and that word is …
Yup. Running a business and maintaining a high level of productivity at all times requires a huge amount of organization, systemization, automation and just plain chutzpah to follow through with it all. Clients will challenge you, fires will crop up and your real life will try to walk all over your biz life (and vice versa), and if you don’t have an iron managerial grip, you’ll quickly sink beneath the weight of it all.
But fear not, nascent copywriter! As long as you’re on top of it all, you’re going to be just fine. And I’m going to give you those systems right now.
Deep end, here we come.
So. It’s pretty simple. If you want to manage your time well and maximize your productivity, you need to create systems. Systems are absolutely crucial. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself way in over your head with no way of controlling the myriad variables in your life.
It’s beyond the scope of this post to go through every system that you need. Seriously, people teach entire multi-thousand dollar courses on this subject alone, but I’ll give a brief overview of the main systems I use in my everyday life: social media, email, workflow and outlining. I also offer a quick look at how I eliminate distractions when working.
Let’s dive in.
I use automation for every one of my social media platforms. I use Later for Instagram, Buffer for Facebook and Twitter posts, Crowdfire to manage my Twitter growth and BoardBooster for Pinterest. These allow me to chunk my social media time, so I’m only spending about an hour on each a week, all at once.
I set aside a day for each social media profile, then do quick check-ins on each every day – like seriously, five minutes or so.
The only social profile I spend more than an hour on is Instagram, because in addition to my business, I review books and take elaborate pics. But that is a hobby-ish thing, so I don’t really include it in my accounting. Sometimes I don’t even pay that much attention to Instagram, either; depends on my mood. Point is, social media only pays so many dividends for me, so I don’t give my life over to it. Even the ones that do pay back massively, I tend to let them run mostly on their own.
My email system does not in any way reflect the standard “check once a day, don’t let it own you, the robots are coming!” mentality that’s rampant on minimalist blogs today.
Instead, I’m in my inbox all day. I like to know right away when clients contact me, when new books are up for review and when people get in touch with me on social. I know, I know; it’s not as streamlined as it should be.
Meh. I don’t really care. Maybe one day I’ll be better about this, but not yet, because it honestly doesn’t feel like it impacts my productivity that much.
Here’s what I DO do to save time. Whenever I get an email that requires more than 30 seconds of my time, I hope over to Google calendar (where I schedule absolutely everything) and make a quick note to email that person back, then file the email. It keeps me at Inbox Zero but ensures nothing falls through the cracks. Boom.
If you want to work from home, you have to make a plan for how your day will go. Think about it: your boss at work wouldn’t be cool if you rolled in whenevs, lounged about, hit the fridge and the potty a few times, stared out a window and checked in on social media and Netflix.
You can’t live that way when you work from home, either. So don’t.
Personally, I set aside blocks of time for work, stick to them as well as I can, and make sure I take lots of breaks.
My basic sched? Well, I’m not always perfect at this, but I like to work for 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. I take 30 minutes for lunch, take a walk almost every day, and sometimes do yoga or get out for an hour or two with friends. You can set your own schedule, of course, but I recommend making an actual plan, or else the Netflix gods will steal your soul.
Just like they’ve stolen mine.
Don’t forget that you can automate tons of other things too. Scheduling your calendar. Making phone calls (I always open a doc for each client I’m going to talk to, label it clearly and get a cup of coffee before each call.) Think through everything you have to do in life, and start automating.
Outline, outline, outline.
This has saved my life a million times. I can’t even tell you how often I’ve woken up and wanted to just … crawl … back … in … bed.
When this happens, I turn to my outlines. Either I’ve made them the day before, which allows me to jump into assignments without the fear that often accompanies first starting a project. Or, if I’m not up to “real” work, I spend the day outlining assignments for clients. It’s so much lower stress, because you’re not actually creating the product. Either way, life is just plain freaking better.
You can find my outlining system in the Free Resource Library, so go find it.
Again, distractions about at home, and Netflix ain’t the only one. A few more include:
You have to grab these by the horns and refuse to succumb to them. This is different for everyone. For me, the transition to working from home was tough for two main reasons: my bed, and my family.
The former calls to me ceaselessly, all day long.
Go to sleep in meeeee, Saraaaaahhhh! Just turn on some gentle Enya and drift awaaaaaayyyy …
No, bed, no! I have so much to do! Okay, fine, I’ll still work in you, but the minute I start feeling drowsy, TO MY DESK!
As for family, they were always up in my biz for the few first years. Because they love me. And want to spend time with me. And take me to lunch.
It’s a terrible fate.
But seriously, it was hard for me to establish normal working hours commensurate with a day job and stick to them, and people didn’t love it at first. They expected me to be “free” just because I set my own schedule. But I eventually set boundaries, and now it’s no problem at all.
You’ll have your own challenges. Perhaps you have to move your home office further from your kitchen, or plan a specific time to walk your pups, or tell your unemployed boyfriend in no uncertain terms that he’s not allowed to bug you between ____ and ____. It’s all up to you, but I advise dealing with this at the outset, because it’s a tough battle to fight if you don’t draw those boundaries from the beginning.
(I talk about a lot of these subjects in my course, Overnight Copywriting. Feel free to sign up and get the comprehensive look at how copywriter’s manage their productivity and find success. If you just want some guides to help get you started, go ahead and click on that image below and get access to the Free Resource Library immediately!)
Next up is client management. You can’t be productive if you can’t handle your workflow easily, and a huge part of that is client management. Organization and getting projects in on time, scheduling calls and revision, invoicing: these are all key to productivity, and you can’t be successful without them. So let’s dig in.
Contracts! You need them. You do. Trust me.
Don’t have one? Cool. Jump online and grab one. Just fill in your deets and your client’s and you’re good to go. If you want, you can use an attorney, like I do. I only made that move last year, though, because I really do believe that most working relationships can be handled with a basic online contract. Up to you.
You know who doesn’t like boundaries, besides friends and family? Clients.
Nope, sure don’t. Their ideal is to be able to get ahold of you all day, every day. Often on weekends. Oh, and billing? They’d prefer to be pretty relaxed. And, if it’s not too much trouble (and even if it is), could you go ahead and add a few additional services, even though they’re not listed on your website and you’ve specifically stated that you don’t want to? Awesome!
NO AND NO.
Of course, not all clients are like this. Some are very respectful and require no training at all, because they have their own clients and know how they like to be treated themselves. Bless you folks!
But others definitely need to be trained up, and that’s okay. You can do it. Simply decide ahead of time:
Deciding this at the beginning makes life so much easier. It’s not necessary to state it all on your website, but it is important that you know it for two reasons: 1) so that you can set your boundaries, and 2) so that when clients ask what your “rules” are, you can tell them confidently. That way, you won’t be left gaping like a fish and looking like a total non-professional.
But! I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all bad, which is why you should also learn to …
This is actually pretty easy, and the subject of many other posts here, such as Three Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Clients.
Money! Dollah dollah bills, yo. Crucial stuff there. But easier than you think. Let’s do this.
Okay, first you gotta decide your rates. I always recommend billing separately for hourly work (research, phone calls, interviews, meetings) and per-word work (blog posts, articles, newsletters.)
In my opinion, it’s no one’s business but yours how long an assignment takes you; you should get paid the same. That’s why I always charge per-word for deliverables.
However, you should NEVER give away your time for free. You’re worth more, and honestly, it makes you look LESS professional, not more, to do so. Your clients want to know your time is worth something, so take it seriously. Set an hourly rate for any and all work outside assignments, and stick to it.
So now you have to decide how much you’ll bill. This is really up to you, and I’m not going to do a deep dive here. However, I give an extremely detailed formula in Overnight Direct Marketing, so if you’ve already signed up for it, you can go find out there. If not, you might want to sign up, or you can just do this simple evaluation.
Pick a reasonable starting rate. For instance, if you just got out of school, you might charge 10 cents a word. If you’re very new, and have no experience to show for it (including school projects), you could lower that to 7 or 8 cents. Don’t worry, you won’t be there long, so just go with what you think is more reasonable for now.
If you’re young and inexperienced, you won’t make that much at first. Ah, well. That’s the norm, so stick with it and your pay will rise faster than you think. BUT I encourage you not to undersell yourself. Most new writers do that, and it’s a mistake. Again, you’re worth more, and your clients will be happier paying you a bit more if it assures them you’re a professional. So don’t undercut the competition; it will always work against you.
PayPal is the only way to bill when you’re starting out. It’s easy, it’s reliable and it only takes a small cut of your earnings … less than 3 percent. For its ease of use, it is SO worth it.
This is a big one, and people approach it wrong all the time.
The problem? A lot of people think they can do their own taxes because it isn’t physically dangerous. But c’mon, would you try to rewire your own house??
Hell no! So why would you eff with your finances, credit and overall security? It’s downright stupid, and can lead to literal ruin.
RUIN, I tell you!
Okay, I’m being a little too lighthearted here. Ruin is real. It happens, and it can happen to you.
Basically the only people who should do their own taxes are W-2 employees. Once you have own your own business, your taxes are GUARANTEED to be too complicated. The cost of what you do wrong or fail to deduct is going to be way more than having someone else do it. Plus, it will take you 10 times as long and no matter how much time you spend, still won’t be as good. Think about what you could do with that time (areas in which you’re actually an expert), and don’t do it.
Just get a tax guy or gal or non-gendered person, and don’t look back.
Okay, so that was a lot of information. Obviously there are other ways I maintain my productivity, but these really are the main ones. I offer a closer look at my systems in the Free Resources, which you can gain access to by signing up. Just click that pretty box below! Also, you can head to my courses Overnight Copywriting (which this post is excerpted from) or Overnight Direct Marketing to learn more about becoming a badass writer with productivity out the wazoo.
You got this, friend. I know you do.
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