Invoicing and Project-Management Systems for Freelancers

When you are new to freelancing, setting up a system to manage projects and finances doesn’t seem as urgent as getting your marketing efforts in gear. But if your marketing efforts generate a flood of new projects and inquiries, you may wish you had spent more time establishing a business-management workflow. It is definitely advantageous to have some sort of accounting system in place when prepare your estimated tax payments each quarter.

FreshBooks_logoTwo options that can help freelancers, home-based businesses, entrepreneurs, and other very-small businesses better manage their projects, invoices, and finances are FreshBooks and Sage One. 

I haven’t fully investigated all features. But I am providing some initial impressions here so you can determine if either option fits your business, budget, and long-term goals.

SageOne-logo-MediumFreshBooks and Sage One are both cloud-based services that are provided on a subscription basis. Both are designed for use by people without accounting backgrounds or a lot of spare time to learn complex software. Both services enable you to do such things as send invoices customized with your branding, track overdue invoices, and import expenses from banks and credit-card accounts.

While FreshBooks already has apps available for iOS and Android devices, both services will eventually enable you to access your accounts from laptops, PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Subscribers will automatically get new features as the companies continue to refine their software.

The major differences between the two products come from their roots. FreshBooks, which was launched as a brand-new product in 2004, has a super-friendly interface that clearly reflects the design-firm experience of one of its founders. Sage One, which was launched in the U.S. in May, 2012, is the “very-small-business” edition of a family of accounting and business-management software for small to mid-sized businesses.. The Sage One service has an interface that means business. The smart dashboard gives you an at-a-glance picture of your income and expenses, account balances, and unpaid invoices.

Both FreshBooks and Sage One can help you be more productive and efficient in managing your time, projects, and money. They both can deliver the type of data you need to figure out whether you are just super-busy or super-busy and profitable.


FreshBooksSoftwareFreshBooks promotes itself as the “No. 1 cloud-based accounting solution designed exclusively for small business owners.” The company was founded in 2004 by a design-firm owner who wanted easy-to-use tools for time-tracking, invoicing, and expense management. FresBooks has been used by 5 million people in 120 countries.

I started using FreshBooks last fall for time tracking and and sending invoices. I first learned about FreshBooks when company co-founder Mike McDerment gave a presentation at the 2011 International Freelancer Day conference about how, when and why to hire your first employee.

One way to determine when it’s time to hire some help is to track how you are spending your own time each day.

When you audit your day and see how you actually spend your time, you will inevitably find certain tasks that you just aren’t good at, said McDerment.  As a solopreneur, you may find yourself spending very little time on your core competency (design, writing, photography) because so much of your time is consumed with administrative paperwork.

When you devote too many hours to tasks that are inefficient and distracting, you have fewer hours to focus on doing billable work–the type of work you most enjoy.

Time-tracking also matters to creative pros because we tend to be perfectionists by nature. Or, when we work on particularly engaging projects, we tend to get “in the flow” and lose track of time entirely. Either way, we often spend far more time on flat-fee projects than we originally estimated. As a creative pro who has worked with lots of other creative pros, the founder of FreshBooks seems to instinctively understand this. 

The time-tracking feature of FreshBooks has helped me understand why perfectionist tendencies can put my ability to earn a living as a solopreneur at risk. Getting sidetracked by projects that fascinate me robs me of time that could be more productively spent on networking, marketing, or working on other assignments.

The time-tracker has helped me produce more realistic estimates and avoid unprofitable, flat-fee projects that might consume more time than they are worth. Time-tracking also helps me see how much time I am actually spending writing each day.  

Another feature that attracted me to FreshBooks was the ability to send invoices in whatever form the client preferred. I can send invoices electronically, email them as PDF attachments to personalized cover letters, or send invoices via old-fashioned snail mail. No matter what form I choose, all of the invoices are tracked from a single point.

FreshBook offers the ability to:

  • Quickly create professional-looking estimates that can later be turned into invoices
  • Track hours spent by project, task, and team member
  • Set different hourly rates for different types of tasks
  • Automatically send monthly invoices to clients who pay on retainer
  • Set up online payments through PayPal or 13 other payment gateways
  • Track offline payments
  • Create team timesheets
  • Track unbilled hours

The FreshBooks app on my iPhone and iPad lets me scan printed receipts for easy attachment to expense reports.

As your business (and client list) grows, FreshBooks can be integrated with related business-management software such as MailChimp (for newsletters and e-mail marketing), Salesforce (customer-relationship management), or Sage 50 accounting software for small  businesses.

You can try FreshBooks for free if you fewer than 3 clients and don’t mind having the FreshBooks brand on your invoices. A “Seedling” subscription to FreshBooks costs $19.99 per month if you have up to 25 clients and a single administrator.You can upgrade to “Evergreen” ($29/month) and “Mighty Oak” ($39/month) plans with unlimited clients and the ability to manage team timesheets and team expense reports.



Sage One

SageOneDashboard-BSage One  is designed to help all types of solo entrepreneurs, home-based businesses, and freelancers take control of their finances and manage day-to-day operations without letting time-sensitive tasks fall through the cracks. 

Sage One can help with money management, invoicing, project tracking, task assignment, messaging, and reporting. It can help alleviate problems caused by disorganized record-keeping and redundant and inconsistent data entry.

Sage North America introduced Sage One software to the U.S in May, 2012. It is specifically designed for owners of very small businesses (from 1 to 9 employees) and is part of a family of accounting products for businesses with up to 500 employees. 

The Sage One product comes from The Sage Group plc, a long-time provider of the Peachtree accounting and business-management software for small to mid-sized companies. The Sage Group plc is a London-based company that has been in business since 1981. They have over 6 million customers in 24 countries. Sage North America is based in Irvine, California, serves more than 3.2 million customers.

Here are a few of the things Sage One can help you do related to invoicing and money management:.

  • Accept online payments through Sage Payment Solutions or PayPal
  • Categorize expenses using a customizable account list
  • Generate small-business accounting reports (profit and loss ,balance sheet, aged invoices)
  • Match and categorize recurring transactions
  • Record income and expenses for accounts
  • Review and resend unpaid invoices

To keep your daily work more organized, Sage One can help you

  • Create and manage tasks for your team and customers
  • Review due dates, estimates, and time
  • Access files and emails in one place anywhere, anytime
  • Keep files, messages, and correspondence organized for future reference
  • Review and track team activities

A monthly subscription is regularly priced at $29 per month ($24 per month until August 31). Readers of Creatives at Work can take advantage of a special offer for $15 per month.


Sage One

Discount Subscription Offer for Creatives at Work Readers

Preliminary Observations

If you decide to give Sage One  a try, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. I have downloaded a trial version, but haven’t yet set it up. At first glance, SageOne looks more versatile and robust than FreshBooks. And I am aware that I could use SageOne in conunction with a standalone time-tracking app.

But I love having the time-tracker within FreshBooks. Alerts warn me whenever I am exceeding the amount of time I allocated for a specific project.

Neither FreshBooks or Sage One will eliminate the need for accountants (particularly as your business grows). But they can help reduce the amount of time you spend preparing to meet with your accountant. And your accountant will love it if you have all of your income and expense information organized and readily available.

In fact, my contacts at SageOne tell me that a Sage One Accountants Edition is planned for release later this year. This module (free for accountants) will enable your outside bookkeeper or accountant to log in securely and review your financial records on the Sage One cloud platform. 

If you haven’t yet lined up an accountant for your business, the FreshBooks platform can help you find accountants in your area.

Setting up business-management software requires some time and effort, so choose wisely! Once you get a system set up for your clients and team members, you may be reluctant to switch.

Keep in mind that cloud-based software will continue to evolve. Developers of cloud-based software respond to requests from their users. So, once you get a system installed, you can always ask for new (or fewer) features.


AWAI Announces Web Copywriting Portal

According to Forrester Research statistics published by the American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), the amount of money spent on online marketing is expected to rise from $34 billion in 2011 to $55 billion in 2016.

To help freelance writers develop the skills needed to serve online marketers,  AWAI has created a resource-rich website to assist online copywriters.  Called AWAI’s Web Copywriting Division, the portal includes articles on web copywriting techniques and best practices, a web copywriting-specific forum, a blog to keep readers updated on the latest trends, and an online copywriting job board.

“AWAI’s Web Copywriting Division is a great resource for copywriters specializing in the web and online copy,” says AWAI Executive Director Katie Yeakle. “We’ve collected everything they need to accelerate their careers in one place.”

Web copywriting experts featured on the site include Nick Usborne, Heather Lloyd-Martin, and Jay White. All are industry veterans, with decades of experience in online copywriting. They’ll share proven techniques they’ve learned over the years, as well as the latest tactics they’ve been using with their clients.

Articles already posted on the site include:

Writing Effective, Short-Copy Emails by Michele Peterson

How to Write a Killer Press Release and Use It to Bring Traffic to Your Clients Website by John Wood

What Every Web Writer Needs to Know About Submitting Copy to a Web Designer by Heather Robinson

The site also features copywriting-related books, such as Copywriting 2.0: Your Complete Guide to Writing Web Copy that Converts by Nick Usborne and How to Price and Land the Top 7 Web Copy Projects by Rebecca Matter.

American Writers and Artists Inc. is a leading publisher of home-study programs for direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography and graphic design.


AWAI Web Copywriting Division

About AWAI


AWAI Updates Online Course on Freelance Copywriting

Freelance writers can expand their services (and revenues) by diversifying into more lucrative, specialized fields such as copywriting. One organization that can help you learn the secrets of persuasive writing is American Writers & Artists (AWAI) Inc. They recently completed a top-to-bottom updating of their “Masters Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.” The update (dubbed Version 3.0) is the most thorough overhaul of the content since the copywriting program was created 12 years ago.

Designed to help new copywriters ratchet up their skills, the Masters Program contains lessons based on the analysis of direct-response sales letters, campaigns, and web copy.

The AWAI team added new copywriting secrets based on current trends, created multimedia elements such as audio and video presentations, and upated every single section with new techniques, strategies, and information. The entire copywriting program is now online, making it accessible to freelance writers worldwide.

The six modules of the course will teach you how to:

  • Simplify your writing so you communicate one idea at a time in short sentences
  • Incorporate high-level selling skills into written copy and video presentations
  • Write online sales letters
  • Get readers to open sales emails
  • Improve your headlines and bullet points
  • Optimize the performance of your home page
  • Write copy to overcome short attention spans
  • Deal with clients and build up your copywriting business
  • Find a winning tone, style, and voice for your writing
  • Increase your daily productivity

Since 1997, American Writers and Artists Inc. has been publishing home-study programs for direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography, and graphic design. Other titles in their library of programs include:

How to Write Online Video Scripts for B2B Companies

How to Price, Quote, and Win B2B Writing Projects

Build Your Freelance Website in Four Days

The Legalities of Copywriting Made Simple


About American Writers & Artists, Inc.

Master’s Program for Six-Figure Copywriting: Version 3.0

Writing Coach Helps Freelancers Be Prolific and Confident

WRITERS. Writing coach Angela Booth has released a new creativity training program entitled: “Turn Your Creativity into Cash: Writers’ Creativity Secrets.”  The program combines a 63-page PDF e-book and a collection of motivational MP3 audio files that encourage you to “Affirm! Take Charge of Your Writing and Your Life.”

Based on insights gained while coaching individual writers, Booth developed the “Turn  Your Creativity Into Cash” program to help two kinds of writers: those who are stuck in a low-paid writing ghetto, and writers who lack confidence.

“There are endless opportunities for writers today. Professionals are fully booked for months ahead,” says Booth. She believes writers need two things to succeed: “They need to be creative, and prolific, both in writing, and in promoting their work.”

If you spend a lot of time writing a lot of low-paid jobs, the strategies presented in “Turn Your Creativity into Cash: Writers’ Creativity Secrets” might help you get better-paying gigs.

If you lack the confidence to promote yourself, Booth says you might be missing some great opportunities or failing to make the most of opportunities you’re given.  The motivational audios help eliminate negative beliefs, and build confidence and imagination. The goal is to encourage you to be more proactive in your marketing efforts, and less tentative in going about it.

Angela uses the MP3 audio files herself, and says: “Many of us carry negative beliefs. They’re deeply embedded in our unconscious mind, so we’re unaware of them. We only recognize them because they limit our writing. The MP3s help writers to clear negativities which constrain their creativity.”

Angela Booth is a copywriter, and writing teacher who has been writing successfully since the 1970s. She offers guides, courses, and classes on different types of writing.


Turn Your Creativity into Cash: Writers’ Creativity Secrets

Angela Booth’s Writing Blogs

About Angela Booth


Survey Shows Companies Plan to Spend More on Social Media

In a new survey by The Creative Group, more than half (53 percent) of advertising and marketing executives interviewed said they expect companies to increase their investment in Facebook this year. Respondents also anticipate more marketing dollars will be channeled toward Twitter (43 percent), Google+ (41 percent), LinkedIn (38 percent) and YouTube (36 percent).

The national survey was developed by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm. The survey results are based on more than 500 telephone interviews — approximately 375 with marketing executives randomly selected from companies with 100 or more employees and 125 with advertising executives randomly selected from agencies with 20 or more employees.

When advertising and marketing executives were asked, “Do you anticipate that companies will increase or decrease their advertising/marketing investment in the following social media sites in 2012?,” their responses were as follows:

“Companies recognize the powerful role social media can play in brand building, and they are willing to invest in initiatives that can help them increase customer engagement,” said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. “As platforms like Facebook continue to evolve, it’s especially important for businesses to keep pace.”

Added Farrugia, “Although companies plan to spend more on social media, finding the talent needed to oversee these programs can pose a challenge. Bringing in freelancers who have worked on successful social media initiatives can be helpful, since these professionals can not only develop and implement strategies but also impart their expertise to core team members during the process.”


 About The Creative Group

Two Books Describe Pricing Strategies for Freelancers

WRITERS. As a solopreneur, there are certain times you think about pricing: (1) when preparing your tax return (and seeing how much—or how little—you actually earned for the year);  and (2) when a client asks you to provide a price as quickly as possible.  Long-time freelance writer and editor Laurie Lewis has written two books that can help in both situations.

“What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants” is a 185-page book that was initially published in 2000 and updated in February 2011. Self-published through Outskirts Press, the new version is available in both print and e-book formats.

“Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW” is a 5,000-word e-book. Lewis wrote the e-book after receiving an email from a panicked freelancer who needed to come up with an appropriate fee for a job, but didn’t have time to read the long-form book, “What to Charge.”

What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants

Because fees vary so widely and can rise and fall with the economy, this book doesn’t include a list of average rates for specific services.  Instead, Lewis provides practical strategies that have been proven to work over a period of years—even through the 2008 recession and in today’s globally competitive economy.

Lewis emphasizes that success in freelance pricing goes beyond naming an appropriate fee for a specific job. She explains how to protect yourself before accepting a job, keep detailed records of how you spend your time, and analyze your pricing after the job is completed.

Lewis shows how pricing strategies can support the different goals you set for your freelance business at different stages of your life and career.

“What to Charge” explains the different methods of pricing (hourly, per diem, retainer, project, unit, etc.) and why you probably will not use just one single method.  You will also learn:

  • How to identify the going rate for your region, industry, and type of client
  • How to gather information about a job before accepting it
  • Why it’s important to keep task-based logs
  • How to set flat-fee project rates
  • How to prepare to negotiate fees with confidence
  • What to include in contracts and letters of agreement
  • What to do when you don’t get the project
  • How to use information from your end-of-job and year-end analyses
  • How to increase your fees and give yourself a raise

The book contains instructive, real-world experiences of a variety of freelancers. These examples illustrate some consequences of setting your prices too low or overlooking key items during the information-gathering and contract-writing stages of the process.

“What to Charge” emphasizes the value of keeping a detailed log of all of the non-writing tasks that may be required to complete a freelance project (e.g. arranging and preparing for interviews, creating tables and captions, etc.).

In a section covering frequently asked questions, Lewis addresses thorny issues such as:

  • Can you charge for travel time?
  • May you charge for overtime or rush work?
  • What’s a good payment schedule for a long-term project?
  • What should you do about a slow-paying client?
  • Can you change your fee after a job has begun?
  • Can you charge a client who hounds you for advice?

At the end of the book, Lewis reminds us that pricing is both a science and an art: “It’s the art of pricing that turns a good business into an outstanding one.” She emphasizes that “No job has only a single correct fee” and urges freelancers to “Rely on your creative instincts at every step of the pricing process. Don’t be afraid to try something different.”

“Be especially creative during the negotiating process,” Lewis advises. “Only you know what you want from a job, in terms of both money and non-financial rewards. You can achieve whatever goals you set for your business if you simply follow the logical steps in the science of fee-setting, and add your own artistic flourishes.”


What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants by Laurie Lewis

Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW

Some clients don’t call a freelancer until the pressure is on. They suddenly realize that they won’t have the time or staff resources to complete a certain project themselves.  So when you get a call from these types of clients, how will you respond? Can you quickly come up with a client-approved price that won’t leave you feeling frustrated, overworked, and underpaid?  The guidance provided in this e-book can help.

Whereas “What to Charge” provides advice that can help you grow your freelance income over time, “Freelance Fee Setting” provides guidance and lists of questions that can help you quickly and accurately determine a fee for a particular assignment. She outlines a three-step process:

  •  Ask questions that can help you better understand the job
  • Weigh the pros and cons of different methods of pricing
  • Plan your negotiating strategy.

In the section on preparing to negotiate, Lewis suggests considering these elements:

  • The fee you actually want to earn
  • Your opening bid
  • The lowest acceptable fee for the job
  • The concessions you want from the client if you have to lower your price
  • The steps you will take as you lower your price—both the dollar figure and the concessions for accepting less money

“I cannot stress enough that you should be prepared to walk away from the job if the client refuses to pay, at a minimum, the fee (with concessions) that you think is the lowest acceptable price.” writes Lewis. “You’ll kick yourself later if you agree to a fee that is too low for the job.”

In addition to writing books on pricing strategies, Laruie Lewis gives presentations for organizations with freelance members.


Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW

Laurie Lewis

Meet Other Solopreneurs at 2012 Creative Freelancer Conference

The Creative Freelancer Conference is a business-focused event for solopreneurs in design, writing, photography, and illustration. In addition to face-to-face networking with creative pros from complementary disciplines, you can learn some fresh approaches to marketing, client relations, productivity, and money management.

The 2012 Creative Freelancer Conference takes place Thursday, June 21 and Friday, June 22 as part of the HOW Design Live Conference June 21 to June 25 in Boston.  The Creative Freelancer Conference is held in partnership with the Marketing Mentor creative-business consulting firm.

Here are some sessions being planned:

Planning for Your First Year of Freelancing
Shane Pearlman will recommend ways to avoid common rookie mistakes and be more successful during your first year on your own. Among other things, he will explain the importance of creating contracts, getting deposits from clients, and tracking finances.

Options for Growth
Luke Mysse will discuss traditional and non-traditional ways to grow your business, and talk about how to decide which of three business models is right for you: solo, solo plus a virtual team, or full staff.

Why a Bigger Business Isn’t Always Better
For many owners of creative businesses, success is more about satisfaction than size. Adelaide Lancaster will present examples of many different ways entrepreneurs think about business growth. While gaining clarity on growth options, you will learn how to determine the right direction for your business and recognize your ability to create work based on your needs and goals.

Building Your Prospect List: Quality vs. Quantity
Success in any business start-up requires knowing how to identify your addressable market and build a marketing funnel to convert prospects into customers. Allen Murabayashi will offer practical advice on identifying your prospects, building a prospect list, and converting the prospects on your list into paying clients.

Skillful Communications with Clients
Understanding what your clients really want and giving it to them doesn’t mean you have to function simply as an order taker. Many clients expect you to take a leadership role and prove that your expertise can truly help their businesses. Marcia Hoeck explains how to start client relationships out right, by setting the tone for conversations and becoming a valued resource without being a doormat. Learn how to discuss tough issues like a pro, and put yourself in a position of strength.

Is Your Website Generating Business?
To ensure that your website is generating quality leads for your business, Mark O’Brien will take you through Newfangled’s 9-Step Website Planning Process. Learn how to use SEO to attract the right prospects, craft a content strategy that will convince prospects of your expertise, and generate quality leads through clear calls to action.

The Nuts and Bolts of Pricing and Negotiating
Creating a pricing structure for your business can be tricky. Do you base your pricing on the value of your services? Or is there another (better) metric? Sarah Durham will show you how her time-tracking structure works, and offer advice for implementing it. Learn how to realistically create estimates and methodically manage pricing to ensure you end up profitable. Get tips on talking money with potential clients and using figures from the past to inform future projects.

How to Create and Execute Your Marketing Plan
An inconsistent, haphazard approach to marketing can lock you into the dreaded feast-or-famine cycle of freelance work. And, it may force you to take on undesirable clients and projects and accept sub-par fees. Ed Gandia will share a practical framework for developing a marketing plan aligned with your goals and personality. Discover strategies that can help you enjoy the process of marketing your services.

Live Audit
Marketing Mentor founder Ilise Braun and David C. Baker will provide a rare behind-the-scenes look at a fellow creative freelancer’s business. They will examine in-depth the freelancer’s finances, day-to-day business practices, and work style. During the audit, Braun and Baker will identify the freelancer’s successes and mistakes and suggest the type of results they can attain and the opportunities they should seize.


2012 Creative Freelancer Conference

HOW Design Live

Marketing Mentor