As a self-employed creative professional I wear many hats on a daily basis. My virtual hat rack includes photographer, accountant, marketing manager, administrative assistant, video editor, writer, lawyer and business development manager. You can see why I need a whole rack! But my situation isn't uncommon at all in this industry. I'd bet that a great many of you are quietly nodding your heads with me right now.
Recently after reading an excellent book called Living The Dream: Putting Your Creativity To Work (and getting paid) by Corwin Hiebert I had something of an epiphany. The book loosely dedicated a chapter to each of these 'hats' that I don on a daily basis and as I read through the book it began to dawn on me just how much time I'm dedicating to non-photographic necessities. I decided that I need to make some changes and immediately implemented a new daily policy; Every day I will strive to find one way to simplify my life. I've been sticking to this steadfastly for just over a week now and already I'm reaping the rewards. I feel like the business end of my business has found a new gear. Not necessarily a gear that is moving things faster, but one that is most definitely more efficient.
Every day, strive to find one way to simplify your life.
So what do I mean by 'simplify my life' ? First let's be clear on the definition, my life includes my business. For people who work for someone else, most would class their life as time outside of work. The reality for independent business owners these days is that the lines are generally blurred. My business, for better or worse, is also my life. Simplifying my life also means simplifying my business. One thing bleeds into the other on a daily basis as my office is at home.
There's no way that I can tell you what YOU need to do to but perhaps I can encourage you to think along the same lines as me and see where you can claim back some time. Time being the end goal here in almost all cases. When time is saved, that time can either be used for more creative purposes (in my case photography) or it can be handed back to your personal life. Here are a few things that I have implemented in the last week to jump-start my new regime.
– I have begun to use IFTTT.com to help automate a large number of my social network postings. IFTTT stands for If THIS Then THAT and it's a free web service that connects all your social networks together with user generated 'recipes'. One example would be IF i post something on my blog THEN post a link to that blog post on my business Facebook page. This is the simplest type of recipe you can create but the huge range of services you can connect to, allows incredible automation. I have more than 30 recipes running already !
Some other examples that I have implemented:
- If I post a photo on Instagram, save that image to my Dropbox account. This makes the images instantly available to me at my computer for use on my blog if needed.
- If I create a new set of images on Flickr, post a link to my Facebook page and tweet the link.
- Every other Tuesday and Thursday morning, send out a tweet inviting people to sign up for my newsletter
- If I use the hashtag #FB on an Instagram image, upload it to an album called Instagram on my Facebook business page.
etc etc etc
Spending too much time on social media is something that we are all guilty of and I suspect that cutting back on this time will be the subject of many more of my once-a-day simplifications.
– I have deleted five e-mail addresses this week. I used to be of the notion that a separate e-mail address for everything was useful for segregation of topics and also more “professional”. When someone enquired about buying a print they would e-mail email@example.com , my twitter account was tied to firstname.lastname@example.org and I had many more e-mail addresses for various uses. When I sat down to think about it though, all this did was force me to make more clicks in more in-boxes throughout the day. In reality I can keep things just as organized, if not MORE organized by using folders in my mail client. So I deleted a number of addresses last week and haven't looked back. There's more on the chopping block for next week !
– I've started using FreshBooks. FreshBooks is a web based service designed to streamline your invoicing and expense tracking. It allows you to track invoice you have created, to see when they are sent, when they have been read and when they have been paid. If they aren't paid on time, it can be set to automatically add any late fees and send out reminders to your clients. You can also keep detailed reports of your spending and produce perfect job estimation in just a matter of seconds which can be delivered instantly to your clients via e-mail or even snail-mail if you prefer. FreshBooks lives in your internet browser which means you can access your accounts from anywhere in the world and there's even an iPhone and iPad app that simplifies things even further. It literally could not be easier. Invoices also allow you to connect PayPal which means the client can pay you instantly. Just this morning I sent an invoice to a client from FreshBooks for a four figure sum. On seeing the big PAY NOW button , he did just that and the money was with me just three minutes after I'd begun to even create the invoice. If cash flow matters to you , FreshBooks will help you get paid faster. They also have a phone number that calls a real person for help. No bull crap automated numbers with 9 different options. A real person picks up the phone and answers your question every time.
– My accountant is going to do monthly bookkeeping for me. Typically I've handled everything myself and then gone to my accountant at the end of each year to do my tax return. I can do it this way but I'm not that fast at it and I'm never 100% confident I've done everything I need to. I went to my accountant this week and asked her to collect my expenses and income from me on a monthly basis. She will input it all into Simply Accounting and keep track of all my spending and income for me. I'll simply run expense reports to her from my FreshBooks iPhone app. What takes me a couple of hours a month is probably but 30 minutes for her and my books will be constantly up to date.
– I've automated more of my file backups. I'm pretty good at creating multiple backups of my work, I had a Drobo in my office which is redundant and I also have offsite backups on a whole bunch of drives. The off site drives get brought home to me in a Pelican case and I update them all and send them away again. Last week I was going through this process again and before I knew it, the whole process had consumed nearly a day of my time by the time I had copied Time Machines and Drobos and sorted out a mess of 10 various offsite drives. If I did that every month that's nearly two working weeks a year spent shuffling files around. In reality I should probably do it twice a month as well! Something had to change.
Now I'm not saying you should all start backing up in this manner, this works for me and it might work for you too, but it may not. All I want you to do is think about making it faster and easier. I now have two Drobos on my desk, one is a clone of the other which is created every night using Carbon Copy Cloner. A third Drobo sits off site which is a further clone. So nightly, Drobo A clones to Drobo B. Drobo C and B get swapped out every other week and instead of having to do any backing up when the offsite drive comes home, I simply send away the other clone in its place immediately. The one that has just come home will be cloned overnight from Drobo A again and this means that the only time it takes now is the time to un-plug one Drobo and put another one in it's place. Everything is automated from there and I have three redundant copies of everything. Days of time back in my pocket.
– Ive deleted hundreds of people off Facebook and Twitter. This goes back to the first point about social media time. It's amazing the number of people I had on my follow list that I just did not care about. Heck, there was probably 100 people who I had no idea who they were ! GONE.DELETED. Less time scrolling through posts, tweets and updates that I don't care about.
– I bought a new USB3 hub for my computer so that I don't have to constantly un-plug things from my too-small 4-port hub.
– I set up the Time Machine backup for my Laptop as a network accessed drive from my iMac so I no longer need to physically plug it into my laptop for it to make it's backups. I simply turn it on and it connects to the drive over the network and does it's thing. Automated = Faster & Safer.
– I've spent 15 minutes each day organizing the folders of documents and images on my computer into a more straightforward system with colour coded folders. Red folder mean they are messy and full of junk , need sorting. The red folders stick out and remind me daily that I need to spend some time in them to get them to green status.
– I started to use the new e-mail iOS app MailBox to manage my G-Mail account on the go. It's intuitive swipe interface is second-to-none when it comes to getting an in-box back to zero. It even rewards you with a cool photo when you do get back to empty.
So these are some of the things that I have done this week and I can already feel a difference in the way I'm working. I even cranked out three blog posts this morning on my own blog which is something I haven't had time to do in weeks. I feel refreshed and positive about my business, as if I'm cutting out some of the crap. There's no real magic bullet to getting this done yourself but hopefully this has given you a few ideas and lit a fire under your ass to get out there and make a few changes. Taking it step by step, day by day, is a great way to see how things are working out. One thing each day to simplify your life.
So where to now ? Well the more I do this the more I see ways to save time and improve my workflow. I've implemented a number of small changes to the ways my websites work and to the way their backups are handled. I've been using Dropbox in a number of ways to sync files from various places across my computers and to sync iPhone images wirelessly and automatically to my computer for use on my blog and Facebook. This week I will migrate my email accounts from POP to IMAP so that the read or un-read status is synced across all my computers and mobile devices, never again forcing me to click on the same e-mail more than once, or delete it in more than one place. There really are endless ways to save time when you get into the mindset. If you have any suggestions yourself then please leave them in the comments! I would love to hear them. Reading 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss might also provide you with some ideas. Despite the overly ambitious title to the book it's actually a fantastic read and well regarded by many entrepreneurs and self-employed people.
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