The basic setup every freelancer needs

It won’t be long before you’re churning out work for your brand new clients –– when you’re starting out it’s important to set yourself up to be effective anywhere. You’ve got to stock your utility belt with the proper tools to communicate, collaborate, organize and deliver.

Believe me, remote work can be done poorly. Nailing it, however, can really set you apart.

The New Face-to-Face

Meeting your clients in person will depend on your type of work and the feasibility of getting to them. But these days more meetings are happening online with web conferencing tools.  With any luck you’ll be scheduling intro calls, progress updates and project completion meetings all the time.

Boatloads of solutions are available, with something for every budget, including free. You’ll want to allow for sharing both your camera (comb your hair) and your screen (cleanup your desktop and your tabs). Start by checking out Skype, Google Hangouts (free) and GoToMeeting and (paid).  

Being honest –– these can be frustrating services at times. Find your favorite two, and sign up for both. And a conference call number. Better safe than sorry.

Stay Organized: Document Control

As you build your business the documentation will start to pile up. Take some time to think through how you want to keep organized, build your feedback loops and handle final delivery.

Sounds ominous but believe me it’s the lack of control that’ll bite you. Make sure you’re thinking about how to organize information so that it’s easy to find and share, no matter where you are. If you haven’t already, get yourself set up with a Dropbox or Box account, which make it easy to share documents, or check out all that Google Apps has to offer (which is a lot at a low price).

Think about breaking your documents into broad categories. My digital file cabinet looks something like this:

  • Legal – contracts, NDAs, confidentiality agreements, etc. broken down into “In review/draft” and “Executed.”
  • InvoicesPaid and Unpaid.
  • Internal working documents – anything that is in progress. A folder for each client with all outlines and drafts.
  • Shared working documents – I keep a folder shared with every client and drop work in for review. They can also pass me any supporting documentation in the same folder
  • Final Product – Another shared folder with each client in my case, but I recommend keeping final work separate from other work even if it’s for your ease of reference only.


I have to admit – when I am in person, I use pad and pen. These are awesome and look classy.

But on the phone or in a virtual meeting, I’ll type live. Lots of options here, but I’ve been using Evernote for a bit now. I have a stack for each client, with my call notes, research and bookmarks for relevant information from the world wide web.  

Time Tracking

Whether you charge by the hour or project, you should document how your time is spent. Not all time is billable, but you’ll still want to know what you’re spending on each client and each project. Over time you’ll see opportunities to increase your efficiency and you’ll know where you’re making your best money. If Excel is in your wheelhouse you can use that to get started, but before long you’ll want to check out these literal time savers.

Be sure to track the time you spend looking for work too, and any administrative functions you’ve got to take care of. They can really burn the clock so don’t let them sneak up on you.

In this case, knowing is more than half the battle – knowing how and what you’re spending your time on will help you make better decisions.

What’s in My Bag?

Even if you work from home, there will be times you hit the road. What do I carry? My computer is obvious, and an extra phone, just in case. Chargers for all, and an extra battery.

Less obvious – I’ve invested in a hotspot. I promise you the Starbucks internet will bomb at the worst time. Twice. Have a backup plan.

Some high quality headphones because 1) I like to shake it, and 2) I want the best shot at hearing my clients. Trust me –– someone will be sitting far away from their microphone, or I’ll have my kids at the table behind you.

The flexibility to work where and when you choose is an incredible benefit for freelancers –– but you’ll get paid more, and more often, if you nail the logistics operationally.

Now go find your first client!