This may come of as a surprise, but I’m NOT about to discuss using Excel for budgeting, estimating rates or any other stuff related to your finances as a freelancer. I think that you’ve got that part pretty figured out. In the end, this is what Excel is mostly used for … to help people manage their finances better.
This post, therefore, is going to be a little different. I promise to make the list much less obvious and also really handy at the same time.
First of all, who am I? I’m a freelance writer. Even though I’ve been writing for three years or so, I’m a freelancer for only over a year. Since then, I’ve developed a number of “helpers” to make my life easier and more fail-proof. Many of them revolving around Excel.
Now, while I do say “Excel,” actually any other similar app will do the job just as well. So feel free to use Google Docs or Open Office instead, if that’s your choice.
# 1. Writing log
This is something Captain Obvious would say, but as a freelance writer, you probably write a lot, right? And as always, there are more and less productive periods in your work schedule. For that reason, it surely would be nice to be able to keep track of your writing and monitor the amount of work you’re doing every day. As we all know, what gets measured gets improved.
Here’s what I do. I use an Excel spreadsheet that consists of the following:
- Each row represents a given day.
- Each column represents: (1) a client of mine, (2) the number of words I wrote on that day, and (3) the number of articles I sent out.
- There are two additional columns that represent: (1) the sum of words I wrote in a given day for all clients, and (2) the total number of articles I sent out.
Here’s what it looks like:
# 2. Writing plan
Apart from the things you’ve already written, there are also things you have yet to write. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of those as well. Here’s the layout:
- Each row represents a single article I have to write.
- The columns represent: the deadline, the client, the headline, and a short description.
Here’s an example:
Now, for actually brainstorming over ideas and coming up with new article topics and headlines, I use a completely different environment, but once my client and I agree on a topic and on a deadline, the article goes into this spreadsheet.
# 3. Published articles
If you’re only sending your work directly to your clients then you might not need this spreadsheet. But if you’re doing any sort of guest writing services (where you not only have to write an article but also get it published on a third-party site) then having such a published articles log can surely be useful. It can also help you with your marketing as a freelancer. When you have a nice log of your previous articles, you can easily pick some specific pieces and send them to your next prospective client to prove your expertise.
Here’s the layout:
- Each row represents one article.
- The columns represent: the client, the headline, the URL – link, the publication date (optional), and the main keyword (for backlinking; also optional).
# 4. Lists of keywords
This is especially useful if you’re doing any sort of
Excel works great as a management tool for keywords. Here’s a possible layout for the spreadsheet:
- Each row represents a single keyword.
- The columns represent: the status of the keyword (“used,” or “available”), the actual keyword (like “learn to play guitar”), the target URL for the keyword, the destination (if your client wants the keyword to be used on a specific site), and the headline of the article where the keyword is to be used (in case you have to go back to the article and do some tuning up).
Here’s an example screenshot:
# 5. Activity and communication log
Even though this might not be the most popular use of Excel for freelancers, I personally consider it being one of the main productivity and time-saving hacks.
The whole idea is that communicating with your clients or various website owners not only takes time when you’re actively sitting in your inbox, but is even more time-consuming when you have to find a certain email sent a while ago, connect it to an individual project and take some specific action on it.
This is why I keep something I call a communication log. Here’s the layout:
- Each row represents a given event (like an email sent, or a project getting accepted).
- The columns represent: the recipient, the date, type of communication (this is quite easy to predefine; most common communications involve things like pitching an idea, sending an article, following up, and so on), and an additional comment (this field can contain whatever you feel is relevant).
Another way of guaranteeing a smoother client project is to use some of the modern tools instead of Excel. A nice setup is to use Bidsketch for creating, sending and managing client proposals, and then use Teambox to manage projects once they’re in progress.
# 6. Popularity sheet for guest writing
This type of spreadsheet is very useful if your clients require you to research the prospective websites where you can publish articles on their behalf.
The layout of this spreadsheet is very important because you have to be able to sort its contents easily. Here’s my proposition:
- Each row represents a single website.
- The columns represent: the URL/name, the contact and guest author guidelines URLs, the PageRank of the site, the mozRank, the Custom Rank (I encourage you to personalize these columns and use only the rank factors that make the most sense to you), and the range of topics the site accepts.
Here’s a screenshot:
Once you have such a spreadsheet you can easily sort it according to any of the rank scores or even create an additional column that somehow combines the ranks into one overall score.
By the way, there are many browser plugins available to make finding these ranking scores way easier. Like SearchStatus (Firefox).
I guess that’s it for my uses of Excel for freelance writers. Feel free to ask me anything and to suggest your own improvements. What’s your current method of managing your work and communication with clients?
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