88 Miles for neckbeards – track your time from the command line

It's a unix system. I know this!

If you are a developer like me, and you spend most of your day in terminal, it can be easy to forget to switch contexts to do things like tracking your time. So why not do it from the command line?

Now you can – using 88 Miles gem.

Installation is simple (you’ll need Ruby installed)

gem install 88miles

 

All you do is link a directory with an 88 Miles project, and then you can run

88miles start

and

88miles stop

From with in that directory. You can also bring up a realtime clock:

88miles status -f

and dump out all the shifts for that project:

88miles log

The gem is open source – you can find the code and instructions on our github page. Find a bug, or added something that was missing? We accept pull requests.

88 Miles puts time tracking back into Basecamp

88 Miles to Basecamp

Basecamp from 37 Signals is arguably the grandfather of software as a service. It’s clean, user-centric project management tools have simplified workflows for designers and developers everywhere. A couple of months ago, 37 Signals released the reworked version of Basecamp – but with one noticeable omission: The time tracking component had been removed.

The original time tracking module was very simple – you had to manually keep track of your time, then enter it in a text box, and 37 Signals argue that is isn’t a core part of their system which is why they dropped it. However, we believe that time tracking is a core component of project management – how do you know if your quotes are accurate or if you are working efficiently if you don’t track your output? So, to plug this hole 88 Miles now integrates with Basecamp.

By using our new Google Chrome, Safari or Firefox extension, you can punch in and out of 88 Miles directly from the new Basecamp project view.

Track your time directly from Basecamp

 

 

After you have enabled one of the plugins, and linked a Basecamp project to an 88 Miles project, you will see a new “Time tracking” section, which gives you an overview of time spent on the project. When you start a task, just click the clock icon next to the task name, and click it again to punch out! For more information, checkout out support page.

It’s really simple, and you never have to leave Basecamp!

You can download the plugins here:

88 Miles plugin for Google Chrome 88 Miles addon for Firefox 88 Miles extension for Safari

Getting paid

This post is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Congratulations! You’ve had your quote accepted! Now what… Oh, yeah – you need to get paid.

The first step to getting paid is invoicing the client. I have two rules for invoicing:

  1. Send the invoice on the day that the milestone or job is completed.
  2. Use an invoicing system to generate the email.

You want to send out the invoice straight away while it is still fresh in both your mind and the client’s mind. Surprisingly, it’s way too easy to forget to invoice a client, and they get a little snarky if you send them invoices for work that was completed months ago. Also: they can’t pay you if you don’t invoice them.

And you want to use an invoicing system so that you can keep track of outstanding invoices easily and so that you don’t accidentally miscalculate how much you need to charge! (Trust me – I’ve been there. Not fun.)

There are numerous online invoicing systems, such as SaasuXero or Freshbooks.

Protip: Put a due date on your invoice.

Now that the client has the invoice in their hot little hand, feel free to send them a friendly reminder before the due date and give them a call on the due date. People forget to pay invoices (we’ve all done it), and a friendly email a week before the due date can help jog their memory.

Just remember: Don’t hand over materials, or launch the website until the full payment has been made. Since they paid a deposit, there is more incentive for them to pay the rest of the money - if you still have the product.

Well, that’s it! I hope you have found this short course helpful. As always, if you have any other questions or comments, hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

PS. Remember how I said your time is your money? You should really be tracking it. Sign up for our 30 day trial!

Sending quotes

This post is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Part of the dance between client and freelancers is the gentle art of quoting. While it might take some time for you to get your process down pat, here are a couple of simple rules.

Be clear in the what you are offering

Work out what the deliverable is. Are you providing a print ready PDF, or a WordPress template? Make sure you are explicit about what happens if there are changes (Hint: the client needs to pay extra). Talk to your client, and come to an arrangement, but make sure you write it down – even if you aren’t a lawyer it gives you something to talk about if things go wrong.

Explain the payment terms

Depending on the size of the job, you may decide to split the payments into a deposit and final payment or a number of payments linked to milestones along the way. Make sure the client know that the deposit is non-refundable if they decide to cancel the job. Having multiple payment milestones helps your cash flow, and means that you can still get paid for work you have done to date if things go pear shaped.

Quotes take time

And you won’t win every one. Make sure you track the time that you spend generating your invoices – and increase your quoted hours to take that in to account. I have a “Quotes” job in my 88 Miles account specifically for this.

Action items:

  • Be clear in what you offer. Talk to the client, and write it down - it will save time later.
  • Always charge a non-refundable deposit. If the job is large, add payment milestones against deliverables
  • Track how long you spend quoting your clients.

Questions?

Do you have questions about sending quotes? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. If you’d like to get started tracking the time it takes to do your invoice, you don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

Finding new clients

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

A freelancer without clients is like a mule with a spinning wheel… or however that saying goes.

Your clients are your life blood – they are the ones that will pay your rent or your mortgage, so you will need to find some. As a freelancer, you don’t have a huge marketing budget to hire a team of sales people, nor do you have unlimited time to do sales yourself. So how can you become more efficient?

Short term

If you need clients quickly, you need to hit the pavement and talk to people. As I mentioned in the last email, talking to other freelancers to see if they have any overflow work or leads that aren’t suitable for them is a great way to fill your dance card. Find meet ups in your area where clients that you would like to deal with hang out. If your perfect client are medium to large businesses, give them a call. Talk to friends and relatives – and let them know what you do and that you are available. Don’t under estimate the power of “Oh, I know someone that does that”. This brings me to an important concept that many freelancers don’t do: The pitch.

You need to work out why potential clients will want to hire you. What special skills do you have? What are you really good at? Maybe you are a amazing technical writer, or a gun email newsletter builder. Perhaps you are an expert in a particular CMS that means you can complete modifications quicker than anyone else. When talking to new potential clients, ask them if they need that service – show them examples. The number of times I’ve landed a job because “that was exactly what they needed” at the time is uncanny. You should be able explain why you are awesome is just 15 seconds. And next time someone asks you “what do you do?” – Tell them!

Longer Term

Talking to people directly works, but it can be quite hit and miss, and time consuming. It’s also exhausting. Ultimately, you want people to call you. Longer term things  longer to get traction, but also work for longer. Start a blog about you area of expertise – not only does this help people find you in search engines, it tells other people that you know what you are talking about. Get on twitter, and follow other people that do what you do. Since you are freelancing, I’m going to assume you have some level of passion for that topic, so it should be easy to talk about it.

Action items:

  • Refine your Pitch. A 15 second explanation of why you rock.
  • Talk to other freelancers – see if they have overflow work
  • Let your family and friends know what you do
  • Call larger firms and see if they need your services
  • Start a blog, and get on twitter (and don’t forget to follow me!)

Questions?

Do you have questions about finding new clients? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. If you’d want to track how long you spend on marketing and sales, you don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

How much should you charge?

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Ah, the $64,000 question. How much should you charge as a freelancer. The short answer is enough so that you are making more than you are spending – the longer answer is enough so that you are providing maximum value to your clients (while still making more than you are spending).

Ask other freelancers

The easiest was to get an indicative rate is to ask other freelancers in your industry. This will give you a general range. Don’t be subversive though – I’ve heard stories of freelancers (and even bigger businesses) requesting fake quotes. This is a waste of everyones time – and you miss an opportunity: Freelancers tend to be a helpful bunch – if another freelancer has too much work, or it is outside their area of expertise, they will often pass clients on to other freelancers. This is a great way to get extra work, and to build up a support group of people that are doing the same thing you are.

Just be aware than many freelancers charge too low.

Use a calculator

You can work out what your minimum hourly rate needs to be by using an online calculator. 88 Miles has one associated with our business health dashboard. You can access it here.

First, work out how much you want to make before taxes (call an accountant to ask about this) and expenses each year. If you are just starting out, make an estimate of your expenses – think about things like the monthly cost of software that you use, include a budget for hardware (like computers) and using other services like hosting your website, email and hiring an accountant. Add this amount to into the Annual Revenue Goal field.

Next, work out how many billable hours you think you can do in a day. This is not 8 hours! When you take out time for lunch, breaks, admin, phone calls and brain fade time, it will probably be closer to 4.

Finally, enter the number of days a year you can work. If you are planning on working a full 5-day week and have a week holidays a year and get public or bank holidays off, and factor in some sick leave 240 days a year is a reasonable guestimate.

You should now see an estimated hourly rate. Is it higher or lower than what you expected?

Test it out

Now that you have a magic number, go and try it out. Call some of the people in your CRM, and see how they respond to your quotes.

Protip: If you win every job, you are not charging enough.

Increase it

As you do more work, try increasing your hourly rate for new jobs. You will eventually find that sweet spot where you are winning jobs because the client sees the value you provide them, and losing some jobs where the client isn’t a good fit.

If you are proud of the work you do, you should get paid for it!

Action items:

  • Ask other freelancers in your industry what they charge
  • Calculate the minimum you should charge using our online calculator
  • Test out hourly rate on potential clients
  • Increase your rate for new jobs

Questions?

Do you have questions about your hourly rate? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. Do you want to see if you are hitting your hour per day targets? You don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

Just started freelancing? Let’s get you organised.

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Why did you start freelancing? Perhaps doing 9-5 was getting you down; or would you prefer to use your talents to make money for you and not someone else? Whatever your reason, you’ll definitely have more freedom to pick your work, and your hours – but there is a whole lot of other stuff that you will have to do now that you never had to do before.

Over the next 5 days, we’ll be looking at the different areas of running a freelance business, and working through some tips and tricks to make sure you are doing the best job you can.

Let’s start by getting organised.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start freelancing is there is much more to do. You have to talk to clients, take phone calls, go to meetings and do your accounts. If you aren’t organised, this eats in to your time – and when you freelance, time is money.

Work out your admin time.

I recommend blocking out an hour or two a week, as well as 15-30 minutes every day to do admin. You need to work out when is your least productive time and do it then. If you know that you won’t be able to make money on clients during that time, you may as well use it for your business. I know I work best in the mornings as soon as I start for the day, and I’m less productive after lunch, so I use that time after lunch to do my admin work. I also know that Fridays are generally a write off for me, so I try to plan my next week then, giving me I can have a running start on Monday morning.

Tracking you customers.

Whether you have to go out and find your first set of clients, or you already have a few people that you can do work for, you should be tracking your leads. This basically means taking note of people that you meet that have taken an interest in using your services.

During your admin time, pick someone on the list and email or call them to follow up. If they aren’t ready right away, make a note to call them in a month. When picking the person, make a judgement call on whether they look really likely to hire you (a hot lead), somewhat likely (a warm lead) or not likely (a cold lead). Contact the hot leads first. Try to make contact with at least 3 people per week.

And don’t forget to call past clients – people that have already used your services are far more likely to use you again! Try to call them a couple of months after a job has finished to see if they need follow up work, or have some new work to do.

There are software systems around that can help you to track your clients – they are called Customer Relation Managers or CRMs. Of course, you could start out with a simple Excel spreadsheet, or Google Doc, but once you have a number of clients, it will be easier to use a specialised piece of software. Look at tools like Highrise or CapsuleCRM.

Action items:

  • Work out what times and days are your least productive – use them for admin
  • Enter names and contact details for potential clients into a CRM
  • Call or email at least 3 hot leads a week.
  • Call an old client to see if they have more work for you

Questions?

Do you have questions about getting started as a freelancer? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles

PS. Do you want to track how long you spend on admin tasks? Sign up for our 30 day trial!

Your business health dashboard on your iPad via the Panic Status Board!

Panic Status Board

The Panic Status Board is an iPad app that can display graphs and gauges, getting you up to speed really quickly. You can even push your board up to a television if you have an Apple TV.

88 Miles can push your business health dashboard graphs and gauges straight to your Panic Board.

First of all, you’ll need to purchase the Panic Board app from the App Store. Once you have installed it, you can start adding graphs and gauges directly from the 88 Miles dashboard.

On your iPad, open up the dashboard

The 88 Miles Business Health Dashbaord

 

Next, click the Panic icon (The little “P” on the top right)

Select your graphs and Gauges

You can add the graph, and each each gauge individually by tapping on the corresponding icon. And this is what it looks like:

Sexy graph times

Oh so pretty! And if you buy the HDMI/Apple TV add-on (available as an in-app purchase), you can stream it to your Apple TV as your own office status board! Now there is no excuse for not staying up to date with your business’ health!

Taking care of business – daily summary emails

Keeping track of the work you do is really important if you are a freelancer, but sometimes you are so enthralled in your work you may forget to check your monthly progress. To help you out 88 Miles can send you a daily update, giving you a quick reminder of where you are at.

Let’s have a look at it:

The 88 Miles Summary EmailFirst of all you will see how many hours you have clocked today, followed by a summary of all of the projects that you did work on. Rather than guessing how many hours you worked on a given day, your inbox will tell you straight away!

The summary email will also tell you how much revenue you have made this month, and how many billable hours per day you have done on average. To get the tracking data, you need to have set up your goals, which you can do on the dashboard.

By default, these emails will be sent to you Monday to Friday – if you don’t work a regular week, you can customise this on the goals page. If you don’t want to receive the emails, you can turn them off in the settings.

The summary email is a simple way to stay on track with your work.

 

 

Thinking about becoming a freelancer? What are the traits you’ll need?

Have you been working in an agency for a while? Sick of the crazy deadlines, demanding art directors and clients that don’t understand what you do? Have you thought about going out on your own?

So you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer.

Great! Freelancing can be a lot of fun. You can work when you want, pick the jobs that you want and still make good money.

There are a number of things that every freelancer needs to be able to do. Some of these you will find really easy, others you won’t. Here are some hints and tips that can help you work around your weaker traits.

Ability to focus

As a freelancer, you won’t have a boss looking over your shoulder and making sure you are on track – and you are also more likely to be interrupted by client phone calls or emails. You need to work out when you focus the best. For me, I work best in the morning, from 8:30am until about 11:30am, then I have another burst between between 3:00pm and 6:00 pm and I’m super productive between 10:30pm and 12:30am. Knowing this, I try to limit my distractions during those peak productivity hours. Don’t be afraid to turn off email, put your phone on silent, and turning off twitter.

There is an important point here in regards to client expectations. A two-to-three hour email or phone response time is actually pretty good – there is no reason why you have to drop everything to answer the phone. Explain to your clients that you block out time for work, and may not respond straight away. If a client thinks this is unreasonable, then you should think about getting rid of them.

Good communication skills

Speaking of speaking to clients… As a freelancer, you no longer have an account manager or project manager to act as a buffer between you and the client. When you are “in the zone” if can be hard to switch into “talking to client” mode – I know if I’m concentrating on a problem and get interrupted, I sound quite grumpy. I recommend using a less-immediate form of communication. Emails are good, as you can easily sit down and batch respond to them between productive periods.

When should you use the phone? Anytime things start getting confusing, or a little heated over email. Written communication lacks many important social cues. Often people who sound snarky on email are just distracted, and a quick phone call will defuse the situation quickly.

Time management skills

This is probably the hardest part of freelancing. Because there is only one of you, you don’t have extra resources to throw at a project that is running late. If a project is taking longer than you expected it affects all of the other jobs in your schedule. I try to ensure I only have one big task and maybe two or three smaller tasks to complete in a day. And don’t fall into the trap of scheduling 8 hours of billable work a day. I’ve found that 4 hours of billable work is a good number to aim for.

This allows you to account for non-billable, and unproductive time (like the post-lunch sleepies I get at about 1pm), and most importantly it gives you a bit of slack – if a job is taking longer than expected, there are some backup hours at your disposal.

Make sure you track what you do during the day. You need to track all of your billable time so you know how much to bill your clients. Remember: Your time is what you are selling. You should also track your non-billable time, just so you can get an idea of how long you are spending on things like accounts and marketing. If you are spending lots of time doing your accounts each month, it might be worthwhile hiring a bookkeeper.

Business Skills

This is also hard, but only because many freelancers start their own business because they are good at what they do, not because they are good at business. The basic formula for success in business is to make sure the amount of money you are earning is more than the amount of money you are spending, so it’s pretty important to track that too. 88 Miles has the business health dashboard that will show you at a glance if you are working enough hours, and making enough money.

You should also get an accounting package like Saasu, Xero or Freshbooks and be vigilant about entering the money that you make and the money you spend on your business. Using an accounting package also makes it easy to see who still owes you money.

Unfortunately, not every client will pay promptly. Some have account departments that will take 30 days to cut you a cheque; Some will try to stretch you out to the end of (and sometimes beyond) your due date; and others will just plain forget. Sending them a friendly reminder a week before the due date and on the due date is a nice things to do, and will often end in a prompt payment. If you are continually having to remind a client or they are constantly late – get rid of them. They are costing you money.

Freelancing isn’t hard, though every person will have different strengths and weaknesses. The key is identifying them and looking for tools and techniques that can help reduce your weaknesses.