• Ten reasons why Google Docs are essential for freelancers

    googledocsWhat do you use for your documents? Are you a loyal fan of Microsoft Word, a regular user of Apple’s office package or do you go old school with the notes app on your phone or a pad and paper?

    I’m a big fan of Google Docs, especially as a freelancer. Here’s why:

    1. Variety – With Google Docs, I can create a Document, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form and Drawing. I can also use a variety of other apps to enhance all of these.
    2. It’s free – Google Docs are completely free. No initial purchase, or extra packs to make (although there are plenty of apps you can download to use with Google Docs)
    3. Access online – Google Docs is a cloud based system, so I can access and update my documents wherever I am. I often update spreadsheets on the go, or send my Terms and Conditions document to a new client through the inbuilt sharing option.
    4. Easy to find docs – Well, it wouldn’t be a Google product if it wasn’t super-easy to find what I want. As all of my docs sit in Google Docs, rather than languishing in various folders on my computer, all I need to do is a quick search and I’ll find the doc I want.
    5. Collaborative – Far and away the best thing about Google Docs, is how collaborative it is. I often create content plans in a Google Doc spreadsheet, then share it to the client to approve. As it’s live, I can see exactly which cell they’re looking at, and see any edits in real time. Also, when I’m in my Gmail, I can attach a doc directly from my new message.
    6. Public – I can choose to make my links public, either through a link or just as a general public link. I’ve been using this for my eCourse (running again in January!), as I can give my coursemates access to a folder filled with the materials they need.
    7. Google Docs can be used in Google Hangouts – Recently, I’ve been testing out the Google Docs function in Google Hangouts. I can grab a doc from my drive and show my fellow Hangout attendees, which is handy when I’m referring to something in particular.
    8. Uploads – You an upload old documents to Google Docs, which is a nice way to clear up your desktop and back everything up.
    9. IFTTT syncing – Google Docs works with IFTTT, so you can set up triggers to do things like create a spreadsheet with all your expenses that come through your email.
    10. The sheer number of apps – I’ve mentioned the apps a fair bit, but there’s a brilliant selection of free apps you can use with Google Docs. Check out some of my favourites below.

    Apps to try out

    • Movenote – Combines video and presentations, by allowing you to record a video talking the viewer through your presentation, while the presentation streams alongside. You can then save it and send it to someone, making it great for online courses.
    • PowToon – Great for creating animations to use on your website/blog
    • PicMonkey – image editing program PicMonkey is nicely integrated into Google Docs
    • Billable Contacts – If you fancy trying out a billing/invoicing tool within Google Docs, this is well worth a try.

     Have you experimented with Google Docs? What’s your favourite use for it?

    p.s The 30 Day Freelance Lifestyle Ecourse is back in January! Sign up before the 15th to get the special discount…

  • 9 Tips on co-working and managing teams remotely

    jo2_smallToday, we have a guest post from the digital diva herself, Jo Gifford. Read on to find out a little more about co-working and managing teams remotely.

    Throughout my portfolio career I have had the pleasure of working closely with some amazing people.

    Co-working with others as a solo entrepreneur, when it works, can allow everyone to benefit. As a small business, gaining from the expertise of others in an ad hoc team can open new doors of sales possibilities, whilst co-workers benefit from collaborating on new projects.

    As a self-employed Mum of two, co-working remotely with a team of other designers, social media experts and writers allowed me to grow my business throughout pregnancy, maternity leave and beyond. I was fortunate enough to work with loyal, trusted, talented people who were not only happy to handle clients directly but were excellent at doing so, which meant that our services could carry on more efficiently than if I was still working solo in the early years of having the girls.

    That’s not to say it has always gone smoothly, far from it. Relying on others to deliver a service removes your autonomy and invites in risk, and there have certainly been a few situations where I have had to send flowers, reimburse invoices and apologise profusely. Thankfully, the overall success outweighed those bad times, and it all serves to go in the learning curve pot.

    So, here are some of my tips on working with and managing a remote team as a freelancer or solo entrepreneur:

    1. Choose reliable people

    Ok, so this sounds obvious, but use your gut instinct here. I don’t believe you need to have a physical meeting to work with someone, and as such working remotely allows some great relationships to be formed with experts situated all around the world. However, make some time to speak via Skype or Google Plus hangouts to get a feel for who they are as people, and whether they might be a good fit for your project.

    2. Try them out on a non-risk job

    If you have a new client, a new co-worker and a tight deadline, don’t under any circumstances, try them out on that job. Looking back it seems incredulous, but I did exactly that, and of course it all went belly up. Try your potential co-worker on a small, low risk job that you will have time to amend if needs be, and play it safe before you commission them for bigger projects. Use your instincts; if a potential co-worker is slow to reply to communications and late with work, do you want them working on projects that affect your business?

    3. Be clear on what you expect

    From payment terms to delivery of the brief, be clear from the outset what you expect and require, it saves problems later on for everyone concerned.

    4. Develop smart feedback loops and communication

    Managing a group of coworkers, even remotely, can be surprisingly time-consuming. Build in time in your schedule to manage, as effective management will save time later on if things start to unravel.

    Use a group coworking system like Basecamp, ManyMoon or others to aid project management and accountability, and ask everyone to feedback what they have done that day via systems such as I Done This.

    5. Try to anticipate problems before they arise

    Computers break, files corrupt, children become ill – life happens. Try to scenario plan a fail safe plan if any of the above happens and affects the work of your colleague. This may mean having a reserve team, being able to re-juggle your own commitments to do the job, or negotiating a deadline. Things will and do happen, so think about how you can deal with them without upsetting your client.

    6. Share files and archive them in a sensical way

    We used Dropbox with team access, but whichever service you use, the Cloud is the way to go. File items sensibly, make sure you look after drafts, proofs and final files in a way that the whole team knows about.

    7. Consider documentation

    If you have a workflow that team members need to adhere to, create some simple documentation to refer everyone to. This saves time when managing a few people (alongside children and other aspects of business!), and makes it easier to convey key FAQ’s and standard procedures. Say it once, and keep in on file for reference.

    8. Learn from your team

    A good team will have some points of view you can learn from, so take ideas on board. Allowing people the freedom to be the talent you hired them to be creates possibilities for your business. Don’t over manage and stifle your outsourcers, but do manage expectations.

    9. Make sure your team are tax registered

    I have my accountant to thank for this one, who pointed out that HMRC can come after you, the commissioning business, if outsourcers default on their tax. Make sure your team are registered to pay their own taxes, and consider asking your accountant for a document outline to give to new team members. It’s a formality, but no-one wants nastiness with the taxman, especially as a small business.

    Managing my team as a small business owner has been totally different to managing teams in my previous agency jobs. It all comes back to you, as the linchpin, to make things work.

    If tech fails, people let you down, or work isn’t filed properly it’s your business and reputation on the line.

    That said, co-working with a trusted team is a great way to offer more services and run a very profitable business without the need for overheads like wages and office rent. My leveraging other people’s time the constraint of chargeable hours in the day is removed, and more possibilities can arise.

    Have you worked with other people as a small business owner or freelancer? Have you experienced problems or did it help your sales?

    Jo Gifford

    Jo Gifford is a designer, writer, blogger and creativity passionista. Jo writes on creative tips, hacks and tutorials for productivity, business and blogging on her websiteThe Dexterous Diva. She also works with bloggers and small businesses across the globe, to help them make the most of blogs and social media to elevate their brand.

    Jo is mum to Eva and Mia, and you can also find her on Twitter (@dexdiva) and Facebook.


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  • Freelance Marketplaces – are they worth it?

    The Google Hangout.jpg

    This morning, after a couple of technical difficulties, I managed to have a great hangout with the lovely Rosie from One Man Band Accounting. We discussed a topic that I think a lot of you might find interesting – freelance marketplaces. Sites like Elance, People Per Hour and Fiverr, where you can bid on jobs or project against freelancers all over the world.

    Want to know what we thought? Hit the play button below to watch our hangout (30 mins)!

    Listen in to find out:

    • Who freelance marketplaces are best suited to
    • Which sites we rate
    • What to look out for if you’re a freelancer
    • What to look out for if you’re hiring.

    Do you use freelance marketplaces? What do you think about them? Let me know in the comments below! 

  • The Digital Q&A Google+ Hangout

    Last night, I took part in my first Google+ Hangout with the lovely Jennifer Begg and Fran Swaine (regular readers may remember Fran’s great post on being a newbie freelancer.) To add to the pressure, we recorded it on Jennifer’s YouTube channel, and answered questions from our online followers around the subject of digital media.

    Here are the results…

    We had a dozen or so questions to get through, but as you can see we had a lot to say so only got through a few! The plan is to make this a monthly activity though, with a more focussed topic each time.

    Doing this hangout has made me realise that I’d like to get involved with Google+ more. This is where I need your help! I’d love to hear your recommendations for people to follow, how to get more out of it, and what you use it for.

    Feel free to leave comments, good or bad, in the comments section below.

  • How do you measure a blog’s success?

    This morning, I woke up to a Twitter DM from the lovely beauty blogger Tsunimee enquiring about how valid Google Friends Connect is as a measurement of your blog readers. A lot of beauty bloggers seem to use it as a guide to how popular their blog is, and to an extent it does prove to visitors how many regular readers you have.

    The thing is, there are so many ways for someone to subscribe to a blog that it’s difficult to rely on one tool to showcase how popular your blog is. Visitors to your blog could:

    • Sign up to your RSS feed, or through your Feedburner feed
    • Sign up to a newsletter if you have one
    • Add you on BlogLovin’
    • Add themselves to your Google Friends Connect
    • Follow you on Twitter
    • Follow you on Facebook
    • Follow you on LinkedIn
    • Follow you on Google+

    You get the picture…

    Some people may use several of these methods, while others may choose just one or two. As long as they’re reading your content, does it really matter how many options you give them to subscribe?

    The alternative way to measure your blog success is by looking at your blog stats.

    Ah, blog stats…

    The thing is, most of them give you completely different figures. Compare your Blogger stats with your Google Analytics and the results can be vastly different. Add Get Clicky into the mix and it all gets very confusing. To add to this, it’s not unknown for some bloggers to stretch the truth a little about their stats, which can create false competition between other bloggers.

    So perhaps the key is to focus on quality and not quantity. If you’re creating content that others are happily sharing on their social networks, commenting on and blogging about themselves, then you’re probably doing the right thing. If the stats you have are rising as a result, you’re definitely doing the right thing.

    Tsunimee asked if there was one tool for measuring a blog’s success, or one tool she could embed to show other bloggers (and PRs) how she’s doing. Personally, I’d suggest not worrying too much about it. I have a Google Friends Connect gadget on the right (which you can get here) so people can join if they want, but I don’t use it as a measurement as I know many others use RSS. Additionally, as Tsunimee pointed out, Google Friends Connect can be limited to those who use Gmail/Blogger.

    How do you measure the success of your blog? Traffic? Google Connect Friends? Comment? Social Sharing? Let me know in the comments!

    (Keep an eye out for a post in the future with some methods for increasing traffic)

  • How many social media networks are you on?

    Google+ is the current darling of the social media world, with ‘experts’ claiming it’ll replace Facebook in no time.

    They said the same about Twitter.

    The thing is, each of the social networks appeal to a different group of people. Which is why some people have a dozen social networks, and others stick to one.

    Facebook is the personal network, where you can update your relationship status, comment on other updates and share (sometimes a little too much) your thoughts on the day.

    Twitter is mainly made up of media types, who care about grammar and don’t really care for passive aggressive statuses (that’s not to say they’re not still on Facebook, doing just that). It’s also where people test out their wittiest remarks.

    Google+…at the moment, Google+ seems more like an extended version of Twitter. Plenty of business and social media chat, but with extended profiles and the ability to comment and share directly on updates.

    So perhaps there’s space for them all. Which got me thinking about how many social media networks I regularly use.

    • Facebook: For work accounts and keeping up with birthdays.
    • Twitter: The one I use most, for personal and professional means.
    • LinkedIn: I don’t use LinkedIn as much as I should, but I’m trying to get involved in more group discussions. Additionally, I add a LinkedIn recommendation request to the invoices of clients I’ve just finished working with.
    • Google+: At the moment, I use it mainly for sharing content and keeping up with Google+ trends and social media trends in general. However, as more people join from outside the ‘social media experts’ arena, the content should hopefully evolve into something more varied.
    • Fancy: To source new products and save them in an online scrapbook. Also, superb for finding devilish dessert recipes.
    • Tumblr: For all the pretty things and Instagram shots I take, that don’t fit in elsewhere.
    • Instagram: Mainly use it to take photos of my dinner. Or fancy cakes. Or my dog. All my Instagram photos end up on my Tumblr.
    • Qype: Addicted to reviewing places, and Qype gives me the opportunity to do that while earning badges and getting the opportunity to go to free events.
    • Quora: The initial hype for this Q&A site is over, but I still like to use it to crowdsource for answers when Twitter can’t help.
    • Stumbleupon: My first stop for social bookmarking. The sexy new iPad app makes it a lot more user-friendly too. I also occasionally use Delicious and Diggit.
    • Flickr and YouTube: I’m a lurker on these two, viewing (and using for work) but rarely contributing.

    So, how many do you use? And what do you use them for? Let me know in the comments!

  • The beginners guide to Google+

    Do you ‘get’ Google+? A lot of people I’ve spoken to really don’t. And don’t get why they have to be on there. We have enough social profiles already, right? If you’ve read Grace Dent’s brilliant How to Leave Twitter, you’ll notice that people are going through the same stages with Google+ as they did with Twitter. Denial, curiosity, envy (all their friends are now on there) and then acceptance. Possibly followed by obsession.

    Let’s be honest, starting on a new social network is a confusing time. “Oooh it’s shiny! Look at that new feature! Erm, what’s that? I don’t understand that! Why is no one +1ing my status? WHAT AM I DOING HERE?”

    The thing is, we don’t get the instant gratification of Facebook, where you can find friends and family pretty much instantly. But Google+, like Twitter, is about creating a community. It requires you to put a certain amount of effort in, both in making contacts and sharing content, to get the most out of it.

    If you’re new to Google+ and don’t really know why you’ve signed up, here are some of the benefits;

    • Circles: You can put people into circles on Google+, which means you can put your family in one circle, real-life friends in another, group together your Twitter friends and put all those random people in the ‘acquaintances’ circle. So if you want to share those photos from Friday night’s cocktail crawl with your friends, you can do so by using that circle, without the fear of an elderly aunt leaving a comment.
    • Hangout: Got family or friends all over the country, or even the world, and want to video chat with a bunch of them at once? Hangout allows you to do just that. Great for organising events, catching up with family or speaking to all your flatmates without ever leaving your room. Hermitville, here we come.
    • Huddle: A text-based hangout where you can talk to multiple people in your Circles on your mobile. Handy if you want to chat to everyone, but don’t fancy doing your hair for video.
    • +1: A lot of sites have a +1 button, next to the Tweet and Facebook like buttons. This button adds the page or link you’ve chosen to your +1 column in your Google+ profile. So it’s basically like a recommendations/public bookmarking section. I do wish they’d show this in the main stream though, as I suspect most of these recommendations will go unseen. However, it’s worth noting that Google Analytics now tracks +1, so it’ll let you know if someone has +1’d one of your links.
    • Photos/Videos: Like Facebook, you can add your favourite photos and videos to your profile. At the moment, the media being uploaded is more about business, food and fashion, and less about last night’s boozy night out in Walkabout.
    So it’s basically a mix of Facebook (profiles, photos and chat), Twitter (Regular updates, finger on the pulse of latest news) and LinkedIn (a large amount of the current discussions are business/social media-related at the moment).
    If you’re not sure what to do on Google+, here are some suggestions:
    • Fill in your profile. It’s public so you may as well take advantage of that. Fill it with your business details, website links and bragging rights.
    • Connect your email accounts so you can find people you know. Then pop them into Circles
    • Try out the Circles function, by sending something you know only some of your Circles will like. For example, send a video of Slow Loris to the ‘We Heart Cute Stuff’ Circle, or a link to your latest blog post to your ‘Blogger’ Circle.
    • Organise your next night out over Huddle, or if everyone has video cams, Hangout.
    • Share blog post links, funny videos, clever infographics and anything you can imagine other people giving a +1 to or sharing in their own stream.
    • Download the Google Desktop Client, iPhone app or Android App.
    • +1 stuff. Share stuff. Get involved with discussions.
    • If you’ve got a blog, add the Google+ widget/plugin.
    Are you on Google+? How are you using it?