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Spring Cleaning for Freelance Writers

I spent time yesterday afternoon meandering around my gardens, taking in the scent of hyacinths while I looked in on some of my favorite flower beds. It was warm, after a rather chilly morning up here on the hill. And it hit me...

It's spring.

Yes. I know it's been spring for a while now. But with unseasonably late snowstorms flip-flopping with 70+ degree days, Mother Nature was seeming a bit unsure of herself. No longer. It's definitely spring, and not only in name.

And that got me thinking about all the garden and landscaping chores I have ahead of me yet, and the spring cleaning I want to do around the house. But spring cleaning has already started in a way... in my freelance writing business.

Have you thought about doing similar in yours?

Spring Cleaning & Your Freelance Writing Career

"A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind," or some such nonsense. Right?

Some people work just fine in a cluttered environment. They might even embrace it -- the "it looks like a mess to you, but I know where everything is" type.

Others need things to be pristine. They can't focus in a messy work space, even if "messy" is barely more than a misplaced book and a few pens strewn about.

And other folks, like me, prefer things to be de-cluttered but, for crying out loud, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I have bigger things to stress about, and there's still enough room for a coffee mug if I nudge things about a bit, so...

No matter what camp you're in, now's a good time to spring clean that work space whether that's your office or just your desk (or wherever you most often write). Even the clutter-lovers among us would be wise to go through it all once in a while.

So let's break down some spring cleaning tasks that can help you de-clutter, organize, and generally clean up your freelance writing business.

Your Work Space

Here are some things you might do to spring clean your work space:

1. Clear your desk.

My desk usually isn't all that bad. But it does tend to accumulate things over the week. I make sure I remove any coffee mugs, tea cups, and things like that each day. Then I do a full desk cleaning (whole office cleaning actually) either on Thursday or over my weekends. That lets me start each week reasonably fresh and has been a good system thus far.

Spring cleaning your desk takes it a step further than just neatening things up and removing clutter though. Ideally, remove everything and give it a good scrub down (especially if you tend to have dirty little kitty paws all over the place like I do).

Then put back only the essentials -- your computer, your desk lamp, any office supplies you use every day. Anything you don't use every day should get a new home -- in a drawer or cabinet for example.

Speaking of which, if your desk has drawers, now's the time to go through them, especially if they tend to accumulate things you rarely, if ever, actually use.

2. Work on your walls.

If you use your walls in any way for work -- bulletin boards, white boards, bookshelves, etc. -- they could use some attention too.

Is your TBR pile getting unruly? Perhaps organize those books on your shelves or find them another home where they won't be a distraction (no matter how welcome) while you work.

Are your white boards in need of a little TLC? They can accumulate residue over time, so why not give them a proper cleaning to keep them in tip-top shape?

3. Deep clean your office.

If you have a home office, give it an all-out spring cleaning over this next month. If not, do as much as you can to de-clutter and deep clean the space you do have.

In the past, for me this meant a corner of my bedroom in my old apartment. So spring cleaning was fairly easy -- my desk and organizing some office storage. Now it means my desk, dusting a wall of built-ins, organizing and taking inventory of office supplies in my cabinets, cleaning out a small secretary desk across the room which tends to accumulate junk I want to keep out of sight, washing windows, and shampooing the carpet. (I'm going to regret bringing up spring cleaning at all.)

Don't just work on surfaces. Go into your cabinets, closets, and such and get rid of things you no longer need and organize the rest. Clean your electronics. Pay particular attention to anything that normally gets overlooked in your day-to-day cleaning.

Your Computer

Your physical work space isn't the only thing that would benefit from some spring cleaning. Your computer can accumulate plenty of clutter as well.

Here are some things you might do to get your digital house in order:

1. Clear off your computer desktop.

If, like me, you tend to keep files for current freelance writing projects on your computer's desktop for quick access, go through them. Remove anything that doesn't need to be there anymore. Or, better yet, set up some folder shortcuts there for these things so you can keep your desktop clearer on a regular basis.

For example, I have a folder shortcut on my desktop for this website. When I create a new blog post graphic or record a new podcast or write an offline draft of a post, I save them to that folder instead of putting them on my desktop and filing them in my Documents folder hierarchy later on (like I used to). I also have a "To Read" folder for PDFs and other long-form content I want to get to soon, and a "To Work On" folder shortcut there for current projects such as open freelance writing gigs.

2. Set up a client file system.


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If you don't already have a well-organized filing system for freelance writing projects, now is a good time to create one. Again, I used to save everything in my main Documents folder. But it became unwieldy. So I broke things down where I have client-specific folders now. It makes it much easier to pull up a client's latest work, but also to get an overview of what I've done for each of them and when.

3. Archive old email.

If you store local copies of your email, consider archiving older messages to clean up your current mail folders a bit. On my old laptop I had a few hundred thousand local emails saved, and they'd actually slow the loading of some folders in my email software. I archived them when changing systems, and it's been a relief to cut that clutter. But I still have them backed up if I ever need them.

4. Review email rules and filters.

Along those lines, you can keep your email folders from getting out of control again by setting up email rules or filters. For example, whenever I get an email from a client, it's filtered into a client folder in my email software rather than my general inbox. Prospect emails coming from the quote request form on my freelance writer website are treated in a similar way. Then I can see at quick glance where my new emails are coming from. And when I see them appear in that folder, I know those are prospect or client emails, and they're more urgent to respond to than most. Some other folders and filters I have are for:

  • guest post pitches;
  • emails from colleagues;
  • emails from family and friends;
  • emails with server alerts or those from my host or domain registrar;
  • emails sent through reader question forms on my blogs;
  • marketing emails and newsletters I've signed up for;
  • common keywords in spam that get auto-filtered to the junk mail folder.

Similar to a file system, set up folders in your email service or software and use rules and filters to keep the clutter away before it has a chance to litter your inbox.

5. Run virus and malware scans, and update your software.

This is something you should be doing on a regular basis, but if you haven't in a while, get your scans and updates run. Make sure software is up-to-date to avoid vulnerabilities. And make sure there are no malicious files on your system that may have come via email or through websites you visited.

6. Back everything up.

Now that you have a cleaner system, get it all backed up. Use an external hard drive. Use an online backup service. Whatever you do, make sure your important files are safe should anything happen to your computer. You don't want to potentially lose years' worth of client work.

If you have a web hosting account or server to manage, do these things there too. Run your backups. Run virus scans. Check your sites to make sure nothing's amiss.

Your Freelance Writing Business

Spring cleaning doesn't stop there. Here are some things you can do to spring clean your freelance writing business itself:

1. Drop bad clients.

You won't move on to bigger and better freelance writing jobs if you keep your schedule filled with difficult, needy, or underpaying clients. So go through your current client list and see if anyone deserves to be dropped.

Give them proper notice of course -- "proper" depends on what your contracts say about ending the relationship. And you may want to ease through this process, replacing the duds one at a time. But make that commitment to seek something better and decide who's first on your professional chopping block.

2. Scrub your social media profiles.

If you don't maintain them regularly, your social media accounts can become a bit of a mess. So set aside some time to go through them and get them cleaned up.

Take Twitter, my preferred network, for example. Once or twice a year I do a semi-large purge of who I'm following. For example, I'll cut out anyone who hasn't updated their account in the last couple of months. I'll also weed out accounts that I'm simply not interested in anymore (I only need to see so many "breaking news" alerts every time something happens these days for instance).

Social media accounts can get particularly messy if you implement stupid follower-building strategies like following everyone who follows you "just because" or constantly following more accounts just in the hopes a certain percentage will follow you back (barely a step above those using the sad little follow-unfollow strategy when people don't follow them back fast enough).

Neither helps you build followers who are legitimately interested in what you have to say. Those followers you have to earn the old fashioned way. So if you've built up a huge number of accounts you're following because you thought it was good for marketing, but you can't (or don't care to) honestly follow those people, then stop. Clean up the mess to make your feeds more valuable and less of a time suck.

If you still find yourself with unruly numbers of folks to follow, set up lists (or groups, circles, or whatever's relevant to the network you're using). Start sorting those accounts in a way where you can quickly find the kinds of updates you want at-a-glance, getting the most value you can without investing absurd amounts of time each day.

3. Become a more selective subscriber.

Do you ever feel like you waste too much time reading blogs and newsletters, and not have enough time to find new freelance writing clients? If so, it might be time to cut back on your reading list and subscriptions.

That means going through your feed reader (like Feedly) and removing feeds you no longer want to follow. It also means unsubscribing from email lists where you don't tend to open the emails or you don't find value in them. Or with some, like the email subscriptions for this site, you can adjust your email frequency. For example, here if you were getting daily blog updates and you found they were too much, you could click a link in one of those emails to switch to once-weekly or once-monthly blog email updates instead. Unsubscribe or optimize your subscriptions so you're only getting regular notifications from sites you actually want to regularly read.

On the flip side of this, it's not all about cutting back. It's about subscribing to the right resources. So when you purge ones you don't want to follow anymore, consider adding better ones in their place.

4. Audit your freelance writer website.

This is where my professional spring cleaning began (and it's still ongoing). I'm cleaning up, and improving, my freelance writing website. I just finished the design tweaks, and next comes a top-to-bottom copyedit. Then new resources. Then a new blog strategy and fresh and updated content.

Consider doing the same for yours. When was the last time you thoroughly reviewed your business site's copy? Read it. Is it still accurate? Does it still convey the image and brand you want? If so, great. If not, it's time to freshen things up. Consider auditing your professional blog too. If your posts aren't doing much to attract freelance writing clients even though you've been at it for a year or more, come up with a new plan or find ways to improve upon your existing content.

5. Spring clean your services.

Finally, take a look at your freelance writing services themselves.

Do they all still make sense? If you almost never take on a certain type of gig (or you don't want to take a certain project type on much anymore), remove it from your website. Focus your marketing efforts on the services you actually want to push.

This applies to your rates too. Again, do they still make sense? Is it time for a raise? Are you charging too much for certain services? Are your terms, prices, and packages clear?

Give everything service-related a once over and try to look at them from a prospect's perspective.

Your turn. Tell me what I'm missing and what I should add to my own spring cleaning list for my freelance writing career. Have you done these things yet? How often do you go through this kind of career clean-up? Tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, NakedPR.com, and BizAmmo.com.

Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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