Harnessing the Cloud: You’ve Got an App for That

Freelancers and other business owners are nearly always pressed for time and we need to get things done, quickly, efficiently and accurately. Advances in technology have yielded many apps that can make our lives easier and make us look good as we take advantage of their features. Below is sampling of free to low cost apps that will help your business.

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

Canva. If you’re in need of professionally-designed marketing materials for your business but don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, you can successfully DIY with Canva https://www.canva.com. This useful app features attractive design templates that allow you to create beautiful visual content for the images that are the core of social media marketing. You can also design logos, brochures, infographics, business cards and templates for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts. Canva will also allow users to crop images and enhance photos. The website provides good support, including tutorials on how to use Twitter for marketing. The free version of Canva offers most of the features a Freelancer or business owner will need and an upgrade to the Pro version costs $9.95/ user/ month.

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

Expensify. All those who travel for business must collect and organize a stack of receipts very soon after returning, whether you’re a Freelancer who must save them for quarterly taxes or an employee who must submit receipts to your boss.  Expensify makes an onerous task much more bearable by automatically scanning the printed paper receipts and adding them to pre-designed templates that facilitate a seamless transition into your electronic records. Other features include reimbursement calculation based on the number of miles travelled, hourly billable amount or wage, a choice of four currencies for calculation and synchronizing directly with your bank account. Free  – $4.99/ month for most users.

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

FreshBooks. If you operate a B2B knowledge economy service business that doesn’t need a high-powered accounting solution, then FreshBooks  will give your organization a user-friendly option that offers a lot of functionality. You can track billable hours here as well and also log receipts and send invoices from your smartphone or tablet. The service integrates with several others, including Basecamp, PayPal, Google Apps and ZenPayroll.  The basic plan starts at $15 a month and allows management of up to 5 clients. More fully featured versions allow unlimited clients for up to $50 a month.

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

Mailchimp. This easy-to-use email marketing tool is a go-to for Freelancers and small businesses. It offers easy-to-use templates and intuitive drag-and-drop email building that anyone can use to create a professional-looking email that will enhance your company’s reputation. It also allows you to automate your email campaigns and track subscribers, so you can make the most of your communications campaign. Plus, Mailchimp https://mailchimp.com offers easy integration with many popular e-commerce tools. The basic service is free, but many will want to upgrade to either the $9.99/ month plan, which provides custom branding email design or the $14.99/ month option, which gives users custom newsletter and email templates and marketing automation.

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

ScanBizCards.  Rather than taking a card from someone with whom you’d like to follow-up, it’s much more efficient—and cooler—to scan the business card or even a conference name tag and know you have that important person’s information will be saved automatically in your phonebook. ScanBizCards

VIDEO CONFERENCES

Skype for Business. The classic video conferencing app is owned by Microsoft and the functionality of its infrastructure is versatile, powerful and seamless. The service offers free online meetings for up to 10 participants, set-up from any device, PC or MAC, Android, iPad, or iPhone and PowerPoint upload capability, Instant Messaging and a white board feature. Unlimited free video conferencing, instant messaging, conferencing and audio calling are also offered and  Skype for Business runs ad free and without interruptions— excellent for a business interview or discussion.  Explore the premium features through Microsoft Office 365—$6.00 / user/ month – $15.00 / user/ month.

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

Slack. There are several real-time messaging and file-sharing apps available, but Slack prevails as a result of its simplicity. It has DropBox, Asana, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter and Zendesk compatibility built into the app and the platform is very responsive and user-friendly. Every message is archived, so searching is quick and easy.  Free – $15.00/ month / user for premium services.

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

Toggl.  This timer tracks how you spend your time, making it an ideal support system for those who must record billable hours in order to accurately and quickly prepare invoices so that they will get paid, Freelancer friend. You can track as many projects or clients as you want and assign your hourly rate to each project, so that you can quickly calculate what you’re earning, export timesheets and sync your numbers with several project management apps. Toggl is priced from $9.00 / month /user for the basic service to $18.00/ month/ user for team time tracking and other premium services.  

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark September 7, 2018. Fog x FLO, a “fog sculpture” installation by Fujiko Nakaya (Japan) that appeared in five Boston locations from August – October 2018. Every hour from dawn to dusk, a blast of steam would be emitted by a special mechanism and the fog would appear—and disappear in a minute or two, depending on how the wind blew. The fog sculpture pictured here was across the street from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Time-Tracking Options for Freelancers

We’re back with a review of more time-tracking services that are especially useful for Freelance consultants. Accurately documenting the time spent on project assignments is important in many ways, primarily to ensure that billable hours charged to clients are correct.  Plus, most time-tracking services will generate an invoice that you can click and send and some will also allow you to accept online payments with bank-level security.

In addition, time-tracking services generate useful reports that show the number of hours you spend on certain types of assignments, information that is useful when creating proposals for projects that you’d like to take on, since it will be necessary to predict the time you expect to spend on the proposed project, which will impact your pricing and determine whether it will be most advantageous for you and the client to choose an hourly rate or project fee payment arrangement.

Harvest

Track time spent on projects easily and efficiently with Harvest, even when you need to follow several projects that contain different tasks that are priced differently. Furthermore, when coordinating a team project, you’re able to assign and time-track various tasks within a project for specific team members.

Reporting is a strength: raw time sheet data will be presented in a visual summary that depicts how your time or the team’s time has been utilized, with key project metrics collated into intuitive reports. The service also generates professional-looking invoices based on your project fee or hourly rate, as determined by the time you’ve logged.  Click and send invoices to clients and receive online payment, confident that site security is bank-level.

Harvest is free for one person to track maximum two projects/month and $12 for one person to track an unlimited number of projects/month.  Harvest

RescueTime

Freelancers who’d like to document how they’re spending time when working on a project and who are not kept on a short leash by a manager will appreciate RescueTime.  It’s not possible to send reports to your client, but you can nevertheless track your time and obtain an accurate picture of your productivity.  You will also receive detailed reports that show you the apps and websites you visited.

As well, RescueTime will record time spent on email and the amount of time you linger on any website. If you’d like to limit the time spent on non-work related websites, then ask the system to block your browsing on any chosen site after a certain amount of time.  Further, you can set goals to inspire yourself to stay on schedule with your project. The premium service plan also allows tracking of off-line time for activities such as telephone calls and meetings. RescueTime Lite is free and RescueTime Premium costs $9.00/month, or $72.00/year.   RescueTime

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports back to you.  If you regularly track time against an hourly rate determined budget, or a project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s also possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.   Tick

Toggl

If you neglect to click the session start button, the service will allow you to enter your working time after the fact, which is helpful for those who are very busy and prone to forget. The service is structured with a team in mind, but it works well for solo professionals.

The service works on all devices, desktop and mobile. Helpful analytic reports will be generated, so you’ll get the big picture of where your time is spent, depending on your assigned tasks.  There is a free version, plus Starter and Premium.  The $9.00 /month Starter package appears to give the best value to Freelancers.   Toggl

Klok

Most helpfully, the service lets users recall and analyze data from previous projects, information that enables you to develop proposals for future projects that will more accurately reflect the time needed to reach key milestones and achieve deadlines. The historical time-tracking data will also help you to price at a level that is fair to both you and the client.

The basic package includes a visual display of your time as you work, plus screenshots, exporting of time sheets, dashboard reporting and invoicing all for a one-time purchase price of $20.00 for up to three users.  Klok Cloud Sync, Klonk Pro and Klokwork Team Console are also available.   Klok

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Orloj, the famous 15th century astrological clock in Prague, Czech Republic

Time-Tracking Freelance Work

How many of you use time-tracking so that you can accurately count your billable hours when on assignment? I still count hours the old-fashioned way and I know that I cheat myself out of no less than an hour or so every week. My bad! I’ve occasionally thought about time-tracking assistance, but I never knew where to begin. A new year will soon welcome us and that’s a traditional motivator to set goals and improve work habits.

As I suspected, time-tracking systems have their differences. Some are designed with remote teams in mind; others make a department manager’s life easier. Certain time-tracking systems have been created to address the needs of Freelancers and we’ll sort through a sampling here:

Due Time Tracking

Due Time is free and easy to use—just create a task, start the timer and launch your session. You can click and add notes to detail the project you’re working on. Due Time also includes an automatic idle time detection feature, so you’re able to make allowances for stepping away from your project now and again and still remain accurate in tracking your work hours.

You’ll be pleased to find that Due Time will generate hourly rate or project fee invoices when you enter the rate. Due Time makes it easy to organize client information by name, address, or even payment currency.  Due Time

TopTracker

Along with tracking the number of hours you spend on project tasks, Top Tracker offers screen shots and webcam shots that document your work. Screen shot pages can be deleted or configured to automatically blur before uploading, so that the image is recognizable to you but all text is obscured. The service works with nearly every freelancing platform and will produce a detailed project activity report to document your performance. The service is free.  TopTracker

Sighted Time Tracking and Invoicing

Sighted Time Tracking seamlessly integrates the functions of time-tracking and invoicing, packaged in either the free Basic Service plan or the Premium Plan at $4.00 /month. You can make detailed project notes for every session and also automatically send invoices for hours worked that are customized for billable hours or project fee.

Furthermore, users can send out quotes to prospects when invited to bid on a project and accept credit or debit card payments online and issue a receipt to the client. Plus, you can do it all on your desktop or mobile device.  Sighted

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports it back to you.  If you regularly track your time against an hourly rate budget of project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s even possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.  Tick

Four more time-tracking options will be examined in the next post. Have a good week!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Sundial at the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridgeshire, England

Who Gets the 1099?

The year is drawing to a close and we’re crossing into the 11th month. Before you become enmeshed in the celebrations and obligations that the holidays demand of us, do yourself a favor and commence your tax planning. Create an accounts receivable and  invoicing strategy once you’ve decided when it would be most advantageous to receive payment for services rendered in this calendar/ tax year or the next. IRS Form 1099-MISC will be at the center of the action; understanding when you’ll need it and when you might avoid it is your goal.

The payment in question is $600, whether it was paid or received by your organization. Review the accounts receivable history of clients for whom you performed small jobs earlier in the year.  If a client paid you less than $600 in this calendar year, you will not receive or need to file a Form 1099-MISC for the money earned on that assignment.

Start with the easy stuff.  If you find yourself in mid-contract with a client as December approaches and the project isn’t urgent, might it be possible to work until just before Christmas and then resume work in the first week of January, if it appears that will allow you to cap your billable amount at less than $600 for the client in this calendar/ tax year?  That can be one less 1099-MISC to file and a little more money added to your P & L.

If the client has a deadline don’t even think of such a thing but if there is no urgency, why not ask the client if s/he might find it more convenient to take a “holiday break” starting in mid or late December? Many employees take vacation days at the end of the year in a “use it or lose it” strategy and offices can be short-handed just before Christmas and through the end of the year.  I suggest that you refrain from mentioning the tax implications.  Frame your suggestion as a way of being sensitive to what may be going on in the client’s office, i.e., customer service.

Similarly, might you be able to defer until the New Year certain invoices, as a way to keep a lid on this year’s income and taxes and wait until the first week of January to send accounts receivable for work that was performed in December? Let a couple of hours work spill over into January and make your New Year invoice legal.

Now let’s consider the 1099-MISC forms that you will generate and send.  Did you hire any sub-contractors to help you fulfill the terms of a project? Have you hired a part-time bookkeeper or social media expert or editor for your newsletter? If you paid $600 or more to anyone for business services or rents in this calendar/ tax year, then you must send that individual/ company a Form 1099-MISC no later than January 31 of the upcoming year.

So that you will have the information to complete the Form 1099-MISC, it will be necessary to request that all of your vendors and other business services providers complete a Form W-9, ideally before the work they perform commences.  Download Form W-9

Among the important pieces of information that the W-9 will surface is if your service provider’s business is incorporated as a chapter C or S entity, or an LLC or partnership that is taxed as a C or S corporation.  Along with commercial rent paid to or through a property management company (instead of the property owner), a 1099-MISC will not be required for those types of entities when payments for services rendered meet or surpass $600.

Payments for services rendered made by gift card, debit, or credit card are not to be included in the 1099-MISC tally.  Instead, the card issuers will send a Form 1099-K to your subcontractors, vendors, or you when the amount paid for business services rendered meets or surpasses $600.

Obtaining the 1099-MISC is an adventure. You must order forms from the IRS, or visit an IRS service center and pick up a few. The form is not available for downloading.  Click here to order Form 1099-MISC.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Tax Collector, 1542   Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490 – 1546)                  Courtesy of Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany

Will That Be Check or Credit Card?

As every Freelance consultant knows, it is our pleasure and privilege to perform interesting and often mission-critical projects for clients whom we like and respect.  However, getting paid is the endgame and without exception, we all breathe a sigh of relief when the check arrives.  One vital element of maintaining adequate cash-flow in your business is to invoice on time, a topic that I covered a while back  Invoicing Inertia: The Cure .

Invoicing is only half of the battle, alas; it is smart and proactive cash management to make payment of invoices as swift and seamless as possible for the client.  In good economic times and bad, every once in a while clients will experience constricted cash-flow, even if they are the larger entity.  The ability to use a credit card to pay one of your outstanding invoices can be a great relief to them and could get accounts receivable into your hands as many as a few weeks earlier.

Let’s explore the basics of accepting credit cards and how to get started as a merchant who accepts the cards.  Twenty years ago, I spent a couple of years as an independent merchant payment services agent, selling Master Card, Visa, Discover and American Express processing services and card terminals to small business owners, so this topic is a nice walk through history for me.

Let’s start with some likely good options for a Freelance consultant.  Along with credit cards, you will also want to accept debit cards and eChecks.  You’ll choose the card not present processing option, so that clients can call you when the invoice arrives and phone in payment.  You may also decide to accept mobile payments, meaning that you will be able to accept client payments through your smart phone or tablet while you are at their office, or other location and to make that possible, you’ll also select the card present option.  In all scenarios, 48 hours post-transaction, the payment will be deposited into your business bank account.  You may not choose to invest in a (costly) credit card terminal unless clients visit your office.  Your card present transactions, if you do them, will most likely be mobile device payments.  You may decide against accepting American Express cards, since its processing fees are at least a point higher than Visa, MasterCard or Discover.

Call your business bank to get information about processing fees (about 2.5% of the transaction amount and 3.5% for AmEx cards).  There is also a separate fee called a transaction fee.  Freelance consultants will process few credit card transactions in a month and your transaction fee will be higher as a result.  In addition, there will be a service initiation fee and maybe also an annual fee.  Finally, there will be a statement fee if you’d like to receive  the hard copy of card, eCheck and mobile payments that you accepted.

The merchant approval process will center around an evaluation of your credit history and credit score, so if you need to pay down/pay off bills to improve your financial picture, do that first.  The associated merchant services fees will probably be impacted by your credit score.

If mobile payments will be explored, I can almost guarantee that Square will offer good service at very competitive processing rates  https://squareup.com/  You can also call Discover, Visa and Mastercard directly and find out what they’ll charge for your chosen merchant services.  Your bank may be where you buy eCheck processing services but then again, you may be able to negotiate a good merchant services package with your bank and get all that you want in one place.

Then there is the matter of security during the age of hacking, phishing and data breaches. If you belong to a business networking group, find a colleague who does internet services and ask how you take security precautions on your end.  The merchant services industry stays on top of security matters, but they are not infallible.

To sum up, be advised that although the various merchant services fees are an issue and you’ll want to secure the most competitive processing rates, good service and convenience matter.  As much as the process of expert payment transactions, you must seek out a system that will be reliable and user-friendly for both you and your clients.  A positive, glitch-free experience and excellent customer support are usually worth somewhat higher fees.  Consider it the cost of doing business. Getting paid by clients ASAP is, after all, the endgame.

Thanks for reading,

KIm