business of freelancing

The simple filing system that revolutionised my freelance writing business

By September 9, 2020 6 Comments

I am an old-fashioned kind of freelance writer.

I mean, I’m not typing this post on my typewriter, but I definitely don’t run a paperless office system.

Yes, my income target goes into an excel spreadsheet.

So does my pitch tracking, but almost everything else is on paper. 

And all that paper, well, it gets messy.

Last week I mentioned how I have recently implemented a new paper flow system for my receipts and invoices.

And loads of you got in touch to say that you were excited to see my new system.

I’m going to share that with you in just a minute, but I first I want to tell you why I think this filing system has to be in every freelance writers’ toolkit.

Why I needed to re-organise my systems

For the past year or so I’ve been catching up with my friend, sole trader business guru and multipotentialite-extraordinaire – Cass Ewing.

Cass lives in the same small town as me. I can’t remember how or when we first met, but I knew immediately Cass was good value.

Cass trained as a landscape architect and after years of designing and creating incredible gardens, she was ready for a break. 

Never one to say no to a challenge, she headed to Western Australia and learnt to drive trucks in the mines.

After that she came back to central Victoria. And here she used her incredible range of skills to help people in the community.

What Cass found (and what strikes you when you spend time with her) is that she has a very particular zone of genius.

And it’s this:

Cass has this extraordinary ability to see the common challenges that micro-businesses and sole traders face.

But Cass doesn’t only see the problems – she has a slew of simple, effective solutions (like what you should do if you can’t remember your passwords – guilty)

Okay, so fast forward.

Most weeks Cass and I catch up for an hour or so and talk strategy.

We talk about our businesses, our challenges, our wins and our goals.

Cass is a planner. I’m a procrastinator.

Cass is meticulous and works through things visually.

I’m more of a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants” kind of gal.

What happened when Cass asked me about my receipt and bill system

A few months ago, Cass asked me about my receipt system and I proudly ran into our spare room.

I came back with a plastic pocket stuffed full of receipts.

Even though we were talking via Facetime I could hear her gasp.

Always tactful, Cass told me gently that there may be another way to organise my receipts.

She reached across and showed me a folder where she stores her receipts.

Cass showed me two trays that are marked ‘paid’ and ‘to pay’.

She talked me through her streamlined, simple process where everything has a place.

“You never put milk in a random spot in the fridge, do you?” she asked me.

“Well, it’s the same with everything in your business. Everything needs to have a spot.”

As an accidental freelancer and business owner this made sense.

My systems have evolved naturally and organically and mostly they work well.

But I could see that there was lots of room for improvement.

The simple filing process for receipts and bills

My new system is based on Cass’s 6-step process (it’s worth grabbing her free download here that explains it in detail).

Just say I buy a magazine and need to keep the receipt in order to claim it on tax.

Thanks to Cass, I now have a folder with 12 C5 envelopes (one for each month of the year).

Because in Australia, the financial year goes from 1 July – 30 June, my envelopes start with July.

  1. When I get a receipt (say in September), I put it straight into the ‘paid’ tray.
  2. When I get bills associated with my business that I need to pay, I print them out (sorry, trees) and put them in the ‘to pay’ tray.
  3. I then either set up a reminder in my calendar or I schedule an auto-pay with my bank.
  4. Once the bill is paid, it goes to the ‘paid’ tray.
  5. At the end of the month, I spend about 10 minutes putting the receipts that month’s envelope and any paid bills go into the back section of A-Z dividers.

This super simple system saves me so much time.

Last week my accountant got in touch with a query about a receipt and I located it instantly for her.

In the past I would have had to trawl through my plastic pocket.

Or worse I would’ve hunted through a pile of receipts that hadn’t yet made it into the plastic pocket.

I think as freelance writers, it’s easy to neglect this part of our business.

But actually, this is such an important part of running a smooth, sustainable operation as a freelancer.

In the past, I’ve spent countless hours sorting out receipts at tax time.

And frankly, I don’t ever want to lose hours like that again.

If you’re after loads of practical, non-judge-y productivity, business and bookkeeping hints, tips and strategies, I’d really recommend signing up for Cass’s weekly newsletter.

Because this simple system of hers has really revolutionised the receipt and bill part of my business and has made tax time a breeze.

Because who wants to spend more time on this stuff than we need to?

Do you have a system for your receipts and bills? Are there any parts of running your freelance writing business that you struggle with?

6 Comments

  • Vivienne says:

    I am a convert to the ATO app. I record every car trip and purchase I make for work there and then – usually before I leave the shop. You can upload photos of the receipts, so there’s no need to keep any paper. If it’s an electronic receipt, I snap a photo of it from my computer. You can then upload it straight into your tax return.

    I also use Excel to add up regular payments – like MEAA membership or subscriptions. Because they’re usually a set amount each week/month all year, it’s easy so I simply create this spreadsheet as part of doing my tax).

    My only issue with the ATO app is that I need to back it up more often (it’s easy but I’m lazy!).

  • Noor e Hira Shamim says:

    Thank you for your insightful tips.

  • Thank you Lindy! I now have some ideas to get my own paperwork in order!

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