Free Stuff I Use In My Home Office

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been asked to talk at a CLO coffee about freelancing. I made up a list of resources for that event before it was cancelled. Here it is, with some bloggy commentary, of course!

When I first started working from home, I had physical file folders with client information, and I backed up my digital information on a portable hard drive. Over the years, I have gradually moved everything to digital format. The few items that I still receive on paper are instantly scanned and tossed. I do all my editing onscreen (though I find it does help to print a final draft to catch the last few typos).

With the exception of a small bookshelf with a few software manuals and editing aids, everything is now on my computer and in the cloud. I always hated filing. Always. I love my tidy physical work space and would never go back to messy stacks of paper. Especially at packout time!

Paypal Invoicing
www.paypal.com > Request Money > Send Invoice

You can receive payment by PayPal or request a check and just use PayPal to track payments.

I do it this way in order to avoid the PayPal processing fee. However, in the past, I had several clients who preferred to pay me by credit card. PayPal made that a lot easier. I felt it was worth paying the fee in order to receive payments promptly, especially given the time factor involved in mailing checks back and forth from a pouch-only post!

Toggl
www.toggl.com

A free time-tracking website. Download a desktop widget and track time spent on various projects or billed to different clients. There is an upgrade version available with more features.

I am on salary now, and don’t actually have to track my time. But I like to do it anyway. I find that it helps me organize my time more efficiently. It will also be nice to have a report on how much time I spend on the job if my employer ever asks for it, or if I move on and we need to hire a replacement.

Google Calendar
https://www.google.com/calendar/
Google Tasks
https://mail.google.com/mail/help/tasks/

I use both of these for work. On the calendar, I set deadlines, color-code them so they stand out from my personal calendar (I could have a separate work calendar but my life is just not that complicated right now) and set email reminders to myself.

On the flip side, you can get a Gadget (Settings > Labs) for Gmail that lets you create a calendar event out of any email. I use that feature more for personal events than for business. If my job involved a lot of meetings, however, that Gadget would be extremely handy.

I use Tasks as more of a daily to-do list. I really don’t like using email as an organizational system! If I have a bunch of work emails piled up, I’ll sift through them, add items to the Task list, and then systematically check them off and delete the related emails as I complete them. Since I am in charge of adding and removing events on our website, when I post a new event, I frequently add a Task reminding myself to take it down after it has occurred.

Side benefit: it is very satisfying to check off Tasks! And if I look at Completed Tasks, I have a record of which dates items were completed.

Google Drive (AKA Google Docs)
https://drive.google.com/

Free online document/spreadsheet creation and cloud storage. Use with Google Sync to keep work files backed up and accessible from any computer.

I also use Google Drive to collaborate on projects by sharing them with other users online. For example, on a recent writing project, I kept notes on a shared doc with my co-editor. It was much better than a bunch of emails flying around.

Evernote
http://evernote.com/

Organizational and cloud storage utility. Very handy for the digital office. Keep notes on projects and clients and access them from any device (PC, laptop, cell phone, etc.)

I actually use Evernote more for personal reasons (recipes, knitting patterns, genealogy notes, etc.) than for work. I prefer the Google Drive interface for organizing content for monthly newsletters. Folders make more visual sense to me for that purpose than Evernote’s “notebooks” do. But depending on the type of work you are doing, Evernote could be more suitable.

WordPress
http://wordpress.com/

WordPress is free blogging service with very professional looking templates so you easily create a business home page.

I do not have a business home page at the moment, but if I did, I would definitely use WordPress to create it. It has a slightly steeper learning curve than more basic services such as Blogger, but you can create professional-looking sites very easily once you get the hang of it. And it’s fun! I like it so much I co-wrote a guide to creating community sites with WordPress. Download it here and use it to get started developing a business home page for yourself.

Family Liaison Office (FLO) Home-Based Business Guide
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/62809.pdf

This booklet answers all the question you may have about operating a business at an overseas post and/or out of your embassy housing.

IRS Self-Employment Tax Center
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-%26-Self-Employed/Self-Employed-Individuals-Tax-Center
IRS Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Information
http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Foreign-Earned-Income-Exclusion

The tax situation as far as freelancing while overseas is not actually that complicated. We are able to file our own taxes without an accountant. The main thing to remember is that it does not matter whether or not your employer is in the U.S. What matters is where you perform the work. And, you must be physically overseas for 330 out of 365 days during the tax year. Just let TurboTax walk you through it, and you’ll be OK, I promise 🙂

Resources and Groups

I do not have much to offer when it comes to soliciting new clients. I acquired nearly all my clients through word of mouth, primarily in the Foreign Service community. But if you can recommend a website for advertising freelance services, please feel to add it in the comments!

AAFSW’s Articles and Advice section on Working and Volunteering Overseas
http://www.aafsw.org/articles-advice/fs-spouse-workingvolunteering/

Includes several articles on home businesses, freelancing, and telecommuting.

EFM Business Owners on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/efmbusinessowners/

Closed Foreign Service community Facebook group for sharing information and ideas about freelancing and telecommuting of all kinds. Click “Join Group” and message one of the group admins telling them your affiliation with the U.S. Foreign Service.

That’s what I have to offer! Self-employment has been a good solution for me over the years. I always like to encourage other Foreign Service family members to at least consider the option. As you can see, with all the free tools available, it does not have to cost much to get started.

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