I never intended to become an advocate for Google Docs, and I'll probably write web apps to accommodate my needs some day, but lately I've found myself using Google Docs every day, without ever intending to depend on it. As a freelance web designer, it's an excellent tool I use to operate my day to day business.
1 - Writing Blog Posts
I'm usually working on a number of blog articles at any given time, and with 3 different computers around my home and office, I used to get a little confused about what I wrote on which machine. I'd often end up with multiple versions of the same article on different machines.
Now, if I want to write a new article that I'm unlikely to finish in one sitting, I'll create a new document in Google and get to work.
2 - Sharing Quotes With Agencies or Other Designers
About 90% of my work comes from design agencies or other designers, all of whom maintain contact with their customers directly, so there's no need for me to produce my nice looking PDF quotes for them as they're going to put the number on their own letterhead anyway. I used to stroke my ego and deliver one anyway, waiting for the compliments from my peers on my lovely used of grid systems and typography on such a bland document, but nowadays I've settled into a more efficient routine with Google spreadsheets.
Whenever I'm asked by an agency or designer for a quote, I just create a new Google spreadsheet, get all the numbers and line items in there with a total, and then share it via email. They're free to modify it so that I can see the changes, and also to copy and paste the data into their own format. This allows the quoting process to be more collaborative and not so one sided.
3 - Maintaining an Ongoing List of Projects
Ok, I'll admit, I'm current writing a web app to replace this useful task, but a simple spreadsheet nails it pretty well in the meantime. Whenever I create a quote, I'll add that project and it's expected value to a Google spreadsheet that maintains an ongoing history of projects month by month.
This allows me to see a total of potential income for each month, compare it to previous months, and also to see after every month what percentage of potential jobs and payments actually came into fruition. This is helpful in determining how much I need to sell on a month to month basis to maintain a regular income.
4 - Personal Budgeting
This is closely related to the last item. I keep a list of my recurring bills in a Google spreadsheet, with totals that need to be paid from each account. For example, I use my Mastercard to pay for things like hosting, telephones, internet, and other automated payments, so my spreadsheet lets me know a minimum balance I need to maintain. I use my bank account to pay my rent, gas, food and other bills and my spreadsheet gives me an idea of how much I need to live on.
As an added note, I also use Wesabe to maintain a historical record of my spending on everything by tag. So I can add stuff like lattes, or movies to my Google spreadsheet to get an idea of what I'm likely to be spending the next month!
5 - Miscellaneous Spreadsheets
I've touched on this in some of the last items, but basically whenever I want to add anything and keep track of it, I create a new Google spreadsheet. It's become invaluable to me! For example, this month I've been planning to launch a creative shared space for tech freelancers in my city (Nanaimo), and I've kept a list of potential expenses, who wants to be involved, how much everyone will pay, and how much is left over.
So, there you have it. This is how I use Google docs to run much of my freelance business. Let me know if you have any other clever ideas by commenting below.