Running a side hustle or small business? Very cool. Me too. I’ve been doing freelance work on the side for 10+ years. One way I’ve made more money with my side work is to organize my finances. Here are some tips and a free side hustle tracker your can use.
Here are the tips and resources I’ll share in this post:
- Side hustle tracking options (apps and spreadsheets)
- Apps: pros and cons
- Spreadsheets: pros and cons
- What to track for your side hustle
Side hustle tracking options
There are plenty of online apps and websites that can help you track your side hustle finances. Before you explore which one/s to use, it helps to ask yourself some questions. Remember, side hustlers and solo entrepreneurs have unique needs.
- Do you do lots of jobs year-round, or just a few here and there?
- I just do a few a year. Many months, none. I don’t want to pay monthly for an app I don’t use most of the time.
- Is the app overkill?
- Many accounting apps are more complicated than needed for a side hustle or small business just starting out. They have features you don’t need, but you’ll pay for them nonetheless.
The two main categories of options
There are basically two main types of solutions: apps and spreadsheets.
First up is apps. I’m grouping mobile apps, desktop computer software, and website apps (also called a SaaS, or software as a service). Apps meaning you of use on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Pretty much any app now-a-days connects to the internet and syncs your data between whichever device you use to access it. So I’ll group them as one. Here are some of the most popular accounting apps used by many small businesses:
Next up are spreadsheets. The other main way you can track your side hustle money is a spreadsheet. You can make your own, or use a template.
I’ve spent some time looking at spreadsheet template options. I have found very few around the Googly web that are designed for side hustles. This is one of the reasons I started HustleBooks. Here are your best options:
- HustleBooks (that’s me!) – I have a free template called HustleBooks Starter or a purchase-once version called HustleBooks Pro
- Etsy Side Hustle SpreadSheet Templates – There are some side hustle tracking sheets and other options on Etsy.
- Most of these have no free trial and no refunds, so, yeah, bummer, buyer beware.
- Note many are printable templates, not necessarily true spreadsheets for tracking or accounting. While it is nice sometimes to get off a computer to plan, develop ideas, and set goals, I think a spreadsheet or app on a computer is the right way to manage side hustle finances.
Apps: pros and cons
Those accounting apps listed above are cool, right? Yes these apps can work really well.
They all have countless-thousands of customers and plenty of good reviews. But it’s possible they are overkill for your side hustle. For the reasons I mentioned above (you may not need to use them each month of the year, and they may have features you don’t need). That means they may be overly-expensive in terms of money and time to set up.
|Accounting Apps: Pros||Accounting Apps: Cons|
|Synced data in the cloud: you don’t have to think about saving or backing up your data, and it’s synced between any device you have access to, just log in and access your data from anywhere||You have to pay for them every month, or every year, forever. You own nothing.|
|Accounting software is sometimes easier to use than a spreadsheet (at first glance), especially if you are making your own and not using a template||Online accounting apps require a connection to the internet|
|Accounting software helps guide you through complicated processes and makes things more simple||You usually have to pay for the higher plans for your accountant or others to have access|
|You can only have 5 clients, or you have to pay for ‘plus’ or higher plans, so the recurring costs scale as your business grows|
|Most accounting apps charge more per month for each collaborate/user|
|Accounting apps move your towards dependence (you depend on the app)|
Accounting apps pricing
However powerful or easy to use online accounting apps are. Remember that they are pay-to-play. The first objective of these companies is to make money off you every month of every year, forever. Whether you’re making much money on your side hustle at the moment or not.
You don’t own the software. You don’t even own your own data. They may claim you own your data, but in any practical way, even if you can export it, what do you do with that exported pile of code? It’s your data formatted their way and getting it into another app or spreadsheet will takes hours or days.
If they deliver enough value for that money, go for it. But if you are just starting off with your side hustle or small business, you may want other options.
Also, remember that the prices on their pricing page are “introductory”. Those sticker prices are get-you-in-the-door style pricing that increases just when you start getting used to using the app.
|Cheapest Plans From||Intro Pricing||Actual Pricing|
|FreshBooks (Lite)||$8.50/month||$17/month • $204/year|
(after first five months)
|QuickBooks (Simple Start)||$15/month||$30/month • $360/year|
(after first three months)
|Xero (Easy)||$3.25/month||$13/month • $156/year|
(after first three months)
|Honeybooks (Essentials)||$1/month||$16/month • $192/year|
(After first three months)
My app experience
I used to use FreshBooks. It’s a really great app. But after a while I found it didn’t work for me for two main reasons. And these reasons can be true of most accounting apps:
- It was quite a bit of money. Especially given that I only used it a few months out of the year!
- They charge per client, 5 for the lite plan, 50 for the pro plan. I needed more than 5, but way less than 50. That’s no fun.
I didn’t like that client limit. I understand they need to make money, but it just irked me. It’s an artificial constraint.
Meanwhile, years ago, I had built a nifty spreadsheet for my employer. It was designed to keep track of clients, print projects/vendors, and expenses, because our office manager couldn’t do this with our version of QuickBooks in any reasonable way. I realized that if I adapted that spreadsheet I had made, just a bit, it could do everything FreshBooks did, that I needed it to do.
HustleBooks was born. I made my first Spreadsheet-app. A Spreadsheet-app is a purpose-built spreadsheet that works basically the same as an online app. I’ve used it to run my side hustle finances ever since. I’ve saved thousands of dollars. And I enjoy being independent of any paid SaaS. Now I’ve made my spreadsheets available to everyone!
Spreadsheets: pros and cons
When you think about it, spreadsheets are custom software. They may be a little DIY, and less flashy, but you are customizing Excel or Google Sheets and applying the program to your business. That’s what an app is, an application of hardware and software to accomplish your needs. Spreadsheets are very customizable. When designed well, they look pretty much app-y, I think.
For example, check out the HustleBooks Pro business summary screen. That doesn’t look too much like a spreadsheet does it? And it can be customized further.
Of course, it’s not all roses and sunshine with spreadsheets. There are pros and cons for using them. A spreadsheet is just a blank document when you open it. What do you do with that?
If you don’t know how to use Excel or Google Sheets, it’s hard and not appealing to build your own spreadsheet. So, yes, you may be dependent on a template. Or you may have to spend a bunch of time building out a useful spreadsheet.
However, once you use a template, or make something, you own it. And you can customize it forever. You don’t own online software, you pay a subscription fee to license access to it. Very different.
Smart entrepreneurs avoid subscriptions as much as they can.
|Spreadsheet: Pros||Spreadsheet: Cons|
|Spreadsheets are free or purchase-once. You own them and can use and customize them forever.||Spreadsheets are harder to use (at first)|
|Spreadsheets can also do synced data in the cloud: if you use Google Sheets or Office 365 to access Excel files you can login and access your data from any device, just like accounting apps||They start off as blank sheets|
|Spreadsheets also work offline||You need a template, or have to design/build functionality yourself|
|You can manage unlimited clients (no artificial constraints)|
|You can invite unlimited collaborators/users to work on your spreadsheet|
|Spreadsheets move you towards independence and self-sufficiency|
What to track for your side hustle
Ok. The reason your started a side hustle is to make more money. Right?
How’s that going? To know, you need some sort of side hustle tracker. But what do you track? Why do you track it? I’ll explain what you need to track, based on my experience. I’ll also help prioritize them.
Things to track for your side hustle | priority 1
- Clients – list possible, hoped-for, actual, active, and inactive clients. You need to know who your income sources are, and know which ones could become sources of income.
- Projects (gigs/jobs) – same as above, keep track projects you have or hope to have so you can stay on top of work, and not over commit to too much work. Track their status: possible, in-progress, completed, and billed.
- If your selling products, you need to track sales instead of or in addition to ‘projects’, check out Paper + Spark for some great seller spreadsheets.
- Money owed to you – keep track of money you’ve requested from clients, or that they owe you for work completed (deposits and invoices). That’s your potential income.
- Money coming in – keep track of money you’ve received from clients. You need to track what you’re owed separate from what actually has come in as income.
That’s it! Those are the most important things to track. If you are just starting out, only track those, until you have actual money coming in. The priority 2 items below are important, but you don’t truly need to worry about them if you’re not making money yet.
Things to track for your side hustle | priority 2
- Expenses – Pretty much everything you spend on your business to make money can be reduced from your taxable income. Supplies, your website, software, and more. Take care to track all these expenses and list them. When you file your taxes you can greatly reduce what you have to pay.
- Mileage – Check with your government to see how much, per mile or kilometer, you can reduce from your taxable income. Even if you don’t drive much, the money you can take of your tax bill really adds up.
- Sales tax – If you’re selling any products you’ll need collect sales tax to hand over to your government authority.
- Taxable Income Estimate – None of the apps and spreadsheets mentioned today actually file your taxes. They simply help you organize your money and at best create an estimate your taxable income. You’ll still need to file your taxes with your government or tax app. The numbers and percentages very too much by year and region. For those in the USA, I recommend TurboTax.
When you track these things you are doing accounting. Your doing bookkeeping. A side hustle tracker is a basic accounting system for a basic business (a side hustle).
Summary: how do you make more money?
- First, you find some work on the side you can do for money and do the work well.
- Next, you get organized, you track your money coming in so you know what’s going on.
- Last, you figure out how to keep as much of the money you make for yourself. Manage and track your expenses to minimize how much taxes you page.
This is side hustle tracking, or small business accounting. Call it what you want! You can do this. And you can do it yourself!
Conclusion: organization breeds creativity
You are a busy person. You probably have a “day job”. And you are seeking extra income by doing work on the side. It’s a lot of work.
The last thing you want to do is mess with accounting apps or spreadsheets. I get it.
However, take it from me: the more organized you are, the more free you are to be creative and do good work. I’ve been succeeding with a hard day job, helping raise my family (3 children), and doing complex freelance work on top of all that. Being organized has always paid off in the end.
For example, when I first started off, it took me days of work, plus paying an accountant to file my taxes. Now, no joke, it takes me an hour or two. And I do it myself (with TurboTax and my HustleBooks Pro Spreadsheet-app). I stay organized all year, a little bit at a time, freeing me to do more, including lots of fun times with my children.
HustleBooks is designed to be a cheap and effective way to manage your side hustle or small business accounting. I’ve been using it myself for more than 10 years.
I encourage you, try HustleBooks Starter for free, or go ahead and go all in with HustleBooks Pro. My Spreadsheet-apps and video courses can help you manage the money-side of your business quite easily. Or try one of the Etsy sheets or solid online accounting apps listed above. But please do something to stay organized. You’ll be glad you did.
Best of luck out there!
Photo by SHVETS Production from Pexels, graphic treatment/colorized by me with Affinity Photo