Freelance designers and other creative business owners only have so many hours in the day, yet we expect ourselves to complete so many tasks.
Have you ever felt frustrated because you haven't crossed off every task on your to-do list?
Have you felt unproductive because you only completed half of the things you needed to do?
Do small tasks suddenly turn into long, hard tasks that take hours? That's hours of time that could be spent finding new clients or creating passive income streams!
It's difficult not to be hard on ourselves. A lot of pressure comes with running a one-person freelance business. But we don't have to do All The Things. If we can automate some of the small tasks that pile up, we can save ourselves time and stress!
What is automating?
Automating is your new best friend. It's when you use a system or software to complete a task for you. It eliminates the need for you to be involved with the task at all, freeing up your time so it can be spent on more important things, like...
- Filling your client docket.
- Spending more time with your husband and kids.
- Creating and selling an ebook so you don't just make money from your services anymore.
- Setting up an email funnel that turns more website visitors into paying clients. *ka-chinggg*
Sounds like bliss, right? Think of all the TIME you'll have to grow your design business and live a fuller life. All you have to do is invest a little time right now in automating your design business.
Here are a a few ways you can get started...
21 Ways To Automate Your Design Business
1. Set up an automatic follow-up sequence for past clients
Some designers never speak to their clients again after they're done working with them. They just... hand the files over and stop communicating.
Does this sound like you?
If so, I hate to break it to you but you're leaving thousands of dollars on the table.
If these clients are happy with the work you did, they will most likely want to work with you again! But if you don't keep in touch, they'll probably forget about you or even worse - think you don't really care.
If you use a system like Convertkit*, it's really easy to keep in touch with past clients automatically. Simply create a Convertkit sequence (which is basically a series of emails sent over a duration of time) and add your clients to the sequence when their project is complete.
I recommend adding three emails to this series to begin with:
1. The 1 month follow up. Check in and see if they're happy with their designs and if they need any help or have any questions.
2. The 6 month follow up. Check in and keep it more general- talk about how well they are doing and mention great things you've seen them do over the last six months. Then remind them you're there if they need to hire a designer again!
3. The 1 year follow up. You can make this extra memorable by sending this follow-up in the mail. I like to send my clients an end-of-year card + gift in the post so they feel truly appreciated, and I include a few business cards so they're reminded of how I can help them. (Note: I said a few, not just one. Remember to send about three business cards so they can pass them on to people to they know!)
If you're not a new designer and you know you'll be in business for more than a year, you can add more emails to this sequence.
2. Automatically add clients to your mailing list
Stay in touch with your clients by automatically adding them to your mailing list so they can hear about future deals you do or new services you launch.
To do this, you'll need to sign up for a free Zapier account. Zapier allows you to connect apps and trigger automatic actions.
You can create this zap or something similar:
1. Trigger: A client completes their payment via the invoice you send them.
2. Action: Zapier adds the client to your mailing list!
Just remember to get the client's permission first. (You can do this by adding a checkbox to your contact form asking them to agree to being added to your mailing list! )
3. Use email scripts
Do you send the same emails over and over again? If so, create canned email scripts to use for milestones within your design projects. In Gmail, I have a canned email template for every stage of my design process. This saves me having to write the same things to my clients all the time!
I have an entire lesson on email scripts for designers in my course, Organize & Automate. There's even a workbook of 11 readymade scripts you can start using straight away!
4. Automate feedback reminders for your clients
My clients never used to provide feedback on time. Ever. It would usually result in their project going weeks over its deadline, and I'd be pulling my hair out.
I use Asana to manage my projects, and inside Asana I create a 'feedback due date' for my clients. Then, a day before their feedback is due, Asana sends them a reminder. Awesome, right?
If you're not sure what Asana is or how to use it, I made a free course that will teach you how to use it with your clients. Sign up below!
5. Set up an email autoresponder
You can create an autoresponder from most, if not all, email accounts. An autoresponder is an email that automatically sends to everyone who emails you. You can use it to tell people when they can expect to hear back from you, when they WON'T hear from you, when your soonest availability is and more.
This is the easiest way to cut down on the number of follow-up emails you get from clients who expected to hear back from you straight away. It's also the simplest way to set communication boundaries in your business!
There's a lesson on creating the perfect autoresponder in Organize & Automate.
6. Create an FAQ Page
Create an FAQ page where you answer common questions that your clients ask. I link to my FAQ page on my contact page so inquirers will see if their question is answered there before contacting me. It saves the inquirer time writing a message, and it saves me time answering it.
I also link to my FAQ page in my email autoresponder, reminding people to head there if they haven't already to get a fast answer to their question.
7. Set up invoice reminders
Emailing clients to remind them of payments is just as uncomfortable as emailing them to get their overdue feedback. Once or twice is okay, but after that you start to feel reeeeally awkward.
Most invoicing systems (like Pancake* and Freshbooks*, my two favorites), allow you to set up invoice reminders so you don't have to feel uncomfortable asking for overdue money anymore. The app does it for you!
8. Create an 'Instructions File' for clients
Do you find yourself giving your clients the same instructions all the time?
- How to provide you with helpful feedback
- How the design process works
- What files to hand over before the project starts
- How to use your project management system
I was always sending my clients PDFs that included these instructions, or manually writing it out for each new client, so I added these instructions as documents in my Asana template instead. I never have to write them out again! I just duplicate the project template for each new client, and the Client Instructions are ready and waiting in there.
9. Create a client portal
Do your clients email you lots of questions after you've finished working with them? I'm sure you're happy to help them, but it takes up a lot of time. To stop receiving so many questions, create a client portal (or page) on your website.
Your client portal could include all the common questions clients ask you + tutorials and videos.
Since I created my client portal, I've received a lot less questions from my clients, saving me a lot of time.
10. Create a reusable project schedule
I recommend creating a reusable project schedule you can use with every client.
A project schedule outlines the timeline of the project. It shows the days and weeks in calendar format and the tasks you're going to complete on each day. It also includes the days your clients feedback is due.
To put this kind of schedule in place, just commit to starting each project on the same day (eg. Monday's.) Then follow through with the schedule for every project you have.
With a project schedule in place, you'll always know when to expect your projects to end. And with that level of organization, most projects will actually end earlier than expected. (Can I get a high five? 😉)
11. Create a reusable project template in Asana
As I mentioned earlier, I use Asana to manage my projects. Within Asana you can create a project page for each client. Instead of creating a new page from scratch every time you book a new client, you can create a project template. This will include all the documents, files and tasks you need in each project, and it will save you time having to add them for every new project you take on.
Join my free course, Project Management For Designers, to learn how to create a project template!
12. Use a bookkeeping tool
If you still do your bookkeeping in spreadsheets then maybe it's time to switch to using a system like Freshbooks* or Wave. These apps automatically import your transactions so you don't have to manually organize them anymore.
13. Organize your business receipts
It's time to stop pulling your hair out as you try and organize a year's worth of expenses from a shoebox of receipts. If you use Wave (it's free!) as your bookkeeping tool, it comes with a free app for your phone called Wave Receipts.
Every time you buy something for your business, use the app to take a photo of the receipt and it will store it in Wave!
14. Set up automatic meeting reminders
Do you email your clients a reminder before your meeting? Well, you can stop that now. With scheduling systems like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling*, they can book a meeting through it and they'll receive automatic confirmations and reminders.
15. Follow-up with disappearing clients automatically
If you don't follow up with clients because you forget, you need to automate it. Schedule a follow-up email to send 30 days after your client's project is complete. To schedule emails to send at a later date, try using Streak.
Streak is a free Client Relationship Management tool you can add to Gmail. It does lots of awesome things like allow you to organize your clients, schedule emails to send later, manage canned emails better and MUCH more.
16. Follow up with unhappy clients automatically
If you receive a complaint from a client or customer, it's a good idea to resolve the situation and then follow up with them a couple of weeks later to see how they're getting on. To do this, just create an email template and schedule it using a Gmail add-on like Streak.
In my signature course, Organize & Automate, I show you how to set up and use Streak.
17. Automatically pay your bills
To make sure you never forget to pay a bill, set up a standing order in your bank account. A standing order is an instruction to your bank account to make regular fixed payments to a particular person or company. Set these up and forget about your bills! You have better things to spend your time on.
18. Send your contracts electronically
There was a time when my contract was a Word document, and every time I took on a client I'd have to open up the Word doc, find all the sections of the contract that needed editing, edit them, then save the contract before sending it.
I use Hellosign to automate this process. Hellosign let's you upload your contract and create editable fields for the client's name, address, payment and other details.
Each time you need to send a contract to your clients, just fill in the editable sections of your contract inside Hellosign and it will send the contract to your client for their electronic signature!
19. Automatically pay yourself each month
Has your debit card ever been declined because there's no money in it? Because you forgot to pay yourself this month's wages? It happened to me in January! Sooo embarrassing. To never forget to pay yourself again, log in to your online bank account and set up $XXXX to automatically go into your current account on the last day of every month.
20. Automate your file-saving process
Have you ever spent hours saving out client files in Adobe Illustrator? It's not fun. Automate the process by recording yourself saving out each file type. For example, below you'll see I have Illustrator actions for saving out main logos and logo variations.
Record actions for every type of file you regularly save out. From now on, it will take you MINUTES to save out files, not hours!
21. Create moodboard / style guide templates
Stop manually creating moodboards, style guides and website wireframes for every project. If you spend a little time creating templates for these things once, you'll be able to reuse them for years!