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 'to do' for the day?
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? Hours of time you could be spending on your clients, or on creating others income streams?
It's difficult not to be hard on ourselves. A lot of pressure comes with being a one-person 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 to be spent on more important things.
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. You can create a Convertkit sequence (which is basically a series of emails sent over a duration of time.)
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 ever need to hire a designer again.
3. The 1 year follow up. You can make this extra special and 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 (and they can pass them to anyone else they know who needs a designer!)
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.
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 certain actions automatically.
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. Social media posts
Gone are the days when you have to create each Facebook post and tweet just seconds before you publish it. My favorite social media scheduling app is Buffer. It lets you schedule posts to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook (page and groups), LinkedIn and Instagram.
If you rely on social media to share your designs and find new clients, it's worth investing in a tool that can automate that for you.
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 copy!
5. Pinterest Posts.
Pinterest is the biggest source of traffic for most creative websites, yet it can be time-consuming to log on and pin things every day. My favorite tool EVER for scheduling Pinterest posts is Boardbooster. It allows you to bulk-schedule hundreds of pins in just 10 minutes and it recycles your old pins again and again.
6. 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. Enter your details in the form below to join today!
7. 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.
There's a lesson on creating the perfect autoresponder in Organize & Automate.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Project schedules
I really recommend creating a 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.
11. Project templates
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. Instructions for clients
Do you find yourself giving your clients the same instructions all the time?
- How to provide you with helpful feedback
- How to 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. 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.
13. Client support
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 does it take up a lot of your 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 area, I've received a lot less questions from my clients, saving me a lot of time.
If you still do your bookkeeping in spreadsheets then maybe it's time to switch to using a system like Freshbooks or Wave. It automatically imports your transactions so you don't have to manually input them anymore.
15. 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.
16. Follow-up with disappearing clients
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.
17. Complaint follow-ups.
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. Head this way to learn more and enroll!
18. Tiny tasks
You know those tiny tasks you have to complete, like creating a new project in your project management system after your client has paid their invoice? You can automate them using Zapier. Like I mentioned earlier, it connects your apps and automates small tasks.
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.
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.
Here's what to do:
- Simply upload your contract once and tell Hellosign which sections need editing.
- When you need to send a contract to a client, open Hellosign.
- It will prompt you to fill in the client's details, fill in any other section of the contract that needs editing, and then it sends the contract for electronic signature.
- When the client signs, Hellosign sends you both a copy!
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.