may 2015

50 resources to help you run your freelance business

I know how hard it can be to find the right tools to help you smoothly run your business.

It can be overwhelming, confusing and debilitating. It can also take a hell of a lot of time! So, to save you time and energy I've listed my favorites below!

Don't get carried away- there are a lot of great tools below. But only use the ones that save you time and money.

The simpler you keep your business, the happier you will be.

If you find a tool that you loooove below then hop into our Facebook group and let me know how you plan on using it!

Business

Pancake- A really awesome invoicing tool. What I love about Pancake is that you can fully customize your invoices using CSS.

Basecamp- You have to pay monthly for this but it's the most popular project management tool out there. Most of your clients will be able to use this, so you should look into it using it too!

Timetrade- This is the tool I use to schedule Skype calls with my clients. There are plenty of others out there, but I love how simple this one is.

Trello- A totally free and totally AMAZING project management tool. It will blow your mind.

Streak- Streak is my fave business tool ever. Period. It's a free add-on for Gmail that allows you to schedule your emails, track who opens them and much, much more.

Mailchimp- I use this to send my newsletter out. It's free to use as long as you don't have over 2000 subscribers- then you have to choose a paid plan. You could also try Aweber.

Quicksprout- This free tool lets you compare your website to your competitors. Genius!

Hosting & domains

Dreamhost- I use Dreamhost and it's a really reasonable price for yearly hosting. The customer service is also superb!

A small orange- A lot of my clients and friends use this and I've heard great things.

Flywheel- Flywheel is designed JUST for Wordpress, and it's really easy to use. They even migrate your site for you- for free!

Bluehost- If you need cheap hosting then this may be your best bet. Bluehost isn't the best, most awesome hosting I could rave about, but it does the job.

Social Media

Coschedule- Coschedule integrates with Wordpress so you use it directly in WP itself. A lot of people think you can only use it to schedule social media posts for your blog posts, but it does EVERYTHING. You can schedule blog posts AND schedule social posts.

Buffer- Buffer lets you schedule social media posts for Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets for $10 per month. Sadly, it hasn't integrated Pinterest yet.

Design

Design seeds- I use this to help me choose color palettes for my client projects. They update their website with new palettes each day.

Creative market- This is a great place to buy unique fonts, photography, website themes and other creative gems! It's also a great place to sell your digital products.

Font squirrel- Download lots of free fonts.

PSD moodboard templates- I created a free moodboard template for designers & makers to use in Photoshop, but you can also purchase 5 more for $5!

Subtle patterns- If you're looking for a subtle, professional background pattern for your site then this site is perfect for you. They even integrate with Photoshop!

Mobile responsive design testing- If you need to test how your site looks across devices you don't have then use this.

The noun project- my favorite place to buy icons!

What font- Find the name of any font on a website.

Chrome ruler extension- This extension is a MUST-HAVE for web designers. It lets you measure areas of any website in pixels.

Chrome color picker extension- This tool enables you to find out the color code of any color on any website.

Wordpress themes

Studiopress- I use the Genesis Framework for all of my websites because it's suuuuper easy to use and amazing for your SEO.

Theme forest- You can buy thousands of amazing themes here, and not just for Wordpress but for pretty much any platform!

Pretty darn cute designs- My faaaaave place to buy pretty Wordpress themes for the Genesis framework. I use the Swank theme for my personal site! Restored 316 designs- Another place to buy pretty Wordpress themes at affordable prices! Each theme is around $50.

Themejug- If you're looking for a theme that is less pretty and more professional then Themejug is a great place to look. They sell some pretty great portfolio themes.

Wordpress plugins

Click to tweet- This plugin allows you to easily make parts of your blog posts tweetable.

Comment reply notification- Want readers to know when you reply to their comment? This plugin sends them a little email when you do!

Custom sidebars- Looooove this one. It enables you to create different sidebars for different pages.

Header & footer plugin- Sometimes, you need to paste snippets of code into the header of your website. If you are scared of messing with code and breaking your website then download this plugin, totally free.

JQuery pin-it button- Get those customizable pin-it buttons when a reader hovers over your blog post image.

WP external links- This plugin makes every external link open in a new window so you don't lose readers.

Woocommerce- My favorite plugin for adding shops to Wordpress websites.

Gravity forms- You have to pay for this one, but it's well worth it. It's a popular plugin to create forms on your website.

Backup buddy- A really useful plugin that allows you to easily and safely backup your Wordpress site!

Photography

Unsplash- This is the website I visit first whenever I need stock photos.

Splitshire

Little visuals

Shay Cochrane- If you want your website to have a girly, 'Kate Spade' feel then Shay's photos might help!

Lock & stock photos

Jay mantri

Courses, tutorials & ebooks

Stress less & impress- Leah's course guides you through the steps to streamlining your processes and automating your business.

Business & legal forms for graphic designers- Gotta make sure your business is running legally!

Small business bodyguard- Protect your business legally and affordably.

Designer scripts- Do you use Gmail's canned emails? Need some email scripts? Erin has made some specifically for designers.

30 day launch plan checklist & calendar- I used this to plan the Shelancers launch and it is amaaazing- and free!

Run your business using only Evernote- this fascinated me. Imagine using Evernote as a project management tool? It's possible! And free!

30 days to better hand lettering- I love the concept of improving any skill in 30 days! With dedication, it's possible.

Getting started as a freelancer

This is a guest article by Jess Levitz, a graphic designer at June Letters

One of the questions that I get asked the most as a creative business owner is "how did you get started?” When you set your mind on striking out on your own, the getting started part feels so daunting. How do I get good clients? Will I make enough money? How will I set my schedule and stay organized? There are so many questions swimming around in your head it can feel completely overwhelming. I am still a fairly new business owner, but have had the good fortune of consistently booking clients and am feeling more and more financially secure and creatively content. Here are some of my tips for getting those first clients, and for setting up tried and true business practices.

1. Create self-initiated work that reflects the types of clients you want to work with.

If you love creating logos, create some beautiful logos for the types of clients you hope to attract. Having a solid online portfolio is essential. Only showcase the kind of work that you hope to do!

2. Pinterest is your friend!

80% of my inquiries come from people that found me on Pinterest. Make sure you have a strong web presence and pin your own work. If you created a logo for a photographer be sure to title it something like: "Modern and Elegant Photographer logo". When people are searching for "modern photographer logo" yours will hopefully come up!

3. Price low-ish for awesome clients when first starting out.

If an awesome inquiry comes your way that you feel really fits your style but they don't have much of a budget - take them on anyway. If you create work that you like for an awesome client, more higher paying clients will see your beautiful work and come your way.

4. Be kind, but also confident.

People like to work with nice people . But people also want a designer that is confident in their designs and doesn't necessarily bend to their every whim. A lot of times clients don't know what they want exactly - and you have to help lead them to the best decisions! Clients that like working with you will pass you on to their friends!

5. Create Timelines for Your Clients

When I start with a client now I always provide a timeline that shows not only when my designs are due, but when their feedback is due as well. I didn't do this when I first started out and really regretted it. Sticking to a timeline is essential for your own scheduling sanity - but also helps to ensure that you have a satisfied client in the end!

Helpful tools:

I use Asana for task management. I love checking off tasks, and it is nice to have everything in one place!

I use DropBox for my client files. I give each client a folder and then neatly organize my files, this is how I set up my client folders:

> Folder: Client Name

>> Creation Files (all .ai, .psd etc)

>> Presentation (Files that I present to client organized by round)

>> Docs (signed contracts etc)

>> Assets (imagery, textures etc that client provided)

>> Deliverables (all final files to deliver to the client)

I also use Freshbooks for all invoicing and keeping track of expenses. I have found it very helpful to manage the nitty gritty of my business! Starting a new business is a daunting task, but with talent, ambition, and organizational skills - you will be running a successful freelance business in no time!

June Letters is the one-woman studio of San Francisco graphic designer Jessica Levitz. After 4 years working in the start-up world as a graphic and UI designer (Yelp, Threadflip, True&Co.), she recently embarked on her own freelance career to focus her efforts towards branding, illustration, hand-lettering, and website design for creative and passionate clients.

How I manage my client flow using Streak

Freelancers have to wear a lot of hats and handle lots of tasks that aren't design-related. One of those tasks is client relationship management. CRM is a system for managing your interactions with existing or potential clients. I'll be honest- I didn't have a CRM system in place until my second year of business. I went through my first year simply using the Gmail labels to label clients as potential, current or past clients. But that changed when I found Streak!

Do you need a CRM system?

Absolutely. To remain organized and, you know, sane, you need to have a system in place that keeps track of who your potential, current and past clients are. Here's why:

  • You can't possibly remember all of your clients by yourself. You could probably list 20, tops. Let technology handle the remembering.
  • Your inbox isn't good enough. Sure, you can search through your inbox to find clients. But finding key information (like their URL, address, key problems etc) is tough because it's spread across lots of messages. With a CRM system, you can keep all this important info in one place.
  • With a CRM system, you can track the status of each of your clients. Every time you make progress with a client you can update their status and know exactly what stage of your process they are in.

Related reading: What is CRM and why do you need it?

What does Streak include?

Streak is CRM inside Gmail. You simply add it to your Gmail account with the click of a button and it's mostly free. I love it because it provides lots of useful functions. With Streak you can...

  • Create pipelines (processes).
  • Schedule emails to send later.
  • Keep all your clients information in one 'box'.
  • Schedule reminders about a certain client within Gmail.
  • Keep notes on each client.
  • Track when clients open your emails.
  • Create and organize better canned emails.

If the 'pipelines' and 'boxes' part of that has confused you, don't worry. I was confused too, when I first started using Streak.

Pipelines are your processes. I have an Inquiry pipeline, a Design Process pipeline, and an After Project pipeline.

Boxes are a little harder to explain. When a project inquiry enters your inbox, for example, you create a box in the clients name and add the box to the relevant pipeline. In this case, it would be my Inquiry pipeline. Everything to do with your client goes into their box: their emails, attachments, notes etc.

How I use Streak

I use Streak to keep track of where my clients are in my process, and keep all their details organized in one place. Streak is incredibly versatile, so the way I use it may not be the way you want to use it. I hope my way gives you some ideas though!

My inquiry pipeline (process)

Above is a screenshot of my inquiry process with clients details blacked out for security reasons. (Click the image to see it larger.) Every stage of my inquiry process is in green. Here's how it works:

  1. When an inquiry comes in, I create a box in the clients name and add the client to the Inquiry pipeline.
  2. I then fill in what their project is, the price of their project, and add any necessary notes. You can change these categories or add more. You could have sections to enter their address, phone number, URL and more! I like to keep things simple in my inquiry pipeline though.
  3. The box starts in the first stage of the process: New Inquiry.
  4. As we communicate and the client progresses, I move them down the pipeline until they're at the end and ready to be moved to my Design Process pipeline.
  5. If the client stops replying and their progress halts, I add them to the Pending stage and set a reminder to follow up with them in one week, as you can see in the screenshot above.

I have pipelines for my design process, The Shelancers Club, collaborators and more, but I thought showing you one pipeline was enough for today.

Streak is the CRM system of my choice but if you don't use Gmail you could try Contactually. Overall, Streak is one of my most-used business tools and I'd be a lot less organized without it. As freelancers we need a place to keep track of out clients and contacts, and that place shouldn't be in our heads or in notebooks. Since using Streak my business has been a lot more streamlined- I don't forget to follow up with clients, and I have all my clients details at hand. No sifting through emails or notebooks to find their details.

Do you use a CRM system? If so, share how you use it over on Facebook!

How and why I use the same schedule for every client

In my first year of freelancing I quoted every project differently. Since every one of my projects had different deliverables, this meant that none of them had the same timeline or schedule. I was juggling multiple clients with different timelines and deadlines which just made me feel stressed. Then when I wasn't hitting a deadline on time it made me even more stressed! I knew that I couldn't continue feeling stressed out like that. I couldn't stand disappointing my clients when we missed their deadline, and I just felt unprofessional.

I decided that I needed to have a set timeline and schedule for every project I took on. If I had a strict timeline/schedule in place then I knew that I'd hit deadlines on time.

The first thing I had to do was implement packages on my website. The only way to use the same schedule for all clients was to sell them to same packages.

I started with 3 packages but now I have 2: a brand design package and a website setup package.

My brand design package takes 4 weeks to complete and my website setup package takes 1 week, sometimes 2. (It's not a custom website, it's just theme installation and customization on the Genesis framework).

Here's a copy of my project schedule:

You can download the PDF here if you want to.

How I use my project schedule

I realized that part of the reason why I wasn't hitting my clients deadlines in my first freelance year was because I wasn't scheduling time for specific parts of their project in my calendar. I was just winging it.

Now, when I book a project I always give them a start date that is a Monday, like it shows on the project schedule above.

Then, I create their project page in Basecamp and I schedule to do's for every item on the project template. (Please note: this is my newest project template, so the calendar in my Basecamp article is slightly different.)

When I'm done, I end up with a Basecamp calendar that looks exactly like the project template above, except the Basecamp calendar has specific dates on it.

I set Basecamp to notify me when the tasks that involve me (like the ones that start with 'send') are due. Then I tick them off in Basecamp when they're done. I set Basecamp to notify my client when the tasks that involve them (like 'feedback due') are due, and I tick them off in Basecamp when the client is done.

The benefits of having the same project schedule for every client:

  • I know exactly when each of my projects are due to start and finish.
  • I know when I should expect payments.
  • I can easily plan how many projects I can fit in my schedule per year.
  • I don't have to spend time creating a new schedule for every project I take on, I just use this template.
  • My clients know when to expect mockups and they know when they should provide feedback.

Since implementing this system in my business I've hit every project deadline and sometimes even finished before the deadline! I've found that creating one schedule for every client has helped automate my workflow and keep stress away. Plus, my clients find it helpful too!

Do you find yourself spending too much time in Google Calendar, scheduling project after project? Or do you have your own handy system for scheduling your projects? Leave a comment and let me know!

How I manage my projects using Basecamp

Before I began managing my projects in Basecamp I'd just email my clients back and forth and attach their mockups in emails. It's a simple way of communicating with them, but it led to reeeeally long email threads. I don't mind communicating with them through email if they say they prefer it, but I often find that clients won't stick to one thread, or I can't easily find the mockups and feedback that I'm looking for. When I started using Basecamp it was like all that 'inbox stress' just went away. I finally had one place where me and my clients could keep everything: files, discussions, to do's, feedback, notes...

I can't sing enough praises for Basecamp. Seriously, I LOVE it. But it took me a while to figure out how I wanted to use it. Since it's so diverse and easy to use, there are a million ways you can manage projects in it. I googled how other designers use Basecamp but didn't come up with anything useful, so I created my own unique way of using Basecamp.

I send this video to my clients which helps explain how I use Basecamp.

[video width="1920" height="902" mp4="http://shelancersclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/How-I-use-Basecamp.mp4"][/video]

The video above gives you a basic walkthrough of one of my Basecamp project pages, but the video is tailored to my clients, so I'm going to go into a little more depth here for my fellow Shelancers!

Here's a step-by-step look at how I manage my projects using Basecamp

Because I start at the bottom of the page in the video, I'm going to do the same here. Weird and random, I know, but hey ho.

Text Documents

Text docs in Basecamp

Basecamp allows you to create basic text documents and store them on the project page, which you can use for anything really! I like to keep the page simple for my clients, so I only include 3 text documents:

1. How we'll use Basecamp. Even though I send the video above to my clients, I like to provide them with a text doc too. After all, it can be a pain to keep watching a video just to find one section you need.

2. Feedback guidelines. Some freelancers feel hesitant about giving their clients guidelines and setting boundaries. My friend told me that she feels like she's being too bossy when she does that, but here's why she's wrong: clients love to be told what to do! It takes the guesswork out of the process for them. Your clients like you to be streamlined and organized. They like being told how they can make the process brilliant and get the moneys worth out of you. I don't set rigid guidelines on absolutely everything, but I like to give my clients some guidance on how to provide useful feedback because I've had clients provide feedback that isn't decisive, clear or helpful in the past, and that doesn't help me create great work for them.

3. Important dates & invoice link. Do you ever get clients asking you to remind them of their payment dates, or resend them their invoice link? My clients payment dates are on their invoice and in our emails, but I like to add it to Basecamp so they can easily access it. It's nice to make the process as easy as possible for your clients.

Files

Sometimes me or the client need to access their questionnaire, invoice or contract. Instead of hunting through my computer for them (or the client doing that) I just store them in Basecamp.

To Do lists

This is the fun part! I create separate to do lists for me and my client. My list includes when I'm going to start and finish the project, and when I need to email my client their mockups. The awesome thing about these lists is that you can give each task a due date and it is then added to the Project calendar. For example, in my to do list below you'll see that I'm due to send phase one of the project (color palette + 3 main logos) to my client on Wednesday, May 20th.

And here it is on my project calendar, along with every other to do item:

project calendar

I'm going to go into further details about my project timelines in a separate article.

Discussions

This is the section where I discuss EVERYTHING with the client, instead of emailing back and forth. When I've completed their mockups I create a discussion from the to do item and upload the mockups there. My client is notified right away via email, and they can either log in to Basecamp and leave a comment with feedback or they can hit reply on the notification email they received and just add their feedback that way. Basecamp then posts that feedback as a comment. I've shown you a little example of this in the video!

I hope this has provided you with a good idea of how I manage my project flow, and maybe even given you some ideas to implement in your own process! I'd love to hear your feedback and read how you manage your projects, so let me know in our Facebook group!

Go back?