Running a “one-man (or woman) design show” can become quite daunting, especially if you are the only one responsible for responding to emails, marketing, designing, phone conversations, invoicing, proposals, tracking expenses, collaborating with others involved with the project, tracking time… rinse, repeat.
I am in no way masterful at handling the above, but over time I’ve found myself becoming more proficient and effective in how I manage my independent business.
Below I’ll walk you through what I find to be successful in managing a work flow and daily/weekly tasks step-by-step, which leads to a smoother, more organized independent business.
Let’s start at the beginning:
The initial contact
Over the past year, my business has very fortunately evolved from finding my own work to clients finding and contacting me. Once the client get in contact — which usually results in a brief introduction about their company, services/products and what type of design service they are in need of — I send them a brief message thanking them with links to my online Brand Identity Design Worksheet and/or Web Design Worksheet.
I use Wufoo for my questionnaires, which is a great, easy and fast method to creating and maintaining online forms.
This helps to gather essential information about the project and determine if I have the time, desire and expertise for the project(s) requested. This saves me a great deal of time from emailing back and forth and helps to better weed out and take on work.
Save for later
Every inquiry or request that comes my way I make it a point to save every persons name and email address. I also make brief notes of what they requested at the time in Apple’s Address Book. Even if we do not work together at the moment, I have their name and email to send them periodical newsletters, updates or holiday cards.
Remember, build relationship and develop a network of potential clients. Business denied now could turn into better business in the future.
Honey, don’t forget the milk and the website
On occasion I’m receiving a few inquiries weekly so it can become quite confusing to keep on track of who emailed me, when I contacted them, and what we discussed. To organize, I use the web app Remember the Milk in a less conventional way than most likely use it — to keep track of who I contacted, who contacted me and important information that was discussed. For example, a task might be written as:
“Emailed Bob of Mar Cor Fine Woodworking expressing high interest in his project on January 17th; awaiting reply”
This way I can keep track of the client, when I emailed him, and what was discussed so I can decide what/when my next action will be. For example, if I don’t hear back from Bob by the 20th I might send him a remainder email asking if he had any further questions or needs any else from me.
I check Remember the Milk every morning and at the conclusion of my day.
Contracting and proposals
If you are not working with contracts you’re running a business on thin ice. While writing proposals and contracts can become quite time consuming, I’ve used a method of ‘”insert-here proposals” and use a standardized Terms and Conditions for my design services (aka my contract). The first two pages include:
» Project description: A short paragraph or two discussing the project and clients goals (this is the only non “insert here” area)
» Deliverables: Since the deliverables are typically the same for all identity projects, as well as web projects, I created two proposals to save me from typing and retyping. The are modified slightly when needed if the client asks for specific deliverables outside the norm I provide.
» Price: Below is a sample of the pricing portion of my contracts:
Based on the Designers request and the terms and conditions listed within this document an amount of Insert amount here ($x,xxx.xx) US dollars is requested by the designer for the above Final Deliverables.
50% down payment is required following the signing of this contract in order for the start of the project.
The remaining total amount is required no later than 14 business days following the completion of the project. *Files will not be delivered to the Client until full payment has been received.
If additional requests are needed or large modifications are needed, compensation will be required at the designer’s rate of $ Insert rate here per hour.
Timeframe - Below is a sample of the timeframe portion of my contracts:
Based on the scope of the project(s), the client/designer agreement, and recieval of the down payment, the project(s) will be completed within an estimated timeframe of insert weeks/months here.
Much like the above proposals and contracts, I created an “insert here” invoice of Subernova (more on Subernova below). For my Paypal paying clients (which tends to be 90% nowadays), Paypal allows you to create invoices and save templates to help save time. Again, I created a Paypal template for logos and websites. This way, all I need to do is change the name, email address and price.
Keeping track of the start date and project
Once the initial connection, emailing back-and-forth (usually there is a phone call or two in between), contract is signed, and 50% payment is received, I then open up Apple’s iCal and insert the future start date into the appropriate calendar month and date with a reminder one week before and one day before the official start date. I check this calender every morning.
I also use Subernova to keep track of my project and client once the project gets rolling. I use it to keep track of my time (even though I tend to not charge hourly, its good to get an idea how much time you spend so you can later decide if you need to raise or lower rates) and the clients I’m currently working with. It can also be used to track initial/final payments, keep inspiration/links for projects, set project milestones, and send invoices. Recently, Supernova even started syncing with iCal.
Juggling multiple projects
Juggling multiple projects while maintaining deadlines and quality can be quite tricky and exhausting. To relieve some of the stress and provide for a smoother ride I divide my day into 2 projects. This helps me be more creative as well. Having time away from a project gives me a chance to approach it with a new set of eyes the next day.
Also, when things get even more hectic, I tend to outsource my areas of my project work. While some designers might cringe at the fact of giving money to another creative knowing that they could do the same work they are paying someone else to do, I find it to be more beneficial to the client and myself. Not only does this help to manage your projects and time, but more importantly, allows you to focus on what you’re best and most passionate towards. For me I’m not the best back-end developer, but I love being able to focus on the aesthetics and front-end of the design.
Organizing my email
Once projects are underway, and even prior to start, there are many email exchanges and conversations between multiple clients and myself. I keep folders containing clients names or company within Apple Mail. Once I’m done responding to their new email, it’s then stowed away in the appropriate folder just in case I need to reference it later.
Prepare ahead for tax time
That’s right Uncle Sam… I pay your darn taxes! I use Apple’s Numbers (or you can also use Microsoft Excel) software to keep a basic spreadsheet of my revenue and expenses. This way at the end of each quarter of the year I’m a little more prepared and organized.
This is the first year I am working with an accountant to handle my taxes. I figured it was well worth my lack of knowledge and expertise on the tax-subject and provides more time to focus on other aspects of my business.
Keeping it all synced
I just started working from and storing my files directly on Dropbox with an upgraded account. This saves myself time from moving around files from computer to computer, figuring out which files is the most current, backing up files weekly (Dropbox is an automatic backup, although I still backup Dropbox to an external every few days just for added relief), etc.
This wasn’t necessary, but hey I can use all the time I can get! I must say, Dropbox is a great service that works in amazing, useful ways. For more on my love of Dropbox: http://j.mp/DropboxLove
Besides keeping my files in sync, I also like to keep my information, contacts, calendars, and emails in order wherever I’m at. My method is MobileMe, although Google will provide similar syncing for the aforementioned. MobileMe has worked well for keeping my iPhone, iMac and Macbook Pro in sync, although Apple should definitely takes notes from Dropbox with their iDisk functionality.
Organizing the non-digital
I keep folders that contain client’s paperwork, notes/sketches and contracts. Some things are better in non-digital form. I also keep envelopes of business expense receipts. Again, tax time preparation which saves me from doing it all at the end of every quarter or year.
How to run an even more effective business and career
In addition to speeding up tasks and saving time to focus on other aspects of your business, here are a nine ways and tricks to becoming a more effective and proficient designer.
Although I am always on the look out for new, inventive ways to simply the daunting tasks of running your own business, the above techniques has dramatically helped to spend more time actually designing.
What are some tips and techniques that have worked for you to help speed up repetitive tasks, keep your business organized and running smoothly? Please do share in the comments below.