So they say your either a left or right brainer type of thinker with the left having a more logical, analytical thought process, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. Not sure how much truth there is to this but I would happily say I reside firmly in the right side.
What I do know is that the majority of creatives love doing what they do, creative thought, expression, interpretation, conceptualizing. What they often don’t like doing or perhaps struggle with is the “Dark” areas of running a business, taxes, management, scheduling, time tracking, billing….talking about money…all the areas that we secretly wish someone else could magically do for us right?
So to follow on from my previous post a little see link here I thought I would write a little about the often overlooked ‘nuts and bolts’ of some of the management aspects of running your new creative business and some key tools that are out there to help you make these steps easier.
I won’t cover all the available tools out there as there are many but instead will talk about the issues I faced and the tools that I’ve deployed to make my life waaaaay easier.
In the early days, I used to quote and invoice for jobs using a designed template within In-design. Id open up the file, alter the details, fields, figures etc and then export the PDF and email off to a client. File the PDF in a complex folder structure and periodically check in and move quotes and invoices to different folders labelled “sent”, “approved”, “Paid” etc.
This approach is fine I guess if you have only a handful of clients but it quickly became confusing and in-efficient and if you’re not careful can lead to lost revenue!
So there are many things involved with the logistics of running a design business but probably 3 of the core things that I will cover in this post are time tracking, quoting/invoicing and project Management tools for designers.
Without time tracking processes in place its very easy to quote for a job and then spend hours and hours getting it perfect only to find that you’ve barely made much profit compared to the time it took. this is a sure-fire way to end your business quickly.
Accurate time tracking also allows you to build a solid picture over time of how long different types of projects take to complete. This in turn will allow you to also very accurately quote for work in the future, not thinking, but knowing how much to charge and what your profits from each project will be.
One thing I’ve learned is that clients love transparency…that buzz word….but its true, transparency in costs makes everyone happy.
So, after some research, the best tool for the job, and there are many, was a smart little app called paydirt which can be found here www.paydirtapp.com.
Pay dirt allows you to add all of your active clients and within those clients you can add individual projects and tasks, quote for work and invoice on completion. There is also a handy pay by paypal or stripe functionality built right into the automated email that gets sent to your client for an even easier process.
Here are some of the features
Create a quote with your business details, terms and conditions, and standard line items in just a few clicks. Email it off for approval in another click Quotes can be sent in upto 47 currencies and 17 languages.
Draft quotes in no time flat
Create a quote with your business details, terms and conditions, and standard line items in just a few clicks. Email it off for approval in another click. Super simple.
One click time tracking
In Paydirt, you can start a timer from any page in one click. No fiddly menus. No navigating around. Just a start button for each task.
Catch up on lost time
Ever forget to start a timer? No sweat. Paydirt lets you start a timer 5, 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes ago.
Stay on budget
Optional estimates for each task help you keep an eye on your time, and keep on budget.
Track time anywhere
There’s no code to install or integrations to set up — it works in any web page or application, so you can track time wherever you work. You can track your time managing projects in Basecamp, for example.
Create invoices in seconds
Automatically draft an invoice from the work you’ve logged. Send it to your client as a PDF in a click. Trust me, you won’t miss doing this manually.
Your unpaid, overdue and draft invoices are always at your fingertips. See how much is owing at a glance.
Keep on top of what’s owing
Late invoices are a fact of life. Paydirt makes following them up a breeze. You’ll receive an email notification if an invoice goes unpaid, and you can remind your client about it in one click.
Make life easy for your clients
Your clients can view your invoices online, see how much is outstanding, and download a PDF or printed copy. They can even pay your invoices by credit card.
Automatic recurring invoices
Invoice regularly? Paydirt can automatically create your regular invoices at flexible intervals, and emails you when a new invoice is created for you to review and send.
Accept credit cards
Add your PayPal or Stripe account and your clients can pay your invoices instantly with their credit card. No more exchanging bank account details or cashing cheques. However, be warned they do take a cut.
Automatically track payments
When you get paid by PayPal or Stripe, we’ll automatically add the payment to your invoice. You’ll even receive an email to let you know a payment was received.
Keep your clients in the loop
Send a customizable thankyou email in response to payments you receive. Keep your clients up to date with what you’ve received, and what’s still owing.
Get an overview of where your time went and when you’re most productive with flexible, graphical reports.
Export & print anything
Every report can be downloaded in CSV format, or printed in a click. It’s your data, after all.
Project management is something most designers don’t really need to touch upon when working in a larger studio or agency. There are many middle managers, project managers and directors, studio managers to do this for you.
But as soon as you step into your own show things change and it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t just sit behind your computer, bashing out lines of code or design and expect the work to land on your desk or clients to be appeased, interpreted or brought on-board with a project idea.
Second to transparency, clear communication is vital to the success of all projects. Nailing that design brief and making sure both yourself and the client are on the same page and expectations are met is paramount.
Using emails is fine I guess, but even with the most anal of archived client folder structures things can get messy on large projects or when dealing with clients who perhaps have multiple staff members feeding in content, revisions, resources to you. Perhaps too, as you grow, you may be collaborating with other designers, web developers on a project and need a clear way to communicate on the same projects.
This is where basecamp comes in and simplifies the whole process. Basecamp has been around for a long while but over the past 2 years has really made some great strides in improving their UI and features so its more fine tuned for creatives and clients to engage with than ever before.
I will outline some of the stand out features below but for me I use it as a primary means to discuss projects early doors with clients, get some discussion going with multiple members. Once the brief has been established and agreed I then use basecamp for uploading 1st proofs and eventually final proofs for sign-off.
Basecamp is widely used by all kinds of organisations so engagement with this tool by your clients will be easier than other not so well know tools out there.
- Collaborate with work colleagues and clients on projects. Plan, discuss and upload content
- The ability to separate your client and work colleagues discussions
- Individual project or client panes to keep everything organised
- Works on iPhone and android devices for project management on the go
- You can respond directly to basecamp messages directly from your favourite email account
- You can upload files, pictures, movies and pretty much any kind of document you can think of and view them all directly within the browser
- Create to-do lists and share with individuals or the group
- A handy project calendar is included for advanced planning
- Overview functionality to see whats in progress, whats behind etc
Without a doubt Paydirt and Basecamp, coming in at just under $100 per month, is the best investment I’ve made. It’s saved me a tonne of time, money and not to mention all the pain that’s associated with chasing money.
2 years on and its also given me great insight into how well my business is performing throughout the year. Need to know when would be best to take a holiday or push your new business activities, no problem, view the Business reports and you can instantly see where your business lulls are throughout the year in an instant. Pretty sweet right!
Basecamp as mentioned above has also been a real game-changer with all of your messages neatly stacked in projects so you can instantly see all messages, amends, content and discussions in 1 thread. No longer will I have to desperately search through complicated email folder structures for that 1 key sign-off email!
If you’re the kind of person that feels a sense of calm when making to-do lists and then a real sense of accomplishment when ticking those things off then basecamp is for you.
Each designer is different and there are many options out there to make your life easier. What I will say is to not deploy some of these tools to help you just eats into the time you should be spending on more fun stuff like design! So cut away the boring stuff and concentrate on the creative. Enjoy!