Tools of the Trade (Business)

Being a freelance graphic designer is not just about creating quality designs — you also need to take care of the business side of things, such as accounting, time tracking and communication. Such tasks will require a lot of your attention, but they are necessary to keep your business running as smoothly as possible.

Fortunately, there are many online tools to make things easier for you. I’m using some of them and gathered information on others so you can have an overview on the more popular choices.


When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to keep clear payment records for different projects. In fact, many experienced freelancers still can’t handle their finances well. However, accounting is very important, especially if you have to file for taxes. Ultimately, keeping proper accounts is about consistency, organization and strategy



If you’re charging an hourly rate for your services, then consider Harvest, an all-in-one solution for time tracking and invoicing. It’s available as online and on iOS, and features a timer for tracking hours.

Harvest also has a plan that’s great for freelancers, with a 30-day trial available. For $12 a month, you get access to unlimited clients, projects and invoicing, along with many other features. Creating invoices in Harvest is straightforward, saving you time and effort.



Wave works well if you want a free and simple platform to keep accounts and send invoices. Like Harvest, it’s available online and on iOS, but lacks some features such as time tracking. Otherwise, it’s prefect for the freelance graphic designer who charges a fixed fee and don’t need advanced features such as automation and integration with eCommerce software.

Wave also allows you to send invoices to unlimited clients, though it charges a small processing fee for credit card payments.



Like Wave, Hiveage’s invoice creation and sending tools are free and unlimited. In addition, Hiveage allows you to customize your plan by purchasing modules such as estimate creation and time tracking, so you only pay for what you need.



PayPal is worth checking out if you want something that’s quick to use and hassle-free. In fact, you just need a client’s email address to set up invoicing.

Sending invoices is free, but there is a transaction fee per paid invoice. Clients don’t need a PayPal account, and can make payments through credit card.


Since you’re likely working from home, it can be hard to discipline yourself and get rid of distractions — especially when you only have so many hours in a day. As such, it’s important to stay organized and productive by managing your time well. You should also prioritize your tasks and break bigger projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.



Todoist has easy to use, with a clean and user-friendly interface. Available on web and mobile platforms, it allows you to manage tasks and projects anywhere. In addition, tag hierarchies make prioritizing and organizing tasks a breeze.

Unfortunately, features such as task labels and automatic backup aren’t part of the free version, though you can consider upgrading for less than $2.50 a month.



For something that’s free on all platforms, check out OneNote, an app created by Microsoft. It’s primarily used for note taking, but functions well enough as a task manager. If you have a graphics tablet, you can even capture the feeling of writing tasks down on traditional pen and paper with OneNote’s drawing tools.

OneNote lets you mark your tasks with tags so you can easily return to information that you want to follow up on, remind yourself about, or send to others. You can also reorder your tasks using the drag and drop feature so everything is neatly organized.


Communication is key to the design process. If done well, it improves client relationships and ensures that projects go without a hitch. Besides email, you should also have some form of video call and instant messaging on hand. Such tools enable both parties to discuss project details quickly. In the case of video call, the ability to talk face to face also builds trust between both parties.

Most clients have preferences when it comes to communication, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them.



Email is the most straightforward approach, since almost everyone has an email address. You can’t go wrong with Gmail or Outlook, but consider making an account strictly for business purposes.

Video call


Skype is free to use, and a great choice for video calls. While it’s mainly used for social purposes, many clients from all over the world do use Skype for project discussions. Even if the client isn’t on Skype, you can make calls to mobiles and landlines for a small fee.

Instant Messaging


Slack is a real-time messaging app designed for team communication. Better yet, you can access most of the essential features for free. Linking and uploading images is easy, so you can show your concepts to your clients with no fuss.


Imagine you’re working hard on a project — only to have your workstation die on you, causing you to lose all your files. Such incidents can and do happen. In order to protect your files, having a backup system is a must for a graphic designer.



Dropbox works great as a backup system, and is free up to 2GB of storage space. It allows you to retain revisions of your files as you work on them, while syncing those files and revisions between multiple machines and for multiple users.


If you don’t like to manage multiple accounts, consider signing up for a Google or Microsoft account. Gmail is great, and you can use Hangouts for video calls and instant messaging. Similarly, you have access to apps such as Skype and OneDrive with a Microsoft account.

It can be hard to think and work like a business owner as a freelance graphic designer, but hopefully you will have an easier time managing the business side of things after using some of these tools.

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