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.


ACCOUNTING

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

Harvest

Harvest

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

Wave

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 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.

Hiveage

Hiveage

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

PayPal

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.


TASK MANAGEMENT

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

Todoist

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.

OneNote

OneNote

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 pen and paper by using the 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

Communication is key to the design process. If done well, it improves the 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 take 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

Outlook

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

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

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


FILE MANAGEMENT

Imagine a day when 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

Dropbox

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.


ALL IN ONE

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 when it comes to freelancing, but hopefully you will have an easier time after using some of these tools.

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