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 help you simplify and streamline these tasks. Some of the recommendations below are based on my own experience, and I have gathered information on others so you can have an overview on the more popular choices.


ACCOUNTING

When you are first starting out, keeping clear payment records of all your projects can be daunting, and 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, an all-in-one solution for time tracking and invoicing
Harvest, an all-in-one solution for time tracking and invoicing

If you are charging an hourly rate for your services, then consider Harvest, an all-in-one solution for time tracking and invoicing. It’s available 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, a free invoicing software made for small businesses and freelancers
Wave, a free invoicing software made for small businesses and freelancers

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.

HIVEAGE
Hiveage, a free online invoicing software system for small businesses
Hiveage, a free online invoicing software system for small businesses

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, the most popular way to send and receive payments
PayPal, the most popular way to send and receive payments

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 are likely working from home, it can be hard to maintain self-discipline yourself and get rid of distractions. Remember, you only have so many hours in a day. As such, try to stay organized and productive by managing your time well. You should prioritize your tasks and break bigger projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.

TODOIST
Todoist, voted the best to-do list by The Verge
Todoist, voted the best to-do list by The Verge

Todoist is 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, the digital note-taking app for your devices
OneNote, the digital note-taking app for your devices

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 with OneNote’s drawing tools.

OneNote lets you mark tasks with tags, so you can easily refer back to information that you want to follow up on, remind yourself about, or send to others. You can also reorder 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 client relationships and ensures that projects go without a hitch. Besides email, you should have some form of video call and instant messaging on hand; such tools enable both parties to discuss project details quickly, moving the design process forward. In the case of video call, the ability to communicate face to face builds trust between both parties.

Most clients have preferences when it comes to communication, so try to familiarize yourself with the more popular ones.

EMAIL
Outlook, Microsoft's email service
Outlook, Microsoft’s email service

Email is the most straightforward approach, and 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, a communication tool for free calls and chat
Skype, a communication tool for free calls and chat

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 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, a real-time message app designed for team communication
Slack, a real-time message app designed for team communication

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


FILE MANAGEMENT

Imagine you are working hard on a project — only to have your workstation die on you, causing you to lose all the hard work you have done so far. Such incidents can and do happen, so having a backup system is a must for a graphic designer.

DROPBOX
Dropbox, one of the more popular ways to manage and organize your files
Dropbox, one of the more popular ways to manage and organize your files

Dropbox works great as a backup system, and is free up to 2GB of storage space. You can also sync your files 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 to access their suite of collaboration and productivity apps for businesses. 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 take care of the business side of things as a freelance graphic designer, but hopefully with some of these tools you will have an easier time and better peace of mind.

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