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

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 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

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 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
VIDEO CALL
Skype, a communication tool for free calls and chat
INSTANT MESSAGING
Slack, a real-time message app designed for team communication

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

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.

IN CONCLUSION

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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