When I started my graphic design business in early 2011, I was ridiculously optimistic. The world was my oyster and I was positive I’d be rolling in pearls before the end of the year. However, as it so often does, reality came crashing down not long after I scored my first few clients. I had absolutely no idea how to schedule my client work, manage my time, or create professional invoices.
I discovered a lot of really useful tools as time went by, and as a simple act of paying it forward, I’d like to share them with you.
I started my business relying on nothing more than an old HP laptop that overheated at the drop of a hat. When I ran Photoshop, the damn thing would slow to an absolute crawl, which was not only annoying, it also cost me precious billable time. And meeting with clients was a bit embarrassing — it’s hard to look professional when your laptop craps out on you two out of three times.
Once I made enough money, I upgraded to a better laptop to use at home, and a tablet to use during client meetings. When buying hardware for your freelancing business, I encourage you to go for high quality vs. grabbing what’s on sale. If you buy low quality tech, you’ll only end up spending more in the long run to keep things working.
It’s also important to consider how you’ll be using said technology. If it’s something that will spend its entire life in your office, go for a desktop with a snappy microprocessor and oversized monitor. If mobility is your thing, you’ll want a thin laptop that weighs next to nothing. If you’ll be meeting face to face with clients to go over project drafts, choose something versatile, like a 2-in-1 Yoga laptop from Lenovo. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to pair it with the right software to see true results.
Nothing beats great software — I’m a bit of a junkie, actually. I could spend hours searching and sampling new programs and apps. I could also spend hours writing about them, but I’ll narrow it down to my four favorites in order to keep things brief.
Evernote is the “it” app for home business owners. It allows you to store notes, images, PDFs, audio clips, and web pages into files and folders known as notebooks and stacks. Your notebooks are synced across all of your devices and can be easily searched, retrieved, and edited. I like to create client specific notebooks where I store contact information, design inspiration, and any other material relevant to the project.
Managing tasks can be a nightmare, so a powerful organizer is a must have. That’s where Trello comes in. With Trello you can create project boards, add columns of task cards, and attach files, pictures, comments, deadlines, and labels to said cards. Cards can be easily dragged and dropped within (and across) categories, making it incredibly simple to organize your freelance projects.
You should never rely on your hard drive for your client files — that’s just asking for trouble. A cloud-based storage service is every freelancer’s best friend, and Dropbox is definitely the cream of the crop. With Dropbox you can access and share your files anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
When you’re billing your clients by the hour, you need a dependable time tracking app. Toggl is a handy web-based software that allows you to effortlessly create, start, and stop timers for project tasks. You can categorize your tasks by client and mark them as “billable”. You can then use Toggl’s reports feature to pull together professional looking PDFs or CSVs for invoicing your clients.
I always thought running my own business would be easy — no boss breathing down my neck or HR department to slow everything down with bureaucratic red tape. In reality, it came with quite a bit more legwork than I was initially ready to handle. However, with a little help from my friends in the design community, and a lot of help from Google, I found the tech tools I needed to make my job both simple and successful.