I’ve run a branding/marketing firm for 10 years and have worked with lots of freelancers and designers, and you don’t often have an easy lot. Zero or, at best, a few staff to help you out or bounce ideas off of. Doing both the design work and having to manage clients. Often having to partner with copywriters, programmers and other creatives who aren’t always easy to work with. And then there’s all the stuff involved in running a business … bookkeeping, contracts, marketing and sales, etc.
One thing is for certain. You are in this because you love what you do and want to make money at it. So you are compelled to try and bill as much for your design time and minimize how much time you spend on non-billable, administrative stuff.
Here are a few ways you can streamline your freelance design business or graphic design firm so you are as productive and profitable as possible.
Collaborate occasionally in person … virtually at all other times
When I first started my marketing company, I tried to get as much face time as possible with my clients, probably because I wanted to establish a solid relationship with them. However, all the coordination and travel back and forth ended up costing me lots of time that I wasn’t going to get back.
So once you have established solid relationships with your clients, it’s best to save the face-to-face meetings for special occasions – like project kickoffs, presenting first concepts and happy hours. Otherwise, conduct all your correspondence, minor collaboration, followups and minor revision rounds over the Web, phone and email.
Use email – not the phone – as your primary mode of communication
Speaking of email … let’s talk a moment about the biggest interruptor of work (besides Facebook, of course). We’re talking about the phone, of course, and it’s companion interruptor, text messages.
While you can control your addiction to Facebook by simply ignoring, it’s much more difficult to turn your phone or IM off. Who knows who will be calling … a new client, an existing client with more work, the guy from Publisher’s Clearninghouse (oh, wait, he shows up at the doorstep)?
Needless to say, it’s difficult to not answer the phone or instant messages. But if you make a habit of always responding immediately, you set yourself up for constant distractions. By training your clients, contractors, vendors, staff and everyone else to contact you via email first, you can minimize the distractions while giving yourself time to prepare well-thought-out replies.
Automate (or farm out) your business processes
This one isn’t as easy or as straightforward. There’s lots of stuff I don’t like about running a business … namely bookkeeping, sales, administrative garbage, cleaning the office, keeping up my equipment, etc. I’d rather someone else did it, but many times I haven’t had the budget to pay for an assistant.
So I have gone down the route of using online business management software and project management software to automate some of these processes. Sure, software won’t clean the office or shop for a ream of printer paper, but it sure helps with lots of other business tasks like estimating, billing, managing contracts, collaborating with clients via the Web, sharing files, etc. In fact, I’ve been using a Web-based business management and project management software app for these tasks since 2006, and it has saved me untold amounts of time.
And, if you can afford it, I would encourage you to find a good accountant/bookkeeper, lawyer and IT person (if you need one). They are worth their weight in gold.
Trade services with other professionals
This parallels with what I was just discussing. Sometimes you may not have the extra income to pay a lawyer to draft a nondisclosure agreement for you, or you may not have much cash on hand to pay an accountant for preparing your taxes.
Well, lawyers and accountants need business cards and Web sites, too. So why not consider trading services so you can get what you need and they can get some great design work in exchange. Just make sure to work out the terms and set expectations ahead of time.
Set breaks throughout the day and get out of your chair
Our job is a fairly sedentary one. We’re certainly not lazy; we’re just confined to a chair for most of the day as we click and type away. So for your sanity and for your health, make sure you stand up and walk around at least once an hour.
In fact, even better, take a short walk around the block at least a couple of times during your work day. I have two dogs so I am forced to take frequent walks with them, but I have found it clears my mind, makes me more focused when I sit back down and even helps keep the weight off (short but frequent exercise during the day has shown to help keep weight under control). Give it a try and see how refreshing it is.
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