Being a freelancer is an exciting thing. You get the freedom and flexibility to do what you want, when you want. But that also means you’re in charge of dealing with the operational side of things and promoting yourself all while trying to make money doing what you love.
Working closely with hundreds of freelancers, I hear all the good, the bad and the ugly parts of the not-so-glamorous freelancers’ world. Operations and personal marketing plans can be grueling! However, lucky for us, over the years some great programs and best practices have emerged to make your freelance operations and marketing more profitable and less time consuming.
Here are some of the things freelancers are using to run their businesses:
- INVOICING: One of the easiest tools to use is QuickBooks. It might not seem sexy, but it can not only be your bookkeeping AND generate invoices for your clients. If you’re still not feelin’ Quickbooks, though, Freshbooks is another popular option. It also has a mobile app that’s easy to keep close by.
- TIME TRACKING: There are a million ways to track time and finding one that fits your style isn’t tough. A lot of freelancers keep it as simple as using a GoogleDoc, but if you need something that’s a little more your style, one we see used a lot is Harvest. It’s great because it can live on your desktop with a widget or on your phone with the app. You can even send invoices from it too.
- PROPOSALS & CONTRACTS: Aside from Quickbooks, the unanimous solution for generating proposals and contracts is creating a template in InDesign and generating a new version for every project. If you’d rather not use InDesign, there are some app options out there like QuoteRoller (but sometimes, even that feels like overkill). You can reuse templates with drag-and-drop, making each proposal easier than the last.
Beyond the operational side of the freelance business, you need to promote yourself, right? Here are the things that rose to the top of our discussions:
- PORTFOLIO: The go-to for creating a portfolio is for sure Behance. Some other options include putting your best work in PDF form and then uploading it to ISSUU. Rather than sending someone everything you’ve ever created, make separate ‘books’ of work that you can send out (links) to match exactly what someone’s looking for (packaging, identities, digital, etc). Creating a Squarespace site is also a really easy option to showcase your work. Pick a killer template and start uploading.
- NETWORKING: Nobody really loves this part but everyone knows they should do more of it. If it’s something you want to get better at, check out Meetup.com and look for the creative get-togethers in town. There are always a few and you’ll connect with people just like you. It’s amazing how work can come from people who might seem like competitors. Every city also has an ad club (or AIGA, American Marketing Association, AAAAs, etc). Check those out where you live and go to one event at each one. You’ll meet people from agencies, brands and a lot of others you didn’t expect.
You’re project load right now is probably so heavy that you don’t have time to try a new operations or marketing tool. But I will tell you this: I’ve seen some of the most talented designers lose clients and struggle because they didn’t have their shit together behind the scenes. Honestly, it’s worth trying one new thing to make your business just a little better. At the end of the day, it’ll leave you more time to do the thing you love: making stuff.
post by Jeff Donaldson, President Atomic20