9 Tools For Managing Your Freelance Design Business

By / Feb 16, 2011 / Tools
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Being organized is not something creative types are necessarily known for. However, in managing your freelance design business, it’s a must. In fact, with the exception of one or two, every successful freelancer I know (design or otherwise) has this one thing in common. Organization. Of course there are a lot of different ways to organize your projects, clients, potentials, leads, invoices, etc. And none of them is the definitive, “correct way.” However, I’ve found that having a few select tools can go a long way in making the process a lot easier and even enjoyable. So I’ve rounded up a short, but what I hope is a very helpful, list of tools for managing your freelance design business.

Organization & Client Management

1. – 4. Zoho CRM & Google Apps

Let’s get started with the “suite” of apps I recommend the highest, and happen to use the most – Zoho CRM, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Or, numbers one through four respectively. And just in case you’re not familiar with the term CRM, it stands for Client Relations Management. This type of application is used for keeping track of and even taking notes on new leads/project inquiries, existing and past clients, potential clients, project opportunities, sales you’ve closed, sales you’re working on closing, and of course, tasks to be completed. It does a lot more than that of course, but it really just depends on your business needs as to how you will use and customize this online software.

The main benefit to using CRM software is it’s one place that gives you a birds-eye view of where you’re at with all your clients, the ability to easily track how much money your marketing efforts are bringing in, and it provides features you need to nurture and grow your client base. The usefulness of such a tool only increases when you’re able to combine it with other apps that you use in the daily life of your business.

When a new project inquiry pops into you inbox from someone who’s either responding to an ad you’ve placed, the contact form on your website, or any other way that you attract business – it’s now possible with the marriage of Zoho CRM and Google Apps to check your database of clients, leads, etc. and if they’re not someone you’ve already talked to or worked with, add them to Zoho from within Gmail. You can also attach Google Documents, sync up appointments on your Google Calendar, and even add contact specific tasks…all from the universal navigation bar at the top of your Google Apps. In other words, these tools keep your business organized so that you don’t lose or squander a single lead and yet spend most of your time doing what you do best, designing.

For a more detailed review of Zoho CRM, check out this link to watch a customer video review that walks you through the service. You can also click through the image below for an overview of how Zoho CRM works with Google Apps.

5. StudioCloud

“StudioCloud is free desktop software that provides an integrated system including Client Management, Scheduling, Point-of-Sale, Bookkeeping, Reporting, Marketing Campaigns, Project/Event/Order Management and much more!” Basically, it’s a pretty nifty all-in-one package. For me, the only draw-back to this approach is that it’s desktop. I personally really like having my stuff in the cloud, which in this case happens to be an extra fee. But if you don’t want to deal with the set-up involved in patching together several free apps to do all of this for you, then this is probably a good option. Not to mention that this application goes beyond the sales and CRM features I was praising above and allows you to manage both creative and business elements in one place. Very nice indeed.

6. Doolphy

As opposed to StudioCloud or the combination of Zoho CRM and Google Apps, Doolphy is simply concerned with managing your projects and their associated tasks. Doolphy also puts a premium on collaboration, allowing you to have as many users as you want associated with one account. On the downside, the free account only allows for one project at a time with limited storage. But if all you’re really after is an attractive place to keep tabs on your project tasks then this is the tool for you :)

Payment Tools

No set of business management tools would be complete without at least a few of them being dedicated to making it as easy as possible for you to collect the money you’ve worked so hard for.

7. FreshBooks

Next up we have Freshbooks, the self proclaimed painless way to do billing. I have to hand it to them too, they’ve built a fantastic product. Freshbooks has made it incredibly easy to track your time, create and send custom branded invoices, as well as accept online payments that it’s no wonder they’re the service of choice for millions. The one thing that you need to know about the free version though is that while it has every major feature of the paid versions, it only allows you to manage 3 clients at once. However, if you’re the type of freelancer that does regular work for a few companies, Freshbooks could be the time and hassle saving tool for billing you’ve been looking for.

8. Square

First up we have Square, which makes it unbelievably simple to collect credit card payments both in person and over the phone (or email). This is great for when you deal locally and actually meet face to face with your clients. You can bring along the free reader that attaches to your android handset or iphone and process the payment right there. Or, if you want to take the payment later they can read you the card number over the phone or send it to you via email and you can manually punch it in. Within seconds your client has a digital receipt and you have the money in your account. So simple. So awesome!

9. Paypal

And finally, the ever popular Paypal. Is it new and pretty? No…but almost everyone is familiar with it and like them or hate them, Paypal makes it pretty easy to send out an invoice and receive payment. Sometimes, that’s all you really want or need.

What do you think? Was this list of tools helpful? Do you know of any that you think I should have included? Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author

Hi my name is Nathan Weller. I'm an avid blogger and the Founder & CEO of Black Cat Digital Publishing LLC. I have a fierce passion for content creation of all mediums and across multiple platforms from the big screen all the way down to your cell phone. If you're passionate about art or an artist yourself, I'd love to connect and learn about what you do :)

26 Comments

  1. Andrew Jhonson
    February 16, 2011

    I did give Freshbooks a try, this is one of the finest invoicing application; however, the price is too much for a small businesses and freelancers considering the limitations of basic plans.
    I would really recommend you to give Invoicera a try, its basic plan starts from $9.95 and you can send unlimited invoices to 25 clients. It supports 20 popular payment gateways so you have more options to get paid on time. It also supports multiple currency and languages so you do not need to worry while sending invoices to your global clients. the most appealing feature of Invoicera is its customize invoice template feature where you can customize the look and feel of your invoice template and design it in the sync with your business look. Some other features that might be helpful to you are invoice scheduling, late fee option, time tracking and expense management. Invoicera is the complete invoicing app that is helpful for every business. You may check the application at http://www.invoicera.com

    Reply
  2. ChayaChitra Photography
    February 16, 2011

    Great compilation of great tools Thanks for sharing. I am using FreshBook & PayPal.

    Reply
  3. Pragmatic Design
    February 16, 2011

    Thanks for the round-up, but it would be nice to know which of these options support non-US users. We don’t all use dollars.

    Reply
    • Nathan Weller
      February 16, 2011

      I know freshbooks supports non-US users and accepts foreign currencies. As for the others, no one advertised it so I’m not sure. Good point though, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind in the future.

      Reply
    • The Doolphy Team
      February 16, 2011

      I just forgot! About your question, Doolphy offers support to users from everywhere. I encourage you to check it! ;-)

      Regards!

      Reply
  4. Kevin
    February 16, 2011

    Wow that Square card payments look brilliant. I’ll deff take a look at that. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Collin Henderson
    February 16, 2011

    Oh, how I wish Square worked in Canada :(

    Reply
  6. Fresh
    February 16, 2011

    Probably not as elaborate as the ones you mentioned, but even BillingBoss is quite handy. Helps you keep track of clients, invoices, quotations etc. Receipts/Invoices can be emailed directly from it or saved as PDFs for further use. Unfortunately, doesn’t include payment.

    I’ll be looking at a couple of these though cos they look brilliant.

    Reply
  7. Chris Morata
    February 16, 2011

    You should check out Freedcamp, seems incredibly promising.

    http://www.freedcamp.com

    Reply
    • Batfan
      February 16, 2011

      @Chris Freedcamp looks great, I just wish it had integrated invoicing.

      Reply
  8. The Doolphy Team
    February 16, 2011

    Thank you very much for including Doolphy in your list!
    We’re working on new features. Get more info about them in our Twitter account (@doolphy) and our blog (http://blog.doolphy.com)!

    Up With Your Projects!

    Reply
    • Vee
      April 12, 2013

      In regards to doolphy.com

      I don’t consider asking for id or passport number “Required field” and then taking me to paypal to add a subscription a free trial whatsoever.. ;)

      If something is good, I will use it or even recommend it to my users.

      I would never sign-up and let anyone add a recurring subscription and suggest the same to others.

      I understand the practice, I do.. Do I use it personally or in biz? No.. ;)

      Reply
  9. Jakob
    February 16, 2011

    Did you ever heard of cronsync?

    http://www.cronsync.com

    cronsync supports time tracking and invoicing on a time and material or on a flatrate basis. Invoices are automatically generated based on time tracking and project data. You choose what level of invoice detail you want to grant your client.

    There is a demo and a video tour.

    We have launched cronsync this year. I look forward to your feedback!

    Best, Jakob

    Reply
  10. Jeff Boulton
    February 16, 2011

    @Chris Freedcamp – looks interesting. I use dropbox with my clients to share files – http://www.dropbox.com and I also use it with my partners.

    Reply
  11. Angie
    February 17, 2011

    Tips are great thanks, but re: Square, I wouldn’t be advising my clients to send their credit card details via email. Email isn’t secure.

    Reply
  12. Fabrizio Van Marciano
    February 17, 2011

    Top recommendations, I agree with Angie in reference with Square. I’ve used paypal for the last 8 years and my customers prefer to use them more than anything else. Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  13. Thomas Craig
    February 18, 2011

    Fantastic stuff, one that I have been testing out and been really impressed with for my invoicing is Intuit BillingManager, and the best part, its free.

    Reply
  14. Chris Simpkins
    April 5, 2011

    Great list! I agree that a lot of clients feel comfortable using PayPal, so it’s a good tool to keep around, but you can’t go wrong with FreshBooks.

    Another great tool that everyone should be checking out is http://www.teamlab.com/. TeamLab is an absolute complete project management portal that can either be hosted on Amazon’s Cloud or on your own web server. It’s completely Open-Source.

    Reply
  15. Christian Wert
    May 4, 2011

    Freshbooks is nice, however, you can pretty much get the same functionality out of http://www.cashboard.com at about half the price. Not only that but Cash Board has two way sync for projects/tasks/time with Basecamp. An area where Freshbooks is really lacking. One thing that is interesting about Freshbooks is that Gravity forms for WordPress has a nice plugin that lets you use the form details to create a new customer/project upon form submission in your Freshbooks account. For this reason alone I may end up switching so that leads from my site can become customers in Freshbooks instantly. Then you can use Freshbooks to shoot out a work estimate.

    I agree that PayPal is the way to go for client billing. All the main players, when it comes to invoicing apps, are integrating with PayPal these days. It’s also a household name, so-to-speak, in the business world and I have found it easy to get customers to adopt it for making payments.

    Reply
  16. Chris Quinn
    September 12, 2011

    I am definitely bookmarking this. However, I don’t think paypal is very professional when it comes to accepting payments, and their rates are outrageous. I believe payments pro is like $20/month and they still take out their percentages….its no good :(

    Reply
  17. Kerrie
    October 5, 2011

    Oh, how I wish Square worked in Australia :(

    Reply
  18. Time Clock
    August 23, 2012

    Hi, how about adding a time tracking tool to your list to make it a complete package?

    Reply
  19. Karl
    November 2, 2012

    The problem with Freshbooks.com is that they only print in their American paper formats. Since I am UK based I needed to look around to find a UK-based option which supports the A4 paper format. We ended up with Invoiceberry.com which supports American and EU/UK paper formats. Give it a try at http://www.invoiceberry.com

    Reply
  20. James
    November 24, 2013

    Great list (and resources in the comments)! I’d like to add Approval Manager (www.metacommunications.com/approval_manager) to the mix. GREAT tool for managing online proofs and reviews. I’ve been using it for years and it keeps getting better. Worth a look.

    Reply
  21. Craig Crisstiani
    January 9, 2014

    I use a web app called Freelancesuite (http://freelancesuite.com). It’s simple and easy for my clients to use. They have a 1-time license so there are no subscription fees or customer limits. I use the software to manage our customers, projects, and then issue invoices.

    Reply
  22. Jillian
    March 11, 2014

    Great insight! For those of you that seek for CRM software, lean towards Snapforce. Snapforce has helped businesses boom all over the globe. They help you manage, track, and grow. For more information visit the link below:
    http//:www.snapforce.com

    Reply

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