As a freelance designer you’ve got a lot to manage and maintain. From taxes to intellectual property rights, there are a lot of aspects to being a freelance designer that you need to be able to easily manage and have the confidence in your system. When I first started my own tool was my computer, an erasable marker and a white board. This list includes all of the tools I use to assist with freelancing and to make my life easier. These tools are’t specific to web design, but are definitely more geared towards freelancing designers as you’ll require some specific toolsets.
One of the most important aspects to being a freelance designer is protecting yourself. As a freelance designer, you are responsible for any legal actions taken against you or against the company you are working with. A contract can make the separation between client and contractor more clear, so that in the event your client get’s sued for infringing work that you used in a design, your client will be held responsible and not you.
An example is your client ask you to create a graphic for an upcoming event, and they provide you with a large background image to use. Unfortunately without you knowing, they took this image from a photographers 500px page, and are now being sued for copyright infringement. Along with them being sued, you are now being pulled into this battle as you were the designer who created the graphic.
Having a contract can ensure that your client is responsible for their end of the creation process, because with any design project there is always going to be collaboration between the client and contractor, and at some point you are going to have to use content given directly from the client.
Hello Bonsai is a free online service directed to freelancers that helps you build rock solid contracts. Contracts are for the most part pre-written by lawyers, with some areas being dynamic with content you fill in. To create a new contract, all you have to do is sign in, create a new contract, and answer the questions about the project and in a few seconds you will have a new contract. The entirety of the contract can be edited, so if there are any adjustments requested by your client that is not a problem. You can also add new stipulations and sections. For me, I always add a section stating I am allowed to include a discreet link at the bottom of each web page that links back to my website.
Making it easy to receive payments makes life better for you, your clients, and your landlord. Over the years I have gone through a few various options for accepting payments, starting with Paypal. Although I was aware businesses have run into issues with Paypal and frozen income, I decided to ease of just having payments sent to my email was worth it. Unfortunately after receiving a larger than normal sum for a project, my account was quickly frozen and funds were unavailable. This meant my rent was going to be able to be paid on time, and I was now going to be a few weeks without an expected income. As you can image, this is a terrible situation to be in as a freelance designer.
I have since moved on from checks/paypal and started using Waveapps strictly. Waveapps is another amazing free online service that allows freelancers and SMB’s to create invoices and handle accounting. Waveapps makes creating customized invoices extremely easy while also managing your clients information. Waveapps allows you to accept Credit Card payments and always has the funds transferred in 3 days. The invoices come with links directly imbedded for CC payments so your clients have an extremely seamless and intuitive way to pay. Payments can also be setup to recurring, you can schedule due dates, and set reminders. Waveapps really makes accepting payments a painless process as well as recording income.
As a freelance designer good communication is key to ensuring projects are running smoothly and your clients are happy. G Suite by Google connects your domain to the Gmail email servers and allows you to direct all email through the Gmail interface. If you’re someone who uses Gmail already this usually the only way to continue with emailing and using your custom domain as most providers have terrible email interfaces. Using G Suite allows you to use your own domain so all of your emails look more professional, but also gives you a ton of tools to improve your business. The main items are Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools (although G Suite is not required to use either, they are connected directly to your email making everything seamless). G Suite starts at $5/m/user and is one of the only tools I pay a monthly fee for, but it is completely worth it.
Even setting Gmail bias and their available services, Gmail is still great as they have some of the highest SMTP quota limits available. Some email clients are only allowed to send up to ~100 emails per hour to clients, while G Suite is at ~2,000 emails. The last thing you want to be doing is sending invoices to your clients and all of your emails bounce because you hit your hourly limit.
** Discount Codes ** Sometimes I will have discount codes posted that will take off 20% for your first year, these codes only work once so the first person to grab it get’s it.
Along with email, every freelancer is going to require a phone service or phone number to speak with clients. To increase the credibility of your business as well as making getting in contact with you easier, creating a Google Voice number can allow you to use your current phone as a business phone utilizing a different phone number. While there can be some drawbacks to Google Voice, if you’re looking for a solution to a business phone number without adding a new line, Google Voice is a great solution and is completely free to use. Google voice also connects with your email, and allows voicemails to be transcribed into text, and is ‘completely’ integrable with Hangouts. G Voice also allows you to setup calling screens, so a user may have to press “1” to connect first, allowing spam callers to be filtered out. Because I am sure every freelancer is familiar with the lovely SEO spam phone calls, and no one wants those.
For my personal phone service I currently use Project Fi. Project Fi is great for freelancers that work from home as your monthly bill will most likely be drastically lower than other services. Starting at $30/m with 1gb, this should cover most standard users. However if you’re like me and work from home and you are always near wifi, a 1gb limit is almost too much. And the great part of Project Fi is any data you do not used you are reimbursed on, so if you have a $30/m plan and only use 0.2gb you will only be charged $22, as Google charges $10/gb. Coming from Tmobile, my average monthly bill went from $83 to $25. I’ve also included a referral link which will take off $20 after you’ve signed up. NOTE: I do receive a $20 credit, but this is the only way Project Fi allows discounts.
Some other great things about project Fi are the cell towers used: Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. Along with using 3 cellular services, Project Fi will also connect your phone to any open Wifi, so wherever you are you are connected to the fastest connection. Project Fi also comes with a great account management tool that allows you to see your current months usage, set warnings/limits, as well as direct support chats and ticket submissions. Project Fi is also extremely seamless when traveling abroad.
For my website I use WordPress to handle content as well as design. I love using WordPress for the versatility of the backend, the ease of use, and the customizations capable. WordPress is free, and most hosts have a one-click install version available. Once WordPress is up and running, creating a site is as simple as choosing a template and propagating it with content. Depending on your familiarity with web design, you can make simple cookie-cutter sites to full enterprise level designs.
For hosting my websites, I like to use Dreamhost as it is one of the best WordPress hosts available, has an absolutely amazing support team, and has a very intuitive backend. Dreamhost uses their own UI for managing your sites, but just about anything from Cpanel can be found here, if not Dreamhost support is able to make most changes for you.
There are a few options available for hosting, but the Shared Hosting plan is going to be perfect for most users. Shared hosting plans start at $9.99 but the above links will take off $50 from your first year, making it only $7.99/m. To be clear, this is an affiliate link, but is the only way I am able to share this discount, and it is the maximum discount available.
If you do decide to utilize Dreamhost, I highly recommend using the Dreamcompute and Dreamobjects service to deliver your content through the Dreamspeed CDN service. A CDN (Content Delivery Network) helps deliver static website files to visitors across the globe from various servers. The standard website setup is your website is located on a single server, in a single location, maybe Los Angeles, Ca. When a use visits your website from New York, they are being directed to the server in LA and downloading all of the content from there. With a CDN, your content is located on servers all over the world, and instead of downloading your site from the Los Angeles server, the visitor would download the site from the Buffalo. This improves your website’s loading times and will help with SEO, as well as giving your website visitors a better user experience.
If you have any recommendations for tools that you like to use, let me know and I’d love to check them out. For a larger list of tools, checkout Bonsais personal list.