Daily Toolbox: Business
One of my biggest hurdles throughout the last 9+ years of running a small business has been PROCESS. Programs and software are constantly evolving and there truly is no right way to do it. When I was in design school, documenting and displaying our process for each project was a major part of the grading scale, and as much as I hated it - the lessons had significant value. I’ve learned over the years that whether it’s my process for clients, design work, or even house projects and budgeting, it’s crucial to stay organized from the beginning.
To save you a few years of time and several hundred headaches, here’s an overview of the tools I use to stay on top of things. I’m planning to do a few other daily toolbox posts down the road on my personal/household daily toolbox, and maybe even one for daily fitness/health!
Client + Project Mnagement
It’s no wonder there are a bazillion project management roles out there that are filled by humans. Managing clients and projects is SO time consuming. My business is unique in that I have two very different “arms” with design and photography. Both “creative” yet each have a very unique process. I have tried nearly every tool on the market (Things, Todoist, Dubsado, Honeybook…ALL of them) for keeping track of design and photo clients, projects, tasks, etc. and have happily landed on Asana for my client, project and task management. Plus, it’s free!
Asana is robust, to say the least, but I use it in a really simple way that works for me (see screenshot below). Each client is it’s own “project”, and all projects are color coded by category (Buisness, Personal, Photography, Main Design Clients, Ongoing Design Clients and Templates). I alternate between a list format and kanban format depending on the category. Then, within each project, I copy over a template of tasks for that specific category so that the process is consistent for all tasks and timelines.
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Proposals, Contracts + Invoicing
Wow wow wow. This company. Bonsai is the tool I use for proposals, contracts, and invoicing/payments. I started out with Bonsai about 3 years ago, and have been nothing but impressed. Not only is their customer service speedy and helpful, but the interface is clean, simple, and easy to use. I have also had several clients compliment on the ease of receiving invoices and making payments in comparison to other platforms. Bonsai will send automatic reminders if a client’s payment is late, so that you don’t have to fuss with it. I spent (a lot) time on several of these other platforms researching to see if there was something better out there (Quickbooks, Dubsado, Honeybook, etc.), and the answer for me was a hard no. Bonsai brings such simplicity and peace of mind to my day-to-day workflow that I can’t sing their praises enough! Disclaimer: other platforms are not bad, they simply didn’t work for me. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you!
Something that was really important to me was aligning my project proposals with my brand. The beauty of Bonsai is that I can upload a pdf right into Bonsai’s framework. My proposals are designed uniquely for each client in InDesign and then integrated into Bonsai so that the client can easily view and accept. A contract is automatically generated, followed by the initial invoice. Proposal and contract templates are all stored on Bonsai so that onboarding a client is quick and painless.
I included a screenshot of an invoice, so you can see just how clean and simple they are. It’s not free, but it’s worth every penny. And if I haven’t convinced you yet, by clicking the link below you experience it for yourself for a whole FREE month!
Click image to enlarge.
Client Meeting Notes, Business Strategy + Planning
This free tool is a total game changer AND you don’t have to have an @gmail.com email address to use it! Not only is it loaded with storage capabilities, but is also a great way to organize notes and documents. I primarily take notes on a specific Google Doc for each client. That way, I have a paper trail of all we’ve gone over and discussed since the beginning. Even if I handwrite notes on a call or in-person meeting, I transfer it all to the same document after. I’m a weirdo, in that I’m equally right and left brained. Very analytical, yet also highly creative. Therefore, Google Sheets is by BFF. I have a spreadsheet for everything: yearly content planning, social media strategy, business budget, etc. I love that all of these can be organized and divided into folders as well.
I organize Google Drive into three categories: Business, Clients, and Personal. The business folder has all of the behind-the-scenes notes and research on how I run things. Podcast notes, course notes, Instagram strategy, etc. The clients folder has three sub-folders: Active, Archived, Leads, and within each of those are the actual client folders and notes. The personal folder is well, personal. Kidding! Most of it is shared with my hubby, and it’s all of the spreadsheets for our budget and finances, family goals, and a hodge podge of other docs and sheets for various events, and all the real life things.
File Storage + Backup
I recently developed a fear pertaining to, “WHAT IF THE HOUSE BURNS DOWN OR MY COMPUTER GETS STOLEN AND I LOSE EVERYTHING”. Dramatic, yes, but seriously, WHAT IF?! A couple months ago I transferred ALL of my Mac’s hard drive onto Dropbox. All client design work. All person design work, files and photos. All recent photo work and editing (don’t worry photo clients, your photos are also backed up on 2 other hard drives, JUST IN CASE). And all other misc. computer files, screenshots, desktop chaos, etc. The time it takes to initially sync the files is lengthy, BUT it brings so much peace now that when I open a design file and hit save, that it goes into a safe, happy place that can easily be retrieved if all else is lost. Now don’t get me started on WHAT IF Dropbox goes down…
Anyways, I HIGHLY recommend that if you have lots of important things stored on your computer to make sure it’s backed up in trustworthy corner of the cloud! (If you don’t have 1 billion GB of files like me, Google Drive also serves the same purpose!)
Designing, Editing + Creating
It may be common sense, but I do get asked from time to time what programs I use to create in. And the answer: Adobe, Adobe, and Adobe. I pay monthly for the whole suite in order to have all the software I need in the most updated format. But, you can choose whether to pay for the Photography suite, a single app or all apps! They have several great payment plants available to fit what you’re looking for.
The programs that are currently on my toolbar that I use every single day: Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, Photoshop, and Acrobat.
Pinterest / Instagram
Inspiration + Connection
Last but not least, my sources for all things inspiration. There are SO many websites out there for gathering inspo, but i’ve found these two to be what works best for me. Let’s start with Pinterest. My “public” boards are curated to fit my brand (pictured below) and my “secret” boards are a frightening glimpse of what actually goes on in my head on a daily basis (not pictured, duh). Those secret boards have everything from my Christmas list and private client boards, to entryway inspiration, crafts I’ll never do and tattoos I’ll never get.
Pinterest is designed to be a search engine, and I’ve found the greatest value when I actually use it that way. I utilize Pinterest for client mood boards and to help get my creative process going with new projects. It’s always amazing to see what people are creating, and don’t forget to GIVE CREDIT where it’s deserved!
Next up: Instagram, which many of you know and are very familiar with. I’ll admit I haven’t given my business page the time it deserves over the years, but it’s getting there! I have a new and improved strategy after lots of research, and I’m excited to roll it out over the next several months. The main goal of hanging out on Insta is to be ME and create connections. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve found that following along with people who are doing it RIGHT has been my greatest source of inspiration. I’ll be doing a post in a few weeks about who I’m currently loving to follow and being inspired by, so stay tuned for that!
Click photos to enlarge.
Whether you’re a creative entrepreneur, a student, or a friend following along - I couldn’t do this without out your support, so THANK YOU for reading! If you have any questions on the above, if you found this helpful, or if you have suggestions for “daily toolbox” categories you’d like to see posted, please leave your thoughts in the comment box below!