Equipment for your freelance business: Buy or Get By?

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As a freelance designer, there are certain hardware and software needs that I just can’t do without.

I need a reliable computer, a desk, my design software, a smartphone for email when I’m away from my desk, FTP client, text editor, word processing software, the list goes on.

Unfortunately for the consumer/small business owner, there is always a better, newer, faster version available on the market, begging us to scrap our current equipment and upgrade.

But when is it time to do away with the old and bring in the new? Here are a few guidelines I always try to follow when determining whether to buy or just get by.

Reliability

In other words, does the equipment in question get the job done? Sometimes this is a no-brainer (your monitor fell off the desk and shattered into a million pieces, or you flushed your phone down the toilet).

Other times this is a gray area, like if your scanner is really old and slow but still gets the job done eventually. If the equipment does still manage to do what it’s supposed to, maybe those agonizing extra minutes are worth the few hundred bucks they save you.

Efficiency

That being said, time can be a factor. If you’ve tried everything and your machine just can’t handle the software you need to get the job done, it may be a good idea to upgrade. If a client finds out you’ve been billing them extra hours because your outdated software takes an extra 15 minutes to process an image, this could cause problems.

When my processes are running significantly slow and really slowing down my work flow, I tend to get frustrated and my efficiency is inhibited even more. You want to be spending your time working, not waiting countless minutes for your applications to load or complete their tasks.

Compatibility

Sure, the copy of Photoshop 7 you pirated in ‘02 works fine for you, but what happens when your client requests the source files for a project you completed so they can alter some of the copy? When they get your PS7 files they might be able to use them, but your credibility might come into question.

There is something to be said for the importance of being willing to invest in your business. Some clients might look at super-outdated software as a sign of not caring about your product, being ignorant of new technology, or just being behind the times. While none of these may be true, and you were just trying to save a buck on software that you don’t much need, your image as a professional businessperson can be reflected poorly.

On the other hand, I’m not saying you have to always have the best shiny new equipment on the market. A lot of software is backwards-compatible at least a few versions (Adobe is changing this, which is irritating), so you can probably get away with older versions for awhile. Just make sure you’re able to exchange files freely with your clients and you should be in good shape.

Pirated software

Software piracy isn’t only illegal–it can damage your computer and your client relationships as well. If you’re obtaining your software from a less than reputable source, the files could be corrupt and not work correctly, along with any files produced by the software.

As a freelancer, your reputation is your most valuable asset for finding new clients and maintaining current ones. While for the most part your client may not know or care whether you’re using legitimate software, in some cases they could be held liable for your actions,# or even choose to stop doing business with a disreputable contractor. A sign of a reputable business is one that has all their ducks in a row and is able to legally keep on top of their equipment needs.

Free/Open Source

In some cases free or open source versions of the software you need are available, and can get the job done for you. Sometimes you have to wade through ads and donation requests, but if you’re saving a buck or two that can be worth it.

An advantage of free software is that you can try it out (for free) and if it doesn’t meet your needs, no harm done. Actually, this is a practice I highly recommend with any software in the “interwebs” age that allows you to download trial versions and buy a serial number later on. Before you buy anything make sure it’s more useful to you than the free version.

Conclusion

In determining whether to replace, upgrade, repair, or get by with what you have, it all really comes down to your budget and the ability of your equipment to handle the tasks you perform on a daily basis to get your job done and make a living.

In my own business, I look at my equipment through the eyes of reliability, compatibility, and efficiency, and try to determine if the software/hardware in question is meeting my needs or not. All businesses have different needs, so you have to evaluate what is important to you… and what you can get away with.

Calling all freelance designers!

What issues have you had with equipment reliability and work efficiency? Were you able to find affordable solutions?

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About Dan Sweet

Comments

  1. As a fulltime graphic designer it was no question for me when my boss asked what i needed. I just need an Adobe-package and a Office package. That’s actually all I work with.

    Especially when you’re going to sell your work you can’t get around with illegal software. It’s incredible unprofessional and risky.

  2. Such a great article, much helpful for me thanks..

  3. I’ve FINALLY convinced my employer that we need new hardware. My machine really should have been replaced instead of repaired when the HD died on me, it was at least 6-7 years old then.

    Here’s what I recently did to convince my employer to upgrade:

    Since I was wasting my time watching my machine process completing menial tasks, I started documenting how much time I spent sitting in front of my computer unable to work due slow processing. (on average it was a little under 2 hours a day). I also pointed out some dead/buggered pixels and re-mentioned how my DVD-r no longer works (it stopped working before the HD died on me – have been using an external from the 90’s since). Lastly, once I had my boss on board, I did some homework. I sourced some cost effective options for a couple machines based on our different requirements, and now I have a great piece of kit to work with.

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