As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reading a fantastic book recently titled The Four-Hour Workweek* by Tim Ferris.
In the book (which I cannot recommend highly enough for freelancers-seriously, it will change the way you work forever!) Tim explains the importance of automating your business (and he even recommends automating aspects of your personal life).
Automation simply means letting technology or personal assistants take care of certain tasks instead of allowing those tasks to take up your time.
Today, I thought I’d brainstorm a few tasks that freelance designers should automate in order to make their business run more smoothly and be more profitable. I’d also love to hear what business tasks you already automate and which ones you think I left out – leave a comment on this post!
This is perhaps one of the most obvious tasks to automate. Here are a few ways you can automate your email usage – thus saving you time and freeing up your work hours to get more design work done.
- Create folders. The first step to automating your email is to create folders where certain messages can go. I personally have divided my email folders according to urgency, then according to recipient.You’ll see how I use these folders to organize my email in the next step. You may have to try a few different styles of organizing your folders, but the nice thing about email clients is – nothing is permanent. Work with it til you find something that works for you.
- Create filters. After you have all your folders created, you need to automate the organization of your email. To do that, I have set up filters that automatically send certain emails to certain folders depending on who they are from. You could, for example, have a folder for current clients. Then you create a filter that says that each time an email comes from anyone on your “current client” list, they automatically go into your current client folder.I then check my “current client” folder once a day which leaves a lot of extra time for me to get some design work done.
- Create autoreponders. Lastly, in this example, I have created an autoresponder that responds to any new email addresses that hit my “current clients” inbox. It lets them know that I only check my email once a day and if they have something urgent to call me on my cell phone. Turns out, most things aren’t as urgent as clients make them out to be.You can set up similar systems for business partners, potential clients, past clients, etc.
Just like email, you can automate your voicemail to save you time and headache. While freelancers don’t usually work at big corporate offices where and IT department can rig up settings on your office phone, there are a few really simple and easy solutions to automate your voicemail.
I personally use Google Voice – a great tool from Google that helps me keep track of phone calls, text messages and voicemail.
With Google Voice, I can choose which message is played depending on who is calling, where voicemails are saved depending on the caller, and each call is transcribed and emailed to my email account (where I have a filter that saves it in a predetermined folder) as well as texted to my cell phone.
Social Media and Online Activity
Staying on top of social media marketing for your design business can be a headache – especially if you have a lot of work to do for clients.
While I never suggest automating your social media efforts to a point that you become absent (what’s the point of not being social on a social network), there are a few things I do suggest when it comes to automating your online activity.
For example, I know a lot of designers who store their entire portfolio on a site like Flickr. Their flickr feeds then automatically populate their facebook page, their twitter account, their linkedin page, and a feed on their web site. This way, they upload a portfolio item only once, but get the full impact across all their media platforms.
The same can be done with YouTube channels, blogs, photo collections, etc. The idea is not to be absent from social media, but to maximize the time you spend updating each of your online accounts.
Another way I make sure I’m constantly sharing content that will appeal to my clients and customers is by using TwitterFeed with very strict filters to share content that I would have shared anyway. That way, I have time to work hard on my projects and my social media works hard for me. But be careful with tactics like these – I am sure to never neglect my twitter accounts and I always always try to respond to fellow designers who strike up a conversation.
Social media is still social – don’t get lost in the sea of automation to a point that you’re no longer human. (That goes for all aspects of automation.)
Invoicing and receiving payments
Use tools like PayPal or QuickBooks (or the free online invoicing service FreshBooks) to automate your invoicing and payment receipt. It doesn’t sound like it makes a huge difference, but many designers still create their invoices in indesign so they look nice but they waste 30 minutes each time they need to make a new invoice.
Save yourself time and money by finding a payment processing software that works well for you. With some software, you can even program it to remind them again after 30 days if they haven’t paid their invoice. This automates the entire follow up process for you and leaves you with more free time.
Finding clients is the lifeblood of your freelance design business. One way to automate finding clients is to effectively use Google Adwords or facebook advertising to put your name or business name in front of potential clients.
It takes some hard work initially, but once you have it running smoothly, Adwords and facebook advertising can bring you a significant amount of business every year (for me, about 20%). All it took was some research on keywords and target audiences, a little study on how to use these two advertising media most effectively, and now I just let it run. I spend a minimal amount of money on ads and reap the benefits when clients contact me directly.
Part of automating your client finding process is creating a stellar landing page. More on that later. (Subscribe to GDB’s email newsletter to stay updated.)
What do you automate? What did I leave out?
Time for you to take the stage, now. What aspects of your design business do you automate? How do you use technology to free time for designing or relaxing instead? I’d love to hear what you do to automate your design business. Leave a comment and let me know.
*PS. The link to the book The Four-Hour Workweek on Amazon is an affiliate link so I will make a small fraction of money if you choose to purchase it. I NEVER create affiliate links to products or services that I haven’t personally used and highly recommend. I think Tim’s book is something every freelance designer should read. If you choose to click my affiliate link and purchase the book, please send me an email via the contact page, let me know how you like it, and give me a chance to thank you for purchasing.