Freelance Learning

This year has seen a big rise in my freelance jobs. A year ago I got a request to do IEMS’s website, and when I came back to school, Brian Moyer wanted me to put together a couple of illustrators and make homebrew cards to accompany the miniature game Warhammer. Christian and Chelsey and I have been working on those throughout the winter, and I guess he’s been pleased enough to send me a couple of further requests, either for work or names of good people. In the meantime, I spent Winter Quarter working with SewBaby. (We just this week got the logo design decided on – I should have known it would be more complicated than making one for class! :P ) The practice managing projects and talking to clients is always educational.

Anyway, with this increase in work, I’ve found some useful tools to help me out with managing everything.

  • Freshbooks StickerFreshbooks is a great tool for invoicing, estimates, and basically managing the money and time aspect of a team. I’m in love with it (use me as a referral!), and use the free trial, which allows me three clients at a time, one staff member, and pretty much all the other features of the full version – enough for a little freelancing business. It instantly converts editable invoice tables to PDFs and allows you to send it to the client, who can then set its status as approved (or paid, disputed, etc). The interface is clean, pretty, and intuitive, and my clients can log in to view documents related to their project. The site’s language and emails are friendly and modern, not formal or particularly serious, which is refreshing.
  • I haven’t tried using it with freelancing, but I’m finding my team project’s use of Basecamp to be incredibly helpful. It’s a great tool for collaboration, especially the messages, to-do lists, and writeboards (editable similar to wiki pages), plus the file upload section lets us share design ideas and documentation easily – and comments can be left on everything, allowing quick feedback and tracking of how the project is progressing. My cheap alternative for client-designer collaboration is Google Docs.
  • In doing some research about managing projects, I found an interesting article that discusses how a project manager should act towards the client and designer. Key points seem to be presenting pros and cons to the client, helping shape the design based on the understanding of the client’s point of view, and selecting and refining design directions. I also find that it helps to have somebody standing between the workers and the person asking for changes, to keep things civil, and that it helps for the client and workers to just have one person to go through and simplify communication.
  • Along the same lines, another article, discussing the often-opposing views of client and designer. It gives an outline for good process, and makes the point that involving the client at every step is essential – I’m still working on both aspects, since my teachers are not as strict about these two things as perhaps we might need.
  • FreelanceSwitch is a great blog, with frequent articles giving tips for running a freelance business. I originally got hooked by their cute webcomic Freelance Freedom, which makes fun of client quirks and other aspects of design life.
  • Although I’ve heard complaints about sites like Smashing Magazine, which tends to run articles like “100 Amazing WordPress Themes” or “10 Advanved PHP Tips Revisited,” I find that a subscription to it keeps me informed as to where to look first for a list of successful navigation styles or coding tips. FreelanceSwitch is probably more informative, but it’s also more niche-oriented. SM ran a nice article about German web design firms a couple of months ago while I was turning stuff in to CDS, which made me happy.

At any rate, these are some of my favorite freelancey type resources, and since I’ve suddenly found myself swamped with work this week, I’m using them a lot! But I think the biggest resource is probably my friends who listen to me, provide critiques and links, and join in with sympathies about clients that belong on this website. We’ve all been there.

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