How to automate your design business

Updated: Mar 25

Running a creative business is exciting and can be a lot of fun, but if you are anything like me, the paperwork, emails, endless marketing and content creation can take its toll on your energy. If you are spending too much time on these endless to-do's and not enough time dreaming about the future or actually creating, automation will be your very best friend!


To help you make 2020 the most productive, profitable and exciting year of your business so far, I have put together all the ways that automation can help you.


OVERVIEW

  • Creating proposals

  • On-boarding

  • Collecting files

  • Accounting

  • Contracts

  • Scheduling

  • Automate social media

  • Lead generation

  • Templatise your hand-off package



Some of the tips today will include creating templates for different steps in your process. I suggest dedicating a folder on your computer or hard drive specifically to templates. That way, you can always grab one to edit when you need it.



Creating proposals


The right proposal can be crucial for winning new work, but crafting knockout proposals can be time consuming. My favorite tip here is to create a template. There are so many sections that are always more or less the same, then you can tweak the rest. I suggest including these sections in your template proposal:


  • A nice cover page (just edit the client name and project title)

  • An overview page where you describe the project and your approach

  • A team page where you describe yourself/your agency and values

  • A few case studies and how they relate to the client

  • A deliverable list (stating the exact project scope)

  • A timeline and your process (just change the dates)

  • A budget


If you feel unsure where to start with your own template, you can listen to our podcast episode on the perfect proposal or use a service like Prospero to populate a pre created template.



On-boarding


On-boarding is the act of letting your clients know what to expect from working with you. It is a great opportunity to invite them to your project management tool, set due dates for any files or feedback you need from them and let them know how to best get in touch. A strong on-boarding means fewer emails with questions and more time for you to focus on the actual work.


To create a great on-boarding, start by writing out all the steps you go through in your design process and what the client might need to know. Then create a welcome kit or email template that you can send over with minimal changes between project.


For a full list of the things to include and tips for tools to use, download our client On-boarding checklist.


If you are using a project management software like Trello, Asana or Basecamp, it is also a great idea to create project templates that include each step of the design process. I like to add a card for each action like "sign design agreement" or "provide feedback". The benefits of using a project management tool rather than email is that both you and your client have a clear overview and can come back to any stage of the process to review the decisions. To see how I like to organise my projects, check out how I make templates in Trello.



Collecting files


Collecting all the files you need for a project can take a lot of time, especially if there are multiple people involved. Things often end up in long email chains as attachments and it can be difficult to know which file is the latest one.


Kayla is a tool that lets you send requests to clients or other creatives and automates the collection. As someone sends you a file, it is automatically organised in the right folder and timestamped. You can then approve the file or ask for another. This way, it is super easy to find what you need, even if the project has a really long timeline and a lot of files.



You can also invite your team and give them different levels of access. This is great if you are multiple people collaborating on a project or if you want your junior designers to only see the approved files.


Accounting


Having an easy and automated system for your invoices makes your accounting much easier, you don't risk forgetting to invoice for your hard work and to be honest, it is rather satisfying to see the money owed to you in a neat bar graph. There are a ton of tools that let you send invoices, create receipts and that help you create an end of year statement for your taxes. Some services like Xero are approved for online VAT filing (UK) so you can do everything from one place.


If you love tools and want to see our favourites for creatives, check out the podcast episodes "top tools we can't live without"


Contracts


A good contract is a great way to avoid scope creep, establish clear guidelines for your clients and make sure all the rights around intellectual property are ironed out before a project begins. Some larger companies have strict confidentiality clauses so having a clear discussion at the beginning of a project makes it easy for you to know what you can share as part of your portfolio once the project is finished.


AIGA, the professional association for design have developed a template you can use and adopt to your own business needs. Do keep in mind that some of the sections, for example the ones regarding taxes are based on American laws so use the sections that fit you and customise or drop the rest. Unless your projects have very big budgets, it can be difficult to afford legal representation in case the contract is breached. However, having a contract in place sets a clear agreement for the scope of the work and the overall expectations. I say this since I strongly advice that you have a contract even if your project budgets are smaller.


Once you have your template, customise it for your current project and use a software like Signable to collect signatures online. Signable creates a trail of the actions taken so it is just as legally binding as a hand signed/paper copy of the contract.


Scheduling


If you spend a lot of time emailing back and forth to set up meetings, you can use an online scheduling tool instead. Many tools like Calendly integrates on your website so clients can review your calendar and pick a time that suits them. Much easier!


Automate social media


Regardless if you love to run your social media or if it feels like a necessary evil, it tends to take a lot of time. With a few tricks and a little bit of planning, you can completely automate your social media and start generating leads while you focus on other work or even take a holiday!


The first step is to create a posting schedule. It should include:

  • When to post to each platform

  • What format to post (for example videos, IG stories, images etc)

  • What type of content to post when (for example portfolio Wednesdays and tip Fridays)

Once you have this list, it is time to decide if you want to create the content yourself or if you would like to outsource this. With a clear schedule and guidelines for your messaging and what you want your account to be about, a virtual assistant or fellow designer can create posts from your blog, portfolio or lead magnets.

I always recommend batch creating your content. Instead of taking 30 minutes each time you create a post, sit down for one day every two weeks and create a bank of content to post. Not only will this be more efficient but you will also be able to use automation tools like Later or Buffer to schedule your content. These tools lets you add your post, hashtags and descriptions for multiple platforms and decide when they should be posted. All of a sudden, one day's worth of work means your social media is running smoothly and consistently for several weeks!



Lead generation


Attracting new clients to your business can be one of the most time consuming and sometimes nerve racking tasks in your business. One way to automate this is to create a lead magnet. This is a free resource interested customers can download from your website in exchange for their email.


Since people are now added to your email list, you can send them more tips every few weeks. This builds trust and establishes you as an expert - plus keeps you top of mind.


If you want to take this one step further in your goal of automation, set up a group of emails that go out at different times. For example once a week for four weeks after someone downloaded the lead magnet. This is really easy to set up in services like Mailchimp to send follow up emails to your list - done once, pays out forever.


Templatise your hand off package


Just like your on-boarding, your hand off package is a great way to get you and your clients on the same page. Often times, your clients might be interested in further help but are not aware of all your services. Having a good hand-off package can therefore help you get more work and if not, it is a great last impression.


In the hand-off package, I like to include:


  • A thank you letter or video - this is a great way to ask for a referral or testimonial

  • A link to the deliverables (for example a Google Drive or Dropbox link)

  • A doc with the additional services you offer

  • For a splurge, send a small branded gift



I hope you found all these automation tips helpful and that you feel empowered to make your business even greater in 2020!


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