I definitely love a peek into the workflows of my fellow designers. There is always a tool or a tip that I pick up from reading about how they efficiently manage their client projects. Over the past two years of running my studio full-time, a lot of tools have come and gone out of my toolkit – but there are a few that have stuck around and are here to stay.
These are tools I have thoroughly used tested, used and confident will help you in your client process as well. So let’s dive in!
1. Gmail by Google:
I receive enquiries through the contact form on the work with me page on my website. The contact form is created on WordPress using the Contact form 7 plugin which is configured to send the enquiries directly to my inbox.
I have used a few email softwares including outlook – but I think the Gmail Inbox trumps everything else hands down. The interface is super simple and intuitive. You can use a professional email address for your company by signing up for G Suite. So for example, instead of using firstname.lastname@example.org, I can use email@example.com. It definitely seems more legit and trust-worthy to a client or customer that is working with your company.
To handle client enquiries, I create labels in Gmail to organize the enquiries all in one folder so its easy for me to respond and follow-up with them later if necessary.
Proposals, contracts and invoices:
Once the client decides to signup for the project, I use 17hats to send a legal contract to the client. I recently started using 17hats for contracts. Before this I was using Hello Bonsai for contracts. Although its a great start, as my business grew I found it very hard to customize the terms for my business. So I switched to 17 Hats and I love it. It gives you a blank template to write up your contract so you have complete control and flexibility on what you put inside the contract. Also you can easily create different contract templates for your services so you can re-use them when necessary. I am also slowly trying to integrate other parts of my client process into 17 Hats, I ll keep you posted on that.
I could easily use 17Hats for sending my invoices and receiving payments. But I love that Freshbooks integrates with Paypal business payments to provide a flat fee of 50 cents. Let me explain. So instead of being charged the regular 2.9% + $0.30 fee on all the client payments you receive, you will be just charged a flat fee of 50 cents per payment.
Yes just 50 cents!! So normally, if a client makes a Paypal payment of $2000, for example – you will be charged a fee of $58.30 (2.9% + 30 cents). But with Freshbooks, you will be charged just 50 cents. Paypal fees can add up to huge amounts as your project prices grow – so this is a huge incentive for using Freshbooks for all my clients inside the United States. This feature doesn’t work for International payments though.
Currently I also use Freshbooks to send project proposals and estimates to my clients. Clients can easily approve the proposal by just clicking on a button. And its very convenient to convert the estimates to invoices in just a couple of clicks.
However, I would definitely like to customize the look of my proposal documents, and for that reason I might try something else in the future, but so far Freshbooks has been working great.
For all meetings with clients, I prefer using Skype 90% of the time unless the client prefers to use something else. Its great for screen sharing, sending files and links during the meeting and overall just works well for client meetings.
If you prefer to record Skype calls for referencing later for feedback, you can use the Skype call recorder to record the calls.
Hands-down one of the tools that absolutely revolutionized my client process is Loom 😀 Okay that sounds dramatic, but this tool has been a huge game changer for my business. Most times, it’s easier to explain logo concepts, typography decisions or website layouts by walking my clients through the design on video. It not only helps me showcase the visuals but also helps me share my reasoning behind design decisions. Explaining such things via text takes a far longer time and is harder than just quickly recording a video for it. Loom has cut my client communication time easily by 70%. I have fewer Skype calls, fewer emails and questions – all because of my Loom walkthrough videos.
On the backend, you can easily organize your videos on Loom by folders. I have a folder for each client which I can archive once the project is over.
And my clients love it too, many of them have started using Loom for their own businesses.
Ok so where do I begin about Asana. For all kinds of projects – business and personal – I love using Asana. And for client projects specifically? -It works like a charm!
So for every new client, I create a new Asana project using a previously created template. I invite my client to join the project so they can see project milestones, track progress and also communicate with me about the project. I assign tasks and due dates for both myself and the client and its all visible for both of us to see.
We use conversations to discuss the project and provide feedback. So I add my Loom videos and mockup files for my clients to see on Asana. Likewise, my clients go through the videos and mockups and provide feedback by tagging me on Asana Here is an example of how that looks.
I use Toggl to record the time I spend on client projects. Every time I start working on a project task, I start the timer and stop when I am done.
I don’t charge clients on an hourly basis. I instead follow value based pricing for my design projects. So it is not a must for me to record my project work time – atleast not for billing my clients. However I still feel its extremely important to keep a tab on the time you spend on a project to evaluate your efficiency and experience of the project. This will help you learn your working patterns and improve your project time estimates for planning your project schedule as well as individual project timelines in the future. And it also helps you judge your experience of the project with facts than just based on feelings.
For example, there was a project I was working on earlier this year. The project was scheduled to go on for two months but ended up getting a bit delayed due to things that came up on the clients side. So for some reason, I felt like the project had been taking up a lot of my time. But when I checked my Toggl dashboard I realized that although the timelines were extended, I definitely hadn’t over worked myself on the project or anything like that. If I hadn’t recorded my time – I would have been just frustrated worrying about spending too much time on the project.
These are more tools of my own design process than client process. But I still thought it would be good to include them here.
I primarily use Adobe Illustrator for all my design work – creating wireframes, mockups and other web design graphics like icons and patterns. Many industry experts love Photoshop and swear by it. I think it all comes down to which software you are most comfortable with. Its just a matter of preference and it takes a bit of experimenting before you settle down with one. Here is a snapshot of my Illustrator artboard with mockups.
For a few select projects, I use InVision as for prototyping. While Adobe Illustrator is great for static designs, InVisionapp is amazing for a more dynamic environment. You can see the website functionality in real time – see how the buttons, menus and other controls work without having to imagine all of that. I ‘ll be writing a blog post soon with how I use InVision for my design process – keep an eye out for that.
10. Google Drive:
While working with a client, there are many files that are exchanged back and forth. So for all file interactions, I use Google Drive. Simple, easy and efficient. For every client I work with I create a folder on Google drive and share it with them. From my side, I upload all web prototypes, designs and deliverables that they may need during the course of the project. And from the client’s side, they send in their homework, photos and any branding assets that they want to share as part of the project. Overall, Google drive works great for any file sharing during the course of the project.
11. We Transfer:
However, once the project is wrapped up – I use We Transfer to send in all final files – like tutorial videos, design style guides and website assets that they may need. We Transfer is great to send in super heavy files easily. You zip your final files, upload and swoosh – it sends off at lightning speed. No indefinite waiting times and endlessly circling upload notifications.
There you go – all the tools I use at every stage of my client process starting from enquiry to delivery. Of course there are several alternatives to each of these tools, but it all comes down to what works best for you. Its all about creating a workflow that simplifies your work in a way that helps you focus on what matters most – your work and client experience.