14 Essential Utilities for Managing Your Freelance Design Business

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December 10, 2010

While millions of people share the dream of working from home, very few understand its difficulties.

From online distractions to technical malfunctions, online entrepreneurs and freelancers face thousands of potential setbacks, each one threatening a decline in income or a pause in cash flow. We're all familiar with this problem.

Yet the problem doesn't affect every designer and developer. With so many tools available, anyone can optimize their work routine and increase productivity.

Becoming productive is about changing not only your behavior, but also your office environment, work style and software.

By using the right collection of software, online applications and utilities, changing your routine and managing your business can be fairly simple.

The following 14 applications are geared toward the design industry but would be effective in almost any online field.

1. EchoSign

From security to legal simplicity, there are hundreds of reasons to insist on a contract before starting a project. EchoSign is a simple online contract application that allows you to send and edit agreements before commencing a project. The pricing plans are clear, and the system itself is secure-some of the world's largest banks, wholesalers and client-driven businesses use it.

2. Google Apps

Technically, Google Apps is a collection of several applications, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll consider it one all-purpose suite. If you host email through your server or hosting account, forward it through Google Apps' hosted email service. It will help you not only set appointments efficiently, but also manage your contacts and other data easily.

3. RescueTime

Don't be fooled into thinking that working productively from home is so easy. RescueTime is a simple time-management application that could dramatically change the way you approach work. Instead of blindly racing to complete design projects and tasks, use RescueTime to track how you spend your time, to filter unnecessary tasks and to see how you can be more efficient.

4. Meetifyr

Need to set up meetings with friends, colleagues or employees? Use Meetifyr to keep track of everyone's daily schedule. Users can block out entire days as "Busy" or "Free," keeping you from having to split your days into segments. While other scheduling applications might offer greater power or categorization features, Meetifyr is overall the most simple.

5. Piwik

Tired of Google Analytics? Piwik is a free open-source alternative to Google's popular data- and behavior-tracking application. If you're overwhelmed by the amount of data that Google Analytics offers, you'll appreciate Piwik's simpler and user-friendlier approach. Installation is straightforward, and the dedicated development community makes the support fantastic.

6. Smartsheet

Streamlined collaboration, project management and scheduling is the focus of Smartsheet. While not a unique service, this is one of the few scheduling and collaborative applications that is completely seamless. For a stress-free alternative to managing projects with employees, contractors and partners, give Smartsheet a whirl.

7. Clicky

Clicky is a web analytics application that comes in a variety of configurations. While users will have to pay a little for it, the program offers numerous advantages to free alternatives such as Piwik and Google Analytics. Setting user goals is easy; monitoring behavior and on-site mouse movement is a cinch; and optimizing your website is a direct, guided process.

8. Doit.im

Need some motivation? Doit.im is one of the easiest productivity tools to use. Input a schedule, add tasks and track your progress while switching between different projects and clients. While lacking in power features, Doit.im has a clean interface that makes it perfect for crucial tasks. If you're keen to maintain a narrow, defined focus, give it a shot.

9. Doolphy

For more advanced project management needs, Doolphy is worth a look. Like Doit.im, this application is minimalist and plain. But below the hood lies a productivity app that's perfect for small teams. If you work with freelance designers, developers or virtual assistants, then Doolphy is ideal for keeping your projects under control.

10. WORK etc

WORKetc is equal parts project management, client management and lead generation software. An all-purpose suite of tools and tracking features, this application is perfect for businesses that have to monitor both sales and ongoing projects. But while basic billing tools are included, most designers might find third-party billing solutions such as Quicken and Blinksale (covered below) more suitable.

11. Bantam Live

Do you need to collaborate with employees, freelancers and consultants? Bantam Live is a powerful CRM that integrates with Google's application suite. Designers who use Google Apps for email or calendar hosting can quickly import tasks, contacts and data into Bantam Live for more advanced management and collaboration. Being pricey, Bantam Live is better suited to large design firms.

12. Bill4Time

While most designers bill per task, Bill4Time offers invoicing functionality for designers who prefer to charge by the hour. The online application integrates with iCal for Mac users and is even available on the iPhone. Competitively priced and fairly simple to operate, Bill4Time is a useful design and consulting application for hourly billing.

13. LiveBall

If Google Website Optimizer isn't quite right for your needs, then LiveBall might be worth a try. It offers straightforward split-testing website optimization and direct marketing features. The interface is simple enough for any webmaster. If your e-commerce website isn't converting like it used to, use LiveBall to root out the problem.

14. Blinksale

Emailed invoices are legally debatable and can taint your brand's image. Use Blinksale to send attractive, clear and easily payable invoices to clients and customers. Blinksale and EchoSign are the perfect combination for getting projects off the ground, completed and paid for on time.

Written exclusively for WDD by Mathew Carpenter. He is an 18-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @sofamoolah.

Got suggestions? We'd love to hear them! If a tool is integral to your work routine, provide a link in the comments section for the rest of us designers and developers.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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