I was fortunate to have studied graphic design at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where I was educated and trained in several areas of design. I spent quarters at a time devoted solely to the disciplines of typography, editorial design, package design, and logo design. The experience was thorough, but it wasn’t complete. When I started Pelago with a fellow Cal Poly graduate, I realized my graphic design training and real-world experience had given me strong creative skills, but managing a business required more than a good eye.
Running a web development or graphic design business, or any type of business that bills hourly for its time, requires a level of discipline and coordination that does not come easy to people used to speaking in terms of colors, composition, and creativity. However, there are essential components to running a business that any creative must face if they are going to be successful as a business owner or a freelancer.
At Pelago, we had to discipline ourselves in time tracking while incorporating lightweight project management. Without weekly timesheets and task tracking, we would be focused on all the wrong things, while not getting things done, and not billing anyone for our efforts. In other words, we’d have gone broke.
Here are a few things I didn’t learn in school but are required of a freelancer or small business owner:
- Time tracking
Track everything you do; creative time, meetings, phone calls, emails, and the time you spend dreaming up that new logo while walking to the post office. The more time you track, the more practiced you will become at accounting for your time. Track it all now and decide later how much of that time to bill to the client.
- Task management
Learn to prioritize your workload. There are many methodologies for tackling task lists. Choose one that works for you and learn to get things done.
- Client management
Some clients are more exhausting than others. Evaluate each project and ask yourself if you are being compensated enough for the difficult clients. It may be necessary to fire some clients and find new ones. The energy you spend on finding a better-suited client is far less than what you will spend trying to maintain a difficult client.
- Web-based project management
Creatives are a collaborative sort by nature. Adopt a web-based service, a centralized hub for your coworkers and clients, to help you manage projects. Stop wasting time on administrative tasks and start spending more time doing what got you here in the first place.