How to Utilize Systems in a Freelance Business

If someone asked you to write a job description for “freelance designer”, what would you include? Obviously a freelance designer works on projects for clients with creative needs, but what about the other roles a designer has to take on to successfully run their freelance business? In addition to being the lead designer, we’re responsible for marketing our work, managing finances, answering emails and phone calls, looking for new clients, planning and attending meetings, handling taxes, being active on social media…the list really goes on and on!


If you had to write a job description for 'freelance designer', what would you include? Click To Tweet


When I first started out I was really overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that came with being a freelance designer. I had no idea how to juggle all these roles simultaneously and still manage to have time for other things…like a life! My initial response was to just work as hard and as fast as I could with no real plan or process. It always seemed like I had more tasks than time and no matter how hard I worked things just weren’t getting done fast enough. I was trying to work on everything at once and it was overwhelming.  Eventually this caused me to burn out, both physically and creatively, which is the last thing any designer needs.


Feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you have to do? Try utilizing systems in your business Click To Tweet


So how can we successfully juggle all the roles that come with having a freelance business? The answer is to implement systems in your business. In this case, ‘system‘ refers to a set plan or routine used to schedule and organize tasks necessary to complete a goal. So, for example, if a designer wanted to start blogging once a week, they could implement a system that schedules the days and times to brainstorm, outline, draft, edit, finalize, and publish posts each week. Having a system for how you work ensures each task gets done on time and keeps you on track towards the overall goal. Working in smaller chunks allows you to work on several tasks at once, without burning yourself out. Overall it’s more productive to spend a few hours working on one task at a time than the entire day trying to finish one big task and neglect everything else that needs to get done. Systems make multitasking manageable and are helpful for planning ahead and automating specific tasks.


Here are a few ways to utilize systems in your freelance business:


Email: This task can easily suck up a large portion of your day if you’re not careful. Try to schedule specific times of the day to check your email and avoid checking it first thing in the morning. Plan ahead by writing out email responses to potential clients inquiring to work with you. This will save you time creating a response on the spot, which can be a huge help when you have a lot of email to get through. Keep your inbox organized and use folders and color tags to find archived emails quickly and easily.


Design: Every project is different but having a system in place for your work routine can help with consistency. Take the time to think about your services and the design process for each. Write every part of your process down so you can make sure you’re following the same steps for every project. By following a set routine, you’ll be able to better explain your process to your clients and accurately estimate how much time you need to complete a project. This not only helps with meeting deadlines, but also with planning your daily work schedule and pricing your services.


Blogging: Having a system is key to staying consistent with your blog posts. Be realistic when determining how often to blog. Write down and schedule each task you need to accomplish in order to complete a post. Repeating the same routine will help you build good writing habits, and you might even discover your system helps you blog more frequently because you’re able to write faster.


Social media: Systems are a huge help when it comes to running social media accounts. Social media alone can easily fill up your day with publishing posts, engaging with followers, creating new content. It’s also extremely easy to get distracted on social media. You may log in with the intent of taking two minutes online, but end up spending hours of your day scrolling through other posts. Plan ahead to avoid wasting time on social media. Schedule and publish content automatically with tools like Buffer and Hootsuite.

 How you work and how you set up your workspace is important for your productivity. Strive to keep your desktop and files organized with logical naming conventions and file your documents in a way that makes sense. The quicker you can find the files you need the less time you spend searching for files. Track your time for everything you work on, whether you’re creating designs for a project or working on a miscellaneous business task like responding to an email. Toggl is an awesome resource for tracking your time. This will not only give you a better idea of your work speed but also a record of how much time you invest in your freelance business (which can be helpful for taxes). It can also be helpful to make a list of steps for other processes in your business, such as how you handle new clients. The client experience is an extension of your brand so aim to handle all your clients in a similar manner.


Why systems are so important for freelance designers:


With so many roles to juggle, it’s necessary to have a process for keeping everything organized and making sure things get done on time. As freelancers, we set our own work schedule, and without systems in place, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and overwork ourselves. The purpose behind working with systems is to work smart and not hard. Now don’t get me wrong, just because you utilize systems in your business doesn’t mean you have less work to do. The workload remains the same, it just feels lighter because you work on tasks strategically over time, instead of trying to tackle everything all at once. With systems you have the flexibility to schedule tasks ahead of time and can use your present time for more important things, like new clients and projects!


Start creating systems for your business now with the MONTHLY PLANNER and DAILY PLANNER


Here are a few helpful tips and resources you can use to implementing systems in your freelance business:


1. Start with the bigger picture – plan on a larger scale and then narrow it down. Try using this Monthly Planner to write your business goals for the month.


2. Work in small chunks – it’s a lot less overwhelming when you work on one thing at a time. Use this Daily Planner to help you break down your To-Do list.


3. Write out your process – take the time to write out each step of your design process. Having written steps will ensure that you are consistent in your work. Plus this list can act as a cheat sheet if you ever forget a step in your process.


4. Make yourself accountable – set dates and actually stick to them. Hold yourself accountable but be realistic. Sometimes things come up and deadlines need to be rescheduled, just make sure you aren’t constantly rescheduling tasks out of procrastination.


5. Used block scheduling and color coding – we’re visual people! Color coding and visually blocking out time will give you a better picture of what your schedule is like.


6. Choose the pace that works best for you – every business is different, so do what works best for yours. No matter if your pace is fast or slow, the important thing is that you’re consistent with your work and you never give up.


Know any other resources for designers looking to implement systems in their business? Be sure to share below!

Ariana Nicole
  • It’s so funny that I stumbled across this because I literally just made a vlog about this. It took me a good year before I realized that I truly needed a system. I think this is one of the most important things to establish at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey or as you mentioned, you get burned out AND you waste a lot of time and sometimes money. This is one thing I wish I would’ve known when I first decided to go for my dreams. I swear, I wasted an entire year thinking I was doing “something”.

    February 16, 2016 at 9:47 am

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