Some tips for managing freelancer finances

A guest post by Finance and Business Writer, Mark James currently works in-house for small business accountants Crunch

freelance finances

Image – by Images_of_Money

I’m guessing that as a freelance graphic designer, doing your accounts doesn’t tickle your fancy much. I know it didn’t for me whilst I was a freelance Writer. It was rigmarole I put off and off foolishly, leading to an amalgamation of calculations, frantic form filling and debilitating stress come tax return time.

Now though, working in-house for an online accountancy firm, I’m a little more clued up on all things financial and savvier when it comes to managing finances. So, if like the old me you’re a bit suspect when it comes to managing your cash, here’s a few tips that should see you right….

Get up to speed with the tax facts

Tax is taxing. Legislation is constantly changing in line with new political regimes and frankly, it’s difficult to keep track of.

That said, if you’re without an accountant, it’s worthwhile attempting to get up to speed with the various tax return deadlines and trying to get your head around what or what you may not be liable to pay. Here in the UK the HMRC have recently introduced ‘webinars’ to clarify all of this, so that’s well worth checking out if you’re UK based and a tad clueless. Nobody wants a nasty tax fine.

Establish a routine

To those not accountancy inclined, sorting through your finances can prove unrepentantly dull and a bureaucratic nightmare. Even more so if you’re uninitiated in the process.

The longer you put it off though, the worse it’ll be later down the line. I can vouch for that personally. It’s therefore wise to put some time aside for some bookkeeping every day or at the very least once or twice a week. Subsequently, this should help keep some of the stress at bay.

Organise your paperwork

It’s important to develop some sort of system, especially where paperwork is concerned. Chuck all your documents into a disorganised draw or shoebox and you could end up struggling to find that important document when you need it most.

Establish a filing system, with different sections for invoices, bank statements and the like and you might spare yourself some financial grief come tax return time.

Embrace technology

Online accounting has made things easier regarding the management of freelancer finances, reducing the complexity that’s often involved in using a DIY software package and a separate accountant.

This software can reconcile your outgoings with your bank statements, work out tax and produce clear graph visualisations all in a nice little package. Essentially, it provides a tidy and easy to use online environment from which to do all your accounting rigmarole.

Budget, budget, budget

A fact of the freelance life is that there’s going to be periods of feast and equally, periods of famine. This perpetual circle will obviously have an impact on your finances.

With that in mind try to keep to a budget and elsewhere, embrace financial tools like cash-flow forecasting. This should provide you with a better picture of your finances, whilst helping you to legislate for any lean periods.

Hopefully that’ll be enough to help you get your financial affairs in order. Taking control of your finances will do your mental well-being the world of good. Trust me.

A Finance and Business Writer, Mark James currently works in-house for small business accountants Crunch. You can find him on Twitter @MarkJames891.

10 Vexing Vexel Designs

A guest post by Brian Morris who writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog

Can you tell the difference between a vector and a vexel? Without zooming in, it’s almost impossible to tell. But while vector artwork employs geometry to retain image quality at any size, vexels are just like pixelated images; that is to say, they become pixelated and blurred when zoomed. Vexels are essentially pixel-based raster art that is made to mimic vectors.

Vexels have become popular among some designs due to their ease of creation: A cursory knowledge of Photoshop’s layers is all that is needed to create a stunning vexel. At the same time, vexels aren’t often given respect by those who believe they’re below true vector art. I say the end result is what is important, and when a graphic will only be a specific size, who cares? To the casual viewer, a vexel is every bit as good as a true vector, as demonstrated by the following 10 vexing vexel designs.

1. Clay Aseo by Vincent Rhafael Aseo

vexels 1 illustration

This vexel employs a glow effect to showcase the headphones and wires. It might have been made from a pre-existing photo, sliced and layered.

2. Jack by Orlando Abarca

vexels 2

Vexel art is a quick and easy to way to accentuate prominent features, as evidenced by this vexel of Jack Nicholson.

3. Bliss by Kimo Rama

vexels 3

With vexels, distinctive lines and custom colors can be easily added to a closeup.

4. Seducing Vexel by Zareena Ayoub

vexels 4

Shading with similar hues is a hallmark of vexel art, such as with this vexel design featuring seductive lips.

5. Stop and Sing by Lina Garzon

vexels 5

That same layered shading effect can make a vexel mimic a painting in appearance.

6. Face by Ed Favila

vexels 6

This example demonstrates how vexels can be employed to add a touch of surrealism to a face.

7. Lemon by Emilie Gourmanel

vexels 7

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but too many colors can be distracting. This vexel art shows how a few simple hues can be used to create a distinctive design.

8. Vexels by Kat Craig

vexels 8

Heavy strokes can be applied to vector layers for an illustrated outline or sketched appearance.

9. Arla Project by Dennis Salvatier

vexels 9

This vexel appears highly-detailed at a glance, but closer inspection reveals that just three colors were used to create it.

10. Bubblegum by Jestoni Santella

vexels 10

This vexel reminds me of the 1990s, a period in which the artwork was featured on everything from posters to CD covers.

Author’s Bio: Brian Morris writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company. Follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint and Facebook.

Using Mood Boards and Everyday Images for Inspiration

I have talked about mood boards a couple of times on this blog because I love them and I think they can really help boost creative inspiration. I probably don’t use them in the traditional sense of the word, but more as a massive source of inspiration, so maybe I should call it an inspiration board instead?

How to create an inspiration board / mood board

An inspiration board is simply a collection of imagery. This could be done manually (my preferred method) whereby you rip things out of magazines, print things out you find on the web and then paste them up on a large sheet of paper. You could also collect together your imagery digitally by using a photo editing program or a website like Pinterest.

Inspiration board created using images pasted onto a large sheet of paper

create a moodboard

A couple of ways you can use your inspiration board:

Use a mood board get a feel for your target market

A mood board is hugely adaptable for use in different ways the first and probably one of the common ways I use them is to get the feel for the target market of whatever I am designing. So for example say you were designing something for music lovers in their late teens then you would want to collect together imagery that might appeal to them. So you might go out and buy a selection of music magazines and look online a music sites and collect all this imagery together on a board. This will give you a big insight onto what might appeal to this target market might.

Mood board created to get a feel for toy company logos

toy logo inspiration moodboard

To get inspiration to break you out of your normal way of thinking

Imagine that you are designing something, be it a leaflet, product, piece of jewellery or character design. Chances are if we try and design it, we will fall back on styles or ideas we have used before or emulate things we see. Try this instead – whatever your current project, take a walk around your home or around your town and take photos of random things you see. So for example if I was walking round my house I could snap a photo of a guitar, a desklamp, a fire extinguisher etc etc. Collect together all these images and look how you could apply them to you current project. Perhaps the 6 strings on a guitar could form an interesting graphic on a leaflet which you link your graphics to, perhaps the twisty shape of the desklamp bulb could influence the shape of a piece of jewellery, perhaps the red of the fire extinguisher could become the dominant colour of a character design.

Inspiration board created using everyday images for character design inspiration

moodboard character inspiration

Do you use mood boards or inspiration boards? How do you use them?

Learn to Design a Letterhead – Free Beginners Course

If you are just starting out in design or are thinking about learning, you might want to check out my FREE – Learn to Design a Letterhead Course.

In this free letterhead design course you will learn about

  • Common positioning of letterhead elements
  • How to sketch out your letterhead ideas
  • How to add small details that add that extra something to your design
  • Some tricks of the graphic design trade
  • How to get your letterhead ready for print

You will also get a downloadable pdf with each section that you can keep and use for reference.

By the end of the course you will be able to design a letterhead from sketch to sending it out for print

Visit http://nobulldesignschool.com/free-design-courses/learn-to-design-a-letterhead-course/ to get free access to the course.

20 Top Promotional Tips for Freelance Designers

20 Freelancer Designer Tips

A guest post by Ben Fellowes,a design and marketing professional and chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers

1. Be Active and Get Seen

Shrinking violets don’t succeed as freelance designers. You have to “get out there” and get yourself noticed. Attend meetings and seek out local professionals to inform them of your business and services, i.e., the Chambers of Commerce, gallery shows, and local business events. You should also go as many business trade shows as possible to network with potential customers (if you’re a designer, every industry trade show has customers that need your services.) Social gatherings are also a great place to network and get seen and heard (you’re not going to get customers sat at home watching the TV) bookstores, schools, churches, coffee shops, etc, are necessary destinations for meeting and greeting potential clients. You don’t have to pester anyone! Natural conversations always turn to, “what you do for a living!”

Depending on your knowledge and experience, you may also consider contacting colleges and organizations about classes or seminars that you can speak or teach at – great word-of-mouth exposure for your business!

2. Cross-Promote

This is a biggie! I’ve got so much design work business through cross-promotion. Be direct and convince a contact or business associate to cross promote in their on or offline promotions, i.e., a print designer could promote themselves via a web designer, photographer, or copywriter, etc.

3. Referral

Offer your clients and customers a referral fee or discount for referring customers to you. It works for big companies and there’s no reason why it won’t work for you!

4. Buddy -Up With Other Graphic Designers

Make friends with other designers online in networking sites, and other online design communities and make design friends in the real world at expo’s and conferences. It’s one of the easiest ways to get collaborative work, referrals, or hired!

5. Sell Online

There is a whole online world of shopfronts and other places like etsy and threadless to flog your design and artwork in which you can sell or receive royalties for original designs. Avoid the 99 designs and crowdspring style of competition sites as they’re a total crapshoot!

Here are 5 of my personal favorites (that I’ve actually made money from):

  • graphicriver.net (templates and designs)
  • graphic leftovers (photographs, vectors and designs)
  • brandcrowd.com (logo design)
  • artsprojekt.com (t-shirt, mug, iphone case, etc)
  • society6.com (poster prints, t-shirts, etc)

6. Blog Away

  • Okay! Don’t all shout at me at once! I know I am being totally obvious with this tip but how many freelancers blog effectively? There are a few essentials to creating your own blog that you might have overlooked:
  • Your blog should not be on a separate domain with a different URL! I have seen so many freelancers with separate portfolio and blog site. This makes no sense. All that lovely content that you may be writing about your designs and experiences will go to waste if you create a separate “blogger” site (I’ve seen this done so many times.) Your blog must be tied to your own domain and URL! Make a separate header for it on your website which should be a one-stop-shop for ALL your design and business information
  • Fully utilize SEO tactics like title tags, meta info, and H1 tags – you should also tag every image and post with relevant terms, i.e., if you write a post about a logo design for a butchers shop, tag the post and the image with every keyword surrounding “logo design” and “butchers shop” you can think of!
  • Make sure you include the following share tools – RSS feed, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, pinterest, twitter buttons (displayed prominently)
  • The other alternative to creating your own blog is to “hit-n-hope” by creating interesting, madcap, funny, or bizarre video or online blogs for sites like tumblr! You never know, you might start getting thousands of visitors and a mass of business opportunities!

7. Old School Business Listings

As a freelancer, I would hope that you’re already rocking a thousand graphic designer job listing and directory sites but I would also suggest looking into an old school marketing technique that is much ignored and often overlooked. I worked as designer for yellow pages for a year of my life, creating ads for everyone from the local pet stores to major ad agencies. You’d be surprised how many businesses still use offline trade directories. It’s really cheap to advertise too!

A similar old-school strategy would be to post in the local newspaper listings. Print is not quite dead (yet!)

8. Coupon Coding

Include a discount coupon for your design services on the back of your business card, flyers, etc. However ‘old-school” this may seem, nothing resonates more with other businesses than the thought of getting your services for cheap!

9. Magazine Pitch

You have to be a serious design expert to get published in magazines such as Advanced Photoshop and How but you will get a cavalcade of links and business interest in your work. Plus, you will be seen as an expert in that field. What a lot of freelancers may not realize is that these magazines rely on graphic and tutorial input from designers and freelancers (such as yourself) for their content. Digital Arts Magazine, for instance, has a whole section devoted to new and upcoming designers that needs your design work! Don’t be shy…get pitching your tutorial ideas and portfolio work.

10. Give Free Design Consultations

I can sense some freelancers getting very hot and angry at this suggestion but it makes sense in the long-run. I’m a firm believer that when a client meets with you, they are also giving up their time and effort! And anyway, you’re not a doctor or a lawyer – you should design consult for free. It’s worth the time and effort (even if you don’t get their business, there’s always the chance of a referral for a different project!)

11. Wear Your Business like a Badge of Honour

Put your coolest, hippest and most commercial design on a t-shirt and turn yourself into a walking advert for your company. It’s pretty inexpensive to do and worth it for all the “where did you get that shirt” questions you’ll receive. At worst it’s a good exercise in company branding (give them out free to all your friends and relations so that they too become walking advertisements for your business!)

12. Guest Blog

If you’re a good writer and can write interesting content about freelancing, design, and other industry related topics, then contact relevant site administrators and guest blog. Ensure you get a link back to your own web pages from specific design-related keywords or personal brand keywords.

13. Send a Press Release

If you’ve created some brilliant design work for a local charity or a piece of design work that you think is truly original or groundbreaking, send a press release about it. Press releases get widely distributed and may even get picked up by a local or national news organization. (A paid for press release is way more effective but there are free press release organizations out there, such as, free-press-release.com)

14. Always Send Follow-up Emails

Always thank customers who hire you, friends who refer you, and people who have helped your business. It’s just poor business practice to not email a client after delivering a project? Personally, I go one-step-further and write a hand-written note rather than an email. Keep in regular contact with clients after you’ve finished a job (you are NOT being a pest, it’s just normal business practice!)

15. Email Promotion

An online newsletter, or e-promotion has become an essential way to promote any business, big or small. It’s also a great way of getting contact information from potential customers. Ensure that you create a subscription button with your promotions.

16. Actively Seek Out Poorly Designed Print Materials or Web Sites

When you notice bad print promotions or you come across web sites that are poorly designed, don’t ignore them or turn your design nose up at them! The likelihood is that the client is fully-aware that they have inferior promotions. Contact the business owner immediately and offer your design services (be forthright but tactful)

17. Submit to Others!

You will get a lot of traffic if you get your work listed on popular design and design resource sites. You may also want to think about creating some freebie design backgrounds, vectors, brushes, or web templates (drupal, wordpress, etc) to draw attention to your work and website. Target popular design sites that rely on free resource materials for their own web traffic to get a truckload of new visitors to your site and your work. Something that I’ve recently done that you might want to consider is designing your own font as a giveaway to some of the major font websites as a means of getting some great link and design exposure (make sure you get your links displayed prominently with all your resource submissions.)

18. Find and Approach New Businesses in Your Area 
Do some serious web research.

Look at the local papers and make a conscious effort to find out about new start-up businesses in your area. You could also simply drive round your locale to see if there are any new shops or restaurants that need design or print services. New businesses need design materials.

19. Send Your Work to Agencies

Don’t let anyone convince you that you shouldn’t cold-contact agencies and clients! Make a CD, postcard sampler, or mini portfolio and send it to ad and design agencies, or other relevant businesses. It’s way more likely to get you remembered than a typical email shot-in-the-dark!

20. Google AdWords

This doesn’t occur to most small businesses and freelancers but ALL businesses who have an online presence should consider at least testing the waters of paid search out. Create a small ad campaign on Adwords and see what happens! What have you got to lose? It will cost you usually about 5 cents per clickthrough.

Ben Fellowes is a seasoned design and marketing professional from the UK who now lives and works in California. He is currently the chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers – a major web and print company that provides flyers, business cards, and other prints.