Enter to WIN project management software for creatives

planning pod project management software

We are giving away a 1-year subscription to Planning Pod, the online business and project management software app built for designers and creative firms.

Tired of juggling dozens of software apps to manage all your business details?

Want a better way to manage all your to-do’s, files, invoices, proposals, legal contracts, timesheets, contacts, leads and more?

Planning Pod gives you all the tools you need to run your design business in one convenient place.

And since it’s built by creatives, for creatives, it’s got a flair for design and lets you customize your account to reflect your brand look-and-feel. So not only does Planning Pod make it easier to collaborate with clients and cut down on your busywork, it also gives you another way to expose your brand to clients and prospects.

Check out Planning Pod’s project management software app here.

To enroll in the contest, just leave a comment below and provide one way in which you would like to be more productive or efficient as a designer.

Closing date for entry July 15th 2013.

The winner will be announced on July 19 2013.

2013 Tax facts – What Should Freelance Designers be Aware of?

A guest post by Mark James who currently works in-house for small business accountants Crunch

small business tax
Photo credit: Alan Cleaver

As I wrote a few months back, tax is taxing, mainly as it’s so tricky to keep track of, government after government fiddling with legislation. HMRC aren’t too helpful either, continually complicating matters by ushering in new schemes.

This year’s no different and it promises to be one of the most tumultuous on the tax front. Come April 6th, swathes of changes are set to be unfurled and they could have varying implications for the freelance designer, impacting upon their earnings and the way they do their accounting.

What then, should the freelance designer look out for and what will they have to do to comply?

Firstly,  get to grips with Real Time Information (RTI)

Something that might have accounting implications is the introduction of RTI, which will only affect freelance designers running a PAYE scheme. Generally, that’s limited company freelancers rather than sole traders.

Regardless of your business structure though, just bear in mind that if you’re operating PAYE you will need to comply with RTI.

So what exactly is it? Well at its crux, RTI is a new scheme built to streamline the flow of payroll information between employers and HMRC, designed to ensure that the payroll information HMRC holds for your company is as up-to-date as possible.

This will be achieved by getting companies to submit records on or before every payday instead of once a year. So for those operating PAYE this means that every time you draw a salary you must notify HMRC, either through a piece of compliant payroll software or by using HMRC’s Basic PAYE tools.

If you’ve got an accountant, have a chat with them to ensure that either they’ve got – or can at least point you towards – the appropriate payroll software. That way you’ll avoid any nasty fines, as well as HMRC’s clunky software.

Legislate for the rate and threshold changes

Every April 6th ushers in a few rate and threshold changes, and this year, there’s more than most. Amongst those most likely to impact upon freelance designers are…

  • a rise in the Personal Allowance to £9,440
  • a drop in the Higher Rate threshold to £32,010
  • and a lowering of the Additional Rate from 50% to 45%

These will have varying implications depending on your financial position, so start by examining that and then try to determine how the above might impact upon you.

Keep in mind Universal Credit

The introduction of the Universal Credit is something that’s worth bearing in mind if you receive Income Support, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits. If this is you, then your payments will be changing in line with its arrival.

The usual parliamentary toing and froing makes it hard to decipher whether its introduction is a good or a bad thing, but you can get a basic overview of just what this new piece of legislation means here.

Hopefully that was all pretty clear. Of 2013’s incoming legislation, these changes are likely to affect freelance designers the most. Make sure you’ve taken the right precautions to avoid any fines and that you take the right steps to achieve optimum tax-efficiency…2013 might then be a little more profitable!

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

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.

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.

New Graphic Design and Marketing Podcast

If you are anything like me, you love a good podcast, but the problem is there are few and far between on the topic of Graphic Design. Designer and blogger Rob Cubbon is trying to change all that, with a new podcast he has just started called none other than The Design and Marketing podcast.

“The Design and Marketing Podcast will be concentrating on how graphic and web designers and others can market their business to increase and vary their income streams.”

I was lucky enough to be one of Rob’s first interviewees on his new show and we talked about

  • how I got started as a designer
  • how I found clients initially
  • how I plan to take my business in the future

graphic design and marketing podcast

Check it out over on Rob’s Design Blog

I know Rob has some great shows and interviewees coming up in the future so make sure you subscribe to his website, Youtube Channel or Itunes feed.

Six Tips for Freelance Designers

designer on mac

A guest post by graphic designer Luke Clum

Working in freelance design often involves keeping up with several projects at once and effectively managing diverse demands on your time. But there are a number of steps you can take to help keep your professional life in order.

1. Build An Inspiration Bank

There are times when you find yourself awash with ideas and others when inspiration runs dry. Have a store of creative sources up your sleeve that you can turn to in these times of draught. Premium Pixels is an extensive catalogue of some of the best and new web designs, while Inspire Me Now provides a comprehensive look at innovative image creation and use online.

2. Keep Up With Technology

Not only is this important for your design work, it can also help you manage your time. Downloading the right time-saving apps — particularly cloud apps that will connect your desktop, laptop, iPad and phone — is an excellent way to keep track of your work on the move, from the latest website wireframes to invoices and accounts. The popular document saving and sharing app, Dropbox, can be used to store information across a number of devices as well as between you, your colleagues and clients, while iBlueSky will help you get your ideas in order when beginning a new project.

3. Nurture Your Client-Designer Relationships

Spending adequate time getting to know your clients, learning more about their business or campaign and attending to their particular needs, is sure to save you time in the long run. Not only will you have a clearer understanding of the design services you’re being hired to provide, you will also get the chance to make your own demands heard, regarding the terms of your employment, invoicing and payment.

4. Get Your Invoicing In Order

One of the biggest difficulties for freelancers is being paid on time but there are a number of simple and effective ways to get round this:
• Make it clear from the start how and when you would like to be paid.
• Draw up invoices that communicate this in writing, stating in plain English the terms of payment.
• Invoice efficiently. This means sending the invoice as soon as the job is completed, sending it directly to the person who will pay you, and having a follow-up strategy in place should clients fail to adhere to your requirements. Check out this freelance invoicing guide for more tips on how to invoice more efficiently.

5. Create A Positive Work Environment

One of the great perks of freelancing is being able to work wherever you like but this can become a drawback if your home space becomes your work space or vice versa. Find yourself a place that you can dedicate to work — somewhere with plenty of light and space for a mood board — and stick to it.

6. Set Your Hours

As established above, freelancing allows utmost professional flexibility but this can come at a price to your social and/or family life. Be strict with yourself regarding working hours. Give yourself adequate time to rest and play. Even if you don’t stick to the same hours each day, be clear when you sit down to work when it is that you’re going to come up for air.

Luke Clum Luke Clum is a graphic designer from Seattle who specializes in print and web development. He loves coffee, hiking and alpine climbing in the mountains. Follow him on Twitter @lukeclum