Creatives and designers who own run micro-agencies, or operate freelance, find themselves not only producing the designs their training and experience excels in but are required to be business owners. Regardless of their experience. So, what would make it easier?
My business life is split between branding work and business coaching – which carries quite a chunk of crossover. Just like the system, I’m about to suggest, there’s a strong need to present the corporate rigours alongside the creative talent; the tools we use make-or-break our work. Consider the version of Adobe CC you use or the calibre of the PC you’re operating – if you’re trying to bulldoze your way around Photoshop CS6 to achieve what you need, or having to wait for lags in the system, you won’t make progress in work. Naturally, just as having better tools will enhance your daily life, those tools will not do it for you. But they help.
The system is Dubsado. Their current tagline is ‘Run Your Business With Less Running’. A nice sentiment – though one that is actually backed up with their work. For the focus of this blog, I’m not going to list every purpose and use of the site – their versatility, automation, and integrations would make it go on forever anyway. Instead, I’m going to highlight 4 key features they offer, which makes my life easier.
Simple – every job or operation you get becomes a project. These projects have various Lead and Active Job statuses – as well as allowing you to invent your own. Each one is connected to a client – whose details you input and manage. Each project has a huge range of details you can append, from simple dates through to full workflows.
This is their simplest and most powerful element, if for no other reason than many designers do not have a single, central resource that lists every job and its state, in a simple to manage format. I can log on to my system, and see:
- every single job that I’ve got open
- all the jobs that will be open in three weeks time
- every active client
- every former client, and
- the history of every client and what happened on their projects.
In short, this client and project management feature becomes a unifying resource for your business! I took on my first graphic design client in 2006. I’ve tried numerous systems and methods since then, but using this system is the first I’ve felt in control and like I’ve got no problem in collating this data.
A no-brainer. The invoicing system is often something small businesses put into place before anything else, there’s no question. So why would you switch to this one?
Well, let’s start with the basics. They have multiple payment processors – including Stripe, Square, and PayPal. Though these are optional – you still can still easily accept bank transfer, cash, or chickens if you like and simply apply the payment to your invoice. (*please note, as chickens are not considered a legal tender, I advise against using them for design fees!)
Then let’s throw in the extras you don’t always get with your invoicing systems, such as recurring auto-deducing payment (I have clients whose monthly subscription is taken automatically), the email send and reminder system you can set, the integration with accounting software such as Quickbooks, international processing, and 0 fees on your invoices.
So you’ve got a clearly attractive invoicing system – but now let’s integrate it with the aforementioned clients/projects system, and we’re hitting Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct levels of attractive. With my dashboard, I can go in and open a client – seeing every project listed and what invoices I’ve sent them over the past few years. Now in my days before Dubsado I could always sort my PayPal transactions by the sender, or export my bank statements to filter those – but this system collates everything regardless of payment type and date.
The little things like accepting tips and tracking project expenses are boosts to the admin side of my business too. Plus categorisation – if like me, you accept payments for print processes that you export to a specialist print house like Black Label, then you’ll know that your gross vs net profit figures are so wide that at £2’000 payment might give you a couple of hundred quid for your business, the rest is paid out. By categorising my invoice items, I can see exactly what came in for design fees, exactly what came in as coaching/consultancy fees, and exactly how much goes to the printers.
It’s also worth mentioning there is a time tracker which you can apply to the project to track how many minutes you work on each element for charging. Not to forget that expenses keep your outgoing costs clearly applied.
Now we’ve got our clients and projects arranged, and invoicing sorted – let’s look day-to-day. The built-in system allows you to assign dates to the projects you’re operating – I use that in 4 different ways:
- Open project dates
Between Jul 4th and July 22nd, I’m working on a branding project for XYZ ltd. It doesn’t mean that each of those dates is booked out for that project alone, but that’s the window for the project.
- Project activity date
Certain dates within that range will be marked out for my work. As Dubsado integrates entirely with my G-Suite calendar, everything is synced automatically
- Task Dates
One of the projects I’m outlining below is tasks – being able to assign those to dates allows me to control what needs doing more than just list it.
My clients are able to book appointments with me directly – this is the best feature of scheduling.
I’ve set my Dubsado account up so that clients can book appointments with me. As you may expect, it integrates with everything else! When an existing client books, the system recognises their email and links it all together. When a new client books their client listing is created. But what’s that – for some reason, you DON’T want to allow clients to book out every free minute of your week? The best thing about it for me is that there’s nothing free about it! When my client wants to book a coaching session, they head to my website where I’ve embedded the Dubsado scheduling form for my coaching. They pick a slot, get given an invoice and cannot reserve the slot until payment is made! My calendar dates are predefined so I have certain periods always free and buffers either side of the scheduled event.
This is what sold me on Dubsado when they first started a few years back before many of their current features were even dreamed. They have a form section which allows you to tack a form onto a client’s project. They use the heading of Forms but they’re so much more and come under 5 main categories:
- Lead Capture
- Sub-agreements, and
Their breadth of versatility is huge – build whatever you want or use one of their templates! Let me give you an example of the process for a website client. They’ll fill out the lead capture form on my website (now I should note here that the Workflow feature Dubsado offer can send a thousand things into action just from this one step – way too much for me to discuss in this blog, but check it out!). I’ll get an email saying that Joe Bloggs has filled out my form, that a project has been set up and a client created on my system – with a copy of his message.
If I’m incredibly lucky, Joe Bloggs knows exactly what he wants and would like me to get started immediately. So I’ll log on and create the PROPOSAL. He’ll receive an email with a link to this proposal which as you might expect will open up with the pitch – displaying whatever versatile content is needed, followed by a form and package options. I ask for his basic website details, go live dates etc, and present him with a few website options to choose with their prices listed. Joe selects some, leaves others and clicks next.
That takes him to the CONTRACT tab. As you may have read in the contracts blog I wrote for TDL, they’re crucial for all our work so the integration here is perfect. The smart-fields option automatically fills in his details and package information, plus I’ve already counter-signed the contract so he just reads it through, adds his details and signs (this is legally recognised as a digital signature in the UK). After signing he clicks submit! This process takes him to the next tab of the INVOICE. It calculates his price based on the options he selected at the start of the proposal. My payment terms for web work are 50/50 – so Dubsado takes the 50% deposit from him immediately (he pays via credit card through Square or PayPal etc) and shows him the remainder that is due on whichever date he just selected as his go-live date.
Thanks to their workflow system, two things happen automatically after this – 1) he gets a SUB AGREEMENT emailed automatically, in this case, it’s a non-disclosure agreement which I like to keep separate from the website contract. 2) he receives the QUESTIONAIRE of Content. As you might expect, this is a form that asks for everything I’ll need to build the website.
So to recap – on this day, I received an email saying Joe wanted a website, in turn, I sent him my basic proposal in a few clicks (can be automated but I like to monitor and adapt sometimes). I then received a completed proposal stating what he needed, a signed contract, a 50% deposit, a signed NDA, a completed content questionnaire, and a timeline for completion. (I don’t need to point out that Joe is a mythical client – but should such a wonder ever happen, the Dubsado process is easy! Even with the average client who needs more handholding, it’s got everything saved and ready to be sent).
I’m way over on my word allocation – because there’s so much to share and I’ve barely scratched the surface! But at a risk of readers growling at me… I shall also point out…
- All my clients get a client portal
to login and see all their forms, appointments, invoices, and workboards (part of the project that allows you to create multiple workboards and lists that can be private or viewable by the client, each displaying aspects or tasks within the job).
- Dubsado can also host multiple brands for a good discount if you’re running as two or more identities.
- It can be fully branded to your business – my clients have no clue what Dubsado is
- There are Zapier triggers – so you can work with anything
- They have a live help chat, great docs and a Facebook group!
- You can book a free 1:1 demo, to get a feel of how it’ll help you.
I’m not claiming they are perfect! There’s no app as yet and the mobile browser version isn’t great. You need to dedicate time in setting it all up to your needs (totally worth it, and they’ll absolutely help, but it’s a few hours you could be designing in). It’s not the cheapest option for your agency – currently $35 per month or $350 per year (It’s cheap for something so self-contained, but there are free versions of each individual element you could work with). Whilst you can add staff users and assign items to them – you can only get 3 for free, after which further prices apply
If you are interested you can use my affiliate code: ORANGEREEL and get a 20% discount – though you can totally sign up without it. I also benefit from this