How I Manage My Virtual Office

How I Manage My Virtual Office
As a freelance designer and consultant, I’ve come across many SaaS (“Software as a Service”) applications that claim to save me time and effort for any aspect of my business. This means time-tracking apps, project management, invoicing, and even writing proposals. I always like to try out new apps when I come across them. Just maybe they’d be better than what I use now, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to change up my process for the greater good. It’s been many years of trial-and-error, and I think I finally have it down pat.

None of my current clients live near me, or are even remotely close to the same time-zone. This means everything I do is virtual, and it’s important to set up a good system to rely on. I’ve never come across a major logistical issue I couldn’t solve in one way or the other, so I want to share some of the services I use to solve those problems.

Trello

Trello
I use Trello for project management, running concurrent boards and move things around depending on deadlines for the week. I make sure I capture everything I think of, between ideas for new games or small tweaks to a client’s site. Recently I’m debating creating another board to collaborate with a client whom I do sub-contracting work for.

In my past post, “Using Trello to Organize Your Freelance Business,” I talked about reasons for using Trello and my specific process, but it’s worth mentioning again. If you started to use my process, please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments.

Trello »


Harvest

Harvest
For time-tracking, invoicing, and reporting I use Harvest. Using it cross-platform is vital as I work on the go, but an iPad app would be nice. The essential thing for me is the ability to integrate with Trello and Chrome. When I need to start tracking time on a Trello board, I can do so within the app, instead of opening Harvest. When I create my invoices, a detailed report will pull in the name of the Trello card, meaning everything is tracked appropriately. This also means I have a better system for creating cards in Trello since they’ll be client-facing.

Harvest »


Gmail

Gmail
Email is king, right? I use my email inbox as sort of a triage center, and Gmail is excellent at organizing my inbox and keeping the junk out of it. I can forward to-do items to Trello which automatically creates a card for either this week (urgent items) or the backlog (everything else). Once the email is forwarded, I can archive it and move on to the next. My inbox is almost always at zero, so I’m more responsive to client or prospect’s requests.

Gmail »


Google Drive

Drive
Anything and everything that is for a client gets saved to Drive. I can access client work, documents and designs from any device, and I don’t have to worry about religiously backing data up, though I do it anyway. Once I save a file in my Drive folder, it gets automatically uploaded and synced to all my devices. Drive is like Dropbox, but I find its easier to organize and oh yeah, free.

Google Drive »


Hangouts

Hangouts
Yes, I’m a Google fan. I’m sorry. I use Hangouts instead of Skype to converse with clients, family, and often my web host. It’s integrated, obviously, with everything else Google. Not having to remember to open up separate apps and being able to search a conversation via my email is very slick.

Google Hangouts »


Docusign

Docusign
When I first started writing contracts and sending them out to customers, it was via snail mail. Nowadays that’s just silly, and a fax machine? Please. Docusign has been my go-to for a long time, way before they were bought out by Adobe. Clients can now view and sign contracts and other documents that I upload and then sends copies to everyone. It also integrates with Drive, where I write my contracts anyway. This makes it simple to get account management out of the way, and focus on getting the project moving along.

Docusign »


Paypal

PayPal
Who doesn’t have a Paypal account nowadays? Even if you don’t, I’m sure you have some sort of online banking. While making deposits directly to your account is fine for some customers, there’s nothing like one-click from a Harvest invoice to make it super simple. Generally once a month I withdraw from Paypal to my regular bank anyway, only keeping a small balance in Paypal for impulse purchases on Ebay. Ehem.

PayPal »


My Process

I’m all about routine and I set up processes for everything. Without this, I always feel like I’m forgetting something, even when I’m not. Whenever I get a new project, I put everything I need to do into a Trello card, then break it down into manageable goals and set due dates. Any file the client sends me goes into a Drive folder and I create a new client or project in Harvest to allow for time-tracking in the future.

When I actually start working on the project, it’s simple to move the Trello card to an In Progress or Doing column, click Track Time and assign it to the project and then get to work. Once a month I run a Harvest report for uninvoiced time and bill accordingly (or send out invoices for clients not on hourly contracts).

I’ve used a number of different services to accomplish the same tasks, from Basecamp to Evernote to Toggl, and often paid for them. Now I’ve refined the services I use and pay monthly for Google Business and Harvest. Once in awhile it’s good to test drive other services and see if they’re a better fit for yourself than your current solution, and in some cases cut down on extraneous things. My best to-do list is still my sketchpad.

Now it’s your turn…

What services do you use to help save time and effort in your freelance business? Share in the comments below!