When it comes to running a creative business, there are a million different types of software and tools and out there that can help make your business run smoother, more efficiently, and with less manual legwork.
So many, in fact, that at times it can feel pretty overwhelming.
That’s how I felt when I started freelancing over five years ago. I knew there were great tools and software out there that could help me run my business, but they were intimidating to me for a few different reasons:
- They felt technical and only for the business-savvy among us.
- I expected them to be expensive and outside my cash-strapped budget.
- I figured they’d require some training and a time-consuming setup process.
So, I resisted.
I did lots of things the long way and tied up a lot of time doing manual data entry and tracking things like expenses and invoices by hand, old-school style.
For the first few months, it wasn’t too bad as my business was just getting started and I had some time to spare. But when I started booking more freelance writing jobs and my calendar started to get full, I started to resent the time I had to spend doing things the hard way. These time-consuming tasks were taking away from billable hours in which I could be doing client work. I didn’t have any extra time to spare anymore - and I knew I needed to do something differently.
Finding the Right Tool for the Right Task
I didn’t want to go overboard with a bunch of new software and processes, so I started with the one task that was taking up the most of my time. For me, that was invoicing and bookkeeping.
A lot of my time was being diverted to developing invoices, quotes, and tracking my income, so I decided to look for a resource that could automate some of that (and that would add a dash of professionalism to my work, too).
I started looking around at different options, and once I had a short list, I evaluated based on a series of criteria that I laid out in a simple spreadsheet:
- Ease of use
- Customer support
- Integration with my business bank account
These four areas were my main concerns and what would help me decide on the best option for my business. Here’s why:
- I wanted to find a tool that was easy to use and didn’t have a big learning curve so I could deploy it right away.
- It had to be free or quite affordable, as my budget was tiny.
- It needed to have good customer service in case something went wrong and I needed help.
- I needed it to play nice with my business bank account so that I could accurately keep track of money coming in and going out.
Testing and Trial Period
I narrowed my short list down to two different options and then decided to make my final decision based on my own hands-on experience. It was time to test before committing to making a purchase and investing long-term in a tool for my business.
Both had 14-day free trial periods, so I experimented with both and made notes along the way about what I liked and didn’t like. Along the way, I was able to spot a few major issues that would’ve caused problems down the road:
- One of the tools didn’t include an option to integrate my business bank account, as I bank with a local bank chain, not a national one.
- That same tool also didn’t allow me to insert my company logo on invoices, which made them look less customized and professional.
When the two-week period wrapped up, I’d found a winner and was relieved to learn that introducing a tool in my business was much easier than I’d expected.
(If you’re curious, I decided to go with Wave.)
One Tool, Many Hours Saved
The lesson I learned from this experience? If you run a creative business and need to boost your efficiency, start with one.
You don’t need to buy a bunch of tools and introduce a ton of new processes all at once. Instead, it’s smart to start small and begin with a single tool that will help you automate the time-consuming elements of running your business. For me, it was bookkeeping, but for you, it might be things like onboarding new clients, writing contracts and proposals, or going back and forth on design project.
The good news is: There are tools that make those tasks simpler. You don’t have to pull your hair out - you just have to get a process in place and find the right resource that makes your life easier. Start with one.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce and software. She also writes for publications like Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost.