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thornysarus's picture
930 pencils

Workflow: and other ramblings

So many times we creative types get caught up in discussing the nuts and bolts of design, troubleshooting, figuring out what works and what doesn't, and we tend to skip the mundane, day-to-day stuff. After all, discussing billing, project management, gantt charts, etc. doesn't make for lively conversation. At least in my opinion, it doesn't. My accountant may beg to differ, but I digress.

I recently had an interesting discussion concerning workflow with another designer and I thought I'd continue it here on CB. By "workflow," I mean how projects are handled from start to finish. Now... I have to say that I've been freelancing (exclusively) for over 10 years and my workflow is a direct result of trial-and-error. And while your mileage may vary, I know what works for me. So, I thought I'd share and get your thoughts on the matter.

For the sake of discussion I'll present a small project from a new client and describe how we'd go about tackling it. Let's say that ACME, Inc. is needing a letter-fold brochure for a mass mailing. Bob Client is our contact and he works with ACME's marketing team. They usually use Designer X at Holier-Than-Thou Design Agency for these things, but they are too busy to take the project, blah, blah, blah.

The Consultation:

This is the most difficult part of the job for me. I've never been much of a businessman, and to tell the truth, I've sold myself short on many occasion just to get the job. That said, I have learned from my mistakes and that's why I've elaborated as such on the consultation portion of the workflow. I'll also note that it is important to get this right because we want repeat clientele and the initial consultation does indeed set precedence for future projects and client/relations. ...But, you don't want to be an ass about it either. It's a fine line, indeed. :)

Most of my work comes in through referral and I usually get either a phone call or an e-mail generated from the "New Project" link on my web site. In either case, I promptly contact the client to make their acquaintance and schedule either a meeting or (preferably) phone call to discuss the project in detail. Most of the time, they want to know two things at this time: 1. That you are capable of producing something outstanding within the time alloted, and 2. How much will it cost.

It's at this time that I wish I had a recording that they could listen to because my response is always the same. "We have the capability of developing anything that you need in-house. We can work with your existing printer or recommend a few outstanding printers if necessary. As for the cost, I'd like to schedule a time that you and I could discuss the project in-depth, decide what you needs are, what originals are available for composition, how much time we should allot to the project, and most importantly, what your budget allows."

"What? You haven't thought of assigning a budget to this project?..." How unusual. :)

I continue: "A budget tell us exactly what we have to work with. Are we doing a custom photo shoot, are we using stock photography or even photography at all? If you need 10,000 brochures and your printing budget only allows for a 2-color run, then we'll design the piece so that it looks like it's supposed to be printed in 2-color... maybe a cool, old, block-printing style of design. Whatever the case, the bottom line is the more money you're willing to throw at this thing, the more options we have to work with."

"At this time, I'd like to help you determine a suitable budget by getting some specifications for your piece and set up a time to discuss the actual design at a later date. That way, we'll know what we have to work with and you'll have a good idea of what it's going to cost."

Let's determine your printing costs first. You want this full color, both sides? "Sure." 8.5x11 landscape, letter-fold, 4-over-4, and this will be mailed? "Yes." Ok... We'll need to contact your mailing house to get their specs for indicia, etc. so we'll need their contact info. Now... Do you have a printer in-mind? "We usually use [url=]CrappyPrint[/url] down the street, but go ahead and get a few quotes for us from your guys." Cool. Will-do.

Now for content. What elements absolutely have to be included in this piece? "Well... We need to show our full line of ACME Widgets with accompanying text, a bit about the company and how they can place an order." Of course, you'll want the ACME, Inc. Logo in there... "Oh, yeah. Gotta have that." Ok... And all of the above is available in high-resolution/vector format, right? "Oh sure. You can just grab them off the web site." [insert brief sermon on file format, resolution, and the wind-velocity of unladen swallows here].

Ok, Great. Sounds like we have what we need to get the ball rolling. I'll email you with the printing quotes by this time tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll set up the project in our [url=]Online Project Management System[/url] and you can upload the files we'll need there. You look over the quotes, read through our [url=]Policy and Terms of Service[/url]. I'll look over the files and we'll touch base tomorrow to discuss scheduling, deadlines, budget and design direction in depth.


Once a schedule, budget and design direction is determined, it's just simple execution. I mean, that's what we do, right? But I will include the following:

Project Management: We use (and highly recommend) [url=]Basecamp[/url] for project management. File transfers, scheduling, project correspondence, to-do lists, RSS feeds whenever something changes and proofing, it's all in there. Our clients were hesitant at first, but have come to love the interface, the convenience, and the ability to check on their projects from anywhere they have an internet connection. A few of our clients have reported that they have become spoiled by it, citing what a pain it was working with another designer who "just sent everything through e-mail." That's what we like to hear. :)

Time Tracking & Invoicing: We currently use [url=]iBiz[/url], and have been very pleased with the product. It works as advertised and has served us well. However, we may be switching to another app if they don't do something drastic concerning the way iBiz handles invoices in the next version.

Follow Up:

After each project is complete, I always follow-up at the appropriate time to discuss what sort of feedback they received, if the piece served them well, what would they have done differently, and if they had another project looming on the horizon.

I'll share something else that I do... I subscribe to RSS feeds in my client's industry. Occasionally, I'll send a brief e-mail to my contact including a link to new developments, emerging technologies in their field, interesting tidbits, etc. Sort of a "Have you seen this," or "Look at what Brand X is Doing." This illustrates that I'm keeping up with their industry (and their competition), that I have an interest in their success and keeps me in the forefront of their mind, especially when it's time to consider a designer for the next project.

Hope this serves you all in your day-to-day business and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Best regards,

Terry Thornhill

[url=]e-zign design group[/url]

Terrell Thornhill

e-zign Design Group

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Jammo's picture
-4 pencils

Thanks for a great article, I enjoyed reading that. I work in a similar way to yourself. Although I havnt yet taken the jump to using a project management system like basecamp, I keep meaning to, but pen in a book is quicker lol - and we live in the digital age eh?

Thanks again, I enjoyed reading and found it very useful.



Ivan's picture

Besides basecamp you can also use It's different from basecamp, because instead of client/agency collaboration it focuses more on billing and tracking the job. You can set up your client list and price list and then you can simply create emailable or printable price quotations and bills. It keeps track of deadlines and statuses. You can also add any type of comments to certain projects. I tried basecamp, but it's kinda hard to convince your clients to get away from their email apps that they are used to and lure them into a basecamp project site. With sidejobtrack however all my freelance work is well organized and i can keep track of billings and such.

thornysarus's picture
930 pencils

Yeah... I encountered that when we switched over to Basecamp. Basically, we gave everyone 30-days notice and said (something to the effect of), "This is the way we plan to handle projects from now on. We hope you get on board, but if not, Oh well."

We received much grumbling at first, but haven't lost any clients because of it. We just kept stressing that the switch is for project accuracy, clearer communication and thoroughness, and not immediate gratification. The clients we've picked up since the switch report that their projects have never run smoother.

By the way, Basecamp just released this today:

Today we officially introduce the Basecamp API. The API allows
programmers to access/read/write Basecamp data from third-party
systems like OS X dashboard widgets, Yahoo/Confabulator widgets,
web sites, back-office systems, billing systems, other
web-based/desktop products, and more.

The API is available to all Basecamp customers — from the
free 1-project plan to the Premium plan. To enable it for
your account, log into your Basecamp site, click the
Account tab, and scroll down to the API section.



Terrell Thornhill

e-zign Design Group

Ivan's picture

I wish there was a solution that was a combination of Basecamp and Side Job Track.

BTW, the tip to sign up for your clients industry is not only smart, but also very professional. This way you will for sure deliver a better product next time you have an assignment.

charlie's picture
7 pencils

It's good to see we all have the same old problems; I have heard the "just grab the logo off the website" line too many times.

I especially like the RSS idea. I can't believe I'm not already doing it!

thornysarus's picture
930 pencils

Thanks for the kind words.

Yeah. I had a few hours yesterday and haven't posted anything of substance in awhile, so there you are. :)

Thanks for the link, Ivan. I'm looking into that.

Terrell Thornhill

e-zign Design Group

Waleed's picture
540 pencils

I'm downloading iBiz as I write the reply, I wanted to buy Studiometry, but they do everything through PayPal and it's an option not available for my country.. Not to mention that iBiz is more affordable :)

Thanks again..

Allan Moult's picture

I've tried them all — Studiometry, iBiz, and others — and truly nothing comes close to iRatchet [horrible name] for keeping track of work and invoicing.

Check out iRatchet

snak's picture
4 pencils

I'm just trying to start a business (freelancing, but still keeping my day job) on my own this week and stumbled across cb. What a great place to learn from others mistakes and experiences. Thanks for the priceless info, Terry!

I close my eyes in order to see.—Paul Guaguain

I close my eyes in order to see.—Paul Guaguin

thornysarus's picture
930 pencils

And welcome to the fray. :)

Terrell Thornhill

e-zign Design Group

craig cameron's picture
1 pencil

Pen in a Book can be very effective but it starts to lose its effectiveness once an organisation reaches a certain size and different people need to be working on different things in the same project at the same time.

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