Notes from an Oakland designer

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Setting up shop with FreshBooks

Recently, I made the decision to open shop as Deirdre Spencer Design, to provide marketing communications design services to clients in Oakland, the Bay Area and beyond. Happily, I’ll continue to assist with some accounts for The Placemaking Group, but this move allows me more freedom to pursue a wider array of design work for my own clients. It’s very exciting, indeed!

Naturally, there’s quite a bit of work one must do to be ready to accept new clients, and to promote one’s new business. I’ve set up my new business website using WordPress and a terrific responsive theme called Nectar, that I’m customizing to suit my own needs. I’ve created a new mailing list for a brand new, monthly newsletter that will feature news and tips on marketing design and social media.

Behind the scenes, I’ve been playing around with a customer relations management and automated marketing service called ZoHo, and setting up cloud accounting and invoicing with FreshBooks. The latter has been such a super experience that I thought I’d share it with you here.

Which cloud accounting service to choose?

My last experience with cloud accounting was a couple years ago when I gave FreeAgent a spin. I found it to be relatively easy to use, but as a designer, I wished the invoicing had a cleaner and more sophisticated look, and it would have been nice to be able to use an mobile app to enter expenses on the go. At $20 per month for its lowest-tiered pricing, it runs just a tad more than its competitors, QuickBooks Online ($12.95) or FreshBooks ($19.95).

After some research, I determined that QuickBooks was probably more complicated and less user-friendly for an accounting novice than this designer needed it to be, so with its 30-day free trial, I opted to give FreshBooks a try.

FreshBooks impressed from the get-go

FreshBooks has done a terrific job of thinking through the usability of their site, which I found very intuitive and easy to use right off the bat. Quickly, I had customized the look of my interface with my logo and brand colors, and had created entries for clients and contacts, new tasks, and expenses.

They offer a helpful introductory webinar to get customers up and running, and a dedicated customer service rep contacted me directly via email, offering to assist in any way she could to answer any questions or help me get started. I don’t recall this level of friendly hand-holding from FreeAgent.

Easy invoicing

Payments for invoicing can be connected to your PayPal account, and you can connect to other payment processing services as well. Time spent on your tasks can be tracked directly in the app to ensure accurate billing, and reminders can be sent automatically, saving the hassle of calling late clients each month. One can even purchase “stamps,” that allow FreshBooks to print and send snail mail invoices to your clients.

Ideal for small business

Although I’m not done with my trial period yet, I’m definitely planning to continue with FreshBooks as my accounting app of choice. It seems so well suited for small businesses that don’t have the time nor means to waste many hours each month dealing with billing. I love that it’s so simple to use, and that it’s both affordable and scaleable. There are many add-ons available to connect it with other services you may use, like Asana task management or Zoho CRM. For a more in depth overview of FreshBooks’ features, check out this blog post by the folks at Bright Oak.

If you’d like to give FreshBooks a try, you can get started right here. Be sure to let me know what you think about it in the comments!