Five Free Apps to Help You Launch Your Biz in Style

 
5 Free Apps to Help You Launch Your Business in Style  |  Tips from a freelance graphic + web designer
 
 

As a business owner myself, I have a few apps I couldn't live without. Here's my {1st edition!} of favorite apps I use for my own business, and they are (or begin) F-R-E-E. If you have a few minutes to check these out, they'll seriously up your entrepreneurial game. 

Enjoy & PS - this is not a sponsored post.


EMAIL MARKETING

Mailchimp

This one may be a no-brainer, but I have had several clients entertain the idea of other email marketers. Mailchimp, from a usability standpoint, is by far the easiest I've found for my small business clients. The first plan is free for up to 2,000 subscribers, and that includes an email nurture series, welcome series, automated non-openers, popups, and much more! Plus, it's beautifully integrated with Squarespace.


 

BEAUTIFUL HIGH-RES IMAGES

Unsplash

Beautiful, free, curated, high-res images to help when photos aren’t in abundance. You can even create collections of photos (say, "Spring" or "Inspirations") and download them at any time to use in unlimited applications. You don't even need to credit the photos, although it's always appreciated.


 

SYNCHRONIZED MEETINGS & APPOINTMENTS

Calendly

Schedule all your new business meetings on a schedule that works for you, and them. If you start with only one appointment type, it's free! You have the power to customize your schedule, appointment slots, and availability. Plus, it instantly connects to your google account, which will sync with your calendar and phone. My clients LOVE this feature of my workflow!


 

FREE MARKETING & COMMUNITY

Pinterest

Leverage Pinterest for your business! It’s technically a free, hyper-visual, and super segmented search platform. Say, if you're a dog walker, you could curate boards of inspiration on pet care, new toys, holistic pet remedies, the best nearby hikes, etc. Just also be sure to pin your own content from your site! Pins will bring in organic traffic and help you gain visibility to your target audience - when you stay focused on pinning what your ideal client wants to know.


 

INSTAGRAM CURATION & PLANNING

Planoly

Planoly is a beautiful application to help automate your Instagram feed by scheduling in advance and curating your content visually. You can also use it to plan your captions, which carry weight for Instagrams algorithms.


5 Thoughts on Working in Harmony with Your Designer

 
5 Tips on Working in Harmony with Your Designer  |  Tips from a freelance graphic + web designer

I LOVE to keep my design process with clients as simple as possible.

The unavoidable thing is that every client works in new ways, and above all - they have many decisions, distractions, and priorities in all aspects of growing their business. How do they fit a design project in the mix?

In an effort to reduce complexities, save you money, and keep your design process light and quick, here are my top tips gathered from my most efficient design clients over the years. Essentially, it all comes down to communication...

1. Wait til you have the bandwidth to begin a new project - your designer will need you on their team.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can recall several projects that could've been wrapped up fast, but extended weeks or even months longer because the client simply wasn't able to dedicate the time to keep us moving forward. 

I totally get busy schedules, trust that. And there's no need to clear your calendar. Just be available. Don't ghost us! We need your feedback, content, and approvals among many other tasks that could come up.

If you can plan on dedicating at least 10-30 minutes a day while you have an active project with a designer, the project can usually keep its momentum.

Even a simple - "Hey, I'm slammed! These designs look ________. Back to you by Friday!" Takes under 10 seconds to type and keeps us in the loop.


2. Gather your inspirations and outline your ideas.

A "blank canvas" can cost you a bunch of money.

Sounds funny coming from a creative (who loves blank canvases), but when we don't have artistic direction from you, it could potentially take a bunch of time - and money, money, money - to hit the mark. 

Amazing clients have come to me with an outline, sketches, Pinterest boards, or links to looks they love, content they'll need, and other information that can help me build their projects. It also helps me get to know where their passions lie and invests me in their brand as well. 


3. Give well-thought feedback, let go of perfection, and have a little faith in your designer.

One of the best ways to think of design when you're working with a new designer is in phases. There's always a "discovery" phase when you bring on a designer and every project over time will bring us closer to aesthetic cohesion for your brand. 

Until your designer has this time to understand your work together, give them well-organized, thoughtful feedback. If you're very clear on your feedback and vision, your designer should be able to organically capture your look naturally in the future and hopefully evolve it past your imagination.

Please remember - every new employee will be green while they're onboarding. In the early stages, I'd recommend letting go of "perfect" and strive for "beautiful". "Perfect", in all its millions of edits and communications, takes time, resources, and money. 


4. Keep the momentum going with quick response time.

OH man - this is as simple as it sounds, and one of the most important requests I have as a designer. Simply stay in touch with us. 

My best clients will 1) Let me know their best method of contact. And 2) Respond within 48 hours. 

You fall off the map with your designer and we could potentially lose our mojo, the train of thought for our concept's dialogue, and perhaps fall a little bit out of love for the project. That's natural - just like any relationship in life. 


5. The emailing game - subject lines and simplification are key.

I receive hundreds of emails a day. Hundreds! And I'm sure your inbox can look the same as well. 

Three things amazing clients will do while crafting their emails:
1. They use a concise subject line. Why? Get this: it's easy to search for when we need to go back. "No subject" or "Fwd:Fwd: Print #101920" Doesn't find itself found.
2. If they have a few thoughts throughout the day or week, they'll compile non-urgent memos into one email with a numbered list so I can respond to the corresponding #. 
3. They keep it simple and they proofread before they send.

Just some top moves from my fave client emails. Easy peasy.


These are my top 5 thoughts on working harmoniously with your designer, or heck - any freelance contractor. It takes two to tango. 

What kind of things help you keep harmony with your designers?
What do amazing designers do to help you from our end? 

All my best, 
Courtney O

 

My Designer Mantra of January

 
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LIFT YOUR CLIENTS TO NEW HEIGHTS

Sure, January is a time for renewal and resolutions, but more for me - the new year brings inspiration and a volt of energy to reach higher and conquer goals - with gusto. December is usually such a month of reflection - January is for shaking it off and getting. It. Done.

I've found that small businesses are always happy to hear exciting options to breathe life into the design for their brand. It can show them that I'm not just a designer, I'm truly vested in their mission. This month, I want to remember to let my clients know I'm thinking of them, beyond our day-to-day design. 

Here are 5 subtle ways I like to help my clients explore new levels for their design:

1. GATHERING NEW IDEAS FOR A MODERN DESIGN UPDATE

If there's time for coffee we'll meet up to talk about a few inspirations I've found that feel fresh and modern for their brand. It's also nice to talk openly about how their designs are working, and to take notes on edits we should make in our next phase.

2. I'M ALWAYS KEEPIN' A CHECK ON OUR COMPETITION

I'll gather a design case-study with my clients on a competitor's latest marketing campaign. What's working out there? I even love subscribing or ordering a competitor's product so I can study their systems, packaging, strengths, and more.

3. DUSTING OFF OLD MONEY-MAKING DESIGNS

If it's been a while since we've stepped into a design project that has a nice return - say a logo, website, newsletter templates, monthly ads - I'll list my top suggestions to rejuvenate their design for the new year.

4. SCOUTING TALENT IN ANY INDUSTRY FOR OUR PROJECTS

I'll scout out extra help, talent, or contractors we could use on our most-needed projects that will help us grow. This is always top-of-mind for growing my network as well. It's a win-win and I get to meet some very exciting people.

5. TOSSING MY CLIENTS MONEY-SAVING ALERTS FOR DESIGN AND BEYOND

I'm always on the look out for great deals on printing, apps, hosting, you name it. When our communication is open and I know what my clients are looking for, I LOVE finding great deals that can save them money. 

Which new heights will your brand aim for this year? Let's talk about it!
All my best, 
— Courtney O.

 

5 To-Do's for a Fast Website Launch

 
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In the freelance world I'm always meeting prospective clients who want things done fast, with style. Good news is that I'm all for it - let's get to work! But there are a few things that help to create a smooth-sailing launch in a hurry.

If you need it quick and designed well, here are my top suggestions for clients to help their designer move swiftly. 

1. GATHER AND ZIP ALL YOUR CONTENT

Don't know where to start with content? Focus on one page at a time and what you need from it. Find a site you simply love and follow their content structure - with your very authentic spin.

Developing a word doc where each new page will represent your site's navigation (example, pg 1= Homepage, pg 2= Services, pg 3= About) is one of the best ways to organize and edit your site's content. Remember to think about your call to actions, imagery, and headlines.

If you have a brand style guide, a blog, additional copy, photos, logos, movie clips, hell - even quick photos of napkin sketches(!), gather them all and organize them in a folder for your web designer.

Once you have your collateral in one place, zip them up for a Dropbox, WeTransfer, or GDrive folder with editing permissions for your designer. You'll want your designer connected on your project management software as well.

If you have content ready for your designer to use, this could save you hundreds - even thousands of dollars. In 10 years of designing, the most time I've seen lost is emailing back and forth for assets. It can also be wasteful to design with placement text when the content can really lend the designer an idea of the structure you truly need.


2. GIVE YOUR DESIGNER FREEDOM, BUT ASK FOR "BUDGET CHECK-INS"

Have a $500 budget? Pressed for time? Ask to have a check-in at $250 billing, or 1 week's time for a progress update.

If your designer can't handle that - quick left.

If your designer is savvy and well-organized, they should know, to a tee, where your priorities and budgets lie. They should have a handle on every line item they clock, and why they clocked it.


3. CHOOSE & COMMIT TO A GOOD TEMPLATE FOR A STRUCTURAL FOUNDATION

Even if you're designing a site from scratch, choosing a theme or template from a site you enjoy can help your designer and/or programmers understand what you're looking for.

For platforms like Squarespace, Shopify, or Wordpress, there are many choices and it’s usually best for the client to preview these and choose a direction. Of course, your designer can handle this, but there are thousands of options out there! Finding your perfect fit while we're green on the project could take time/money.

Why choose now? It’s helpful to have a direction of a theme before the project begins as each new theme will have different snippets of code that can dramatically change how your assets are laid out, cropped, and resized (especially on mobile). Having this visual guide will also help you develop content!


4. CALL IN FOR LONGER LISTS OF EDITS

Time is money, friends. Instead of churning out a 50-line email, ask your designer for a hyper-focused call and knock it out in 5 minutes. 

Totally preference here, but if you have a list of edits and are pressed for time, I like to have my clients log in to their sites and we can edit together over the phone.

You can refresh after I’ve followed your feedback and see the site live. Sure beats composing an email and letting the designer try to decipher your feedback.


5. WHEN CHOOSING A DESIGNER, BE SUPER CLEAR ABOUT YOUR TIMELINE

Communication is everything - be very clear and upfront when interviewing potential designers.

Want to work with a specific designer but they're slammed? Find your next favorite + most available designer and book them for a simple splash/landing/coming soon page.

Here's a pro tip: Nothing on the web is set in stone. When you think of your web design in stages, things become much lighter.

Start small, get launched, continue on, and when your dream designer is ready, you'll have much more experience and feedback ready to go for your next phase of the launch.


I hope this helps you gather the steps to help your designer move quickly and on budget. Want to talk more about how fast we could go with your site design? Send me an email and I'm back to you in a jiffy. 

All my best!
— Courtney O.