Key systems every creative entrepreneur needs

As a creative entrepreneur, you have so many roles to fill and tasks to stay on top of. You have to manage your money, control your schedule, and market your practice. The good news is that there are hundreds of systems available that can help you stay on top of all these functions. The bad news is there are hundreds of systems that can help you stay on top of all these functions—and before any of them can begin to make you more efficient, you may have to spend so much time investigating, learning, and deploying them, that whatever time savings they promise, will have been burned up ten times over.

Yet you really do need systems to help manage all the details of running your business. In this week’s article, I’m not going to review dozens of options. Rather, I’m going to share some of my choices, and why I use the tools I do. And if you do decide to adopt any of them, my video training materials can help you get your head around them and deploy them quickly—so they can start making you more efficient, and not soak up more of your precious time in evaluation.

Systems for Managing Your Money

I use Quickbooks, and so should you. If not Quickbooks then Xero. Both are true accounting systems, not glorified invoicing systems. A true accounting system will enable you to run balance sheets and profit and loss statements, as well as keeping your books and billing your clients. If you’re running a business, you need to be able to review your balance sheet and P&Ls. Why? Read this article on understanding your bottomline through evaluating your total equity over time.

While it may take a little getting used to Quickbooks, it’s not that hard. And one reason I recommend Quickbooks is their support. If you ever get in a tangle you can request a call, and they will help you out. That alone is worth the cost. I usually recommend the Simple Start version at $25 per month—there’s an introductory offer of $12/mo. for the first three months.

Systems for Managing Your Time

There are so many time management systems to choose from, not to mention that many other systems you might use also offer time keeping options and functions. But I strongly recommend Harvest (getharvest.com). There are two reasons I have such a strong preference. First, there’s no real point to carefully tracking your time if you’re not going to ever analyze your project performance. Harvest has robust, easy-to-manage time reporting features. You can slice and dice your projects in all sorts of ways to gain insight into where all your time is going. And the real kicker is their sister platform, Forecast. Forecast is a resource planning tool that is linked to actual time data in Harvest. I’ve never encountered anything like it. And projecting your time resources is an absolutely critical skill to keep your projects flowing smoothly, and not overwhelming yourself or your employees.

Systems for Marketing

The number of systems for managing your marketing is mind-boggling. But you’ll probably just need two or three systems (aside from your website). An email marketing platform, a customer relationship management system (CRM), and maybe a social media marketing platform. Again, the options abound. I’ve used many CRMs, but HubSpot’s free CRM competes strongly with them all, and it’s unlimited contacts, unlimited custom properties, and unlimited users—for free is hard to beat. And since Hubspot is so popular, almost all the other systems you might use will likely have built-in integrations.

For email, I lean toward either MailChimp or Sendinblue. Personally, I use Sendinblue. It’s less expensive than MailChimp and it offers some decent automation if you ever need it.

I also use Buffer to queue up weekly social media posts.

One last optional marketing system you might want to consider, if you want to take things to the next level, is ConvertFlow. I’m a big fan of ConvertFlow. It allows you to create user specific calls-to-action based on their past use of your website. And it integrates with HubSpot and most email marketing platforms.

Project Management Systems

Your project management system is a critical component of your service. And unlike my other recommendations, I don’t have a strong preference for PM systems. And since changing a Project Management system is a daunting undertaking, I would generally stick with what you’re used to, unless it’s just not up to snuff.

For what it’s worth, I use Teamwork and I’m quite satisfied. I also like its built-in integration with Harvest, for convenient access to time keeping at the task level. But if you’re already using any of the other of the many options out there, don’t switch unless your system is just not workable.

I’m always interested in other platforms that creatives have adopted and how they are working for you. Hit me up on LinkedIn if you have other recommendations or experiences with these platforms.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?