Be Free, Lance | Streamlining Your Process

Over the years, I’ve gotten good at taking short cuts. The kind that feel good when you finally figure them out without sacrificing quality. And coincidentally, I’ve found my work days to be shorter as a result! Win win. Throughout the course of this Be Free, Lance series, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of discovering your process, but not necessarily how to streamline it. And that last part? It’s a game changer. Once you’ve discovered a process that works best for you, think a little deeper. What actions could you take to provide an even more efficient working environment for yourself? Here are a few things I’ve personally found helpful.

01. TASTEFULLY AUTOMATE WHATEVER YOU CAN Email templates are life savers, as I’m sure most of you probably know by now. And if you don’t, check out the “canned responses” gmail short cut (other providers have similar options) for more details! Features like these help us quickly answer common emails and allow us to move on without much pause. While I utilize these myself for frequently asked questions and polite “I’m already booked” responses, I recently developed a canned response that is specifically used for on-boarding clients. What this means is that whenever a new client is signed, I am able to send their first “intro” email in just a few short seconds. This particular email tells them what I need to get started (typically a signed contract + downpayment), explains any homework (client questionnaires) they may have, and goes over any immediate due dates. Without my canned response, these on-boarding emails would take 15 minutes, at least, to draft. The important thing to remember here is keeping things tasteful. Make sure that your canned responses don’t sound overly automated. Personal touches (that only take a few extra seconds to write) are great additions to consider before hitting send on any canned response.

02. WORK YOUR BEST HOURS I used to believe that I had to work the typical eight hour days. I would force a lot into that timeframe, only to find myself exhausted by 5PM. After a lot of experimentation (and tough lessons), I finally realized that I simply don’t work well in the afternoons. For whatever reason, that’s the one time of the day where I struggle to get things done and time drags on. So instead of forcing it, I’ve embraced it. Morning are my sweet spot, so that’s exactly where I’ve put my focus. If you take advantage of your best hours, you WILL work less as a result.

03. USE CHEAT SHEETS While you may be entirely familiar with your process, your clients aren’t, which is exactly why they hired you! You are providing a service that they cannot achieve on their own. But with that responsibility comes a little bit of hand holding. That said, I’ve found it extremely helpful to send out little “cheat sheet” PDFS that break down my process along the way. For example, whenever a client reaches the revisions stage, I shoot over a one pager that explains how to best give feedback. Critique isn’t something that most of us do everyday, so it’s been helpful to have a guide for my clients who are unfamiliar with that part of the process! Similar “cheat sheets” can be made for so many other topics. Just like with canned email responses, these guys are time savers for sure.

While a lot of these ideas will help save you time in the long run, it’s important to ALWAYS BE FLEXIBLE. Every project and client is different, after all. While one canned email response may work for the majority of clients, it may not always be the best option, given the circumstances. And hey, if you work best during the mornings like me, it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t work at different points of the day, too. As I’ve always said, your process will never be perfect. And that’s okay! Do what works best for you and take those fun short cuts whenever you can. ;)

  1. Jessica Rose says:

    Thanks for these tips…I’m hoping to go freelance so I’m really thankful I found your blog!

  2. Amber says:

    I really love the point you made about creating cheat sheets! I think that’s a helpful hint for all sorts of business owners and freelancers, not just designers. It really helps to eliminate the bit of disconnect that comes from being the expert and needing the expert. Awesome post!

    • breanna says:

      Totally! It helps answer a lot of questions quickly and allows the client to follow along and feel like they are apart of the process even more. Keeping them educated is good!!

  3. Those cheat sheets are one hell of a tip . I definitely need to make that happen . Cause you can definitely get lost in the revision process, some clients are just soooo lost and unsure. It can drive you crazy ! Looking forward to more tips from you on this one ! ;)

    • breanna says:

      You should!! Adding in the “revisions pdf cheat sheet” was very helpful for me! Some people truly don’t know how to give feedback or even what to look for, so that’s what I try to convey within the simple one pages. It’s still relatively new, so sometimes I forget to send it … but so far so good!

  4. Maja says:

    Great advice! Will have to invest some time in creating those assets.

  5. Jamie says:

    Great advice! I need to try out the automated responses for sure! I like the cheat sheet idea too! The design process is something new for the client, and any way that we can guide them (in the nicest way possible) would be a win win!

    • breanna says:

      Yes, exactly! Educating them in and easy to digest way makes the whole process SO much easier for BOTH parties. :)

  6. Jessica says:

    Really great tips! I totally agree with the second one, I can barely work on the afternoons, that’s why I take that time to read blogs x

    • breanna says:

      Afternoon twins. ;) ;)
      Yeah, if I do anything during that time … it can’t involve much of my brain. Stuff like answering emails and catching up on social media is great, but anything beyond that can get bad!!

  7. […] • Designers, Breanna Rose has some fantastic advice for streamlining your process. […]

  8. Becky Murphy says:

    This was really helpful. I never thought about cheat sheets. If for no other reason, it’s good reinforcement for clients so they know they’re “doing it right.” I have one now who wonders if she’s being too much (she’s not at all!), but this would help her see it’s a regular part of the process. High fives!

    • breanna says:

      Totally! It’s a simple way to make them feel like they are even MORE apart of the process, while simultaneously educating them so they can follow along. Plus, it helps answer a bunch of questions. ;) Hope all is well with you lady!!

  9. Jennifer says:

    This post was super helpful!! I just sent an email to the entire agency where I’m interning about your first tip. Canned responses are such a timesaver, so thanks for sharing.

    I love getting a peak behind-the-scenes of the freelancing process!

    • breanna says:

      Oh wow, awesome!! I hope your work buddies can find some good use for canned responses. ;) They aren’t a bad thing to have ready!

  10. This is exactly what I needed, thank you ! I know that I needed to find ways to streamline my process and make it easier for me but I hadn’t thought about a few of those ideas, THANK YOU !

    One tool I just started using is IFTTT, it’s helped me cut down my social media “fiddling” time so much and I don’t have to go on the respective social media to post = less time to get distracted !

  11. Savanna says:

    I never knew about the Gmail canned responses, thanks for the share! It’s so true that you have to stay flexible. You can have all the process sheets and intro emails you want in place but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for every client! And I agree that your process will never be perfect. It’s so easy to spend hours and hours trying to get it just right, but that’s just never gonna happen. Like you’ve said, it’s best to just learn as you go and keep tweaking along the way.

  12. THESE ARE GREAT TIPS!!! Thank you for sharing them! The one that really resonated with me was to work when you are at your most productive. It might take a while to figure out what works best, but it’s SO worth it – I’ve really seen my output increase as I focus on working in the morning and the late evening (afternoons are my worst time, too!).

    • breanna says:

      Exactly! If you aren’t forcing it, then work is going to happen. If you’re forcing it, things just take longer and you end up feeling even more exhausted + working more hours! No bueno.

  13. Angel Y. says:

    Love this advice Breanna, especially about working your best hours. If you try to force yourself into a bubble, you don’t always make the best decisions or your work isn’t always at its best.

    • breanna says:

      Oh boy, isn’t that the truth? If I’m forcing myself to work during my off hours, I typically hit every road block there can be. Not fun!

  14. Jackie Kelly says:

    Awesome advice, as always!
    I tend to work well very early in the morning or at night and I try to do most serious project during those times, whenever I can. Out of those times, I get distracted easily… Wish it happened the other way around. =D

    • breanna says:

      Agreed! I wish I was better in the afternoons, but have learned to embrace the mornings. I typically get a few chores done in the afternoon – or even just go out and shop. ;) It kinda has it’s perks if you think about it that way! Places are less busy and all that jazz.

  15. Vanessa says:

    I need to get better about automating emails! It’s been a struggle NOT spending 15+ minutes on each email I send out. And I’m totally having issues with the working my best hours, a blanket of guilt comes over me if I’m not working 8+ hours a day like I’m missing out on potential income. Is that weird? I need to get over that haha

    love youuuu<3

    • breanna says:

      Do it! You don’t have to have a ton of them (I only have 3), but it helps save time when you need it. ;) And seriously, don’t worry about feeling guilty over not working 8+ hours. If you’re working hard and at your best hours, it literally doesn’t matter. It takes a bit to get over, but you will. #GoSHOP!!

  16. Daisy says:

    I really hope in the future, whether it be 5 years, 10 years or 15 years I am able to become a freelancer. It has just always been my dream, and these tips have just spurred me on even more to work hard for it!

    <a href="" daisychurchward

  17. natalia says:

    I’m not a designer, not freelance, and I don’t work from home but man, these are really smart tips!

  18. Vanessa says:

    Some really great tips – especially about the email templates! Any chance you would give us a glimpse of your “cheat sheet” PDF for client feedback? Would be so useful. Thanks!

    • Was just wondering that same thing, Vanessa! I feel like some of my clients really struggle knowing how to provide helpful feedback; most of them are new to the whole process and want to give me feedback but don’t know what exactly to do. I’d love to see a peek of that sheet!

    • breanna says:

      My client feedback cheat sheet really just goes over how to critique. I thought a lot about what’s helpful for ME to hear, and translated that for my clients. I think it’s different depending on what services you offer! But for example, I encourage my clients to think about typography, tone, and color … and ask themselves “does this FELL like your brand.” And “Why/why not.” From there, it’s easy to pin point certain elements that are spot on or need help.

  19. Rachel says:

    Hi Breanna, thanks for this super helpful post! I wanted to ask – what kind of questions or content would you include on the ‘cheat sheets’ to prompt the most constructive and helpful kind of feedback?

  20. Niken says:

    thank you so much for sharing this, Breanna! you are really inspiring.

  21. I never struggled with writing emails, but because I love writing too much, I end up with too long emails. So, this would be a strong reason for me to start some templates.
    You teased me with your cheat sheets and I am now too curious to peek into these templates of yours :)
    Thanks for the great advice!

  22. Meagen says:

    Your Be Freelance course can not come soon enough. I’ll be launching my freelance business very soon and look forward to your wisdom :)

  23. These are really great tips Breanna, some of the best and most useful I’ve ever read!
    I don’t do much freelance work these days but I plan to implement the canned responses where I can for my new business. :)

  24. Kaylie says:

    This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing :)

  25. Josephine says:

    Love the idea of a cheat sheet to help clients give feedback! Thanks.

  26. Amber says:

    I love these tips. Especially the third one. I’m really big on checklists, but hadn’t thought about cheat sheets for both me and my clients yet. Thank you so much!

  27. Viv says:

    THIS IS AMAZING! What a gem of a post. I will treasure this and inserting it in my Pinterest board of helpful design info right away. Thank you for generously sharing your knowledge. As an invitation designer, I have literally exchanged one to two hundred e-mails with clients before. After reading this post, I’m committed to trying to do the hard work first to hopefully save time for myself (and the client) in the long run. Thank you again!
    P.S. Congrats on your stunning wedding!

  28. […] expand your world. 3. 7 pieces of wisdom that will change the way you work. 4. The importance of streamlining your process. 5. How Emotions Drive Bad Financial Decisions (and How to Take Control). 6. 20 ways to promote […]

  29. Loved this so much I shared it with my readers in my most recent post: 15 Things To Do When Business Slows. Thanks for the great post!

  30. Taylor says:

    These tips are great. I am going to be looking into doing some of these. I already work whenever I feel creative rather than fitting it into a certain time frame – it’s so much easier and the quality doesn’t suffer that way.

    Taylor //

  31. Danielle says:

    Taking advantage of your best hours is a HUGE game-changer and is often overlooked. I call it “riding my energy.” I try to set a routine for most days around my best hours, but I’m also flexible when I need to be so I’m doing my best, most efficient work.

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