After trying several project management systems, payment structures, and software platforms, running a design business can get overwhelming if you’re not sure what to use when you’re just starting off.
We all like the idea of having our own design business – freedom from the 9-5, choosing what you get to work on, being able to travel wherever. However, it’s essential to have certain systems and resources in place to help keep everything running smoothly while continuing to grow your business.
So instead of going back and forth debating on what would work best for you, I’ve put together a list of proven, curated, favorite resources that I’ve used over the years that have helped me step into the the next level of running my design business.
The Start-Up Essentials
For design businesses just starting off, these are my top recommendations that are kind to your budget, and can grow with you over time.
I would say this one is almost an essential. Track your business expenses, invoice clients, and stay on top of your taxes. I love the user interface with Quickbooks, and at a low monthly fee, you can have a good idea of money coming in and money going out. (Click here to get 50% off your first 6 months.)
Adobe is what I design everything on, and is the industry standard for all things design. Pro tip! They typically have good deals on Black Friday to get 30% off your monthly subscription.
Hiring a CPA was also a no-brainer for me. I do not like numbers and dealing with money. However, hiring a trusted CPA has helped me have a peace of mind knowing that I’m doing everything legally. And when tax season rolls around, I know they’ve got my back.
This was the first resource that I invested in and go back through time and time again. Have you ever felt completely lost on how to start your design business? Pick up this beautiful step by step guide that walks you through all of those details in an easy to read, actionable approach. This helped me have the knowledge I needed upfront from building my business on a solid foundation.
Catch does the savings for you by automatically setting aside taxes, personal income, and anything else you want to save for from every paid invoice.
There is SO much content out there with highly valuable information. Before purchasing a higher level course, follow a designer that’s a few years ahead of you. Read their blog posts, follow their content, and see how you can grow from their free resources before learning where you would like to invest your money in a higher level course.
Type inspo king. I love the high quality, curated fonts that are always up to date with the latest design trends. I purchased Typewolf’s Flawless Typography Checklist and it has the most comprehensive, designer approved recommendations on all things type that I’ve come across.
Abbey from Wayfarer Design Studio is an inspiration for how she genuinely wants to help other designers succeed in their businesses. Her Designer’s Essentials Kit is perfect for setting up your branding process and how to professionally and efficiently present your design work to clients.
This course helped me learn how to price my services on value, how to grow my design business, and I got connected with likeminded creatives. Morgan is a wealth of information, and has really helped me move the needle forward towards my business goals.
Project Management + Software
Project manager, time tracker, client communicator, time blocker. I am a Clickup fan. The feature I enjoy the most is being able to time block my days when I’m working on multiple projects at once. They’re constantly coming up with innovative features, and highly recommend as an upgrade from Asana.
This is a journal app that I’ve been using for 5 years and absolutely love. Whether you use it for business or personal purposes, Day One easily searches key words for something that you may have written years ago. One of my favorite features is “On This Day” where you can see where you were and what you wrote a year ago from today. Modern interface and simple user experience that syncs to all your devices.
In the past, I’ve used Squarespace and Wix to design my own website. I’ve found that I love the customization and support of WordPress + Flothemes so much more. With a set fixed price (rather than paying monthly), this has been my go to platform that doesn’t require code.
It’s almost impossible for me to work without music. I love the variety and playlist features of Spotify, and not being distracted by commercials helps me to stay productive and focused throughout the day.
For scheduling calls, Calendly is definitely my go to. Customize availability, especially if you’re making calls overseas or people with a different time zone with you, I love being able to easily connect a zoom call to whatever works best with my client.
My number one choice for email marketing. I love that Flodesk feels fun and has lots of design features to create an email campaign. Your audience will be just as excited to open and read them. The great user interface, being able to segment your audience in what they’re interested in, and a flat user rate all makes Flodesk a win. (Click here to get 50% off your Flodesk subscription.)
I really enjoy being able to fully focus and have a home office computer while also having the flexibility of a laptop. I don’t think that two devices are essential, but just the ones that I ended up investing in over the years. However, if you are looking for only one device, I would go with the Macbook Pro to be able to work out of your favorite coffee shop.
As a designer, I highly suggest investing well with your hardware equipment, because it’s the main tool of what allows you run business. Having a reliable, fast, machine will serve you well for years to come. I’ve had zero problems with my Macbook Pro, and love to be able to have the freedom to work from anywhere.
I was SOLD on sketchbooks, but since I’ve gotten the iPad + apple pencil, I haven’t turned back. For lettering, sketches, and being able to have everything in one place, I love how this digital resource feels so real to pen and paper. It’s definitely paid for itself for me in just a few projects, and I love that I can easily airdrop my sketches to my computer.
Photos & Mockups
I cannot say enough great things about MOYO. They are the answer designers have been looking for. With their minimal, beautiful approach to photography, you can showcase your design work as a cohesive, on brand experience.
Free, highly curated stock photos for your design projects. Pexels is one of the best free resources that I’ve used, and when it comes to finding the right look and feel, I always seem to find just the right photo I’m looking for.
Stocksy has a more high end, premium approach to stock photography. They have a wide variety of highly curated photographers where you can find exactly what you’re looking for. Stocksy has a more high end, premium approach to stock photography.
Some of these recommendations may have affiliate links, however they are trusted resources that have genuinely helped me run my business, and hope it helps you with yours!