how to set up the best free invoicing software - Wave Apps
bookkeeping-wave blog post

If you’re starting a business (or even just doing a few projects on the side), you must use a billing/invoicing/accounting system to track income and expenses. A spreadsheet isn’t terrible, but come tax time you’ll need reports. Creatives: do NOT try to use design software to make fancy invoices. There’s no way to track these, and you’ll end up with a nightmare.

  • In the early days of cyclone press I used an invoicing software (without real accounting features).
  • Then I used Xero for a bit, which is an up-and-coming cloud option.
  • After switching to a new accountant (with special software pricing) I broke down and switched to Quickbooks Online, something I swore I’d never do. While there were a few nice things, it was overall as terrible as expected, particularly in the recurring invoice department (practically nonexistent).
  • 2 years ago I switched to Wave and have no regrets whatsoever.

Wave is now the billing software I recommend to all my clients, and the best part is that it’s totally free. I want to quickly outline why I like it, then give you a walkthrough of how to set up a new Wave account.

Wave Accounting Pros

  • Wave is clean, simple, and incredibly user-friendly. It does what it needs to do, beautifully.
  • Recurring invoices are a dream. Easy to set up, and more importantly, easy for clients to pay. They can choose to save credit card info for automatic payment.
  • Online payment setup is practically instant.
  • Reconciliation is unbelievably easy.
  • It’s easy to add and switch between multiple businesses.
  • Zapier integration.
  • If you need payroll, you can add it (although that service isn’t free).
  • It’s easy to add users (bookkeepers, tax preparers etc.)

Wave Accounting Cons

  • My biggest complaint is that there’s no way to add credits to a client accounts. I use renamed invoices with positive amounts instead, but it’s an annoying workaround.
  • Products are not searchable.
  • I’d like to see more Zapier options.
  • No time tracking. I don’t actually see this as a con: I’ve never used this as part of an invoicing system and I think it should be separate anyway, but just FYI. I use Timecamp for the bulk of my time tracking.
  • Ads. HR Block bought Wave in 2019 so they’re obviously going to give themselves ad space, and because the product is free they’re trying to make money somewhere. You might click on a tab to discover it’s a partnership with another B2B product. As long as they maintain Wave this doesn’t bother me.
  • No downloadable app (I despise in-browser apps). There are ways to run cloud apps as a standalone app on your desktop (on Mac) which is what I do.
  • No way to digitally accept estimates.
  • Because it’s free, updates are infrequent.

I feel like I should clarify the fact that all of my cons are just nice-to-have features, not actual needs. The top two are really the only things I’d like to see updates for, but I can’t be truly picky because again, Wave is totally free.

getting started with Wave Apps accounting software

Here's a quick how-to process to get your small business up and running with Wave. At the end of this tutorial, you'll be able to send invoices and receive online payment.

I'm no accountant, so none of this is legal/tax advice, but I do work with soloproneurs and startups to establish processes and set up software. If you need help getting set up with a business email address, branding or a website, get in touch.

how to set up the best free invoicing software - Wave Apps

Time Needed: 45 minutes


You'll need:

- business email address
- business bank account information
- bookkeeper/accountant name and email (optional)
- business logo, ideally transparent PNG
- business brand color code ("#000000")
- your sales tax rate (if you sell products)

Required tools:

- computer
- secure Internet connection

How to set up a Wave Apps account

Step 1 : Sign up for a Wave account

Click the link above to open the Wave registration page in a new tab and follow along. You’ll want to sign up with your work email and a strong password (or log in with Google).

Step 2 : Create a business account

Follow the prompts to add the information for your business. Available business types are listed below.

Step 3 : Invite your accountant or bookkeeper

Chances are you’ll need to add another user to your account. You’ll find the option to invite users under ‘Settings’ in the sidebar, then ‘Users.’ There are currently 5 types of access level. Choose the appropriate level, then add your new user’s information. They’ll receive an invitation to join your account via email.


Step 4 : Customize the branding for your business

Under Settings, go to ‘Invoice Customization’. There are 3 invoice templates, an option to upload your logo and choose an accent color. While this doesn’t sound like much, the “Contemporary” template is well-designed so you don’t need to do much. Use a medium resolution PNG (with a transparent background) for your logo.

Now scroll down to customize your invoice terms, payment settings, and adjust units to your business. Make sure to ‘Save all changes.’

Step 5 : Adjust online payment options

Wave has their own payment processing system that makes it incredibly easy to accept online payments. Toggle these on and off as needed.

Step 6: Add sales tax (if you sell products)

Under Settings > Accounting, click ‘Sales Taxes’ add your sales tax rate, if needed.

Step 7: Add business bank account to receive payouts

Under Settings > Banking, click ‘Payouts’ and follow the prompts to add the bank account that online payments will deposit into.

Step 8: Add your business bank account for tracking expenses

Once your account is set up, look for the ‘Banking’ tab on the sidebar, then click ‘Connected Accounts’ to add your business bank account. Start typing to search for your bank, then select it and log in with your online banking credentials.

Important note: always separate your personal and business expenses. Go set up a business bank account and use it for all business purchases and payments. Do not use your personal bank account for anything business related. This is rule number 1.

Step 9: Add standard products and/or services (optional)

If you charge an hourly rate or have a flagship product, you’ll want to add those under Sales > Products & Services. Make sure you’re choosing the correct income account when you set these up. When you select ‘Sell this,” it will give you the default option to add it to the ‘Sales’ income account.

To better track different income streams you’ll probably want to add additional accounts, which you can do under Accounting > Chart of Accounts. For example: the bulk of what we do at cyclone press is web design, development & hosting, but we also sell business cards and other printed products, which I track under a separate income account.

Step 10: Send your first invoice (or estimate)

At this point you’re ready to go. You can create an estimate, then convert it to an invoice when accepted. Or send out that invoice for the project that was the impetus to get an accounting system set up in the first place.

If you created a product, you can click to add it to the estimate or invoice, meaning the 5 minutes of up-front work to set it up is going to save you a ton of time in the long run.

Choose to include a message when you email it, and pick how often you want the client to receive reminders to pay.

There’s a lot more I could cover on the day-to-day use of Wave, but because it’s so user-friendly, it’s going to be fairly straightforward to figure out.

Do you have specific questions?

Drop them in the comments and I might do a follow-up post. There’s also a chat bot inside Wave you can use to find links to help articles in the Wave Help Center.


I’ve wanted to write this post for years. After this most recent escapade, I’ve had enough of GoDaddy’s shenanigans, and I’m going to let you in on what professional web developers know and discuss amongst themselves.

GoDaddy is terrible.

This is an open secret, and yet a decent number of new clients come to me with a domain name and/or web hosting through GoDaddy, and it always amazes me how they continue to somehow attract new clients. I imagine this is like that one model of car that all the mechanics know to run away from, but it’s popular among consumers because they don’t know things could actually be much, much better. That could probably be said for crappy web hosting of any kind, actually, but let’s stay on topic.

Is GoDaddy really that bad?


Ask any web designer/developer with a reasonable amount of experience and you’ll hear something like this:

  1. they upsell everything, constantly
  2. they charge for things you can get for free and add hidden costs
  3. they prey on client’s ignorance about technical issues
  4. they lock you into multiyear registrations so you don’t want to leave (sunk cost fallacy)
  5. support is terrible – you’ll get a different answer from every person you talk to

Also, they don’t play nice with Cloudflare and things just break randomly… (???) To be fair, things break randomly on most websites, but for some reason, they break more often on GoDaddy hosting. 🤔

This list is just off the top of my head, mostly because every one of these elements are present in the story I’m about to tell you.

In 2020, I began working with a client who had an existing WordPress website at GoDaddy.

After my initial cleanup, we would make occasional changes and updates as needed. We have the site on a maintenance plan to make sure it’s being backed up, plugins updated and it’s being monitored for security issues. Obviously I don’t like that it’s on GoDaddy hosting, but if a new client has already paid for a year of something I totally understand. We make it work and then migrate when the plan ends. Usually.

One of the first things I did on this site was to route the domain name through Cloudflare, which I do for every client. It provides greater speed, security, and most importantly, free SSL. SSL is what adds the “s” to “https” in your URL (along with the padlock icon). After Google’s changes in 2018, this went from nice-to-have, to need-to-have. Your browser will give visitors a security warning if you don’t have this, so it matters. The original site did not have SSL at all.

You can get free SSL from a lot of web hosts (probably most of them). Not GoDaddy. Here’s a screenshot from a client’s account page:

Wow, so generous.

It took some finagling – SSL is notoriously difficult to set up – but we got it done. That was sometime last fall.

This spring, the site broke out of nowhere. I can’t remember specifics at this point, but I think a lot of the images disappeared/ended up broken. Images and SSL are always tricky, but the site had been fine for months. However, my developer and I have both noticed that GoDaddy doesn’t seem to play nice with Cloudflare (I wonder why?) One of the benefits of having a system and maintaining a ton of different sites is that you start to notice patterns. When all variables are consistent except the hosting… it’s probably the hosting.

I fixed the issue somehow (the problem with troubleshooting is it’s hard to remember what ended up being successful). Life went on.

Cut to this past month… site goes down, support is terrible.

The site went down again. Just… down. Error. Unless an update broke the site (these things happen), no one had actually touched it. I contacted support and the first thing they said was to turn off Cloudflare. Of course. Then they said the domain wasn’t connected at all (no settings had been changed). I tried for way too long to get it to work with SSL through Cloudflare, then gave up on Cloudflare and reverted to the default GoDaddy settings just to make sure it was online. Unsurprisingly, support was worthless while trying to figure any of that out. Rote answers, no attempt to troubleshoot (see complaint #5). There were at least 3 different chat sessions.

After speaking with the client, they agreed to go ahead and move to my hosting. I immediately set up a new hosting account and quickly rebuilt the site from scratch. I didn’t want to migrate anything that was potentially corrupted (I did not create the original site). Back online, mission accomplished.

Then I went through the entire GoDaddy account to cancel the remaining hosting and send the client an update on what was actually in their account. This is what I found (shared with client’s permission and no identifying details):

Let’s play a game: which of these things do you actually need?

Let me point out the first thing I notice. This is a subscriptions page, and I took a screenshot of the full table. There are no prices in those columns. If you click on the item title, it still doesn’t show you a price. How am I supposed to figure out how much “Basic Managed WordPress Websites” will renew for? To be fair, navigating any part of their dashboard is a nightmare, but this is deceptive. I want to see, at a glance, how much each of these things cost.

At the top of the list you can see where it says “4 of 5 results.” That’s because the client’s 5th product is free, so it’s not listed here. It’s email forwarding (or an email alias), which is when [email protected] forwards to [email protected]. The client is perfectly happy with this (I mean, do any of us really want another email account?).

Now let’s go through each line item so we can understand my first complaint:

1. GoDaddy upsells everything, constantly

Item 1: Search Engine Optimization – 1 Year
What the heck is this? SEO isn’t just something you slap on to a website. It takes a ton of time, money and often on-page changes to headings, keywords, blogging on relevant topics, etc. No one is touching the website besides us. From the backend, it looked like you could create posts to share on social media or something. But when I searched on GoDaddy’s website, it looked like a tool that made SEO recommendations you could apply. Either way, it’s something my client has never used and probably didn’t even know they were paying for. This title makes it sound like someone is doing something, and could easily be fixed by adding the word ‘tool.’

Item 2: (Blurred)
This is the website domain name/URL, and the only thing on this list my client should actually be paying for. More on that in a second.

Item 3: Basic Managed WordPress Websites
This is the website hosting plan, which was originally for 3 years. Exhibit A of how they try to lock you in for crazy long time periods. I’m not sure I would pay up front for hosting for 3 years, and I’m a website hosting provider.

Item 4: Microsoft 365 Starter Email from GoDaddy
Remember how I mentioned this client uses email forwarding? Item 4 is an actual email account. It says “New Account” because it’s never been set up. My client has been paying for an unused email account. Why is that even in there?

But wait, there’s more!

2. GoDaddy adds hidden costs

In order to figure out how much these items cost, I had to switch to the Order History tab. I then discovered that the domain name had an add-on charge, which leads us to:

Item 5: Search Engine Visibility V1 Renewal.
Search engine visibility? Talk about a sentence designed to make consumers think it’s a magic bullet (let me interrupt this programming to tell you that there ARE no magic bullets for SEO, and anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar. It takes a ton of time and effort and it never ends).

So what is this?

Search Engine Visibility is an Internet-based search engine optimization and submission tool that guides users to optimize their website. Search Engine Visibility shows users how to improve internal and external aspects of their website. Doing this increases the visibility of the website in search engines via the “natural,” or unpaid, search results.

– GoDaddy Search Engine Visibility FAQ

Ah yes, another tool. Because what every business owner has is time to consult hard-to-navigate GoDaddy tools to optimize their website. That same GoDaddy page also says: “Once refined, use Search Engine Visibility’s site submission options to submit your site, correct any submission issues, and track number of pages indexed by various search engines.”

OK, so it sounds to me like this tool is just a way to submit a sitemap to Google? You can do that for free (Google Search Console). I do it for every site as part of our post-launch checklist. And yet this “Search Engine Visibility” product:

  • Costs the same amount as a 2-year domain name renewal
  • Has an incredibly deceptive title that’s going to make small business owners think they magically have better SEO without doing anything
  • I have no idea if it’s included by default with the domain name renewal because the subscription page has no info on actual cost
  • Why isn’t this part of the “Search Engine Optimization – 1 Year” line item?

This is why I’m now saying that GoDaddy shouldn’t even be allowed to register your domain name. Use Namecheap. Or talk to us and we’ll do it all for you so you never have to worry about it.

Can you see why every web designer/developer will warn you about GoDaddy upselling?

This is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing, either. Here’s another screenshot from a different client (also from 2020).

Circled items are upsells. These are legitimate, but still extra charges on top of their hosting.

Again, Standard SSL could be had for free, backups are an upcharge and… security?

The page that comes up when I search “Website Security Essential” (which is like this whole separate per-month plan) says it includes SSL and one click restore from backup. Yet this client also has SSL and Website Backup listed here… ??? Is this one package that includes everything, or are you paying twice for a) backups from the Security package and b) standalone Website Backup 10GB? Did this site just need more space? What if you just subscribed to products in the wrong order?

Just browse their site and you can see how the way they list and describe their products is almost intentionally confusing. It’s not just the sales pages either; if you’ve ever tried to navigate the dashboard it’s terrible and buggy (I use software all day every day, and it took me 15+ minutes just to find the settings for the email alias).

Now, I understand that someone reading this might say, “OK, but what’s wrong with charging for website tools? It’s not their fault if customers don’t use them. After all, this person signed up for this stuff.”

That’s right, they did. More than likely because they were told they “needed” it because it was “important for SEO” or “a better deal to sign up for 15 years” or any other number of things. Every web host, – every business – upsells. It’s a strategy that makes sense if it’s a service your individual customer genuinely needs and you aren’t intentionally misleading people. This really feels like the latter, and it leads to my second point:

3. GoDaddy preys on their customers’ technical ignorance.

Small business owners know SEO is important, even if they don’t know how it works. So if they have a chance to buy something that sounds like it’s going to drop them on the front page of Google, why wouldn’t they? When I see something called “Search Engine Optimization – 1 Year,” why wouldn’t I assume that means GoDaddy is going to optimize my website for 1 year? And if I have no idea what’s involved in SEO, how would I know they’re not doing something?

Obviously we want consumers to do their due diligence, but in a world that’s increasingly technically complex, with more choices than ever before… this is just predatory. It makes me angry. It’s no different than a mechanic who adds a made-up charge to your bill because they know you don’t know any better. It’s unethical, and if you knew it was happening, you’d take your business elsewhere. But once you find out…

4. GoDaddy pushes customers into multi-year registrations

Well, you’ve already paid for 3 years, so guess you’ll just have to deal with it. They’re hoping at the end of those 3 years you forget before auto-renewal hits, because if you don’t notice within 30 days… sorry, no refunds. They’re taking advantage of the sunk-cost fallacy, which is when you don’t want to make a change because you’ve already invested so much time or money into something.

5. GoDaddy support is terrible.

You might already know this, but it’s fairly easy to outsource customer support to companies/services who will (I assume) read from a script or refer to a FAQ page to handle your website chat inquiries. I can often tell when I’m talking to one of these people, because they will have no comprehension of the actual topic. That’s what every GoDaddy chat felt like.

I’ve also made phone calls on behalf of clients in the past, and I remember one conversation where my client had said they told them to upgrade to a certain hosting plan because it was “faster.” When I repeated this to support, the guy I was speaking with scoffed at that and was like, they said what? Yeah, no, that’s not true. That’s been typical of my experience. Also see my above complaints after 3 chat sessions.

Now there are always exceptions, and there might be some web designers/developers who actually like GoDaddy, I guess? (I’ve never met any). I’d genuinely love to hear from them. But if you are a developer, you’d know when you’re being sold something you didn’t need, meaning your experience would be very different from the average small business owner.

Also, I’m not familiar with any of these products listed, and sure, they probably have genuinely useful features. There might even be people actively using them that love the options. I don’t have a problem with offering a tool – it’s about how it’s marketed (and to whom). I mean, when services or products are this convoluted, the conclusion I have to draw is that it’s intentional. It’s not any one technique that they’re using; it’s all of them taken together that paint a very sketchy picture.

I also feel like this is a great example of what happens when small business owners work with a massive company where you’re just another number in the system. There is no 1:1 relationship or personalized communication. They don’t know you, or your business, or your story. The importance of relationships with providers who really get your unique needs is why I’m such a proponent of entrepreneurship, consultants, and long-term, ongoing relationships with service providers. It can be so much better.

If you take nothing else from this, know that there are too many other good options for hosting to mess with one that toes the line. Don’t use GoDaddy.

Questions? Horror stories? Totally disagree with me? I’d love to hear all of it – leave a comment below.

Real advice real quick: if you have your domain name registered at GoDaddy, you’re probably fine as long as you make sure they aren’t adding any weird charges. If you want to leave, you can buy a domain transfer at Namecheap, unlock your domain at GoDaddy, verify and move it. Pretty straightforward. If you have hosting at GoDaddy, you’ll need to set up an account at another host, then migrate your site, which is bit more technical. We host all our website clients and can help with any of this if it’s intimidating.

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Captain’s Log, April 1, 2020: Working from home with no end in sight.

I’ve been working from home for 10+ years. Or more frequently, out of local coffee shops. I’m missing both the cafe vibe and the ability to support the small businesses who need it most (other than the occasional drive thru or online order for pick up). The biggest challenge, however, is having a small, needy child at home the entire day. It’s really put a damper on the whole consistent work schedule thing (it died an immediate death).

I’ve seen a lot of articles about working from home. Most of them I haven’t read. The couple I skimmed were mostly fluff (one exception). So I’m just going to type a quick list, as things come to mind, after having done the work from home thing for years.

0. Get up at the same time every day.

After publishing this I realized something: I was assuming the reader would continue to get up at the same time every day. It was pointed out that this isn’t obvious to everyone, so I’m adding this caveat. Get up at the same time (or close to it) every day. Pretend you’re going to work. You are. It’s just in your house now.

If you had to be up at 7 every day previously, maybe it’s more reasonable to push it to 8 (no commute), but try to stick to a specific time. Factor in when the kids get up. But don’t sleep in until 11 and then drag yourself into the “office.” This list will not work for that. OK now, moving on…

1. Pajamas are for sleeping, not for working.

Isn’t it a cliché that people who work from home do so in their PJ’s? I feel like it is, but it’s dumb. Don’t do it.

The thing about clothes is that they affect your mental state. Imagine giving a presentation. You’ll put extra thought into what you wear, and when you know you look good, it affects how you present, doesn’t it? Most of us know this. What kind of work do you feel like you’re producing if you’re wearing pajama pants?

Don’t go overboard; there’s a middle ground between PJ’s and slacks. My modus operandi when home: leggings and light hoodies (i.e. comfy/no need to protect from cat claw snags). The important thing to note is that they’re different clothes than what I wear to bed. In a parallel universe, I suppose one could wear an evening gown to bed and flannel to work from home. It’s not the clothes themselves that matter so much; it’s the intention and mindset you’re stepping into.

1a. Make the bed.

You don’t have to, but it takes 2 minutes and it starts the day on the right foot.

2. Create a morning beverage ritual.

My love for coffee is well known. Perhaps less so is the fact that I’ve been mostly abstaining from caffeine the last several years. My dream is a cup of black not-decaf, but alas, my body is better off without it. I really miss the ritual of Aeropress coffee, which is my preferred method, but if you don’t like coffee, don’t feel like you have to miss out. I alternate between:

  • BioCoffee, which is this weird instant coffee mixed with wheatgrass that I don’t consider coffee at all
  • Decaf black tea
  • London Fog (black tea + lavender syrup + steamed milk)
  • Matcha latte (powdered green tea + steamed milk)
  • Chai latte (black tea + chai spices + brown sugar + steamed milk)
  • Decaf latte (decaf espresso + steamed milk)
  • Hot chocolate or drinking chocolate

Find something you enjoy and be consistent. Again, it’s the ritual that matters. The day really starts when you smell that coffee/tea/whatever and it signals the work is about to begin. Yes, I love coffee, but it’s less about the contents of the mug and more about the fact that I have a mug with something hot to drink. I could probably achieve the same psychological result with a mug of hot water, but who wants to drink that?

3. Create a dedicated work space.

This seems like it should be obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway. If you have an office, use it. I have a studio that doubles as my office on one side and and my art studio on the other. I mostly work at my desk. I often move to my beanbag for personal writing, so that’s where I am now. This afternoon it was beautiful so I worked on the porch for a bit. There are a couple spaces I’ll move to for a change, but 90% of the time I’m at my desk.

Come up with something to delineate your work space from the rest of the house. The key in this point is about setting boundaries: this is the place I work. It’s what you’re telling your brain, and your kids. If you have an office with a door, fantastic. Unfortunately, my studio is an attic room and does not have a door, so the kid can burst in at any time making laser sounds with LEGOS. Which leads me to…

4. Block off set periods for working and not working.

Full disclosure: I suck at this one. Like most entrepreneurs, I would be working nonstop if left alone (I’m not saying this is a good thing – just telling it like it is). My normal schedule (work while kid is at school) has turned into work when kid is not bothering me. Meaning the second he’s wrapped up in his LEGO scene I’m sneaking to my studio to knock out a few things. He inevitably realizes I’m gone, and Boba Fett decides to take his battle to the Studio system.

Because of this, it’s important that you are clear up front about WHEN you will be working. I clearly state I’m going upstairs to work, during his “morning playtime.” Depending on the day (and your kid), you might want to set a timer for an hour or something (don’t come into my office until the timer goes off). Apple finally made the obvious design decision to have a visual timer countdown on the Clock app, so if you have an iPad you can set that up where they can actually see how much time is left.

Another helpful thing here is to ask what special toy they’d like you to get out for that morning’s playtime. In our case, that’s either kinetic sand, a bucket of dry beans, playdough, car track, or potentially worksheets, coloring, or an easy puzzle. Just make sure it’s an activity that doesn’t require assistance. (Pro tip: hide some toys and only let your kids have them on occasion. You’ll always have something “new” and exciting to distract them). Obviously the iPad itself can be an activity, which is what we do for the afternoon work session (no game screen time until after 3 pm).

Not working: make sure you’re also scheduling time for other things. Not just chores either. See #10.

5. Figure out if you like ambient noise or silence.

Having worked out of coffee shops for years, I prefer ambient cafe sounds for working. I have a friend who used to rent a conference room just to work in complete silence. If you’re not used to working from home, finding your preferences might require a little trial and error. There are many curated playlists to choose from if you prefer music, but again, it’s the ritual that matters. Give yourself permission to experiment.

6. Take frequent breaks.

This one is tough. I prefer to sit down and work for a solid several hours. That’s not entirely healthy, and your productivity goes down after a certain point anyway. But the big reason for this one is that you will be interrupted. You can’t have the same expectations around work as you did when things were, well, normal. It’s best to just step into a different frame of mind, and be intentional about stepping away to refill the tea, make the sure the house is still in one piece, let the dog out, whatever. The weather has been gorgeous lately, so use every excuse to step outside for a bit. I need to be better about taking breaks anyway, so I’m trying to use the distractions that could be are frustrating as a way to develop healthier work habits.

Also, it makes you appreciate the occasional late night work session with no interruptions (but don’t do it too often).

7. Don’t work out of your email.

If your project management “software” is a notepad and a pen, it’s still better than using your email to manage projects. On a normal day, it’s a guaranteed way to prioritize the urgent over the important. On a day in the life of someone who doesn’t normally work from home, who can’t leave because they’re sheltering-in-place, with their kids… Yeah, not a good idea.

There are a million project management systems to choose from, but you need to first decide if the system is going to be more work than the work itself. Now might not be the time to try to learn new software (or maybe it is–your call). There’s nothing wrong with a notepad, which is how I effortlessly managed projects as an employee. As an entrepreneur? Eh I wish… I wear too many hats now, so I need something more robust.

“Your inbox is a to-do list to which anyone in the world can add an action item.” – Chris Sacca

Take the requests out of the inbox, then work off your list. It doesn’t matter what kind of list you use. If wrangling your inbox is a daily struggle, read my post on getting to Inbox Zero.

8. Use technology to your advantage.

If there ever were a time in history to be quarantined, it’s now. You can stream Netflix, Disney+, download games, order anything you want online, livesteam on social media, Facetime your family and friends. Most people know how to use these services (or they’re learning). Do the same for your business.

Here’s what you need to do. Map out your desired workflow. Figure out what areas you could streamline using software. Google that kind of software, and narrow it down to a few possible options. Ask your network for recommendations or sign up for free trials. Think about how you can automate things. Feel free to contact me if you need help or suggestions with this process.

  • I use Vectera for video chats, which doesn’t require software downloads. If you’re a Google Workspace (G Suite) user you have Google Meet.
  • Time tracking software is a must. I use Timecamp (love the menu bar timer), and I also recommend Toggl (free tier allows teams up to 5, better UI).
  • For project management we used monday, which is amazingly easy to use immediately, because it’s set up like a spreadsheet. It’s built for teams, so if you’re a single user it might not be a good fit. ClickUp is actually what we use now, as it’s similar but more affordable.
  • My CRM is Daylite, but unless things are slow for you, now might not be the time to get into CRM’s unless you’re also using it for project management.
  • I cannot speak highly enough about 1Password. This is 2020: you should be using a password manager. And no, Google Sheets is not OK. If passwords are a daily struggle, if you have time now, sign up for an account and input all your logins. You’ll wonder how you lived without it.
  • Specifically for teams; if you’re needing to work things out creatively and miss the whiteboard, look into a tool like Miro or Milanote. Project management systems are great for staying on top of things, but for mapping out strategies it helps to have a tool that’s more fluid.

9. Plan the next day the night before.

At the end of the last block of your work day, prioritize your tasks for tomorrow. Clean off your desk. Prep so that when you complete your morning ritual on the following day everything is ready for you.

If you check your email first thing in the morning, chances are what you work on will be what came in. So work off the list you made the night before. Do the important work first, when your mind is fresh and the coffee’s hot.

10. Make time for downtime.

This is a weird time we’re living in. If you run a business, you’re probably used to actual running to get things done. When you can’t do that, it might be tempting to be in your email all the time, or do low-value work that feels like being productive. Don’t do that.

COVID sucks. I know a lot of people are scared, but dwelling on the unknowns… it’s not helpful. For the first time in recent history, the entire world is united against a common enemy. At the same time, some of us are recognizing how unhealthy our workaholic tendencies have become. There are many articles that talk about how productivity is higher when working less hours, or how we should have 4 day work weeks, or allow more flexible schedules for employees. Social distancing, sheltering-in-place… this is finally forcing movement on a lot of these issues. It’s become a giant experiment instead of just talk.

If you’re a small business owner, you might feel helpless. But you might also feel like it’s a good time to reconnect with your family, spend time with your kids. Maybe pick up that hobby you’ve been neglecting. Actually read a book for fun. Take advantage of the downtime instead of just constantly working. If you’re someone who isn’t sure what to do with that downtime, I wrote An Introvert’s Guide to Quarantine Bliss for my personal art website. It’s all the things I will be/am doing when I get through the website and email updates/announcements and other client work.

People generally don’t start businesses because they want to work less (if they do, they’re in for a shock). Most of us work too much, because it’s hard work. I’m not advocating you fall asleep at the wheel, or don’t do everything in your power to set your business up to survive whatever is happening to the economy. But I know you’re already doing all that. Don’t forget to take a breath and take some time for yourself.

Bonus: create a daily schedule for the entire family.

This seems to be the best piece of advice I’ve seen. I’ve enjoyed seeing other families work from home schedules, but I don’t have anything so well organized at the moment. See HBR’s Guide for Working (From Home) Parents.

I hope you found this list helpful. If you have questions or there’s something you’d like to hear more about, please comment below or send me an email. I’m planning a future post about how to use this time to work on your business (hint: it’s storybranding).

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

Products with higher adoption rates are often easier to integrate with other services. That’s one of the biggest selling points for Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), which is simply a paid Google account using your own domain ([email protected]). You can use all the features accessible with a free Gmail account, with a few extras and paid support. These are the accounts we set up for our website clients. Once the domain name has been connected and the Google account fully set up, the processes below are how you to add your new email on all your devices. Click the link below to skip to your specific device.

Google Workspace Email Setup Instructions for iPhone/iPad

If you prefer, you could also download and install the iOS Gmail app.

  • Settings > Accounts & Passwords > Add Account
  • Select Google
  • Enter your Google Workspace email address and password
  • Tap Next. Mail will verify your account
  • Choose which contact and calendar accounts to sync
  • Save

Google Workspace Email Setup Instructions for Android

  • Settings > Accounts (& sync settings)
  • Add account
  • Tap Google
  • Sign in with your email and password
  • Choose which contact and calendar accounts to sync

Google Workspace Email Setup Instructions for Apple Mail

  • In Apple Mail, click Mail > Preferences > Accounts
  • Click the + icon to create a new account
  • Click Google
  • Sign in with your email and password
  • Select the apps you want to use

Google Workspace Email Setup Instructions for Outlook

For Office 365 / Outlook 2016:

  • Open Outlook and go File > Account Settings > New
  • Enter your email address and click Connect
  • Enter your password, then OK > Finish

For Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2010:

  • Open Outlook and go File > Account Settings > New
  • Enter your full name, email address and password

Manual Settings

Account TypeIMAP
Incoming Mail (IMAP)
Requires SSLYes
Outgoing Mail (IMAP)
Requires SSLYes
Port for SSL465
Requires TLSYes, if available
Port for TLS/STARTTLS587
See Google Help Article here.
Contact Support (Existing Clients) Purchase Google Workspace Account SetUp

I recently received an email from a new freelance designer about a project that hadn’t gone well. If you’ve been working in design for any length of time it’s a familiar story, unfortunately.

Client is a friend. Pricing is set within a certain range. Work begins, but the business partner has different ideas. It takes hours of work to make both people happy. When the project is complete, the partner refuses to pay the (reasonable) billed amount. Why? Because it’s a measly bit higher than a mass logo design website.

The designer asked how to avoid this in the future, and I typed out a massive email. Because these problems are so common I’m posting an edited version here in hopes it will help other designers.

If you’re a small business owner or project manager who works with designers, I’ve got tips for you too. To jump to that section, click here.

working as a designer?

1) Require a down payment.

Every time. Don’t touch a thing until the client has given you 50% down on the project. If they’re serious, they’ll pay a deposit. If they aren’t serious, you’ll find out quick without wasted time. I know this feels like a pain, but do it anyway, for everyone.

2) Use an invoicing system.

Pricing should be in writing, but it’s more professional (and easier to reference) if it’s not in the body of an email. If you’re testing the freelance waters, you can use Harvest for free for 2 projects a month (I thought FreshBooks had a free version, but it appears it’s now only a free trial). I was also just informed Wave Apps is free and it seems pretty slick. A discussion of the best invoicing options is beyond the scope of this article, so pick something and use it. Just use something (and I don’t mean InDesign).

3) Get more information up front.

For logo design, you need to know details about your client’s business, like target market, color preferences, et cetera. At minimum, ask for examples of logos they like so you can get a feel for the design style they’re trying to achieve. Sometimes those examples will be all over the place, and sometimes people have no idea what they want. This won’t magically solve a fuzzy design brief (clients, see point #1 below) but it will prevent some obvious miscommunication.

4) Track your time and notify.

I don’t feel like I should have to say this, but use a time tracker. Many invoicing systems will include one. Otherwise, use an app. See this post for a brief recap of the tracker I use. If you’re working, have a timer running. Period.

Have an idea of how much time you expect to spend on a design before you start. If time starts creeping up, notify them early you’re running out of hours. Guys, I’ll be honest, if you’re a perfectionist, this never gets any easier. I (still) might spend an extra hour or more tidying up things in a complex piece that no one will ever notice. You have to make that call. Sometimes making sure the margins are perfect to a 10th of an inch is something I choose to do because I’m ridiculous. Just be aware of it.

5) Price hourly to start.

In the beginning, hourly design rates will help you keep track of time. Guesstimate your hours x your rate and there’s your estimate. For example: 2-3 hours x 50/hour = $100-150. If they ask for something complex while design is in progress, inform them it will take you another hour (or whatever). Just don’t start doing it without assessing how it’s going to affect your time, and let them make that call.

When you’re first starting out, keep your skill level in mind with your estimates. If the project requires learning a new technique, give yourself some extra time. Learn the technique first, track time only as you apply it, and know there might be an unpaid hour in there to polish it up. That’s just how you learn, and it’s why experienced designers can charge more per hour.

6) Work with the decision maker.

If there’s more than one decision maker involved, ask yourself if you really want to work on this project. If yes, work directly with the decision maker, not the administrative assistant or the janitor or the customer in the waiting room. If the design involves a committee, don’t do it. I mean, you can if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

7) If there’s a second decision maker who wants to use a design site, or “knows someone”, walk away.

 Nothing you do will ever be as good as the imaginary other guy in the business partner’s head. Trust me on this.

working with a designer?

1) Know what you want (roughly) before you try to work with a designer.

The more clear you are with what you want, the better the final product will be. This is especially true if you have a business partner. Don’t assume you agree on design style until you’ve actually talked about it. The business partners in our story should have decided on their vision for the logo before they ever hired the designer. They may not even have known there was conflict, but if they’d both provided samples it would have become clear quickly. Your designer is not your mediator.

The more experienced the designer you’re working with, the more rough your outline can be. Experienced designers can fill in the gaps by asking the right questions.

2) Do your research.

Don’t choose a designer because they’re in your networking group. Especially when it comes to logo design – take the time to actually look at their portfolio. If they don’t have one, that’s a red flag. If their work sucks, well, don’t hire them. You won’t know if you don’t look.

If you know nothing about logo design or branding for small business, google a few articles so you have a rough idea of what to look for (here’s one). This will help you ask the right questions and identify who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t. The same goes for website design. I was once asked to quote a redesign on a website I thought had been around for a while. Turns out it was less than a year old, but was built using old software and styling. Don’t let this happen to you.

We’re all about education around here, so I’ll try to write more on these topics, but if you have questions, please ask.

3) Pick a project lead.

Decide who’s got point and filter feedback through them. Bad: both business partners, the secretary and the sales guy all individually emailing the designer changes. Good: those people sending their feedback to a single point of contact within their organization. That person then assesses it, decides if the team needs to discuss, then sends one email to the designer with requested edits that are not in conflict.

If you don’t assign a single point of contact, it’s likely that the designer will end up correcting grammatical changes that were previously “fixed” by other staff members or adding colors that were already vetoed by the partners (the secretary wasn’t in that meeting). Prevent wasted time and energy by choosing a project lead before starting the project. Your designer will thank you for it.

4) Don’t make decisions based on price alone.

In this post we happen to be discussing logo design (although you should be thinking brand design, which involves much more). Your logo is the mark that will be on your website, every marketing piece and business card printed. A logo is like a tattoo for your business. There’s never a good reason to get a cheap tattoo. If you’re committed to your small business, do it right the first time. Professional presentation can make the difference between whether or not someone chooses to work with you.

So on that note, please don’t use bargain bin logo design websites. No designer worth their salt has an ounce of respect for these sites. They’re notorious for ripping off, even impersonating, other designers. Do you really want to take that risk? I’m not saying every designer who works through a crowd-sourced site is a hack or a thief, but it’s a good way to find the ones who are.

In small business and entrepreneurship, it’s all about building relationships and trust. Word of mouth referrals are everything. Ask around and see who knows someone locally.

I believe it’s best to work consistently with the same providers. I’ve structured my entire business around being your consultant and point of contact for all things design, print and web. Even if I refer out for something we don’t do (SEO, video) I will help you navigate those providers, then work with them directly. When you work with cyclone press, we know you, we know your business, we know your branding. We’re right here in Kansas City and we’re only a phone call away.

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Designer
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