MKW Graphics
Helping small businesses turn brand vision into visuals
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Tips + Thoughts

To call myself a blogger feels all too millennial. Instead, I consider this portion of my website to be part knowledge library, part design magazine and part entreprenurial-digital-nomad travel journal. Hope you enjoy reading my musings!

- MKW

ALLLL the tools I use for my Freelance Graphic Design Business + DISCOUNT LINKS!

 

All things considered, I have a very low overhead job. I don't have to pay for an office or employees, I don't have a printer. I don't buy office supplies like pens, paper, notebooks, any of that stuff. BUT, there are programs and tools that I use in my business that DO cost money.

I have come across all of these by kind of trial and error. When I started 3 years ago, I had my laptop and a jailbroken version of illustrator. That's it. No invoicing software (was making PDFs our of word docs lol). However, as I got more legit, I've found that these tools really helped me do my job better, faster and more efficient. And who doesn't want that?

DISCLAIMER: I DID NOT buy all of these at once. I bought them as I needed them. I added prices here to give you an idea of what each cost and literally as I am writing this it looks like a lot of mulah. And it is. BUT, these are my tried and true tools that help me do my job. PS can I hear ya say 'business expense'?! In some way shape or form these become tax write-offs for me come April 15. 

 

THE HARDWARE:

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1. The 15" Macbook Pro with Retina Display

COST: ~$3K

I was convinced to get this model by the graphic designer guy at tshirt mart. I was working with a 13" macbook before that I had toted to all my college classes and junked up with tons of docs and images. It didn't help that I didn't have the legit version of illustrator, but it would take FOREVER for adobe files to open. This guy showed me the start up time and file open time on his 15" Pro and I was sold instantly. Such a time saver to have the right equipment for the job. Additionally, I bought the Pro with the maximum storage space and it STILL gets full pretty regularly. 

 
 

2. External Hard Drive

COST: $164.95

I have a few, but my favorite external hard drive is the My Book for Mac. It's got 4 Terabytes of storage and has hosted my full computer back ups for the last 3+ years. I use this for storing tons of video clips and backing up all of my photoshop and illustrator files.  

 
 

3. Wacom Bamboo Digital Drawing Tablet

COST: $67.50

This is a recent addition to the arsenal. Before I got this, I was making due (if you ignore all the finger cramps and eyestrain) with drawing everything from my track pad. I didn't even think of getting one of these until I saw Dazey La rave about hers + do tutorials on Instagram Stories. It is a huge time saver when doing detailed design work or hand drawn illustrations/text manipulations. I don't use this tool all the time, but it is really handy to have when I need it.  


THE SOFTWARE:

 

4. Adobe Creative Cloud Membership - All Apps

COST: $49.99/month

I pay for a monthly Adobe Creative Cloud membership. There are multiple options you can subscribe for based on your needs. I originally used my USD .edu email address to get a student discount (shhh...) The programs I use regularly are: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premier Pro, and sometimes Adobe Lightroom

 
 

5. Harvest Time Tracking + Invoicing

COST: $12/month + credit card processing fee

I struggled for a while to find an invoicing software that was a good fit for what I was doing. I started with Wave App, which is much more of an ecommerce and point of sales system that had a lot of functionality I didn't need. AND it royally messed me up for taxes by double counting my paid invoices and my bank transfers. I ditched in in Jan of 2016 and have been with Harvest ever since. I really like that Harvest has features that allow me to track my time against a project total fee. I do this to measure my hourly against project-fees like logos and website designs to make sure I can gage when I am spending too much time on something and if I need to have that conversation with my client about staying on track. It also will set a reminder to let you know when you've hit 80% of your time for a project. I really like the automated reminders for past due invoices because it'll poke my clients for me. I have my Harvest account integrated with Stripe, which dumps the $ into my bank account automatically. 
 

There are credit card fees associated with this as well. They are ...but I consider that part of doing business. Since I never seem to be at one address for too long, I prefer getting paid by CC over check! Save some hassle! 

 
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6. Basecamp 2

COST: 40 projects with 15 GB of included storage — $65.00/month

I FREAKING love Basecamp and here's why. There is nothing worse than getting an email that is number 28 in an email thread and trying to scroll endlessly through the conversation to figure out what you are supposed to do. Basecamp eliminates this. Instead, you can break out clients into 'Basecamp Folders' and then add each action item as it's own 'Discussion.' Discussion threads are similar to commenting on a post on facebook, they log chronologically and you can have multiple up at once. So for example, if I am doing a branding project and a client needs business cards, stickers and letterhead, each of those goes on its own discussion. I LOVE how Basecamp displays images extra extra large so that the colors and graphics can be seen without having to download attachments or send large files over email. Also, Basecamp helps me track who I have and haven't followed up with because it will populate the profile image of whoever has last commented on a thread next to the discussion subject. Every few days, I go through all my open projects and check to see if it was me or my client who had the last comment on each and I follow up right then and there if necessary. Basecamp is also a great platform for multi-person teams. 

My first steps after meeting with a client are sending and estimate (from Harvest) and setting up Basecamp. Once I have the estimate approved, I load up the Basecamp file with the invoice for the first 50%, a copy of my service agreement and a plan of attack for their project. I've found that standardizing this process really helps me get off to a good start with my clients and they seem to appreciate that everything is all in one place!

 
 

7. Paying for Unlimited Storage on Dropbox

COST: $99/year

This is one of the other 'cost of doing business' things for me. Dropbox is a free service...up to a point. Then it cuts you off and makes you pay for storage which can be super annoying. I use Dropbox not for my personal back ups, but to store all of the files for my clients. This is also included as a line item on their invoice (among other things) as part of a 'One Time New Client Set-Up Fee.' This insures that they will always have access to their logo files and that once we are done with our project they will still have access to all the folders. I make sure that they have a link that they can bookmark on their own computers so they don't lose the logos and branding elements we have worked so hard to design. Now, I use Dropbox and Google Drive, but Dropbox is intended to be more static, meaning you can go in there and get all your different file formats, branding guides and color codes, whereas I use Google Drive slightly differently. 

 
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8. Unlimited Storage on Google Drive

COST: $1.99/month

There are some instances where just Dropbox doesn't cut it. I also like using drive for google docs (where i store all my contracts), google slides (for presentations), google sheets (where I make my travel itineraries)...girl's gotta be organized, okay?

That being said, there were rumors that Google Drive was going to be Google Cloud soon and that might change things so who knows.  

 
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9. Squarespace Business Membership

COST: $18/month

Squarespace is a website design platform that allows me to showcase my work and write blogs like this one. There is a cheaper option for $12/month, but I pay for the business membership on Squarespace because it allows me to have unlimited pages and integrations like popups and more advanced analytics and yadda yadda. This price does not include paying for my domain name, which I have through Bluehost. 

 
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10. Gain App

COST: $20/month

This is the tool I use for all my social media scheduling. It is great because it allows you to plan, caption and schedule months worth of content in one sitting. Posts will go automatic to facebook, and will send you a notification to your phone when it's time to post to instagram. Gain also offers a client approval workflow, which I definitely could be using more.  

 

THE FUN STUFF:

 

I consider these all to be my fun toys that let me be creative when I travel and create content for clients and for myself! This includes: my Nikon CoolPix camera for photo and video, my NEW DJI Spark Drone (so excited to play with it this week...wooo!), iPhone 6 Plus, and DJI Osmo Mobile Stablizer!

 

That about sums it up! What are your favorite tools for the job? How do they help you become more efficient, creative, organized or just more badass? Let me know in the comments below! 

Also let me know -- what more do you want to hear from me? What do you want to know more about? Logo and brand design? Freelancing? Digital nomad-ing? Memorizing Drake lyrics? For reals, I am happy to share!