From work­flow and time man­age­ment tools to quotes and in­voic­ing apps, there’s a wealth of util­i­ties out there to help you get on top of your cre­ative pro­ject bud­get­ing

Computer Arts - - Contents -

All the tools, ser­vices and util­i­ties you need to master your cre­ative bud­get­ing, from time man­age­ment to work­flow

cre­ative agen­cies pride them­selves on their work but there’s more to run­ning a suc­cess­ful stu­dio than the de­sign it­self. The nitty gritty of stu­dio and pro­ject man­age­ment is a nec­es­sary evil, and although no­body be­came a de­signer be­cause they loved chas­ing in­voices, no busi­ness will sur­vive (let alone thrive) with­out tak­ing its cash­flow se­ri­ously.

The good news is that there’s a raft of stu­dio man­age­ment tools out there to help you keep on top of work­flow, time man­age­ment, quotes and in­voic­ing, many of which in­te­grate with ex­ist­ing pro­grams like email, cal­en­dars and ac­count­ing soft­ware like Xero or MYOB. The bad news is that there are so many to choose from, and on first glance so many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the op­tions (even the web­sites look largely the same), that it can feel over­whelm­ing.

Andy Brat­tle runs Be­yond, a brand­ing and cre­ative agency that em­ploys 10 peo­ple across its stu­dios in Maiden­head and Lon­don. In the early days the agency used self-cre­ated sys­tems to man­age the ad­min­is­tra­tive side of the busi­ness, but as it grew some­thing more for­mal was needed. Be­yond worked with Traf­ficLive for a few years be­fore switch­ing to Stream­time, a pop­u­lar, in­te­grated stu­dio man­age­ment tool from New Zealand that was de­vel­oped very specif­i­cally for cre­ative agen­cies (rather than some pro­grams that are aimed at all types of small busi­ness).

“Stream­time is the hub of our projects’ op­er­a­tional pro­cesses,” Brat­tle ex­plains. “Be­cause it’s geared around agen­cies there aren’t many things they’ve missed out – it’s fairly com­pre­hen­sive.”

He likes the fact that Stream­time’s de­vel­op­ers un­der­stand the par­tic­u­lar ways de­sign jobs work. So for ex­am­ple it easily al­lows Brat­tle and his team to at­tach third-party costs to quotes for clients, be­cause they know agen­cies of­ten out­source el­e­ments like print pro­duc­tion or copy­writ­ing.

But as well as spe­cific fea­tures, Stream­time al­lows Be­yond to stream­line the day-to-day busi­ness and keep on top of its fi­nances. “We need to have a sys­tem that groups ev­ery­thing to­gether, both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal, as well as costs and time against a sin­gle job. Stream­time au­to­mates all of that for you and it’s a big win,” Brat­tle says.

For Adam Kens­ing­ton, Stream­time’s UK/Europe team leader, it’s this abil­ity to sim­plify stu­dio ad­min that is the tool’s big­gest strength. “Stream­time is de­signed to en­sure that agen­cies spend more time do­ing what they’re best at – be­ing cre­ative – and less time man­ag­ing their busi­ness,” he ex­plains. “We con­stantly look to our de­sign com­mu­nity to help us build and de­velop our prod­uct in line with their chang­ing needs.”

A ma­jor con­cern for Be­yond when mov­ing away from the in-house de­signed

tem­plates was to find a plat­form that gave them the con­trol they craved over the look and feel of the doc­u­ments it gen­er­ates. “We wouldn’t be prac­tis­ing what we’re preach­ing if we weren’t look­ing at it across all touch­points,” says Brat­tle. “It was def­i­nitely a key con­sid­er­a­tion for us, be­cause it al­lowed us to con­tinue pre­sent­ing our­selves in a way that we felt was truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive.”

Another big con­sid­er­a­tion for agen­cies is cost, and just as the ser­vices of­fered on dif­fer­ent soft­ware varies, so do the price points. Stream­time is one of a num­ber of plat­forms around the £20 to £30 per user per month mark (along with StudioCloud, Brief­case and FreeAgent).

As with any out­lay for the stu­dio, it’s vi­tal to think about what your busi­ness re­ally needs. For big­ger agen­cies with mul­ti­ple jobs on at the same time, bring­ing to­gether the stu­dio’s ac­tiv­i­ties us­ing Stream­time or FreeAgent may be very use­ful. But at smaller agen­cies this may be overkill, in­tro­duc­ing lay­ers of ad­min that get in the way of cre­atives do­ing their jobs. Here a more ded­i­cated in­voic­ing tool like Billings Pro could be as far as you need to go.

Billings Pro is a pop­u­lar time track­ing and in­voic­ing app and starts at around £6.50 per user per month but it is usu­ally used in con­junc­tion with other pro­grams. Sin­ga­pore-based stu­dio For­eign Pol­icy uses Billings, along­side Harvest, Base­camp and Slack, and such a pro­lif­er­a­tion is com­mon. For­eign Pol­icy’s Arthur Chin ad­mits fi­nan­cial mat­ters “suck up a lot of re­sources and time” but he likes be­ing able to cus­tomise in­voices on Billings and use its in­tu­itive in­ter­face.

But Chin is still on the hunt for a pro­gram that goes fur­ther. “The best pos­si­ble in­voic­ing tool should be one that al­lows online pay­ment. That way, once a pay­ment has been made elec­tron­i­cally, we get a ping. That would help sim­plify the process enor­mously.”

For cre­ative di­rec­tors who run stu­dios, be­ing able to track how much time em­ploy­ees are spend­ing on spe­cific projects and keep­ing on top of cash­flow is ob­vi­ously ex­tremely use­ful, but there can be a ten­sion be­tween these very prac­ti­cal de­mands of stu­dio man­age­ment and the cre­ative cul­ture that de­sign agen­cies natu­ru­ally thrive on.

Carl-Jo­han Lindqvist is the co-founder of Lund­gren + Lindqvist which em­ploys four peo­ple in its stu­dio in Gothen­burg, Swe­den. Lindqvist sees sound fi­nan­cial man­age­ment as in­trin­si­cally linked to the agency’s cre­ative pro­duc­tiv­ity. “How­ever tempt­ing it may be to spend all our time on the cre­ative work, we be­lieve that any com­pany that does not keep track of its cash­flow will face se­ri­ous trou­bles sooner rather than later. It is not our favourite part of the job, but mak­ing sure we main­tain a healthy bal­ance in our books is one of the things that give us the ease of mind we need to do what we be­lieve to be great work.”

But Lindqvist ad­mits that ask­ing peo­ple to con­stantly log their hours can some­times jar in a cre­ative en­vi­ron­ment. He uses Flow to help bring to­gether dif­fer­ent as­pects of dif­fer­ent projects, but he doesn’t want to limit his de­sign­ers.

“It can be crip­pling to keep too steady a check of time. Look­ing back at a pro­ject, we some­times re­alise that we have spent a daunt­ing amount of ex­tra time on it, how­ever the ex­tra time spent on one pro­ject will of­ten pay off some­how down the line. We might learn some­thing that helps us in another pro­ject, and the ex­tra ef­fort of­ten makes the pro­ject bet­ter, re­sult­ing in more new work.”

It seems that no stu­dio man­age­ment tool is per­fect and a lot of de­sign­ers are ready to voice frus­tra­tion with their quirks and lim­i­ta­tions, as well as be­ing forced to jug­gle mul­ti­ple pro­grams to get the right mix of ser­vices. Of course, there is one other so­lu­tion. “There’s too much du­pli­ca­tion across tools and there are also in­te­gra­tions that we would love to have with the ser­vices we use (au­to­mat­i­cally show­ing peo­ple’s hol­i­days on the pro­ject plan­ner, for in­stance),” says James Cham­bers, co-founder of Lon­don-based An­i­made. “The only way to get these fea­tures is to build some­thing cus­tom – we’re lucky to be in the po­si­tion to be able to do this in house, so we’re giv­ing it a shot.” Next month: How to avoid the most com­mon le­gal pit­falls for de­sign­ers.


Equip your­self and your stu­dio with these fi­nan­cial tools and you’ll have no prob­lems when it comes to bal­anc­ing the books

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