The Backbone of Your Design Business: Systems and Processes

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We all know that running your own business from home isn’t always a walk in the park. We sat down with Amy Bridgeforth of Clover & Crown to pick her brain on how to approach the systems and processes that are the foundation of any business. She has found her passion in both beautiful and functional designs, helping people grow their businesses, and staying organized throughout the whole process.

Hi Amy! Let’s start with this, How long have you been in business?

I’ve been dabbling in graphic design for the past 15 years, but finally decided to open my studio just over 5 years ago!

Five years! That’s a good milestone for your business. Are you using the same systems and processes now that you did on day one?

Definitely not! I’m 100% self-taught so when I first started my business, I had zero experience on the business side of things and was basically just winging it! As I got busier and organization started to become an issue, I had to go looking into different systems to help me manage my workload. I’m also a huge organization nut so if things start to get chaotic, my anxiety levels sky rocket!

What tools/process did you ditch as soon as you knew it wasn’t working for you? How did you know it was ready to ditch these?

In the beginning, I was communicating via email only and I didn’t have a clear way to onboard my clients or collect info like homework. At one point I just got really tired of trying to dig through long email chains to reference back client requests and answering the same questions over and over. It was then I knew I needed a system that could help me automate my process.

We all could live without email I’m sure! What is the one tool today in your business you could just NOT live without? And why?

100% it would be Asana! I use their system to onboard my clients and handle most communication during contracts. Asana allows you to create projects and save them as templates so all the steps I need to complete the project are already set up ahead of time with detailed instructions. All I have to do is duplicate the project, customize some of the copy for my client and away I go! I have all the steps outlined for my clients to get them set up including links for all their homework, video tutorials to help answer potential questions and best of all, we can communicate right in Asana taking all correspondence out of email. I honestly have no idea how I ran my business without it! It was the best move I ever made.

For someone just starting out, what would you tell them to do in terms of setting up systems and processes that you wish someone had told you when you began?

For someone just starting out, I would say one of the first things you should do is get a solid contract in place. I’m always one to think the best of people, but unfortunately, we’re working with the public and you just never know what’s going to happen.

Having a solid contract to protect you in any situation is HUGE and will save you a lot of time and grief.

Things like if the project goes out of scope, if the client is late, if the client wants to cancel, if YOU want to cancel. I follow a lot of different designer Facebook groups and not surprisingly, the majority of the questions asked aren’t design related at all like, how do I do X in Illustrator. It’s questions about client issues that have come up during the contract. Having a solid contract in place will not only help prevent issues from happening, but also protect you when they do.

Hear that E&Cers, get that contract in place! Now for those who have been at it a while and still don’t feel they’ve master their systems, what advice would you have for them?

Mastering systems just takes time. And that’s okay! As much as you’ll have something in place, you’ll be fine tuning things as you go along, this happens to everyone and is completely normal! We’re still doing it! It’s so important to remember that we’re always learning, always trying to better the client experience and make things more efficient.

Have grace for yourself and the process.

The approach to effective systems and processes can be really daunting. If you could tell people the best place to start, where would that be? What’s one small step you could do first to get started?

First off, you’re not alone! From what I’ve seen online all the tools and resources you need to run your own business from home are pretty much scattered across the internet making it incredibly time consuming and difficult to find (if you even know where to look!) This is especially true for people who don’t have any experience working at an agency or design studio because you would naturally pick up tips and tricks.

My biggest advice; hire someone to help you set up your process, some sort of building block system to help you manage your time so you can keep yourself organized right from the beginning.

Not having the tools in place when you get busy which will cause you to become unorganized and the client experience will suffer. We just launched a course called The Designer’s Business Survival Guide that walks you through all these tools to help you fine tune and establish your process. We talk about everything from getting started and building your brand to what to include in your contracts, on-boarding clients with Asana, and navigating through the consultation process. Whether you hire someone to help you with your process or take my online course, either way, you’re setting yourself up for success and that’s HUGE!

Thank you so much for your time, and valuable insight!

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If you want to learn more about systems and processes from Amy visit www.cloverandcrow.com/course and sign up for The Designer's Business Survival Guide!

Get more day-to-day tips, tricks, tools and systems essential for running an effective (and profitable!) design business from home.


Rachel Davis