Choosing Software to Manage Your Design Business
By Gail Doby, ASID
CVO & Co-Founder, Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting & Design Success University
Photo taken by Dana McGrath
Designers soon learn that their life revolves around paperwork. Proposals, contracts, purchase orders, manifests, receipts, invoices, payments, and more keeping piling up while the design work goes on. You need some way to manage it all. A number of tools are available to help you, and they keep getting better all the time. Ranging in features and price, you are bound to find one or more that are right for you and your firm.
QuickBooks continues to be a popular choice for basic accounting needs, especially among sole practitioners and smaller firms. Available either for desktop (starting at $180) or online (starting at $10 per month), Quick Books is affordable, easy to learn and, if you outsource, widely used by bookkeepers, accountants and tax advisors. Among other features, you can create invoices and track sales and payments (via credit or debit cards), bill for time and expenses, create professional looking invoices and forms, download bank and credit card transactions, track inventory and set reorder points, manage payroll and payroll taxes, and produce a variety of reports for printing, emailing or exporting to other programs.
StudioWebware, a cloud-based, full-featured project and business management product, has become the program of choice for many top design firms and design management consultants, myself included. At $35 per month for a basic subscription or $45 per month for the professional version, Studio Webware is a comprehensive all-in-one tool that will meet the needs of almost any design firm. It features include a full suite of specialized tools, including Studio Designer (project management and accounting), Studio Projects (online design project sharing tool, with payment option), Studio Orders (for vendor orders), and Studio Capture (image capture and cataloging tool), and Studio Support (email support, online classes and recorded trainings). Two caveats: StudioWebware has a steep learning curve, but once you master it you will appreciate how robust it is. Because it is cloud-based, all your data resides with the provider’s server. If you decide to switch to another program later, you will lose access to your data.
Design Manager, another multipurpose project and business management project, has one of the oldest pedigrees of all the products available today and remains a favorite with designers who have used it for many years. Previously available in desktop format, it is now only available to new clients online, at $38 per month for the basic version and $50 per month for the professional version. With Design Manager you can manage all aspects of your projects, your vendor and client contacts and appointments, accounting functions (including deposits and retainers), and inventory. Some designers who have tried both find Design Manager easier to learn and use than StudioWebware, and prefer its accounting program.
ConnexionSoft is yet another multipurpose, cloud-based project and business management product. It provides an extensive tool set for firm management, accounting, timesheets and payroll, image management, vendor management, workroom orders and tasks, and subcontractors. It is designed to integrate with social media and online services, like Houzz. It also has its own apps for iPhone and iPad, making it easy to access on the go. The monthly service runs from $27 a month for the basic features to $57 a month for premium.
Knowify is the new kid on the block. It offers a basic set of project management and business management tools, including the ability to create service agreements, create and track invoices, and track billable hours via its app for either Apple or Android devices. Plus, you can easily import your QuickBooks data into Knowify. For $68 a month you get all the features and access for up to five team members.
All of these products offer online demos and a limited free trial, so you can check out the ones that appeal to you and see which work best for your firm. Most also offer online support and training to help you get up and running as quickly as possible.