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I run a small 2 man design company and although it hasn't seriously affected is in the 4 years we've been working for, we are terrible at project and client management..

We have no set workflow for dealing with clients (quotes/invoices) or projects (time management etc). We do have quotation, invoice and contract templates but we don't always use these. We've never had any serious problems but we've recently had issues with clients not paying and clients expecting more work than we have quoted for etc.

We are now going to start issuing quotes, getting signed contracts then invoicing on every project.

I have found a lot free contract templates online and they all seem roughly the same, so my first question is regarding contracts, are these free templates ok? Or will it be worth me hiring a lawyer or paying an online service for a bespoke contract? Also I understand that digital signatures are legally binding (here in the UK at least), do I need to get the client to 'digitally sign' the actual contract or can they 'sign' the email with the contract attached?

Ideally I would like some form of software that will keep track of all this for me, clients, projects, invoices, contracts etc. I was thinking of custom building a PHP app to do this for us, but this will probably take up a lot of my time (which i don't have a lot of!). I know there are services that do this already but everything I have found is either too expensive or doesn't do exactly what we need.

Is it worth me developing my own software to deal with all this? Or should I try and find an existing service that fits my needs? Or should I manually deal with all invoices/contracts etc and just come up with a better filing system?

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The thing is that there are softwares and services that can help your company up to a certain point yet unless you get another resource (a person that can take care of clients an everything related to it) these tools won't be so helpful because you will still need to put some time and effor to manage the tool itself. The best you can do is :

• Take some time and seat down to put up a client workflow system. To achieve this, think of the way you guys manage the creative process during the time frame according to the client's requirements.

This will help you understand how much time on an average you take during the creative process and the management process, so you can give more accurate estimates to the client and reduce the 'unexpected situations' that will always happen.

• From the information you gathered when analyzing your current system, read the contract templates you have used in the past and edit them to meet your company's needs. (every company/person is diff and we all have diff rules based on what we do and how we do it).

A good thing to have in mind and maybe include in your contracts is to make the client pay a percent of the price up front and when the work is completed according to the agreed requirements they pay what is left. and remember to write everything .

• Once you have done these two you need to seat down with your colleague and get to an agreement in which you can manage part of the client process and he/she the other part.

Have in mind that as your company grows you might need an assistant or an intern that could help you to handle clients once you get your company's workflow designed. Because doing both creative work, handling clients and then managing the accounting won't let you put your mind into something enough time to get it right and you might also lose track of what you are doing.

if you need more detailed help regarding work flow and managing clients do a little research about some start up examples or feel free to ask.

Hope I helped you a little on this one I've had problems like this in the past, I know the feeling.

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Don't build it yourself. It is a lot of work, which someone has already done and you can get for a fraction of what your billable time would cost.

There are products like

https://basecamp.com/

https://duetapp.com/

https://www.activecollab.com/

https://podio.com/

http://asana.com

Some are free, some paid, some self-hosted and some cloud-based. I'm sure you can find something that is close to what you need and spend a fraction of what you would developing your own.

  • Thanks for the links. Very helpful :) I especially like the look of duet (and getting the source code for a one off price!) – Cai Oct 6 '15 at 12:52
  • @CaiMorris Side note: Basecamp is horrible for project management; simply imagine a Facebook private chat with different people (eg.pages). Very hard to scroll back on previous tasks or messages and find what you need, can't customize it. Maybe look at TeamWork.com (not mentioned in that list). It has charts, projects' notes, chat, custom tasks, calendars, user-friendly dashboard, multiple clients + projects management, etc. As spiral mentioned, no need to code your own, you might find something already perfect at low price & maintained for you! Your time is money too, don't forget! – go-junta Oct 7 '15 at 4:42

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