Something went wrong.

We've been notified of this error.

Need help? Check out our Help Centre.

Three life changing tools for the creative business owner

Running a freelance illustration business may seem like an absolute dream job. It really is - I get to draw all day and make money from it! It’s like a childhood dream come true! But running your own business is a lot to handle. You end up wearing so many hats. Instead of just getting to be creative you are now in charge of marketing, billing, social media, negotiations, quoting, finding new clients, keeping yourself in those client’s minds, making sure jobs pay on time and that you’re not getting screwed over legally. Social media and building your personal brand can start to become a job in itself! Never mind the actual work - handling multiple clients all at different stages of the sketching, drawing, painting and artwork delivery process. 

So how do I cope? I’ve got a three life changing tools that I use DAILY to help make the work of running a freelance business a little bit easier.

FYI, this is not a sponsored post - just tools that I use, really believe in and can’t work without.

🎉 TOOL 1 - Mailtrack

Feel like you’re always throwing emails into the void and never know if someone is actually reading them?

Bugging your clients over and over to double check if they really got that invoice?

Sending out quotes and then spending the whole day sweating and hitting the Gmail refresh button? Yeah, that used to be me too!

Mailtrack can solve this! It takes all the anxiety out of email. Every time you send an email, you can see if your client has read it, how many times they’ve read it, and if they’ve clicked any links. Pretty damn amazing right? 

Plus, its super cheap. I only pay $5 USD a month for this service. I’ve been using it for over two years now and can’t live without it anymore.

The mental health benefits are absolutely priceless!

I love sitting there and watching the notifications as my emails get forwarded around by clients “ooh, they’re discussing the sketch!” It’s like being able to mind-read.

If $5 a month is too much for you, they also offer a free version. However, all your emails will have a “tracked by Mailtrack” at the bottom of them - which personally, I think looks kinda unprofessional - but, it’s also how I found out about the service. (Thank you Mr. Unprofessional client 😜 ) It’s just a simple plug-in that you add to your Gmail account and little green checkmarks show up next to all of your correspondences. Pure magic!

🎉 TOOL 2 - Toggl Track

Ever find yourself thinking: how many hours did I work on this job?

Am I spending too much time on this for what I am getting paid?

How many hours should I be billing for this?

Toggl Track will help you answer all of those questions. It’s a super simple time tracker app that you can put on your desktop, phone and tablet. Plus, it’s totally FREE!

I just enter what I’m doing, assign it to a project for a certain client and then hit the play button. Toggl Track will track my time. At the end of the job you can go to Toggl’s analytics page and find out exactly how much time you spent sketching, drawing, quoting, talking in a Zoom meeting -  or anything else you tracked with a second of typing and a click of a button. Plus you can sort it by client, by project, by date. If you forget to hit that play button, it’ll remind you to track your time. No more wondering where your time really went.

🎉 TOOL 3 - Later

Social media is SO important for creative businesses these days. I used to have an illustration agent who would send out physical art book mailers. These were expensive, and who knows if art directors even opened them or just immediately tossed them into the recycling bin. These days, for just a few minutes of time and effort, your work can potentially reach millions of viewers around the world!  Two years ago, when I decided to re-start my freelance illustration business after 8 years of being a Senior Designer in-office I knew that the promotional landscape had drastically changed. I now put almost daily effort into my social media marketing, and two and a half years later I’m really starting to see growth.

Yes, it wasn’t instant. And yes, at times I felt like all my efforts were for nothing. But now I dedicate time to keep putting my work out there, even when I’m slammed with work. Because once those jobs end, I need to keep new ones coming in.

I have so many random clients calling and emailing, saying they found me online, or that my name “just keeps coming up” when they search for illustrators. I’m so happy to see that even though I may not have a pile of followers or the world’s best Instagram grid, my small efforts are making a huge difference for my business!

So how do I do it? First, I dedicate 30 minutes to 1 hour every morning to do some marketing. I use Later to upload to both my @AlanaMcCarthyArt and @GeekyPet accounts. 

Later is probably the most expensive of my tools, but it makes my life so much easier, and hey, it’s a business write-off! I pay about $20 USD a month for the service.

Later allows you to see your Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook posts on a calendar. You can schedule posts in advance, or add sticky notes with ideas for posts. You can schedule stories, captions, search hashtags and save all your photos and videos to upload… later! You can even see your grid of scheduled posts, and rearrange them visually with drag and drop.

I’ve got to admit, there were only a few times I scheduled a good month of posts in advance, usually I’m a morning-of or night-before kinda gal. But damn, that one time I made it work, it was pure bliss to not have to touch my Geeky Pet account for a month! Social media maintenance can be a real time-suck for the small business owner.


I hope that sharing my reviews of these tools was helpful for you!

Maybe there are other programs, apps or add-ons out there that I’m not even aware of. Do you have any on your list that help you run your creative business? I’d love to hear about them!


Want more tips that will help you build up your creative business and craft a life that you truly love?

Sign up for my newsletter!

Using Format