Welcome to the final blog in our 6-blog series all about systems in your creative business. Each week we’ve explored a different system and the specific software and SOPs you can implement to bring efficiency and consistency into all aspects of your business. We’ve already explored financial, marketing, sales, and project management systems. Here, you’ll learn how to create a file and asset management system that allows you to put the right naming conventions, folder hierarchies, and hosting software options in place to support your creative work. This is a sister series that goes hand-in-hand with my previous Rhythms Series.
Quick Disclosure: Several links within this blog are affiliate links, which means when you click the link and make a purchase, it won’t cost you more, but I may receive a commission for sharing this with you. I promise I only ever share what I use and love, so I’d be sharing these with you anyway!
Have you ever had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you suddenly realize you’ve made a HUGE mistake?
Like that time my team and I printed 2,500 copies of the WRONG brochure.
Before I transitioned out of corporate world and into the role of CEO of my business, I was working as a graphic designer for a large firm.
In this role, I was part of a team that was working on a brochure for a client.
It’s an understatement to say that several drafts were created. We had a last-minute call to put some finishing touches on the deliverable before sending it off to the printer.
Somehow, in the hustle and bustle, the wrong version was updated and the CORRECT version was left without those critical edits!
Not only had we printed the wrong version of the brochure we had all been working on.
It gets worse…
It wasn’t just a simple typo.
We had, in fact, managed to print the brochure with the wrong name and picture of our clients’ Vice President.
After that debacle, we quickly got our file and asset management system in order to keep a similar faux pas from happening again. And I’m relieved to say, it never did!
This was one of those, “I will never let that happen again” experiences and I hope it serves as a cautionary tale for you…
Don’t wait until disaster strikes to create a file and asset management system of your own! Let’s learn from my former team’s mistakes and get your system up and running so you never have to worry about a file snafu in YOUR business!
In this blog, you’ll learn what goes into creating a strong and sustainable file and asset management system, the benefits of putting one in place ASAP, and how to implement all the nuts and bolts such as naming conventions, folder hierarchies, and hosting software options to support your creative work.
You’ll walk away understanding why organization of this kind is SO important, and how to put the right pieces in place to support your work and your clients’ needs.
A file and asset management system is simply a way to keep track of all your (and your clients’) important files and assets such as working files, final files that are released for production, creative briefs, contracts, project plans, as well as fonts, photography, and other essential assets.
Whether you consider yourself an organization pro at the level of Marie Kondo and the Home Edit gals OR feel like keeping things neat and tidy isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’m here to show you not only why it’s important but how to implement this system into your business.
This is a system you want to have in place BEFORE you need it, but so many people wait to implement a file and asset management system until something goes horribly wrong.
Let’s be proactive.
Here are 3 reasons why your business can benefit from a file and asset management system now. Hopefully, it’s the incentive you need to be proactive instead of waiting to put this key piece of your business in place.
You will never feel fully in control without one. Even if you consider yourself really on top of things, as you grow, you’ll eventually find yourself looking for something, trying to remember things, making mistakes, and dropping a ball or two. The right system can take a load off your mind and help you juggle all the things now and in the future.
When things get lost, damaged, deleted, thrown away, or misplaced it often means you need to start from scratch, doing work you already did! Who’s got time for that? Having the right system in place to organize your files will help ensure you can find what you need when you need it saving you time, energy, and your sanity!
Whether you expect it or not… that client from 3 years ago will most likely come back asking for changes. Or that client you are working with now will want to go back to the version you showed them 2 drafts ago because after all that back and forth they ultimately realize it was actually juuuust right the first time around. Honestly, version control is so crucial and it only gets more important the more complex your projects become and especially when you start working with a team.
Without a plan, it can feel overwhelming to tackle all of your files and the wide variety of assets your business oversees. That’s why I’ve built out this very simple, easy-to-follow, 3-step system to guide the way!
Essentially, you should have a standard formula that all of your file names follow. For example, your formula could be:
The first 3 letters of the client name _ the project name_ the date (this is actually my exact file organization formula).
If the client’s last name is Johnson, you’re creating a logo for his company, and you create the file on April 13, 2021, this would look like:
Next, I highly recommend you create a standard template for your folders so you can simply copy and paste and they’ll always be set up the same way! Here’s a folder hierarchy example that may work for you:
Finally, make sure all your files are together in one designated place (on your computer’s hard drive is fine for now).
As you grow your business, you may want to consider backup and remote access options so you can access your files on different devices and avoid losing all of your assets if your computer were to crash or have a serious issue!
Seriously, back EVERYTHING up– twice!
At this point, moving at least one copy of your files to the cloud and/or a designated server is often a good move!
Another strategic move is to explore client portal options for file sharing and approval purposes. These portal features are often available through your Client Relationship Manager (CRM) or your Project Management (PM) software. Client portals can allow you to organize your files and assets in one cohesive place that is user friendly and intuitive for your clients!
In addition, client portals are helpful because they can become a “single point of truth” where all client-facing info and communications live.
Clearly, client portals can be AMAZING! But before jumping in prematurely and giving clients access, think about…
If you’re asking your clients to log in some place, make it worth their while, keep it organized, and set clear expectations!
If you choose a cloud or backup option and/or a client portal, you’ll need to establish file-sharing protocols and security measures to make sure the people that should have access do and the people that shouldn’t have access don’t!
Security is paramount!
Remember you are protecting not only your assets but also the files and assets of your clients. They’re trusting you to protect them, and that’s not something to take lightly.
The wonderful news is, you have lots of great resources to choose from for cloud options, designated servers, and client portals.
When it comes to File Sharing and Cloud Backups my go-to’s are:
→ Adobe Creative Cloud is also a great option depending on the type of creative work you do.
Also, you might be surprised to learn that many Project Management (PM) Software options include file-sharing or storage capabilities for things you need to share with clients. They may limit storage though, so be careful. In my opinion, the most helpful PM software options specifically for file sharing are:
Many Client Relationship Management (CRM) software options offer solutions for file sharing as well. Depending on your needs and the sizes of your files, it could be worth looking into, especially if you are already using CRM software in your business!
I’d recommend you check out:
→ or Hubspot
COO Tip: Need help deciding? Click here to download my free guide to help you choose the right CRM for your creative business needs!
Once you know where you’ll store your files and how you’ll share these assets internally and with your clients, it’s time to put reproducible Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, in place.
The main SOPs you should consider for your file and asset management system include the following:
As I already mentioned, pick a format for naming your files and stick to it! This will make searching for long-lost documents so much easier and more efficient!
Another mouthful that simply means – how do you want all of your files to be organized? Do you always group by the client (like I showed you I do!) or do you prefer to organize by the project type first? As we walked through earlier, there are several things I consider when setting up file folders for myself and my clients. Usually, the system I suggested works well across the board.
But if you choose to structure yours differently, be sure to consider these questions so you can set yourself up for success from the start!
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s consistent.
When a new file is created where does it need to be backed up? Do you maintain one backup or two? Also, how do you handle creating and maintaining these backups? Is it a manual process or something that’s automated? This will ensure nothing succumbs to freak tech issues or losing access to a certain platform.
COO Tip: Dual backup actually means having two different backups in addition to the original file and is considered the industry standard best practice!
When a file is created on behalf of a client, who is responsible for sharing it with them and double-checking access, privacy settings, and editing privileges? Also, you’ll want to be forward-thinking. Teams change, and you will likely need a process in place for giving access to new team members or revoking access from people who should no longer be able to access your client’s files. Who is responsible for making these updates?
How will you share files internally? Do team members need to be tagged or otherwise notified when a file is shared? Will you use different software to store and share materials internally than you do for sharing client-facing materials?
Just like the file access process you use with clients, over time your team may change as well! You’ll need to put a similar process in place to adapt to personnel changes in your business so that people are granted the access they need in an efficient and timely manner or removed promptly if they should no longer have access for security purposes.
Finally, you’ll want to decide how you will keep track of different versions of the same file as it goes through the creative and iterative process from both an internal and a client-facing perspective. It is helpful to be able to refer back to previous versions, however, you don’t want the wrong file getting mixed up (like my team did back in my corporate days!). Creating a version-control process can make all the difference!
Now it’s time to put this information into action. Remember, learning without doing will keep you stuck where you are. Taking aligned action (no matter how small those baby steps may seem) is the key to moving toward your goals and the vision you have for your business.
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