FreeFlow: a revenue management platform for freelancers and small business
During my 12-week User Experience Design class at General Assembly, I researched, designed and prototyped a new web application.
As a freelancer, I accept payment via many methods: Stripe, PayPal, Square cash, Chase Quick Pay, old-fashioned paper check,and direct bank transfer. I also have multiple revenue streams, such as e-commerce, in-person sales at events, commissions, consulting, etc.
When it came time for me to calculate what I had earned each quarter in order to pay my taxes, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to do to come up with a simple (and relatively small) number! The amount of time this took seemed unreasonable and I wondered how it could be made easier.
How might we allow small business owners to track multiple income streams all in once place?
I worked in a tight Lean methodology that allowed me to continually be updating the product based on feedback from users, other UX professionals, and observation of other financial platforms.
1) Research: User Surveys, Market Analysis
2) Propose Solutions and Goals
3) Define Personas and Content Strategy
4) User flows and Wireframes
5) Prototyping, Competitive Research,
6)User Testing and more Prototyping
Do other freelancers and small business owners feel burdened by revenue tracking tasks?
I surveyed this demographic using a Google form.
Q: How much time do you spend calculating how much you owe in taxes every quarter/ year/ whenever you do it?Responses: it’s a “travesty of efficiency when you accumulate the total time the country wastes in productivity calculating its taxes.”
“I need to do this on a quarterly basis and I just haven’t figured it all out yet. Lots of fear around this area because we were audited once and I’m terrified of doing something wrong. “
Q: Do you have other tools you use to keep track of income?
Response: “There are times I could use four extra pairs of arms. I keep a paper notebook.”
Respondents averaged 3 different revenue platforms within their primary business or freelance work. 72% also said they had another revenue stream (like a part-time job, investments, etc).
Why is now a good time to consider this problem?
The number of small business owners and freelancers has jumped dramatically since 2001, leading to the term “1099 Economy”. According to research by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the number of people who primarily work on their own has swelled by 1.3 million since 2001 to 10.6 million, a 14% increase.
In addition to this growing demographic, the competitive nature of many new tech enterprises has led to fragmentation of data and resources. Many industries, including healthcare, education and finance are looking to streamline information. A successful example of this is Mint (which was bought by Intuit), the personal financial planning platform, or TripIt which compiles travel information and bookings into one place.
Des Traynor, a strategist and product manager at Intercom, stated that the “new magic” of software will be in apps that automate inputs, so that you don’t need to type in any information into the site. Second, ambient insights will allow reports and info come to the user directly rather than user having to seek them out.
Based on this research, I felt confident there was a need for a designed solution.
Proposed Solution: A new online tool that seamlessly integrates all payment platforms via API into one beautiful dashboard.
User Tasks and Goals
Next, I came up with some aims for the software to help prioritize and narrow scope.
Goal: Platform calculates overall revenue instantly, without having to check all sources individually
Task: Connect each stream to the app by “allowing access” or connecting the accounts to one another (a Single Sign On feature which is what you use to allow Instagram to post on your Twitter)
Goal: Easily see whether projects and side businesses are making or losing money, to aid spending and budget decisions
Task: create rules around various types of revenue as different income, and allow for filtering by type. i.e., “credits of $50 always label as “screen print poster sale”
Goal: Make self-employment ledgers and quarterly earnings statements a breeze
Task: view my connected revenue streams, filter by date range
Task: Tell the app to “calculate total revenue”, overall, by income stream (i.e. Square) or income type (i.e., screenprints only)
Task: export to .csv file or connect with QuickBooks.
I wrote a complete Content Strategy Style Guide for FreeFlow, including information about voice, style and formatting. Below is the personality scale I developed and an excerpt from the Style Guide document.
Style Guide Excerpt
The voice of the app is that of a seasoned freelancer speaking to colleagues. She’s worked really hard to have the successful, independent career she currently enjoys, but she’s not going to pull the ladder up behind her. She is friendly and congenial towards you, but at the same time she knows:
A) She’s doing you a serious favor by explaining and assisting you with your freelance finances
Action: use precise and authoritative language to explain tax law, best practices and money management.
B) Not everyone has what it takes to be a freelancer, so congrats and welcome to the club
Action: use “you” and “we” to create a feeling of community.
C) We chose to be freelancers because we didn’t want to be bogged down in bureaucracy or insist on doing things “the way it’s always been done”
Action: indicate that what FreeFlow is offering is creative, elegant and sustainable for your small business.
D) The financial part of freelancing is generally the least fun of the whole gig, so make it as light and accessible as possible, while maintaining professionalism and integrity.
Action: use simple and concise language to explain concepts, but always offer annotations, links, and venues for readers to learn more if they are interested.
Grammar and punctuation
Refer to the The Elements of Style by Strunk and White for general style and grammatical questions.
• Always use “nonprofit” (uncapitalized). Do not use non-profit, not-for-profit, or any other derivation.
• Use “freelance” (verb or adjective) and “freelancer” (noun). In our context, a person cannot be a “freelance”.
Good example: William started freelancing about seven years ago. He thoroughly enjoys being a freelancer and taking on freelance projects.
Bad example: William became a freelance about seven years ago.
• No Oxford commas.
Created in Adobe Illustrator based on the User Tasks and Goals defined above.
I built some block wireframes using Adobe Illustrator.
As I began building the wireframes, I wondered how other sites solved problems like:
1) How to allow date range selection to be both very specific (ex: 01/01/2015 to 9/12/2015) AND very general (ex. Past Month)?
2) What kind of Search filtering do other sites use for their transactions and what does it look like in the UI?
Axure Protoyping Round 1
I built a few pages in Axure and then showed them to a classmate and General Assembly instructor.
One piece of feedback I got was that the home page, left, which was in a brochure style, was too circular and didn’t provide enough information before sending the user to the “Sign Up” page, so in the next round I made adjustments and built a “Tour” page which introduced how the product works in more depth.
User Testing and More Prototyping
Then I showed the prototypes to two UX professionals and sought their feedback and suggestions.
All groups had great ideas which led me to more comparison research as well as another round of prototyping. Looking to build the most efficient and powerful service, I sought special feedback about the transactions list, and was asked to add more information, including the ability to add clients, labels, and delete transactions entirely.
More Competitive Research
Another test user expressed an expectation that the dashboard data graphs would be clickable, so I looked into how Mint provided this kind of information.
Based on that research I sketched another rough wireframe on paper, below, to translate this UI solution into something that could work for FreeFlow.
Then I went back to Axure and built out a final prototype for the dashboard page:
In Axure, above, I built a bar chart that would adjust based on date range selected. When a bar in the graph was clicked, the transactions in the list below would automatically filter by that narrower date range.
Then I built out the full transaction details and capabilities that I had sketched on paper in Axure. Each transaction row was a clickable link which would allow users to add more information, name who the client was, and create a rule for that type of income.
Clicking “Create New Income Type Rule” reveals the below menu:
On September 15th, 2015 I presented my research and prototype to my User Experience Design class. The feedback I got from that presentation was encouraging and one visiting critic recommended that I seek investor funding to continue the project!
Although I’d rather work on a design team in an established company or agency than enter the risky world of tech start ups, I was flattered and motivated by these comments to continue doing more contextual research, prototyping and user testing on this issue.
The entire rough prototype can be seen online: http://ojk8oq.axshare.com/