The Best tools for freelancers
Knowing what the best tools for freelancers are is a key step to going on your own. Self-employment is on the rise, up from 3.3 million people in 2001 to 4.8 million last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s partially down to the rise in gig-economy jobs and redundancies post-recession, but also the appeal of freelancing, with the flexibility to work when you’d like on the projects you choose.
Those living the freelance lifestyle — whether by choice or following a redundancy — face challenges. Chasing invoices and ensuring you’re paid on time is key, but so is learning how to manage yourself, keeping on top of deadlines, and staying organised. Having a manager can be annoying, but one part of being a freelancer is dealing with the lack of support and tools they offer to staffers.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of digital tools to help replace human support. Who needs a line manager when you have Trello? Here are 19 tools, apps, websites and more to check out if you’re a freelancer, to help organise and manage your work and your money.
Best freelancer tools: Tools to manage yourself
You don’t have a boss to nag you anymore, so you’ll need to organise yourself and your projects. These tools can help, but you’ll also want a calendar and to-do list app, too.
This free organisation tool lets you create lists and cards for projects, tracking progress. While it’s commonly used to collaborate within teams, it’s also a handy way to manage your own efforts across multiple clients and projects, setting deadlines for yourself and building a daily to-do list. Plus, moving “cards” across to the “done” list is deeply satisfying.
Getting started is the tough bit — especially when working from home. Plenty of freelancers swear by the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management technique that breaks work down into 25-minute chunks, building in breaks so you don’t burn out. You can use any old kitchen timer for this, but there are also online apps, such as TomatoTimer.
If you want a more granular approach to time tracking, or need it for client billing, try a service like Toggl. It’s essentially a fancy timesheet; enter in how you spend your time each day, and it will spit out pretty charts. Plus, you can set up notifications, customise your efforts by project and client, and use it across web and smartphones. Harvest is a similar, alternative, app.
You’re going to slack off as a freelancer, its inevitable. If you think you’re spending too much time at your desk and not getting enough done, install RescueTime. This app runs in the background while you work or don’t, and at the end of the day gives you a report telling you how much time you spent in various apps, be that Google Docs or Facebook. You can then opt to block websites that are distracting you; so long, Twitter.
Best freelancer tools: Communication tools
Working from home, the local cafe, or client offices? You’ll need a way to stay in touch with everyone from everywhere. Alongside your email and smartphone, these are the apps that can help, though you’ll likely have to follow the lead of your clients and communicate using whichever tools they prefer, so get ready to make use of all of these and more.
You’ll need email. Google‘s verison is not only free but lets you pull in emails from different domains, helpful if you opt for a more professional, personalised email address, or use multiple accounts for different clients or type of work. It’s a smart move to get separate accounts for your personal and work Gmail, so you can turn off the latter on holiday or weekends, though it’s easy to flip between the two in Gmail’s interface. Of course, alternatives exist, including Microsoft‘s free Outlook.
Now owned by Microsoft, Skype is often complained about as clunky to use with poor call quality — but as a freelancer paying for your own calls, you’ll come to depend on it. Voice and video calls to other Skype users are free, while those to phones you’ll pay for.
This is Google’s phone number redirection system. It’s only available in the UK for Google Home devices, but if you’re particularly keen on routing all your calls this way, get a proxy or VPN to make you appear to be in the US, and you should be able to sign up. Alternatively, turn to Hangouts. The Hangouts Dialer lets you make phone calls and video calls from your smartphone, and like Skype is free to call to other Hangout users but there’s a charge to call phone numbers.
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If you regularly work with particular teams, this professional chat app can help. If they use it in-house, you can ask to get added to your in-office colleagues’ channels. However, there are also public channels that can help you network; again, you’ll need an invite. Slack is free for the base level.
Sometimes Skype or Hangouts just don’t cut it for professional-level video conferencing. There’s plenty of alternatives depending on your requirements, but one that’s worth a look is Join.Me. It has convenient screen-sharing abilities, helpful for collaboration and training, and also works well from smartphones for when you’re working on the go. There’s a free version that includes screen sharing and calls with up to three participants, but after that plans start from £9 a month.
Best freelancer tools: Productivity tools
Spreadsheets for budgeting, slides for pitching, and documents for, well, documents — you’ll need them all. But you no longer need to actually pay for such tools.
Google Docs / G Suite
This free productivity suite offers documents, spreadsheets and slides, as well as Drive for storing and sharing files. Because it’s cloud-based, you’ll be needing connectivity, but you can set files to be available in “offline mode” to work on them when the internet is scarce.
Like with past versions of Microsoft Office, Office 365 brings the entirety of Microsoft’s office suite but into the cloud. You can shell out for Office 365 for £80 a year — keep a receipt for your taxes — but if you want to try it out first or are staying stingy until you establish yourself, there’s also the free Office web apps and online version of Outlook.
Best freelancer tools: Manage your money
Getting paid is the point of freelancing. These apps will help you invoice, track expenses and more to ensure the hard work you do is rewarded with the least amount of effort.
This free online invoicing software lets you easily build professional invoices, attach expenses, and track whether they’re paid. Sighted also comes with time-tracker software, helpful for when you’re billing by the hour rather than by project.
This system claims to let you create professional-looking invoices in just a minute, which can be sent via email or downloaded as a PDF. Zervant lets you do this for free but if you want to add payment reminders and take card payments, you’ll have to start paying.
For various reasons, clients and customers sometimes require freelancers to sign documents… which they send over via email. While there’s plenty of workarounds, if this is something that happens to you frequently, it may be worth using a service like DocHub, which makes it easy to create and use a digital signature and to edit PDFs. It offers a free edition with up to five signed documents a month; after that, it’s $5 (£3.80) a month. Alternative services include HelloSign, which is free for three documents a month.
This is the Quickbooks for small businesses — and freelancers certainly count as small. Wave includes accounting tools, invoicing, and expenses tracking, and can also let you accept credit card payments online. Everything but the payments are free, and if you do opt for the payments, you’ll pay per transaction. An alternative is Xero.