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29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer

I’ve been looking at the products and services I use as a freelancer, so wanted to get some advice and other opinions on what freelance tools are the best to use.

I’ve become a big fan of the Freelance Subreddit, which has a whole community of freelancers, so I asked “What’s your freelance stack?” to try to get an idea of what other freelancers use in their work.

I got a ton of responses – not just from the web development crowd. There were some popular apps, products and services that came up time and again – Gmail, Dropbox, Trello – but the discussion highlighted lots of services in different areas of freelancing that are worth taking a look at?

My freelance tools

To kick things off, I listed my freelance stack – the tools I use everyday as a productive freelancer:

  • Computer: Mac Air 11″
  • Email: Gmail
  • Word processing: Google Docs (or Open Office if I know the client uses Microsoft Word)
  • Accounting software: Crunch.co.uk
  • Project Management: Trello
  • To do list: Clear App (and good ol’ pen and paper)
  • Website / blog: WordPress
  • Hosting: A Small Orange
  • File sharing: Dropbox / WeTransfer

Many of these apps you will have heard of, so it’s a pretty standard setup and there’s not too many surprises in there.

Recommended freelance tools

Here’s the tools the freelance community on Reddit recommended using. And if they’re established freelancers, you get the confidence that you’ll enjoy using these tools as well.

(Click on the name of the app go to their website, pricing based on freelancers or small agency rates – where available, prices in US dollars because that’s where most of the services are based)

Time-Tracking / Invoicing

  • Harvest (Free-$99 per month): Simple time tracking, fast online invoicing, and powerful reporting software. One of the most recommended tools, Harvest simplifies timesheets and billing so you can get on with your freelance work.
  • RescueTime (Free-$9 per month):  Freelancers need  as there’s no one on your back telling you to do work. RescueTime helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be a more productive freelancer.
  • ManicTime (Free-$67 for a full license): ManicTime sits in the background and records your activities, so you can just forget it is there and focus on your work. It’s Windows only, but a good alternative to RescueTime.
  • Toggl (Free-$5 per month): Toggl is a simple time tracking tool, which has many similar features to RescueTime, but not with the added features of Harvest, so is a happy medium. They also offer free timesheet and mobile apps for Android and iOS.
  • Pancake (Free-$179 for a full license): Pancake is a tool that handles not only the freelance basics (time tracking, invoicing) but includes more features like project cost tracking, proposal generation and estimates.

Project Management

  • Trello (Free):  Infinitely flexible. Incredibly easy to use. Great mobile apps. It’s free. What more could you want?
  • Basecamp ($20-$150 per month): Is “the number one project management tool”. Easy to get started with if you’re looking to get up and running quickly.
  • Asana (Free-$100 per month): Billed as Teamwork without email”, Asana puts conversations and tasks together, so you can get more done with less effort.  A good alternative to Basecamp.
  • Pivotal Tracker ($7-$175 per month): More suited to web developers, Pivotal is lightweight, agile project management tool for software teams.
  • Breeze.pm ($29 per month): Breeze shows you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, where things are in the workflow and how much time it took. A new entrant, but well worth a look.

To Do List

  • Todoist (Free-$40 for a full license):  One of the best online task management apps – and it’s free (if you don’t want the extra features). Plus it runs on just about anything you own – Web, iPhone, iPad, Android, Chrome, Outlook and more.
  • Wunderlist (Free-$4.99 per month): Whether you’re sharing a grocery list with a loved one, working on a project, or planning a vacation, Wunderlist makes it easy to collaborate with anyone. Won App of the Year in 2013.
  • Clear ($4.99 iPhone, $9.99 Mac):  Only available on iPhone and Mac, Clear makes productivity fun again with an innovative swipe interface. Clear might just be the todo list from the future.
  • Omnifocus ($39.99): If you’re a keyboard shortcut king then Omnifocus is for you. Why waste time with a mouse when you are even more productive by keeping your sticky fingers stuck to the keyboard?

Accounting

  • Freshbooks ($20-$40 per month): With FreshBooks, you can create professional-looking invoices complete with your own logo. When you’re ready to bill your client, simply send your invoice via email and the system takes care of the rest. Slick.
  • Quickbooks ($15-$40 per month): Very similar to Freshbooks, but lets clients pay you faster via credit card or bank transfer and the system will track it. Still does all the usual as well invoicing and accounting as well.
  • Crunch ($80 per month): The UK equivalent of US giants Freshbooks and Quickbooks. Plus with added phone support, so you know you always have an accountant waiting at the end of the line (which is why it’s slightly more expensive)
  • Saasu ($15-$50 per month): Pretty much the same as the above, but is well linked in to a range of ecommerce providers and let’s you integrate with your stock levels, so brilliant for freelancers or small business selling products online.
  • Freeagent ($25-$40 per month): Recommended by 99.5% of their users, so must do something right.  From expenses, payroll, to estimates and invoices, FreeAgent helps you nail the daily (and boring) admin.
  • Wave (???):  With invoicing, accounting, payroll and even payment processing in one application, Wave keeps you organised and up to date. Impressive integration with third-party apps, but no pricing info available on their site.

Contracts

  • HelloSign (Free-$13 per month): Printing out and sending on paper copies of contracts is a pain. HelloSign’s secure electronic signatures are business-caliber, easy-to-use, and legally binding. And it integrates with Google Apps and Gmail. Thumbs up.
  • WP Online Contract ($18): Allows you to create, manage, and save contracts online through WordPress, giving your clients a way to view and sign your contracts online in one place. A one-off cost, so perfect if you also run your freelance business website on Wordpress.
  • Turboscan (Free-$2.99 for a full license): Snap, scan and send your documents with Turboscan. The free option is fine for taking quick photos and emailing them on, but too open up the full feature set you only have to pay a small price to upgrade to the full version.

Other Essential Freelance Tools

  • Google Apps for Business ($5 per month): Previously a free service, but now with a small cost, Google Apps is still the daddy of running your business in the cloud, with email, word processing, spreadsheets and more all available on your own domain.
  • Open Office (Free): The open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Great if your clients send you MS Word docs and you don’t want to pay the license fee, but beware of formatting issues. “Export as PDF” is your new best friend.
  • Dropbox (Free-$10 per month): Store your photos, docs, and videos in the cloud, o you never email yourself a file again! A firm favourite of designers everywhere, given the large files that they have to send to clients.
  • Calendly (Free-$8): A great find and highly recommended for freelancers and small businesses that need to schedule appointments. Quite a few freelancers mentioned this tool.
  • Slack (Free-$12.50 per month): The new hot thing in Silicon Valley, Slack brings all your communication together in one place with chat, file sharing and more. Fun to use as well. No excuse to slack off now!
  • Mailchimp (Free-$10 per month): Simple but powerful email marketing.  Up to 2,000 emails and 12,000 contacts for free, so unless you send a serious amount of email this is a great marketing option for freelancers.
  • Thumbtack (???): Helps you find new customers and grow your business. Clients tell Thumbtack about their needs and they send you the details of the client’s requests (for free). If it looks like a fit, you respond with a custom quote and work out the details with the client. Not sure what the pricing is, but assume that the client pays a percentage for finding the right freelancer for them. One to try for new business leads.

Wow! There you go. A range of freelance tools for you to try, or get reassurance from that you’re using the best of breed.

What essential freelance tools I missed out? What apps, products and services do you recommend to other freelancers? What’s your freelance stack? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Ben Matthews

Ben Matthews is a digital marketing consultant specialising in tech, media and charity sectors.

https://benrmatthews.com/

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