Serious about growing your freelance business? Here are the tools to help you
No matter how you look at it, making the decision to start freelancing means starting your own business. And if you’ve never owned a business before, it can be tricky to figure out what tools you need in order to stay on track and be successful and still complete all of your client work.
And until you find the right tools, your business won’t run as efficiently as it could … meaning you won’t earn as much you could.
I’ve tested a lot of tools as a freelancer and have found some that make running a business for the first time SO much easier, and I want to share them with you. From pitching new clients to balancing the books, here are the tools I swear by for my freelance business.
Note: None of these are sponsored products or affiliate links; they’re just tools I really, really like.
1. AND CO
If you only use one of the tools in this article, it needs to be AND CO. This platform allows you to create contracts, send invoices, and receive payments seamlessly. You can also use their time-tracking tool, which exports hours directly to your invoices, or use it to categorize your expenses as personal or business.
AND CO partnered with the Freelancer’s Union to create a contract form that puts freelancers first. You can customize it SO easily, too. Client doesn’t want you to use their work in your portfolio? Simply toggle off the usage rights. You and your client can also sign and send contracts digitally, and you’ll even get an alert when documents are opened.
AND CO offers three different pricing tiers, including an awesome free one. Start using AND CO here.
I’ve used Asana for three years and it’s by far my favorite task and project management tool I’ve ever used. It’s designed for teams, but works flawlessly for my own personal projects.
I create a new project for each client I sign, then create individual tasks within those projects. You can assign task due dates, create subtasks with their own due dates, and even set them to recur, which is a huge time saver if your laundry list of client work is the same every week. And because Asana was designed with teams in mind, you can even add your client as a team member to keep everyone on the same page.
One of the biggest draws is their incredibly easy-to-use mobile app. It never fails that I come up with ideas and tasks for myself while I’m out and about. So, it’s easy to whip out my phone and assign a task right then and there instead of writing it down somewhere (and forgetting to put it into Asana when I’m home).
Asana is free for up to 15 team members, then $10 per month for 15 members or more. Start using it here.
3. Boomerang for Gmail
One of the problems unique to freelancers is the odd work hours. On several occasions I’ve finished a client project in the wee hours of the morning and wanted to go ahead and send it so I can mark it off my to-do list. But I don’t want my client to see a 1:00 a.m. timestamp on that email and think they can get ahold of me at all hours of the day.
That’s where Boomerang for Gmail comes in. It’s a handy plugin that allows you to schedule emails to send at a later time (like during normal business hours). You can also set it to pause your inbox during times when you need to work distraction-free. It even has apps for iOS and Android.
It also tracks when and how many times the recipients open your message, and can send you a reminder to follow up with them if you don’t hear back. This is incredibly helpful if you cold-email pitches to an editor or potential client.
Boomerang for Gmail is a free browser plugin and mobile app. Add it to Gmail here.
Focus has never been my strong suit, but when I’m working on an hourly rate, I have to be able to zone in and do WORK. My favorite Pandora station is great for busting out tasks like social media posts and graphics, but when it comes to sitting down and having focused article-writing time, music with lyrics just won’t cut it. I can’t come up with my own words while Beyonce’s are pouring into both ears.
Focus@Will solves that problem … with science! They’ve found that depending on your personality, some sounds will help you focus better than others. They have users take a short quiz to determine the best music for how they work, and tailor their recommendations to quiz results. They recommended I listen to an instrumental classical music station, which is similar to one of my Pandora stations, only somehow way better. But if their recommendations aren’t your cup of tea, you can still browse and play other stations, too.
Focus@Will offers a two-week free trial, then costs $9.99 per month afterward. And because you can write it off on your taxes as a business expense, it’s completely worth it. Take the quiz to get started here.
5. Google Drive
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, I think it’s safe to say you’ve already heard of Google Drive … but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning here. In fact, I probably use this tool more than any of the others on this list.
Google Drive makes it easy to share files and collaborate with clients. I love that everything is stored in the cloud, which means I can access files from my laptop at my desk or from my phone in the middle of the grocery store (yes, this has happened). Downloading the Google Drive mobile app is one of the best things I’ve done to become more efficient, because I can simply upload photos from my phone instead of jumping through hoops to email them to myself.
Speaking of efficiency, if you use Google Drive regularly, you absolutely need to sync it to your desktop. This step adds Google Drive to your main storage folders just like Desktop, Downloads, and Documents, and completely eliminates the need to upload and download files constantly. I basically stopped saving files in My Documents after syncing Drive to my desktop. Now everything gets saved in Google Docs.
Google Drive comes free with any Google email account. Get started here.
Hootsuite is a must-have if you’re active on social media (and if you’re focused on growing your freelance business, you should be). It lets you sync all of your social media accounts into one manager dashboard. From there you can engage with your followers and schedule posts in advance.
I especially love the streams feature, which lets you view all of your different feeds side by side. This goes beyond just your Facebook timeline next to your Twitter feed — you can set up a stream to show your notifications (like I did below), or to monitor a certain hashtag or account. This is especially handy during Twitter chats or if you manage more than one account per platform.
Hootsuite is free for one user and up to three social profiles, and starts at $19 per month for more than three profiles. Get started with Hootsuite here.
I let my Adobe membership lapse when I first started freelancing full time because it wouldn’t fit into my budget anymore. That meant I needed to find another way to create graphics for blogs and social media. I’d used PicMonkey at a previous job, and decided to pick it back up for my personal use.
PicMonkey is the best online photo editor and graphics creator that I’ve ever used. It allows you to add your own fonts, which other online editors like Canva do not, and you can save your designs as templates in a “hub” for easy access and future editing. You can make basic edits to a photo, like lighting, contrast, and color correction. You can also add frames, shapes, text, and filters to your heart’s content. I use it for ALL of my graphics and would be lost without it.
PicMonkey used to have a free version, but unfortunately, they did away with that option this summer. Now, it’s $3.99 per month / $47.88 per year for an annual subscription, or $7.99 if you pay monthly. Start using PicMonkey here.
I talked a little bit about how great Upwork is in a previous article, but it’s worth mentioning again here. Most of the clients I’ve worked with have come through Upwork, and it’s a lifesaver every month. First of all, it makes finding clients SO much easier because it connects freelancers to people who are already looking for someone to help them, which takes the work of cold-calling or emailing out of the picture.
Once you start a gig with a client, you can use Upwork’s built-in time tracker to automatically calculate your hourly earnings and guarantee payment.
You can apply to 30 gigs per month for free, which has always been more than enough for what I need. However, if you need to submit more than 30 proposals, you can get 5 more for $10 per month. Get started with Upwork here.
If you want to build a successful freelance career, you need to equip your business with the right tools to help it get there. Let me know how these tools work for you, or if there are others you recommend!