It’s your first day as a freelancer and you feel like an intrepid, season seven Peggy Olsen. No one’s checking your time card, nobody is watching your breaks, your boss isn’t pinging you for a report that’s not even overdue. You’re sitting at your kitchen table, watching your inbox. Of course, now that you’re self-employed you’re also the only employee. That means you’re project managing yourself, tracking your expenses, invoicing your clients, bringing in new business, following up on a sale and… actually doing the work. Drop any of these balls and your business will suffer. So how to stay afloat (while still hitting that mid-day yoga class)? We’ve compiled a list of the best tools for freelancers to help you stay on track.
Freelance life demands a strong understanding of your cash flow. From office materials like paper and pens, to the amenities you need to keep your office afloat (electricity, Internet, coffee, rent), keeping track of your business expenses is crucial not only for budgeting, but also for tax season. Wave’s accounting software combines intuitive invoicing with company debits, giving you a detailed understanding of what your business is generating in revenue versus profit. Wave lets you build custom invoices with per-project tasks and charges, and sets automatic reminder emails to clients approaching their payment deadlines. Exciting bonus: when April rolls around, you can print out or download month-by-month breakdowns of your debits and credits and pass them directly to your accountant. They’ll be able to help calculate the expenses you can claim against your freelance business. Hellooooo tax refund? At the very least hello lower tax owing.
“Time is money” is much more personal for freelancers. New projects always demand some guesswork as to how long delivery will take, how projects should be broken down and segmented, and how much time will be spent in meetings versus actually working on the project. Harvest Timer is one of our favorite tools for freelancers because it allows users to segment their time according to project and budget. It also breaks down time spent into billable and non-billable hours, giving you a real sense of what is eating away at your budgeted time.
If you’re looking to meticulously track your time, Harvest is an excellent option. But Harvest really shines when you’re interested in comparing time spent against actual productivity, to better allocate your limited freelancer resources.
No, not an app, the real thing. Bare with us here. One of the best “tools” for freelancers is the ability to build a schedule that works for you. That mid-day yoga class? We weren’t being glib. Taking the opportunity to stand up and give your brain a lane change is one of the best parts about working for yourself. And while we’re seeing some companies adopt the ethos of flex time, a study out of Harvard Business put a pretty fine point on it: getting exercise during the workday improves your concentration, sharpens your ideas, and gives your stamina a lift. So whether you’re a P90X or a power walk kind of person, take advantage of the low-stakes optics and get your heart pumping for 30-60 minutes every work day. Being tied to your desk is a thing of the past.
Post-it notes likely improved global organization by 200%. Trello is Post-its, but optimized for the Internet. An online collaboration tool for ideas, to-do lists, idea storage, and notes, Trello is especially great because it allows freelancers to share lists and boards with outside team members… aka your clients. Equipped with more in-depth project management features, like assignees, checklists, and due dates, Trello makes it simple to turn what was a simple brainstorm into actionable tasks. Tools like this go a long way in making a nervous client feel like they understand a projects’ progress. It also gives them an opportunity to check in on work and ask for more ideas or time — which, when thoughtfully managed, can expand the scope of your project and turn into more work.
Of course, when responding to client queries (which you can do right inside Trello — anyone with access can make comments on messages and notes) be sure to track your time accordingly: how much time are you spending managing a jittery client or an unclear vision, and how much time do you get to spend on the project itself? Good news: the Harvest timer mentioned above has a Trello Power-Up that makes it so easy to track time spent.
Taking screenshots is a widely used method to quickly share ideas whether via email, Slack or any other communication platform. And adding annotations like arrows, callouts, comments and highlights can help freelancers explain complex ideas in just one image. Markup Hero is a simple tool to take screenshots and annotate files including images, PDF’s and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides. Just snap a screenshot or upload your file. Add some markup. Then copy the link to share it with co-workers and colleagues.
A large but oft-unspoken part of being a freelancer? Being really flexible. Making your clients’ asks feel easy and reasonable will make you freelancer number one in their eyes. A tool like Unito is super helpful when it comes to bringing disparate programs into a single place. Do you have four clients on Trello, one on Asana, two others who prefer Wrike, and so on and so on? Save yourself the tab-clicking carpal tunnel: Unito syncs all of these tools so you can keep tabs on what you actually need to DO on any given day from your tool of choice. A simple solution that makes you look like a multi-platform hero? Sounds like a win.
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Which tools for freelancers are right for you?
A solid suite of tools for freelancers makes getting your work done in a timely manner simple and — most importantly — well-organized. When your client can count on you to be a mercenary in Google sheets and a super reliable invoicer in the… online accounting software… you can feel confident they’ll become return business.
What other tools for freelancers should people know about? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @unitoio.