If you’re a freelancer, there are some essential tools you’ll need to get your business off the ground and keep it running. A few of these are obvious — things like a reliable computer, high-speed internet, and a website.
Some tools, though, can be a little less obvious. Or they’re things you know you need, but you don’t know how to use them, you can’t afford them, or you don’t even know they exist.
If you’ve ever thought “I wish I could XYZ” or “Why does this have to be so complicated?” or even “Does it really have to cost so much to get this done?” then this post is for you!
These are the tools that every freelancer needs. Many of them are free, and others have a starter level that’s great for many freelancers.
Document Creation and Storage Software
It used to be that Microsoft Office was pretty much the go-to file creation software. It costs a lot and has to be upgraded every few years. Office is still great for the right applications, but these days there’s something that’s equally as fantastic. It’s called Google Drive, and you absolutely need to be using it.
Google Drive is Google’s answer to Microsoft Office. It includes several applications — Documents, which is a word processor; Sheets, which does spreadsheet; Slides, which does slide presentations; Forms, which creates free online forms; and a few other apps.
It’s free. It’s robust. And the other fantastic thing is, it’s cloud-based. That means you don’t have to keep all your business documents on your computer, slowing things down and cluttering up your desktop. You can free up tons of memory, avoid using the slow, bulky word processor apps, and you can access your files from any computer that has an internet connection.
Drive is connected to your Google account, which makes emailing documents super-duper easy if you also use Gmail. You can share files easily, sort and store them, and use collaborative tools like comments and tracking changes. If you aren’t using Drive, you need to start using it immediately!
Phone, Chat, and Video Services
Many freelancers just use their personal phone for business things, but if you want to create some separation between your work life and your personal life (which I recommend!) you’ve got a few great, free tools to help you.
Sign up for Google Voice to get a free phone number. You can have this phone number push forward to any other number you have (like your cell number). You can also set up voicemail and even receive texts at that number. No one has to know it’s just a forwarding service! You can also set the hours that it will forward your calls to your phone, or have it not forward at all and just take a message. You can also receive email notifications every time you have a call or text, and voicemails are automatically transcribed for you so you can check all your messages right in your inbox. It’s a great privacy tool for you. There’s also the option to purchase minutes to call through Google Voice, which is a much more affordable solution than setting up a monthly phone plan if you don’t make too many phone calls.
For video conferencing and chatting, Skype is my favorite. It’s mostly free to use (you do pay for some phone calls) and it’s widely used. You’ll need a webcam to use the video features, but many laptops, tablets, and phones already have cameras built in.
Invoicing, Accounting and Bookkeeping
When you’re making money, you need to keep track of it all — what’s going out, what’s coming in, and what’s getting put in your personal bank account (aka how much you’re paying yourself).
The best online accounting service I’ve found is Xero. It includes everything you need for your business finances, from invoicing for your work to paying your team members. You can use it to create invoices (including recurring invoices), import and reconcile your bank and credit card statements so your business expenses are all tracked in one place, and scheduling out payments. You can also integrate it with your online store to track inventory, bills, and payments. Try it free. No credit card required.
Project Management and Collaboration Tools
Often when you’re freelancing, you’re working with someone else — whether it’s a client, a team member, or your own VA. Project management tools are really helpful for making sure all your different goals and to-do items are tracked and organized, so nothing falls through the cracks.
The three big names in project management are Asana, Trello, and Basecamp. They all have collaboration features built right in to make it easy to communicate with others involved in the project. Asana and Trello both have pretty robust free versions, and Basecamp has a long free trial to make sure it’s the right thing for you before signing up for their relatively low subscription. (You can also pay a small one-time for Basecamp Personal. You lose the collaboration elements, but the project management tools are still really helpful if you like their style best.)
There are other collaboration tools you can use, too. Slack is a popular messaging tool that’s especially great for groups, and it has a nice free version.
6 Great Free Freelance Tools
1. Toogl – You can’t simply guess, or estimate, how much time you’re spending on work; chances are you’re either overcharging your clients or under-cutting yourself. Keeping track of your time is not only professional, but not being honest and/or accurate could throw your business into questionable ethical, or even legal, trouble. This free time tracker is a great way to ensure you’re getting paid for hours worked and keeping accountable to your clients.
2. Income Tracker – It’s fantastic that you’re getting work, but you still need to make sure you’re getting PAID! It’s imperative to have a method that allows you to, instantly, see when the cash hits your account! Equally as important is calculating any quarterly taxes owed, storing receipts, tracking expenses, organizing 1099s and W4s and preparing your end of year income tax. Google Drive spreadsheet is fine to start.
3. LastPass Running a business means having tons of accounts with tons of URLs, logins and passwords to remember – and remember – you DO NOT want to use the same credentials for every account you have; that’s an identity thief’s dream come true! Last Pass not only keeps all your passwords and account info in one safe place, under TWO master passwords if you choose, (accessible at any time from any device,) but will also auto-generate crazy hard-to-crack passwords for you and you don’t even have to remember them!
4. Online To-Do List – Working from home is a blessing…unless you’re constantly getting distracted by the laundry, the dishes, the dog or anything else that keeps you from actually working! Utilizing a to-do list can help you prioritize what needs to get done and keep you motivated with the thrill of checking off your accomplishments! todoist.com not only works as a list, but can also function as a calendar (with notifications,) is accessible from any device and can be shared with others, (hello delegation!)
5. Dedicated Email Address – Sure, firstname.lastname@example.org was a super-cool email address in HIGH SCHOOL, but you’re a professional now! Not only do you want to appear this way to potential clients and customers, but you also want a spam-free, streamlined email address where you can instantly access all things business. Use this email ONLY for work correspondence, job applications, etc. Sites like Gmail are free and allow you to create as many email addresses as you like. Try to stick with your name and/or your business name for ease of use and professional appearance.
6. PayPal – Many people and businesses prefer to make and receive payments via Paypal, so having that option available for your customers is always a plus. It’s free to open an account and comes with lots of fantastic features. You can create and send invoices straight from PayPal, and you can move money from your PayPal account right into your bank account with one click. PayPal offers credit lines and credit cards, to customers, which they can then use to purchase your goods and services!
That’s not all!
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are loads of great tools you can use to help your freelance business get and stay strong, but these are the ones that should be at the top of your list.