By Danica Despotovic | 3/1/2015 | Tricks

The Freelancer's Toolkit – A Box of Goodies for Freelancers

The Freelancer's Toolkit – A Box of Goodies for Freelancers

Let’s face it – not all of us freelancers are as tech savvy as we probably should be.

I’ve heard stories from clients about freelancers who had, essentially, no way to accept payments for work-completed apart from under-the-table cash deposits which, if you want to be legal, might be more than just a little sketchy for your business.

If you’re the owner of a window washing company, then paper invoices and notepads for managing projects might suffice. Maybe

But if you’re a freelance writer who works for clients that live across the world and that you never have and never will meet, it’s probably better for both parties to get more serious about your invoicing.

And what about your time and productivity in general? What tools and strategies do you use to maximize your output and increase the amount of invoices you can send in the first place?

With such an ocean of apps available on the web these days, it’s getting a little tough to sift through all the crap and dig out the diamonds in the ruff.

But don’t worry. We know apps, and we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of 2-3 apps across 5 category types – they’re all free or super cheap, so cost is a non-issue.

1. Productivity and Time Management

  • RescueTime – You get 1,440 minutes in the day. The ones you waste must be rescued. Download TimeRescue onto your computer to run securely in the background, tracking the minutes and hours you spend using different websites and apps during your day. It produces an accurate report of how your time’s spent. There’s a 14 day trial, a free subscription, and a paid subscription that includes some pretty cool extra features for $9/month. You may be surprised with what you find.
  • Anti-Social - The siren call of your friends eating lunch at local restaurants or sharing funny cat pictures on Facebook is almost too much to resist for many freelancers. Anti-Social is the answer you’re looking for. This brutal app cannot be turned off once installed and blocks any websites that waste your time. It’s time to quit obsessing over your Facebook wall.
  • The Pomodoro Technique - The Pomodoro Technique is used by many famous creative people including infamous productivity author, Daniel Pink. The basic idea is that you work for short bursts of around 25 minutes with five-minute breaks in between. By breaking your workload into more digestible chunks, by the end of your regular work day, you’ll be amazed at just how much you’ve achieved. Try it.

2. Apps for Writers

  • FocusWriter - FocusWriter is a great app that shuts out your entire operating system interface leaving you with nothing but the digital pen and paper necessary to ply your trade. It’s an awesome way to remove distractions and manages to offer great features such as easy access via a hidden sidebar and customization of the colors to make it more visually appealing to your tastes.
  • WriteMonkey (Windows only) - If 100 monkeys with 100 typewriters were put into a room with WriteMonkey, they may well produce something special. This app is free, super lightweight, and offers a great interface with a minimalistic design that leaves you alone with your thoughts. Start producing that masterpiece you had in mind.
  • OmmWriter (Mac only) – Pretty darn similar to WriteMonkey. So if you’re a Mac user looking for a WriteMonkey alternative, try out OmmWriter. You’ve got tons of customization features with this app, like backgrounds, audio tracks, and even keystroke sounds. Give it a try.

3. Billing and Invoicing Solutions

  • Paypal - PayPal is the go-to tool for many online transactions and your freelancing work should be no different. It’s improved in recent years, has an excellent iPhone app, is ultra-secure, reliable and gets faster and more seamless constantly.
  • Harvest - If for some reason you’re not a fan of PayPal, check out Harvest. It lets you track both time and money, integrating with payment systems including Stripe, PayPal and Authorize.net. It allows you to send invoices to your clients so they can pay you in the comfortable and familiar format of using a credit card for online payments in a secure interface.

4. Easy Project Management Tools

  • Trello - Trello is a great team collaboration software with a focus on visualization in the interface through the use of Kanban boards. It’s been proven time and time again that adding visuals to anything from social media campaigns to brainstorming is an effective way to improve creative thought processes and promote engagement. And, it works in the project management realm just as well as anywhere else. Oh, and it’s free.
  • Asana - Asana is a similar app to Trello, and when you consider that its client list boasts Dropbox, Uber, AirB&B and other major brands, that should give you a testimonial for the effectiveness of this collaboration tool. You can log in using your Google account and try it out for free on the link above.
  • Solo - Solo is a feature-rich project management tool designed especially for freelancers. There’s a task timer and one or two other tools that help keep you on top of your productivity and a lot of customization options for setting up the well-designed interface.

5. Client Relationship Management Systems

  • Nimble - As you become busier as a freelancer (and especially if you’re considering building some kind of agency), relationship management becomes an increasingly important task. Nimble is one of the best tools for the job. Its main feature is the ability to tie together all communication streams such as emails and various social media services into one coherent interface, thus making relationship management simpler. It’s also free if you’re working with a small amount of clients at a time.
  • Zoho - Similar in many respects to Nimble, Zoho has features such as a client prioritization (because we all know some retainers are more valuable than others) and workflow structuring. I especially like that the app offers the ability to capture leads straight from your website if that’s a part of your marketing strategy. The interface is bare-bones clean (in a good way), and in my opinion it’s got one of the lowest learning curves for a CRM currently on the market.

Somewhere, There’s a Tool for You

Just like with any other profession, it’s important you have the right tools for the job when freelancing.

Having the right tools lets you focus on what matters (your skills), thereby keeping your clients happy, your rent paid, and ultimately securing the good name of your personal brand brand both now and in the future. Online tools won’t get the job done for you, but they’ll sure make it a helluva lot easier.

If you’re not sure where to start in this article, commit to trying at least one tool every two weeks, using it for the extent of the free trial where relevant and necessary. It may take awhile to fully adopt something like a project management tool, but once you’ve given it a fair try, you’ll never know how you lived without it.

By Danica Despotovic | 3/1/2015 | Tricks

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