Succeeding as a freelancer is, in many ways, an art form. Beyond the skill itself, you also need grit and determination, comfort with instability, and a fair amount of self-motivation. However, there are some secrets to freelance success that are more tangible than, say, “hustle.” Running a great freelance business is much easier when you have the right tools.
Here are some of the best tools freelancers can use to stay organized, productive, and sane.
The nature of freelance work can vary widely depending on your profession. A developer may work on one six-month project at a time while a copywriter simultaneously juggles 10 different clients. In any case, succeeding as a freelancer requires staying on top of your tasks. A late project or forgotten deadline may deter an employer from working with you again.
Project management tools are a great way to stay on track with all you have to do and when. Asana is widely beloved by freelancers and full-time employees alike to track projects from start to finish, including all the various tasks, conversations, and materials that are relevant along the way. The central dashboard is super useful for staying on top of multiple projects at once and tracking your progress, so things don’t stack up. It makes for easy collaboration as well.
One of the great aspects of freelancing is the freedom and flexibility, but the lack of structure can make it tough for some freelancers to stay focused. Figuring out how to allocate your time most effectively partly comes from experience and trial and error. That said, there are tools, like RescueTime, that can help you optimize the hours in your day. RescueTime tracks how you spend your time on your computer and analyze it later. Maybe you realize you are spending more time than you’d like on Twitter or dedicating a disproportionate amount to tracking down invoices. Insights like these allow you to make small changes that can have a big impact on your business.
For freelancers that bill on an hourly basis, Toggl is a useful app that lets you track time with a single click. It also allows you to switch between tasks and include time reports in invoices, which clients will appreciate.
Income and expense tracking
Unlike full-time employees, freelancers can’t rely on a steady paycheck every two weeks. It’s absolutely imperative that you stay on top of all your income and expenses so you can budget and pay the right amount in quarterly taxes. Wave, Freshbooks, Quickbooks Self-Employed, and Sighted are all useful tools that will help you keep your financial situation humming along. Wave bundles together accounting, expense tracking and personal finance; Freshbooks includes a straightforward invoice creation tool; Quickbooks’ dashboard can project how much you are likely to make each month/year and estimate what you owe in quarterly taxes; and Sighted integrates payment options with tools, like profit and loss reports. For expense tracking, Expensify is great, and given that high taxes associated with self-employment, this is key for optimizing deductions.
A professional-looking website and portfolio are a necessary part of landing freelance work. Potential employers want to know that you take your business seriously and see previous projects you’ve done. Tools like Weebly and Squarespace make it easy and affordable to quickly set up websites that showcase who you are and your work.
As a freelancer, you are going to sign a lot of contracts. Between tax forms and work agreements, every job you take will likely involve a couple of contracts, and while they can be tedious, contracts also a good thing because they protect you from wage theft, among other things. HelloSign’s technology lets you digitally sign legally binding contracts.
Of course, the basis of a lucrative freelance career is a steady stream of work. There are a number of different types of tools that can help freelancers keep their pipelines full. For many freelancers, the majority of their work comes through their network, via referrals and word-of-mouth. Maintaining relationships is key, which is why Contactually is so useful. For freelancers juggling dozens of leads and clients, remembering who to engage about what and when can absorb a huge amount of brain space. Contactually manages your contacts, provides helpful prompts for follow-up actions, and tracks your progress.
Streak takes a complementary approach by providing a CRM for Gmail. It helps users streamline and manage their business processes from their email, providing color-coded categorization for live leads, closed deals, etc.
Being self-employed means you have to do everything yourself. There are no HR or sales teams to handle income or lead generation for you. Fortunately, these tools decrease the amount of time you have to spend managing the details of your business and let you focus on the projects themselves.