I'm a full-time freelance writer. However, when I'm not writing, I'm running a small business. I'm marketing my services to various companies and getting paid for my time and effort. I'm fielding project requests, filling out invoices and tax forms, and keeping my portfolio updated for prospective clients, just like many other types of small businesses.
I'm not alone, either. According to the Freelancers Union, 54 million Americans work as freelancers in fields like writing, graphic design, consulting, etc. That's a huge chunk of the country’s workforce.
Every business, especially solo operations like freelancing, needs the right tools to run effectively. Whether you're freelancing full time or just doing a side project or two for extra income, here are 13 tech tools that can help you manage your business better. [See Related Story: Want to Be a Full-Time Freelancer? What You Need to Know]
Organization and project management
It's easy to lose track of your documents on your hard drive. Fortunately, Google Drive allows you to compile Google documents, sheets and other types of files in one place. You can also share certain folders and files with other Gmail users. You can also export documents into Word docs, PDFs and other types of files. Alternatively, Dropbox offers similar file-storage features, but it can cost you depending on how much you store.
Staying organized is key to a freelancer's success. Wunderlist is a simple, intuitive to-do list app that can be accessed on your desktop or on mobile devices for free. To-dos can be organized by project and by client, then broken down by tasks needed to complete each item. Additional features include the ability to add notes and files (such as photos and spreadsheets) to each to-do item, set deadlines and create reminders, with automatic data syncing across all devices.
Say goodbye to sticky notes, disorganized calendars and overwhelming to-do lists with Trello. This project management tool lets you keep track of ideas, to-do lists, things in progress and completed tasks using a virtual, Pinterest-like whiteboard. Each item is set up as a "card" that you can drag and drop within and across categories, making it easy to organize projects and your entire freelance business. Start using Trello with a free account. Learn how I use Trello as a freelance writer here.
My Minutes is an iOS app that helps you meet productivity goals by budgeting your time. It uses an "at least" and "at most" system, such as "spending at least 2 hours on Client A's project" and "spending at most an hour on emails." The app can also send daily notifications of your to-do list, as well as motivate you with alerts when you have reached a goal or are close to hitting one. My Minutes can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store.
If you're billing by the hour, it is critical to understand how you're spending your time. RescueTime works in the background of your computer or mobile device, tracking the amount of time you spend on applications and websites, as well as time spent away from your desk. RescueTime is free with limited features, or $9 per month for advanced capabilities such as daily accomplishment logs. The paid plan also blocks distracting websites.
Pomodoro Timer for Trello
It can be difficult to determine how long certain projects and assignments take you. Pomodoro Timer for Trello allows you to track time on Trello cards using the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique helps you work in quick sprints (ideally without distractions) to make the most of your time. This method is great for burnout prevention and creating a better work-life balance. If you aren’t using Trello, you can also download the original version of Pomodoro for Chrome.
It's easy to get distracted when you work for yourself, especially from home. SelfControl, a popular open-sourced distraction app, allows you to block your own access to specific sites — even if you delete the application or restart your computer. Set a specific period of time and create a blacklist of distracting websites, like Facebook, Twitter and even your mail server. Then click "start" at the beginning of your next work shift, and be blissfully free of distractions.
Simplify your accounting system. FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting software system for non-accountants. It not only tracks billable hours, but also integrates them with an easy online invoicing system that automatically calculates totals and taxes to quickly generate invoices. FreshBooks also offers hassle-free expense tracking that automatically imports and categorizes expenses from bank accounts and credit cards, and it logs expenses simply by taking a snapshot of receipts. Its financial reporting tools include expense reports, quarterly analysis, profits and losses, payments collected, tax summaries and more. FreshBooks starts at $9.95 per month for a single user with up to five clients, or $19.95 for up to 25 clients.
Quickbooks is Business News Daily’s recommendation for the best accounting software for small businesses. It passes our tests for customer service, user-friendliness and time conservation. Additionally, Quickbooks integrates more than 150 third-party apps, including time-tracking and payroll services, for even more convenience. The program starts at $9.99 a month. It also happens to be the cheapest compared to similar services without compromising quality. Read our full review here.
When you're just starting out a new business, free services help with startup costs. Wave, Business News Daily's pick for the best free accounting software for small businesses, lets you enter your company's name and industry, and the program instantly generates a dashboard based on your needs. You can add personal info on transactions, receipts, invoices and other important financial documents. Note that we recommend this easy-to-use service for beginners and businesses that plan to stay relatively small. Check out our full review here.
As Business News Daily's pick for best micro-business accounting software, Zoho Books is an ideal solution for freelancers who want a simple, organized approach to accounting. It allows you to create and send invoices, track expenses, sync your bank accounts and create reports on the Web or via its mobile app. While it's a bit higher priced than other accounting solutions, at $24 a month (after a free 14-day trial), Zoho Books gives you the best bang for your buck by including access to all of its features, plus unlimited everything. Read our full review here.
Signing contracts, proposals, agreements and other types of paperwork is a significant part of being a freelancer. HelloSign, legally binding email signatures, allows freelancers to e-sign documents without ever printing, signing, scanning and sending files. It syncs with Google drive, making it easy to sign email attachments if you use Gmail. The program allows three free signatures a month, which build up as credits if left unused. For $13 a month, you have unlimited signatures.
As a freelancer, it is critical that you have all your legal ducks in a row. Get everything in writing with Rocket Lawyer, which provides DIY legal documents and services. These include independent contractor and consulting agreements so you can get paid and nondisclosure agreements to protect your intellectual property. It's free to create one legal document on Rocket Lawyer, which can be saved and printed, but not edited once finalized. A paid plan costing $39.95 per month or a one-week free trial is required to create and edit more than one document.
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.