I’ve spent years building a successful freelancing copywriting business.
During that time I’ve tried dozens of different apps and tools to help make life easier.
Many of us dive into our own business full of enthusiasm, only to discover that the day to day running of our business takes up a lot more of our precious time than we expected.
What was supposed to be an exciting world of doing what we love can end up with us drowning in the minutiae of just managing our own business.
To help manage this, there are a bunch of tools out there. But this can cause a whole new problem. With a dozen invoicing tools to choose from, which is the right one? We can end up spending weeks just researching the different options.
To save you from some of that hard work, I’ve put together this list of tools I’m using to manage my freelance business.
About This List of Tools
I happen to be a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant, but I’ve created this list to help any freelancer, whether you’re a designer, developer, writer, or other professional services freelancer, the tools on this list should be everything you need to manage the day to day of your biz.
Things change fast in the world of apps. This is my list – not necessarily the “best” list. You might be using something better and newer than these tools. If you are, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Now let’s get started…
Never heard of a CRM? That’s okay – not many freelancers have. And, tragically, even less are using one.
As a freelancer, whether you know it or now, you’re constantly selling. Every time you answer the phone and someone asks you “can you do X?” or “how much will Y cost?” – that’s a sales conversation. And good salespeople know that integral to an efficient sales process is a good customer relationship management system (CRM).
Using a CRM might seem like overkill at first – that’s what email’s for, right! But over the course of a year you’ll make hundreds of new contacts – both clients and people who didn’t quite end up being clients for whatever reason.
Having a way to keep track of all these contacts is essential. As you get busier and busier you’ll want a system to remind you to follow up on proposals and quotes. This way nothing slips through the cracks. But more importantly, you’re not carrying it all around in your head, taking up precious cognitive bandwidth.
You’ll also want a way to reconnect with clients you may not have talked to for a few months – reminding them you’re still around. While email marketing helps with this (see below) you’ll need a system that’s built to manage and keep track of all these individual relationships and potential jobs.
What I use: HubSpot CRM (suitable freelancer alternatives include Zoho, Insightly, and Contactually)
- Newsletter Software
Just as important as a good CRM, and often working in hand and hand with it, is email marketing software. This can be used in a number of ways, but if you’re new to all this then let’s just focus on newsletters to start with.
Something I wish I’d done from the outset is sending out a monthly newsletter to both active and inactive clients. This doesn’t have to be a major production, just a simple email with a few tips, some news about what you’re working on, and maybe something you’ve learned from a recent project that might help your other clients. You can also add seasonal reminders such as “I’ll be snowed under at Christmas so if you’d like any work done be sure to let me know well in advance.”
If you’re worried about the newsletter’s design you can get lots of free templates online that can be imported into your newsletter software of choice.
Why send out a regular newsletter to your clients? Because in business, one of the most widely acknowledged ways to increase income is not to spend all your energy trying to find new customers, but to tap into the very valuable resource that’s right under your nose – your existing clients.
A newsletter keeps you “top of mind” with your past clients so when they need something done, the newsletter jogs their mind to get in touch. It’s also a great way to let them know about services they didn’t even know you offered. E.g. “Did you know I can also help with SEO? One client has tripled their web traffic in just 3 months of working with me.”
Most freelancers aren’t doing this, and it’s one of the things that separates struggling, overworked freelancers from the ones who make their own rules and pick their own projects.
What I use: Mailchimp
Cost: Free for basic newsletters, $10US/mo for added functionality like email drip campaigns.
- File Sharing and Storage
No matter what type of freelancer you are, you’ll likely need to share files with clients, and store your own files somewhere safe in case your computer bricks.
These days storage is cheap. For free you can get enough data storage to house several thousand libraries worth of documents, or several months’ worth of video.
There are a couple of popular options for file storage and sharing, most notably Dropbox and Google Drive. I currently use both – Dropbox for sharing with clients, and Google Drive for internal storage, simply because I use Gmail for email so it integrates quite well with Google Drive.
I do find Dropbox a little more user friendly, which is why I use it for sharing files with clients who might be a little more technically challenged.
One of the handy things about using a cloud file storage system is that you can create a folder on your local hard drive that stays synced with the cloud. In my case (as a writer) this is my Documents folder. This way I know that no matter what happens to my computer, a copy of my work is always in the cloud, accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.
What I use: Google Drive (Dropbox is a worthy alternative)
Cost: Free for 30GB storage (associated with a Gmail account)
Once you’ve done your work for the client, you need to get paid, right? When I first started, I was preparing invoices manually in Excel or Word. Then I’d have to send them manually to the client and reconcile them with my income records – you guessed it – manually. Screw that!
Then I found Harvest. The great thing about Harvest is that as well as simple invoicing, it also allows you to track time and bill for your hours spent on a project. It keeps a list of all your sent invoices, and allows you to record payments from within the dashboard. Plus, you can send them from within the tool, including setting up automated email reminders for overdue invoices. I no longer needed any spreadsheets for my income because I could simply generate a report for any period of time. I’d simply copy/paste the result into my tax return (hence why there are no accounting tools on this list).
I’m no longer using Harvest because I run several businesses and Harvest lacked the functionality to be able to send invoices from more than one business entity. I found Hiveage to do this, so now that’s what I use. Similar feature set to Harvest, but you can have more than one business in the system and switch between them.
What I use: Hiveage – but I recommend Harvest (similar pricing) if you have just one business.
Cost: Around $12US per month for a single user account
Bottom Line on Tools for Managing Your Freelance Business
Of course, there are more tools I use. Honourable mentions go to Skype for messaging and phone calls, Basecamp and Trello for project management, and WordPress as my website platform. But the above are the core tools that save me the most time, and which I use every day in my freelancing business.
What do you use? And what essential tools have I left out? Have your say in the comments section below.