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30 Essential Tools and Web Apps for Freelancers
When it comes to freelancing, having the right tools for the job can make all the difference.
And we’re not talking exclusively on-job tools here either; freelancers have the difficult task of managing all of their activities, work expenditures, and productivity, as they have only themselves to account for.
While you certainly don’t want to get bogged down in excess tools (succumbing to signing up to every free tool ever), there are certainly a few free resources out there that will greatly aid in your endeavors as a successful freelancer. So, here are 30 tools and web apps for freelancers.
Freelancer Time Management Tools
1. Teux Deux
The Teux Deux “to-do” list app first starting picking up some traction when it was mentioned to be used by the likes of Seth Godin for making daily to-do lists. The premise behind Teux Deux was to make a very minimal but visually compelling (“designy”) app that is highly usable and intuitive.
If making lists is a key part of your organizational structure as a free lancer, than you should definitely check out Teux Deux, it is one of the best options out there for creating and managing task lists (and it’s free!) You can also take Teux Deux on the go with their iPhone app.
You may be familiar with RescueTime it due to it’s association with a few big names, such as Matt Mullenwag of Automattic and WordPress. What you may not be familiar with is how useful RescueTime really is.
RescueTime allows you to keep track of how you spend your time on your computer, and lets you analyze how this time was spent later. If you find that last week you spent over 10 hours on Reddit, you can know that it is time to start managing your time more wisely ;).
For freelancers, getting things done in a timely manner is of utmost importance, and entirely on the self as freelancing typically comes with a very variable schedule. While the Pomodoro Technique provide great results for some people, it’s hard to implement on a regular basis without the right tools, and who wants to walk around with a timer all day?
That’s where Focus Booster comes in, it is an online timer made just for freelancers (or anyone!) using the Pomodoro Technique to get things done. If you aren’t familiar, this method relies on having 25 minute periods of work followed by 5 minute periods of rest, which helps you segment tasks and get them done one at a time.
Toggl is a time tracking app which aims to help you track time with a single click, and to switch easily between different tasks and create reports so that you can get things done and turn that precious time into productive time.It is also available as a Chrome extension, and can be easily installed in your browser for use as soon as you fire up the web.
It’s been featured on an favorably reviewed by sites like Lifehacker, where it is described as:
“Toggl starts tracking the time spent in a live second by second timer right in the web browser. Hit stop when you’re done. Toggl will put together reports – PDF or CSV – for invoicing your clients. More portable than a kitchen timer, Toggl looks like a helpful little tool for hourly freelancers who need to keep track of exactly how much time they spent on what task in another Firefox tab.”
As a freelancer, you are likely sending a lot of emails. Worse yet, many of these emails are likely to contain similar (if not duplicate) information. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a free app that could cut down the time of sending these emails?
That’s where TextExpander comes in, allowing you to pre-program short abbreviations that an automatically insert all types of information and even images, CSS, and other longer forms of information, all from a few easy keystrokes. You can also pre-program to fix typos you often make, use different signatures for different clients, and auto-insert forms and other info on a per project basis.
Freelance Writing Tools
All freelancers (but especially writers) need a full suite of office tools for their personal computer. While Google Docs offers a web based alternative, many folks like storing documents on their hard drive or external memory device. Instead of paying the cost of Microsoft Office, why not try the excellent and free OpenOffice alternative?
While OpenOffice comes with full suite of tools that are comparable to Microsoft Office, the OpenOffice writer is the biggest benefit here: it’s a fully featured writing platform that allows easy exporting to PDF, making it perfect for e-Books, guides, pamphlets, and other necessary documents to be easily shared on the PDF format. It comes fully featured with a similar selection of fonts and other tools (charts, formatting, etc.) that Microsoft Office has, all while being
7. WriteRoom (Mac)
When it comes to getting big writing projects done, focus is key. Nothing will give you more focus than a full-screen writing tool, and WriteRoom is the original offering that is available for Mac.
Featuring a totally black background and no menu options (as well as blocking out all toolbars, even the start menu), WriteRoom will keep your writing between you and the page, taking away all outside things to click so that you can focus you’re writing efforts.
8. DarkRoom (PC)
If you were reading the above and thinking “Oh great, another awesome free tool only available for Mac…”, worry not! There is another program designed to perfectly replicate WriteRoom, only for Windows. It is called DarkRoom and it is similarly free.
Want to really get rid of disctractions? Use either one of these programs and then do the unthinkable: turn off your Internet! That’s right, disabling the web with a full-screen writer will leave you with not many options but to get some writing done!
9. Zen Writer
While the above two options are great for most people, for some, the dark background and the “Matrix style” feel of the programs will be off putting and will not help them maintain focus when writing.
The solution? ZenWriter, a full-screen writing app that takes aesthetics into account. With a serene light and dark background and adjustable fonts, this is the best looking full-screen writer available. The catch? It costs $9 to use all of its features full-time, although you can download the program for free and try it for yourself.
10. Logline App
Logline is an interesting app to feature because it is marketed as being the perfect solution for writing screenplays, but I’ve found it to be a great tool for writing a far more common type of web writing: long, comprehensive e-Books. Simply put, a huge part of freelance writing and anyone using content marketing to grow their business.
With Logline, organizing your ideas and sections/chapters is as simple as a few clicks, you can write notes and organize sections painlessly, no need for immense .doc or .pdf files until the book is fully complete.
Freelance Organizational Tools
Most of us freelancers have heard of Dropbox before, and let me tell you any “hype” tied to the product is totally accurate: Dropbox is awesome, allowing you to sync all files on all of your devices with a simple drag-n-drop system.
Never again will you have to sit with downtime when you could be working on a project, or get stuck not having an essential file that you need: sync all of your files with Dropbox and you’re business files will be “in the cloud”, accessible from any of the devices that you own and have on you.
Shoeboxed allows you to turn piles of receipts and business cards into expense reports, accounting entries and contact lists, save time and cut admin costs by scanning and extract the data from your paper clutter. Shoebox is also accepted by the IRS, so you can use it for your business without worry.
The only downside? The free plan won’t be enough for most people, so if you want to take advantage of the full suite of Shoebox features multiple times a month, you are going to have to upgrade to a premium plan.
13. Now Do This
Now Do This is about the most simple a task management tool can be: it only allows you to make a simple text list which you then click “done” after you’ve… well, done the task.
The upside? No fancy features ensure that this is a true “Getting Things Done” tool, there is nothing to play around with and adjust, you just put up your things to do, and get to it.
14. Oh Don’t Forget…
If you are like me, emails can get passed over, voicemails unlistened to… but text messages? Opened every time. The Oh Don’t Forget team thinks like this as well, as they’ve made the best tool to get reminders via text.
With a ODF account you can text yourself reminders at any time of the day, and since they will be coming through your phone, you know you will be more likely to check and thus remember them.
Remember The Milk has definitely created some buzz recently, and with it’s Gmail addon, you can now access it through your email, which you are probably spending too much time in… ;)
RTM is simply one of the best task managers out there, with tools that can remind you from almost any device, set up specific location reminders, plan your time in advanced, and work together with others to get things done. An overall must have tool in my opinion.
Did you think that text message reminders might be annoying? Well than stay far away from BetterBuzzer, the company that promises to “Not stop calling you until you pick up. We’re annoying like that, and you’ll love it!” :)
BetterBuzzer does as promised, if you set an important reminder via their calendar tool, you will get called at that time and your phone will not stop ringing until you pick up, useful for absolutely critical things that you cannot miss or forget.
Freelance Project Management Tools
Mind-mapping is all of the rage these days, although it is no different from the old school pen-and-paper method, with tools like MindMeister, you can create mind-maps on your electronic devices, which serve as much better storage than sheets of looseleaf.
Of all my trials with mind-mapping tools, MindMesiter is definitely the best, and it’s free plan will be enough for most people, although if you create a ton of mind-maps, the premium plans are very reasonable.
FreedCamp promises to be the best viable (and free!) alternative to BaseCamp, which so far has not has any major competitors (especially ones that are free).
I’ve used FreedCamp myself and this tool gets better by the day, including all sorts of options which seem like steal to have on a free tool. Better yet, it comes with awesome features like project templates so that you can get up and running as soon as you start using the service, making it an absolute must try: if you’ve been thinking about using a platform like this, I’d advise checking out FreedCamp first.
19. Google Apps
A lot of these apps you are most likely familiar with if you use a Google Account. From messaging & task apps such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar to collaboration apps such as Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Reader and many more, Google Apps is an absolute must for any freelancer in my humble opinion.
If you want to include the recent Google+ into the mix, then you also have incentive to have a Google account in order to network on this new social networking platform. While you have to watch that it doesn’t turn into a time-sink, Google+ offers a way to connect with technologically savy users (it’s main adopters, at least for now) and as a way to further promote yourself on a platform run by the world’s biggest search engine.
When creativity and good ideas strike, will you leave it up to memory to keep track of them? The scary truth is your brain is not as dependable as you’d like to think, but cut the poor guy some slack: in today’s world, we are forced to recall tons of information and are constantly being stimulated by new information.
The benefits of technology help to ease it’s woes, however, with tools like Evernote. Evernote allows you to capture any good ideas, images, or audio clips from your PC or phone, and then lets you sync them all for easy retrieval and edits no matter where you are. Don’t let a good idea slip away due to being too busy: let Evernote keep track of your spontaneous moments of creativity/inspiration and store them so you can come back and work on them later.
Helium is a super simple task management system to aid you in clearing out your inbox, assigning and delegating tasks easily, and to take action in order to get things done. Easily connected to your corporate email and Evernote account, Helium also does not need to be connected to the web to work: you can download it for your PC or Mac and it is ready to go.
Even better: you can use Helium to assign tasks whether or not other users use Helium or not, it is not dependent on others to have an account with the platform in order to use it’s benefits. Lastly, Helium features a clean interface and a drag-n-drop dashboard for easy management.
Entrepreneurial & Legal Tools
Mint has been a really popular tool for people looking to manage their money, and it’s no wonder: the interface is beautiful, the tools are excellent, and the service is free. I really cannot recommend another free money management tool over Mint, it has all of the essentials a freelancer could need to start managing their spending and saving more wisely.
Not only that, but the Mint blog is always full of excellent information in the form of detailed posts, infographics, and case studies. You will not find a better designed and made product for money management for free.
The Streamer App is a really great tool that allows you to create custom dashboards for your business’s vital aspects. These include integrations with popular Web Analytics, CRM support, infrastructure, project management and sales tools… all in one place.
The amount of services that integrate with Streamer are impressive thus far and improving by the day, and include the likes of Basecamp, Twitter, MailChimp, Gmail, Google Analytics, Pingdom, Shopify, UserVoice and many more.
ContactMe touts itself as being the essential, all-in-one tool to allow you to consolidate all of your contacts—and the business information that relates to each one—into one convenient, online system.
Utilizing ContactMe to keep this type of information in order will allow you to stay updated and continually on top of your correspondences, tasks, details, deadlines and appointments. Definitely a major time savor that allows you to conduct your business more professionally.
DeskTime is an awesome tool that is perfect for business owners, designers, developers, accountants and many others types of freelancers and entrepreneurs. What does it allow you to do?
It allows you to keep track of people that you are employing, including the ability to automatically create timesheets (no more Excel!) lowering your payroll processing costs, and allowing you to see who is working, for how long, and at what hours. A must have for freelancers and business owners employing others.
Docstoc is the best online source for high quality (and a wide variety) of professional and legal documents that you can use to start, grow, and manage your budding new business, entrepreneurial endeavor, or freelance activities.
Docstoc provides the platform to upload and share documents with the world, and serves as a vast repository of free and for purchase legal, business, financial, technical, and educational documents that can be easily searched, previewed and downloaded.
Freelancer Social Media Tools
When it comes to social media (especially on Twitter), timing can be everything. Not only on the time you spend on it (get back to work!) but also on the timing of your updates, which can have big consequences on their reach and effectiveness.
Fortunately, there is a one-two knockout combo for Twitter that will make sure your updates go out at the perfect time, every time. The first part of this process is analyzing your followers over on Tweriod, which will give you a comprehensive (and good looking!) chart displaying the most popular hours on Twitter for your followers (when they are online the most).
With this information, you can then use…
…the BufferApp, the second part in our awesome Twitter combo. After you’ve gotten your free report of when your Twitter followers are online, use Buffer to set up time periods in which your tweets will post every day, making sure they align with when your Twitter followers are online the most.
You can schedule tweets from the very beginnings of the day, and can set them to go out at very specific times, hitting the hot spots throughout the day, making sure your tweets are getting read by as large an audience as possible. This will maximize each tweet’s impact and you can rest assured that your important tweets won’t get buried. Buffer also now works with Facebook as well.
Ping.fm is one of the best ways to cut through the 20 different logins that you might have for social media profiles: update once and done, and Ping will even shorten the links automatically for sites like Twitter.
I like Ping because I’m able to updates social media accounts, microblogs (such as Posterous and Tumblr) and that the Ping team is adding new accounts all of the time, assuring me that it will be a service that stays updated with the latest useful profiles for all types of sites.
Social Oomph has some really great social networking tools in it’s arsenal, but it really shines when it comes to Twitter tools. The reason that so many of these web apps for freelancer tools focus on Twitter is because I’ve found it to be one of the best networking tools, with LinkedIn being a close second (and Google+ being a distant 3rd).
One awesome feature that I love to use (properly!) is the auto-DM tool. While this tool can be extremely obnoxious when used incorrectly, it can be a great asset done the right way. What’s the right way? Entice people to follow you by promising them a freebie (Follow me for a free video/e-book/whatever!), you will gain more potential followers and you also get to spread some content that you’ve made, making it a win-win.
(Photo credit: Glasses on Keyboard via sxc.hu)
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