5 free tools every freelancer should try and how I use them

Let me start by saying that Freelancing is awesome, so welcome to the world of self-employment. You get to make your own hours and call all the shots.  Well that’s not exactly true. It’s downright exhausting, but the hustle is fun once you get into the rhythm.

One of the first things we learn as freelancers is that our core work (web design, graphic design, writing, etc.) is only part of what we do now. It’s a big part for sure, but we are no longer only the design team or the development team. We are now the Human Resources team, the Executive team, and the Sales team (among others).

The non-core tasks that freelancers must manage can be overwhelming, and since freelancing is one of the leanest business models, it’s important to find the right budget-friendly tools to streamline tasks like project management, time tracking, invoicing, collaboration, etc. Here is a curated list of 100% free tools that I use every day to help with the “business” of my freelancing business. I’m so into these apps, I have them set to open each time I startup Google Chrome.

Trello - Project Management

I’ll start with my favorite, Trello. Trello is a whiteboard/Kanban-style project management app that I use for keeping track of tasks. It allows you to create boards and arrange tasks in a sticky-notes-on-the-wall kind of way.

You can invite other team members to collaborate with and assign tasks, plus a million other fun things. It’s the one I use the most other than Google.

How I use it?  I create a board for each client and send an invitation as part of the onboarding process. On each client board, I create three main columns: To Do, Doing, Done. 

It’s simple and effective. I also have a green board and a blue board that I use to track my internal tasks like client leads and marketing.

Image: trello.com

Slack – Collaboration

Everyone uses Slack these days, and for good reason.

Think of it as a private Twitter app for your business.  You create channels which are effectively groups of team members you want to collaborate with, then invite who you want to each channel. It’s all @ symbols and # hashtags from there. You can share files, message each other, and even launch Zoom meetings right from the app. It has dozens of app integration options like Google Drive, Dropbox, and even Trello.

How I use it? Jax+Cole is my main channel (feel free to join for some freelancing discussions). I have private channels for different clients and other freelancers who I work in tandem with.  I have my calendar, email, and Trello connected to the Slack channel for fast porting of data.

Image: slack.com

Evernote – Notes and Writing

Evernote is an oldie but a goodie. It’s become a bit bloated over the past few years, but my advice for all of the freelancers that I coach is to stick with what works. 

Evernote just works. It’s a great app for keeping track of notes and ideas, but you can also add photos, import documents through the companion Scannable app, and keep track of your whole life through Evernote.

How I use it? My favorite feature is that you can create separate notebooks.  I keep a notebook for blog ideas, a notebook for workshops, and one for journaling so I can look back at how I spend my time each day.

Just for context, I recently wrote an Ebook for a client which I kept in an Evernote Notebook.  I shared it with him so he could track the progress and provide feedback.

I also try to stay paperless which means when someone sends me a document, I scan it right into Evernote.

Image: evernote.com

And.co – Time Tracking and Invoicing

And.co is a great billing tool for freelancers. It lets you track your time, create custom project proposals, contracts, and invoices. There’s even a feature that lets you accept online payments. The time tracker lets you generate reports so you can let clients know exactly how long you worked on a task or project.

How I use it?  Most of my clients are on retainer or a hybrid monthly pricing model, but for smaller projects I still use And.co for time tracking. 

It has a Chrome extension that let’s you start and stop your time right in the browser. I can then generate a weekly or monthly report and attach it to the client invoice.  

Image: and.co

Block Site - Productivity

Ok, so the heading for this one is a bit misleading.  It’s not productivity software in the Google Docs or Microsoft Word sense. It’s productivity in the not getting sidetracked sense.

Block Site is a web privacy extension for browsers. Not only can you block unwanted content from your browser, but it also comes with a Work Mode that allows you to block certain sites for a period of time.

How I use it? I love the Work Mode feature. When I need to do a work sprint, I’ll set it for an hour to block YouTube, Gmail, Amazon, and social media sites to avoid temptation.

It’s a game changer for my productivity. In fact, I have it set right now for a work mode sprint so I can finish this article distraction-free.

Image: blocksite.co

I hope your find these tools useful and I’d love to hear of any other tools that some of you may use.

As you get more in the zone of your freelancing career, you’ll find that different clients use different tools, and may not necessarily want to use one of these tools. For example, I have a client who uses WhatsApp instead of Slack. Sometimes we need to make the sacrifice for our clients.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at mark@jaxandcole.com for a quick chat. I’d love to hear from you.

Also thank you to  Christina @ wocintechchat.com for the header photography!

Cheers,

Mark