10 free tools to make 2018 your best freelancing year to date

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You're back at your desk with a renewed energy and determined spirit that only a decent Christmas break can evoke. You mean business. 2018 is going to be the year that you take over the world, solve an international crisis and win that colossal client you've had your eye on.

To help you achieve your dreams, you need to be efficient, productive and smart about how you spend your time. That means you need tools to ensure your business is firing on all cylinders. You need the very best. Here, we present the freshest and finest freelancing tools to make this year your best yet. Even better? They're free.

1. For invoicing: Zervant

Replace your old invoice template with Zervant, a slick online tool that's easy to use and, wait for it, completely free. No catches, fees or hidden costs – you can send unlimited invoices, estimates, and quotes. You can also add your own product and client database, all invoice formats are covered (paper, PDF, email) and you can see who's paid, who hasn't and who needs chasing. And when it comes to self-assessment, you can export all your financial data to your accountant in either Excel or PDF format. It's super easy to sign up too. Give it a whirl.

2. For time-tracking: Toggl

If you're going to be savvy about quoting projects, sticking to allocated budgets and proving what you've done to clients, then you're going to have to track your time. And if you're tracking time, you need a tool where you can easily log everything you do and generate visual reports too. Toggl is our recommendation. It's completely free on the basic plan, and – if you need to access more features – you can upgrade and pay $7.20 per user per month.

3. For project management: Trello

We still highly rate Trello, a superbly simple task management tool, inspired by Kanban, a scheduling system for lean manufacturing, would you believe. Make boards, lists, and cards to organise and prioritise your projects. It's completely free with unlimited boards, lists, cards, members, checklists, and attachments. But if you want app integrations, team overviews and more, it starts from $9.99 per user per month.

4. For email: Gmail

Yes, it's Google. And yep, nothing is really free when it comes to the world's largest search engine. But Gmail is rather excellent, so you have to weigh up the pros and cons. You can set up a custom email and also benefit from its excellent calendar, docs, video meetings and much more. It's also available on all your devices, so you can stay connected when out and about. There are also loads of helpful tools – filter emails, automatically archive messages from certain contacts and set up automated responses to certain email addresses. It's pretty powerful stuff.

5. For internal communication: Slack

Working with other freelancers and suppliers is a breeze with Slack, our favourite free tool for communication. It gives everyone a shared "workspace" where conversations are organised and accessible. We especially love how you can search your different threads, share files and benefit from the odd private conversation with others too. Just don't fall down the Giphy wormhole and you'll be fine.

6. For video conferencing: Skype

Make free voice or video calls, share files or send instant messages with Skype – a great way to stay connected with clients or suppliers, wherever they might be in the world. You can also make calls to landlines or mobiles by adding credit to your account. And for an additional monthly subscription, you can also set up your own landline-style number to receive calls.

7. For project collaboration: Samepage

Want to run projects with others without using loads of different apps? Samepage is a super powerful tool that streamlines your workflows, makes you more productive and brings your whole team together to successfully collaborate on and complete projects. Perfect. You can share files, discuss ideas, divide and conquer that to-do list, share calendars and connect with your team via direct messages, group chat, and voice or video calling. We can't recommend Samepage enough, and it's completely free with options to upgrade in future.

8. For email marketing: Mailchimp

We still can't get enough of Mailchimp for creating beautiful, professional campaigns and marketing automations. Incredibly, it's still free for accounts with up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. It's unlikely you'll ever need to send that many or have so many recipients to worry about, but it's perfect for sending our monthly newsletters and festive messages every December.

9. For social media management: Buffer

Sorting admin, creating proposals, chasing payments – you don't have time to work, let alone keep on top of your social media. Buffer helps you easily schedule posts, track the performance of your content, and manage all of your accounts in one place. Boom. And it's free if you have just three profiles to look after. You pay more to unlock additional features and integrations.

10. For CRM: Insightly

Want to build stronger client relationships and grow your business? You need CRM my friend. Insightly is a fantastic tool that boosts your customer service and helps you convert leads into paying customers. It has a free plan for you solepreneurs who are just getting started. And then in future, you can upgrade to access more powerful features.