If you're just going freelance, then you should be very careful about how you spend your money when setting things up. Bottom line – you don't need a lot to get started. And with the wealth of free or affordable tools, apps and resources at your fingertips, you really can stay lean and mean in those early days.
From managing your time and invoicing clients, to marketing your services and communicating with other freelancers – we are so lucky to live in an era of cloud computing and easy remote working, when it really is possible for anyone to start their own business from anywhere and on a shoestring. Here are 53 of our top recommendations...
Accounting & Finance
First and foremost, you need to get your finances in order. Choose an accountant, yes – but also get yourself setup with some cloud accounting software. Preferably something that is loved by both your accountant and the taxman. And then, keep track of what you're spending. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Xero is accounting software with all the time-saving tools you need to grow your business. Secure and reliable with 24/7 support, it hooks up to your business bank account, manages payroll, and allows easy invoicing and bill payment management. You can also connect to 450+ third-party apps on inventory, invoicing, time tracking and expenses – all of which integrate with Xero. Try it for free before taking the leap.
Our favourite of the bunch, FreeAgent lets you "nail the daily admin", covering everything from expenses, payroll, and time tracking, to estimates and invoices – it's got everything you need. You can also see the bigger picture by keeping track of your cash flow and project profitability, and easily see who owes you money. You can even relax about tax as you'll be able to see how much tax you owe and when it's due, filing VAT, RTI and Self Assessment directly to HMRC. Even better, if you refer people you can get discounts on your subscription, and – if you get enough referrals – you'll get the software for free, and even start to earn commission on future signups. With a free trial, it's easy to see if it's the one for you.
Save time and lighten your workload with this simple and intuitive online accounting tool, courtesy of ClearBooks. Starting from just £7.20 per month, it's award-winning software that was created by accountants, for accountants. Covering invoicing, expenses, financial reports and tax submissions. Perfect.
HMRC recognised, QuickBooks lies under the Intuit group and is a handy accounting tool that lets you customise invoices, track expenses, manage VAT, automate bank downloads, accept payments, run payroll and connect with your accountant. There's a free 30 day trial too.
If you just need to have somewhere to deal with your expenses, then Expensify is the solution. You can even hook it up to accounting software such as Xero and QuickBooks. Starting from $5 per month.
If you want to be good with your money, then Mint is a handy little tool that lets you effortlessly manage your cash flow, budgets and bills, all in one place. You can even receive alerts for unusual account charges, and get custom tips for reducing fees and saving money. Mint!
Just need to go paperless and turn your receipts into data? Shoeboxed allows you to scan and organise receipts and business cards, create expense reports, track mileage and more.
When things start to get busy, jotting down your to-do list in your trusty notebook will soon become redundant. You'll definitely need to make use of some handy tools and apps, to keep things on track. Here are just a few awesome solutions.
A personal favourite, Teamwork is a powerful tool that helps you control your projects – and your teams. Perhaps a little over-the-top for sole freelancers, but it depends how meticulous you like to be with your task management. What I especially love is the ability to manage projects in my pocket, i.e. everything is in the cloud and the accompanying app for my smartphone helps enormously whilst I'm "on the go".
Can't get enough of to-do lists? TeuxDeux is something you'll love. It's a simple, visual to-do app that lets you see what needs to be done on any given day. Schedule your tasks and tick things off. If it's good enough for Swiss Miss – its very founder – then it's good enough for us.
Go beyond traditional task and project management with Wrike, which brings you all that and much more including real-time workspace for collaboration, discussion, and document sharing. A nice little touch with this bad boy is that you can set up workflows and see the bigger picture on each project. You can try it for free, and it remains to be free – if you only stick to the very basic plan. As you grow, you might upgrade to the Professional plan, starting from $49 per month.
The old school heavyweight continues to charm, with its third version launched to the masses on an affordable offering of $29 per month. For that fair investment, you get a blend of six tools – including To-dos and Schedules, where you can divvy-up work and set deadlines and milestones. You can even collaborate with others, especially helpful when you start working with other freelancers.
12. Google Tasks
If you're a fan of the Gmail, then Google Tasks lets you keep track of what you need to do. Just click and type to add new tasks, set due dates or add notes, and – most satisfyingly – check them off as you're done. Your task list stays up to date no matter how you access it. It's a simple list that's with you everywhere you go.
Paymo is a project management app designed for small businesses with one platform for collaboration, timesheet management and project accounting. It's everything you need, rolled into one. But we've suggested it for "project management", as it's task management feature is one of the best solutions on the market.
If you don’t want to overcomplicate things with sophisticated project management software or fancy task apps, then NowDoThis is an ingeniously simple way to manage your to-do list. On a par with writing the things you need to do on a piece of paper, but much neater and cooler, simply type your tasks into the text box, hit ‘ready’ and then it displays each task one at a time until you click ‘done’. Then it moves onto the next one. No distractions, no unnecessary features, just a focused to-do list to keep your mind on your goals.
Another delightful and easy-to-use task manager, Things is an awesome little app that creates simple to-do lists and truly makes you more productive. Available on desktop or mobile from the Apple store, you can download a free trial to see if it works for you. And now with Things Cloud, you can manage and track all your to-do lists on all your devices. Perfect.
There will be times when you have to collaborate with other freelancers or even clients. These next recommended tools and apps will help ensure your projects stay on course, on time and within budget – with everyone knowing exactly what's happening, no matter where they're based in the world.
A favourite of my husband's (who's a software developer), Trello is the free, flexible and visual way to organise anything with anyone. Drop the lengthy email threads, out-of-date spreadsheets, no-longer-so-sticky notes, and clunky software for managing your projects. Trello lets you see everything about your project in a single glance.
17. Go Visually
Annotation tool where designers and clients collaborate by marking up drafts with annotations and comments. Various selection tools are available, as well as colour tweaking functionality and the ability to create layers once a section is finalised.
SamePage makes team collaboration simple. It keeps you and your freelance buddies working smoothly and efficiently. Combine files, photos, cloud content, maps, videos and team conversation on the, you guessed it. same page. Share the page with anyone you choose, keeping everyone in the loop without email overload.
Previously named Teambox, Redbooth keeps things simple by using a number of flexible boards where you can list tasks, make notes and share conversations, helping reduce email overload. The dashboard is a great place to start your day, giving you a quick summary of your most pressing tasks.
As you can probably guess from the name, Freedcamp was set up as a free alternative to project management behemoth Basecamp. It lets you create unlimited projects, add deadlines and milestones, set up project templates and invite clients or collaborators. Your dashboard gives an overview of what you need to tackle and when, while you can also hook it up to your email to send you those all-important reminders.
A more sophisticated solution than Freedcamp, Asana is free for up to 15 members, so as a freelancer you shouldn’t expect to need to pay for the premium plans. The free version gives you almost all the same features so you can manage all of your projects and collaborate with clients and contractors all from one elegant space on your desktop, tablet or smartphone.
This awesome free app is exclusively for collating ideas and note-taking. A 'note' can be a chink of formatted text, a full webpage or an excerpt, a photo, a voice recording, or old-school handwritten text. Never forget an idea again! And even better, store everything in the cloud.
23. Google Docs
Another free way to deal with Word documents and Excel spreadsheets without needing to pay, Google Docs can also be a reliable and efficient way to manage your workflow in the cloud. It’s a web-based platform so you can easily collaborate with people around the world, sharing and working on the same documents at the same time, while your files are accessible wherever you can get online.
With the ability to now work from anywhere, cloud computing has been a god-send for freelancers everywhere. Store all your work online, and get access to it from all of your devices wherever you are. Here, we share some of the very best cloud storage solutions.
24. Google Drive
"A safe place for all your files," says Google with its Google Drive cloud computing tool. Store any type of file – photos, stories, designs, drawings, recordings, videos... anything – with an initial 15 GB of free online storage.
This true heavyweight gives you access to all your files from anywhere, on any device, and allows you to share them with anyone. It has revolutionised the way we do business forever. Now with team collaboration, you can work on the same files by creating a shared folder and there's no need to email versions back and forth, as any edited files get updated automatically. Still the best, in my humble opinion.
26. Just Cloud
Securely store all your files in the cloud and access them from anywhere at anytime, from any device – Just Cloud follows the same premise as Dropbox... it's just a different option.
Time Management & Productivity
What about keeping productive and ensuring your projects are sticking to budget? The following tools and apps will help you stay on track, remain focused and make the most of every working day.
With so many distractions and possibilities in your digital life, it's easy to get scattered. RescueTime helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive. How does it work? It runs securely in the background on your computer and mobile devices while tracking time spent on apps and websites, giving you an accurate picture of your day. Then, you get back detailed reports and data based on your activity. I cringe at the thought of how much time I waste on social media, but there you go.
28. Focus Booster
With subscriptions starting from $2.99 per month, Focus Booster is a simple and effective pomodoro technique time tracking tool. Its whole purpose is to help you stay focused and fresh to get more done.
The ultimate timer that's insanely simple – this time tracking tool claims to be an "instant productivity boost". You can have an unlimited number of projects and clients; you can colour code each of your projects; you can set billable rates; share time reports and even track time while offline. Perfect.
Spend less time tracking and more time doing – is the positive message from Harvest. Whether it's the web, your smartphone or another application, it's never been easier to track your time. With a simple, intuitive interface – you can even take advantage of Harvest's powerful reports to keep projects on time and on budget. Then, if you need to, you can create invoices, track expenses and connect your favourite tools. Try it for free for 30 days.
Staying in touch with your team as well as your clients can be challenging. Especially when you're all based in different parts of the world. Yes, email can help – but only to a certain extent. That's when you need to consider some of the following powerful tools that will help you communicate more effectively.
Can you believe Slack is a messaging app for teams who put robots on Mars! NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is one of tens of thousands of teams across the world using Slack to make their working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. And don't even get me started on the fun that can be had with "/giphy".
Invite anyone to your conversation, exclaims Skype. Video call, message and share with anyone for free, even if they're not on Skype. Great for communicating with clients and collaborating with other freelancers.
33. Google Hangouts
Voice/video chats or messaging is freely available via Google Hangouts, making all types of client communication or group collaborating super simple, regardless of where your contacts are located or what devices they use. Even better, it's completely free.
This is HD video conferencing and collaboration made easy. Save on travel costs and/or work from anywhere in the world, while staying in touch with your clients and collaborators. You can even share a broadcast view of your desktop or a specific app, especially helpful if you need to talk someone through a project.
If you're firing out email updates to new and existing clients and you want to win their business, you'll want to ensure you're sending professional-looking mailers. Mailchimp is the perfect solution, and it's free if you have less than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month.
When you freelance, social media will definitely become an essential medium to network, market yourself and stay in touch with what's happening in the world. But using sites such as Twitter and Facebook independently can become time-consuming. What you need is a helpful tool to manage your social media all in one place. Cue our next lot of suggestions.
Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that helps you monitor and maintain your profiles across a range of different social networks. Find and flag up potential sales leads, schedule tweets and updates to run at optimised times throughout the day, and keep a track of how much traffic your social media efforts are generating. The free version lets you manage up to five social profiles.
Like a lightweight version of Hootsuite’s ‘auto-schedule’ feature, Buffer is a clever app that slots into your browser and helps you load up messages and shareable content from across the web. It then fires them out at regular intervals tailored to get maximum engagement. The free option lets you connect one of each of your main social profiles.
Probably one of the most expensive solutions on the market, but still worthy of a mention, SproutSocial offers powerful social media management and marketing, all under one roof. It helps you create an exceptional experience across all your networks, whether it's engagement, publishing or analytics. If it's good enough for Stanford University, it's good enough for us.
A superb automation tool, IFTTT stands for If This, Then That and allows you to create recipes that connect apps to one another, sparking some kind of action. For example, you can hook your blog’s RSS feed up to your Twitter account, so that every time you post something new – IFTTT is alerted and automatically shares to Twitter. There are hundreds of ready-to-use recipes to choose from, and you can create and share your own. We recommend IFTTT’s collection of 40 recipes to streamline your social media to get started.
SocialOomph is worthy of a mention because it helps to eliminate manual time-consuming processes with your social networks. For instance, for a small monthly fee, you can automate your DMs to new followers on Twitter. One handy tip is to make this direct message friendly and welcoming, but to include a link to your website or online portfolio.
Bitly isn’t just a very helpful URL shortening service, it gives you complete ownership of all your links, allowing you to capture data and track the effectiveness of your tweets and updates. Even better, it stops people from knowing where you’re automating your social media activity, because you don’t want people to see ‘Buffer’ or ‘IFTTT’ in your updates. That would be giving the game away. So once you’ve got all your social media automation tools up and running, make sure you hook them up to your Bitly account. Buffer, SproutSocial and IFTTT will all allow you to use Bitly instead of their own URL shortening offerings.
Customer Relationship Management
Now that you're regularly attracting leads and making new contacts, you'll want to keep track of who you've spoken to and where you are in the relationship. This is where CRM tools will become critical. Here are just a few ideas.
Capsule is a good-looking CRM tool that gives you a complete overview of all of your contacts. It also helps keep your business development efforts on track with tasks, reminders and a useful summary of your sales pipeline. Flexible enough to adapt to your type of business, it offers free plans for managing up to 250 contacts with unlimited sales and leads.
Even if you only have a handful of clients it can still be valuable practice to keep track of your communication with each one, while monitoring potential leads is also crucial for building your business. Insightly is a flexible CRM platform that lets you manage up to 2,500 contacts for free and also integrates with other free productivity tools such as Evernote and Google.
If you’re a Gmail user then Streak lets you manage your CRM without having to leave your inbox. It sits right on top of Gmail to help you easily keep track of your communications without switching between platforms. Currently free while in beta, expect a version ideal for freelancers to stay free forever too.
Turn the people you know into the business results you need with Contactually – a simple yet effective CRM tool to get more from your network. It could be almost anything — sales, signups, referrals, or recommendations. No matter how you define successful relationships, Contactually is a better way to build and manage them.You can try it for free with no credit card required.
Really helpful extras
For further recommendations that don't really have a home under any of the above sub-headers, here are a few suggestions that will make your freelance life extra special. From keeping your passwords secure to automating some of life's most mundane tasks, this list will satisfy your needs.
Before you kick off your own marketing, or that of your client's, you definitely need to know your target audience. Personapp allows you to create and share quick, lightweight personas using a simple lean framework. You can create simple PDFs or print out your personas. Simple but very effective when you want to keep your audience in mind.
Need some daily inspiration? Follow a zillion art and design blogs, and have them all listed in a helpful bookmark folder? Stop. Get yourself on Feedly where you can subscribe via RSS to all your favourite websites, which then brings everything together under one roof. What's more, if you use SproutSocial or Buffer, and you fancy sharing your findings via your own social platforms – they integrate seamlessly, making the process really quick and easy.
48. Google Keep
Another handy little tool from Google, Keep lets you save your thoughts wherever you are. Add notes, lists, photos and audio to keep forever. You can even share your thoughts with others, allowing you to get things done together, faster.
Create professional client proposals in minutes with Bidsketch. Especially helpful if you're based in the United States, but still worthy of a mention for freelancers living elsewhere. Proposals are a pain in the ass, after all. And anything that makes them easier to put together is fine by us.
Zapier leads to a happier work life. It connects the apps you use, automates tasks and gets more out of your data. What does this mean in plain english? Much like IFTTT, it allows automations using triggers and actions. So if you want to save Gmail attachments to Dropbox as original files, you can... Or if you want to share new tweets from a Twitter list in Slack, you can... Or if you want to copy a Mailchimp subscriber to a new list... you absolutely can. Awesome.
Keep all your passwords secure and easily managed with 1Password. Add the extension and app to your devices, and never forget a password ever again. What's more, you can get the tool to generate random passwords for each of your logins – ones that really keep things locked down.
52. Haiku Deck
Haiku Deck wipes the floor with Powerpoint. It brings you beautiful imagery, shedloads of templates, a fountain of fonts - and an impressively intuitive creative process. Awesome presentations, no design skills necessary.
Want to get more out of life? Track the things you wish you did more often. Be motivated to do them again and again. Balanced is going to become your new best pal. It's like having a little encouraging voice that follows you everywhere, urging you to live a happier existence. Thanks to Greta Agar-Hutton for the recommendation.
Thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped us to compile this list of awesome tools and apps to help you get started as a freelancer.