Leaving your job to go freelance is one of the most liberating feelings of your life. But a year or two later, it’s not uncommon to feel stuck in a rut once more. Your earnings are flatlining, your client base has stalled, and every day is starting to feel the same.
You should be growing your business, exploring new sidelines, seeking out new clients and collaborators. But you’re so snowed under, you can’t find the time. At this point, you tell yourself: ‘I must start working harder’. But actually, that's the worst thing you can do; you'll just end up more exhausted and less productive overall. What you need is to start working smarter: to find new ways to get more work done in less time, freeing you up to spend more time to build up your business. And there are plenty of tools out there to help you do so
We've teamed up with Coconut – the current account for freelancers and self-employed people – to bring you 25 tools that can help you become more productive and efficient as a freelancer.
Yes, they may take a couple of minutes to set up, but that time should prove a real investment over the long run. So be brave, and start trying out the tools you need to take your freelance business to the next level.
Banking, accounting, tax and invoicing
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had a current account that did your tax return for you, captured your receipts and even sent invoices? Well, in fact, that service does exist, and it’s called Coconut. And even better, it’s been specifically designed for freelancers and self-employed people.
Setup is quick and painless, taking just a couple of minutes. And from then on, this quick, easy and efficient tool will provide everything you need to manage your money and get paid faster, all in one simple app, completely removing the need to pay any expensive accountant fees.
Not only does Coconut allow you to see all of your financial details at a glance, but you can also act on them too. The invoicing tool, for example, has a number of useful features. It highlights when certain invoices are overdue, automatically rearranging the important ones to appear at the top of the list. What's more, you can search Companies House for your client's details, easily add, subtract and edit line items, and customise every element right down to the footer.
Not only can you manage and create your invoices from your mobile device, but you can also send them directly to your client email with a press of a button too. You could, for instance, invoice from the bus or train, every time you're on the way home from a job. And best of all, the invoices that Coconut produces are optimised for fast payment, highlighting key details whilst looking elegant and professional.
Banking, invoicing, accounting and tax in one app? You’ll never look back…
There are many personal task managers on the market, but Things is our absolute favourite. Available for Mac, iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad, it’s just so easy to use and beautifully designed. Rather than bombard you with all the details of a task, you can decide which elements you want to see and which you want to be hidden away. So instead of getting overwhelmed by info, you can focus on what’s important, making it really easy to stay on top of your schedule.
Visual project management
Collaborating with others on a project often means endless, often confusing spreadsheets. Trello, however, cuts through all that by providing a very visual way for teams to collaborate, which puts it right in the wheelhouse of creative freelancers. Syncing across all your devices, Trello allows you to intuitively use boards, lists, and cards to organise and prioritise your project tasks, leaving you more time to get on with the actual work. The team at Coconut (number one on our list) use it, and so do many more: in fact, Trello recently passed 25million users, so they must be doing something right.
Collaboration and team management
Another app that’s useful for collaborative projects, Notion aims to be your ‘all in one workspace’, and it’s not joking. The app is essentially four tools in one, offering notes and docs (in more than 30 media types); spreadsheets and databases; a knowledge database (ie a central repository of questions and answers about the project); a tasks and projects organiser. If you like the idea of having everything to do with a project in one place, it doesn’t get more comprehensive than this.
Remembers all your passwords
How much time do you waste these days trying to log into services only to find you’ve forgotten your password? They say you should never write them down, and never use the same password twice, but that just makes it impossible to remember all of them! LastPass is quite simply a secure service that remembers all your passwords so you don’t have to; you just have to remember one, master password and you can access all the rest. A great stress saver, freeing up your brain to remember other things than just hundreds of random passwords.
Find out how you use time to save time
The key to becoming more productive and having a better work-life balance is to actually know what it is you’re spending your time on. RescueTime runs in the background on your devices and accurately tracks which apps and websites you’re using, and for how long. You can then analyse detailed reports to find where you’re wasting your time - and the results will probably surprise you!
In recent years, the instant messaging app Slack has become a hugely popular tool for work communications because it’s just such a great time saver. Conversations in Slack are fully searchable, and organised into channels, by project, topic, team or whatever makes sense for you. And that’s just so much more intuitive than hunting through endless irrelevant messages in your email inbox.
Social media scheduling
Writing and scheduling individual posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest and Google Plus is a lot of work. So Buffer allows you to do so within a single app. There are also some great tools for analysing the effectiveness of your posts to help you make them more engaging for your community. There are a number of apps out there for doing this, but Buffer is our fave, and we’re not alone; it’s also used by the likes of Github, Shopify, Microsoft and Trello.
Email provider FastMail has two big selling points. Firstly, as the name suggests, it’s super-fast when it comes to tasks like searching your archive or syncing your email, contacts, calendars and notes. And secondly, it’s super-secure, with optional two-step verification providing the peace of mind that no one will ever read your emails but you. They also offer 24-hour support and promise “No ads, ever”.
If you’re looking to grow your business by sending email newsletters, then this should be your go-to app of choice. MailChimp has dominated this space for years, and the experience they’ve built up along the way means they remain the best. But you don’t need to take our word for it: the service is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month, which is certainly enough to give it a good try before putting your hand in your wallet.
Shows you who's talking about your brand
If your freelance business revolves around a brand, then you want to know what people are saying about it. Mention monitors over one billion sources daily to provide you with live updates about your brand from across the web and social media. It also provides competitor analysis and identifies influencers who may be able to help you boost your brand.
Your personal assistant
Traditionally, important people would hire personal assistants (at great expense) who would be on hand to carry out tedious tasks such as renting you a car or booking you a doctor’s appointment. Well now you can text Magic with requests like these (anything in their words, that’s “legal and possible”) and a member of its team of on-demand personal assistants will get on the case. This innovative service is available for both individuals and businesses.
Scan documents with your smartphone
Need to scan a document? Can’t access a scanner? Well, if you have your smartphone with you, you can do so using the CamScanner app. It all works brilliantly, and there are some handy features like an image-to-text converter and the ability to fax to more than 30 countries and regions.
Find a co-working space
Looking for a cool co-working space in London? AndCo has a special relationship with the UK capital’s best restaurants, cafes and event spaces that have room to spare during the working week. And they set this aside as workspace for AndCo members’ exclusive use. Every space comes with a desk and top-notch Wi-Fi, and it’s a great way to explore London and meet and network with other remote workers.
Create proposals, sales and marketing docs
The key to growing your freelance business is winning more pitches and thus more work. Qwilr gets you closer by helping you create beautiful and intuitive proposals. Professionally designed templates allow you to easily craft proposals that clients will love, providing a great talking point and giving you more confidence during your pitch.
Track leads and customers
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools are a dime a dozen these days, so how do you pick one? For our money, the best in show is Pipeline, because of its brilliantly visual and easy-to-grasp interface, which makes it a cinch to keep your eye on the current state of play regarding both prospects and clients, whether you're on your desktop computer or mobile device.
17. Join Me
It’s not always possible to physically meet clients or collaborators, either because they live thousands of miles away, or because they’re just very busy. But chatting face to face via video conferencing can still help you establish a much stronger relationship than just emailing and phone calls. And so we’d recommend Join Me, a video conferencing app that is simple to use and just gets the job done. We also love that you can create your own custom URL and even customise your meeting background.
Make quick device mockup images
When you’re designing an app or a website, clients don’t want to just see raw screenshots; they want an idea of what that app or site is going to look like on an actual device. To get this done quickly and efficiently, we’d recommend Shotsnapp. Simply choose a device object, move it onto the canvas and add the image of your design or screenshot. You can then play around with elements like size, colours and positions, then download the completed image when it’s done.
We all thought we’d live in a paperless world by now, but the reality of running a freelance business means you still need to get a lot of documents signed. However, rather than laboriously printing out each document, signing it, and then scanning it in again, there is another way. HelloSign allows you to sign anything electronically, whether you’re on your desktop or smartphone, and then send it back without printing or scanning a thing. Secure, fast and with a great interface, this is our favourite eSignature solution on the market right now.
Capture content from everywhere
Ever seen or read something inspiring online but then been unable to find it again when you need it? We all have, and that’s why we should all be using Pocket. This clever app allows you to save articles, videos and stories from any publication, page or app in just one click, so you can check them out later at your leisure.
Carry out a survey
Need to collect a particular set of data or survey a group of people on a particular question? Then head for TypeForm. This excellent app allows you to ask questions in a way that’s friendly and approachable, and as we all know, you catch more flies with honey. It’s very easy to use, too, both for you and your audience.
Keep track of different timezones
For most freelancers, working for clients across different time zones can get really confusing. So this simple-to-use app helps you keep track of the local time for all the teammates, collaborators, clients and businesses you deal with, all in one space. It’s a simple idea, but one that’s been executed very well.
File management, storage and sharing
When it comes to sharing and storing large files, Dropbox is the granddaddy. But rather than become old-fashioned, Dropbox has constantly built on its strengths and extended its offering. For example, it recently launched Dropbox Paper, a collaborative document-editing service. But even if you just want its core service, it’s still the best in town in terms of speed, security and ease of use.
Get help with grammar and spelling
Just because bad grammar and spelling are not unusual amongst freelance designers and artists, doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging to their business prospects. After all, if you’re a client looking for a freelancer with good attention to detail, spelling mistakes in a portfolio is going to instantly raise alarm bells. Obviously, you should use the standard Spellcheck function in your text editing tool, but that won't catch all mistakes, so double-check your words using Grammarly. This more advanced app scans your text for common and complex grammatical mistakes; everything from subject-verb agreement to article use to modifier placement.
Digital design tool
Need to create a prototype of your app or web design, to show what it can do before you build the full thing? There are lots of tools for this, but our favourite has to be Invision, which has consistently stayed ahead of the game in servicing its customers' needs. Used by Airbnb, Amazon, HBO, Netflix and IBM, this great tool allows you to easily generate richly interactive prototypes and gather instant feedback on your designs.