Freelancers are set to take the US by storm, with as much as half the workforce expected to be freelancing by 2020. There are of course many awesome advantages to working for yourself and being your own boss. Freedom and greater flexibility are often the biggest motivators, as well as the opportunity to set your own salary. But being your own boss means that you take on a number of responsibilities that you may not have initially considered. As an independent freelancer, you will need to play all of the roles in your business, including those that do not generate revenue.
Fortunately, there are a wealth of incredible resources and tools at your fingertips, designed especially for freelancers like you. We have tried and tested many along the way, and have shared the most effective for you here. We have put together our Essential Tools to Jumpstart Your Freelance Business.
The coolest thing about the list that we’ve put together for you (we think) is that we’ve included ONLY the tools that are the “must haves” in running a successful freelance business. We’ve tried to keep this list as simple as possible to keep you focused on what really matters in building a sustainable freelance business; generating income. Too often freelancers get caught up in the latest and greatest ways of doing things when they should really be focussed on bringing in more clients.
After all, a business isn’t a business if it doesn’t make money, right? Before we ever spent a dime on any tools for our own business, we had already made many thousands of dollars. Once we had the money to invest, only then did we spend it. Don’t get trapped into thinking that you need to invest a lot of money into your own business before you’ve actually made any.
The majority of the tools that we’ve included here are free and we believe them to be the highest leverage resources available, they will support your business as you are starting out from zero. These tools will allow you to market yourself as a professional on a small budget. Utilizing these resources will free up more time in your day, and allow you to focus on the money-making tasks on your daily to-do list. Before we dive in, I just wanted to mention that we have our own host of tools available for free access, you can check out our Upwork.com Starter Kit here:
We’ve organized our favorite tools into 5 categories that are associated with the natural growth of your business (starting with landing clients, of course). We recommend adding these tools to your business in the order presented below with the first emphasis being on getting new clients!
1.) Secure New Clients
The first key element of any freelance enterprise has to be generating business. Without that, there is no business! For this reason we are starting out with resources that will help you to find clients in the quickest way possible, and secure projects with them. We highly recommend setting up an account for yourself on UpWork, an established peer to peer platform, which allows individuals to submit proposals for a wide range of jobs.
Anything that can be done on a computer – from web and mobile programming to graphic design – can be done on Upwork. If you offer a service that people are asking for on Upwork, then it can be a fantastic way to win new projects and establish a reputation for yourself with new customers.
We have put together a free mini-course providing you with an introduction as to how you can get started making money on Upwork, which you can access here if you’re interested in learning more.
2.) Communicate Professionally
Once you have made contact with a potential client, you will need to ensure that you have a great platform which facilitates smooth, reliable communication. Once again, we urge you to keep it simple. We love Gmail. It is super easy to set up an account, and once you have, you can add-on some extensions….these are super useful, and you will wonder how ever you managed without them.
The first thing we want to mention is Streak, which provides a free tool to effectively manage CRM (customer relationship management). If you’re not familiar with the term “CRM”, you should be. We had our friends over at Wikipedia loan us a definition for you newbs:
CRM is an approach to managing a company’s interaction with current and future customers. It often involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support.
Streak stops you from having to switch between your inbox and external CRM systems. It streamlines the whole process, enabling you to close more deals and keep a finger on the pulse of client interactions at a glance.
There are others you can try, including Pipeline Deals and PipeDrive – these are both great CRM tools that can support your new business development (but they cost money so if you’re trying to avoid that then start with Streak). We go into more detail about CRM in within our Upwork Starter Kit which you can gain access below:[content_upgrade cu_id=”799″]Get your hands on this Incredible Upwork Resource: Access our Upwork Starter Kit[content_upgrade_button]Download Now[/content_upgrade_button][/content_upgrade]
The second must have tool to enable you to communicate professionally, without sacrificing time that could be better spent, is with Boomerang. Boomerang integrates seamlessly with Gmail as well and helps put you in charge of your inbox. You will be able to schedule emails to be sent, set reminders (which ping into your inbox at exactly the time you want them), track emails that you have sent, and include read receipts (which even let you know if the recipient opened any links you sent!).
Boomerang is seriously powerful, yet takes moments to set up, and feels so intuitive that you will get to grips with it in no time. Take a look at the video below to see more.
Our favourite way to schedule meetings, be it face-to-face, on the phone or online is Calendly. This nifty tool allows you to connect with your gmail calendar, and set chunks of available times for clients to chat with you. The client interface is sleek and easy to use, and email reminders are sent to both parties. This is one essential tool that we always rely on.
Once your meetings are scheduled there is a choice of software that you can use to speak face to face with clients across the globe, with no issues.
Skype is a great way to communicate directly with one person at a time. You can share screens, send documents, video and audio chat simply. But we find that when engaging with more than three people at a time, it can be quite challenging…
For these situations try the free version of UberConference, the video below is an amusing rundown of why you need their service 🙂
3.) Share Your Work Efficiently
Once you are clear about the tasks required for the project, you can get set to work. Once again there are some valuable tools that will support you as a freelancer in sharing your progress and finished work with clients efficiently.
Google Apps for Business is one set of tools which enable businesses to share documents quickly and easily – everything can be stored in ‘the cloud’ and accessed remotely. You can control the level of access you allow, giving editing rights, or reserving documents as read only. Google Apps lets you log in and view your documents on your computer, tablet or phone, allowing you to be truly portable.
Who says you need to bring your computer or your external hard drive on your out-of-town trip, after your client tells you that he needs you on call for a project you’re currently working on? Store all your files in the cloud with this free service from Google. With an internet connection, you can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations anywhere, anytime. Just sign up using your Google account. ~ Google
You can of course also save your documents as PDFs, which allows you to share them reliably, in a format that is easily viewed on almost any operating system.
Our top tip when sharing documents is to remember that you really don’t need anything fancy. Put your focus on great quality content, deliver the best every time. Be concise and even consider personalising your work with something that shows you have created it especially for them.
You can customise work by including the client’s logo. Try a screen capture software to make this easy. Google’s Awesome Screenshot allows you to capture all or any part of a webpage, plus you can add comments, annotations and even blur sensitive information.
Google Drive is always our preferred method of sharing text documents and spreadsheets, but when it comes to sharing multimedia files we prefer Dropbox . You can sign up for a free account, which gives you 2 GB of space. If you find that you need more, you can upgrade with one of their packages.
Another tool that we like to use is Bitly , which allows you to ‘Own, understand and activate your best audience’. In a matter of seconds you can shorten links that you want to share with clients, which looks more professional that the long-winded ones that are often generated by dropbox and google docs for example.
Depending on your line of work, you may also need to create videos for clients, sharing them via dropbox. This is something that we do on a regular basis, as we find creating personalised videos are a great way to train employees completing delegated tasks, as well as impressing your clients. We use videos for proposals, project management, team building and much more.. So even if you hadn’t considered it before, check out Screencast-o-matic to see just how easy they are to create.
This simple to use resource can be used on Mac and PC, and the free version is pretty comprehensive. You can also use Quicktime on Mac. We have now upgraded to Screenflow, by Telestream, which you can purchase for a one off fee of $99. We love it for many reasons, some of which they have listed on their site:
With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your entire monitor while also capturing your video camera, iOS device, microphone and your computer audio.
The easy-to-use editing interface lets you creatively edit your video, and add additional images, text, music and transitions for a professional-looking screencast.
The result is an MP4, MOV or M4V movie, ready for publishing your screencasts to the Web or directly to Vimeo, YouTube, Wistia, Facebook, Google Drive or Dropbox.
4.) Keep Track of Workflow and Productivity
Once you get things rolling and are actually bringing on clients, the next area of business that could use a helping hand is your project management. Being a freelancer means that you will often be juggling a number of projects at once. It can be easy to drop the ball if you don’t have a robust system in place. This can be a very costly mistake as shown in a publication by PMI:
Though executives know what they should be doing – 88 percent say that strategy implementation is important to their organizations – sixty-one percent acknowledge that their rms often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation.
Organizations lose an average of US$109 million for every US$1 billion spent on projects.
Learn from the mistakes of others and keep your projects under control…
We love Asana’s free software for workflow management. The layout is simple and easy to navigate. You can break each project into sub-tasks, with individual deadlines. We recommend creating separate projects for each assignment that you are working on. Color coding these based on clients is your online equivalent of marking with your highlighter – simple, intuitive and effective.
Once you have set up your projects you can easily collaborate with clients and team-members, sharing attachments as you go. It allows you to break big tasks down into manageable chunks, which can be clearly delegated to others. Meanwhile you can always have an overview of what is still outstanding, what is urgent and what can be put off to a later date.
Teamwork is another useful resource that we rely on to keep our projects running smoothly. They offer various packages for an affordable fee, so this is an option that you may consider looking at as your business takes off.
One aspect of working for oneself that can cause problems if left unchecked is productivity. Without a manager peeking over your shoulder every so often, making sure that you are staying on task, you might find that procrastination sneaks in. Social media can be far too tempting, with notifications buzzing every five minutes, and coffee dates may start to overrun…because, well, you’re the boss right?
Of course the joy of being your own boss does mean flexibility – but the bottom line is that you have to get the work done. Luckily for us, and our monkey brains, there are some useful resources that can curb the distractions and keep us on track!
One of the best known productivity tools is the Pomodoro Technique. This helps you to manage your time, making you think twice before allowing disturbances to ruin your flow, to take breaks regularly, create a balance – and more importantly, get your work done!
The Pomodoro Technique teaches you to work with time, instead of struggling against it. A revolutionary time management system, it is at once deceptively simple to learn and life-changing to use. ~ Pomodoro.com
The general rule of thumb is to take 5 minutes break for every 25 minutes that you work. You can download a Pomodoro app to your phone, or use it online. We use Breaktime, a paid version of Pomodoro, which literally blocks your screen, forcing you to take a break. This is great for both your mental health and your creative flow 🙂
Cornell University’s Ergonomics Research Laboratory used a computer program to remind workers to take short breaks. They concluded that “workers receiving the alerts [reminding them to stop working] were 13 percent more accurate on average in their work than coworkers who were not reminded.”
The Habit Sheet is another awesome app that helps you to achieve your work-life balance – and live the life you want to. It helps to get you up in the morning and keeps you motivated, focused and on track.
“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.” ~ John Irving
5.) Systems For Invoicing
As a freelancer, you need to make a plan for the administrative side of your business. Someone will need to be dealing with invoicing your clients, because….well….you gotta get paid!
Once again, this doesn’t need to be overcomplicated. Start off with Paypal, a trusted and reliable way for clients to pay you. You can even invoice from their site. Fees are taken off as payments are received, so you are not required to pay any monthly amount.
If you’re interested in a more robust invoicing solution that will also allow you to keep track of the books, you can look into Quickbooks Online. We use Quickbooks Online, for dealing with the financial side of our business in the US, including our invoicing. It’s a great way to keep everything organized but it does require a monthly fee so make sure you have the budget required to get this started or simply open an account when you can afford it.
There are soooooo many tools available to support your freelance business when starting out. They will help you to take your business to the next level with minimal expense. The ones we have discussed here have all been tried and tested by us – and these are the ones that we consider essential.
We have described in further detail exactly how to leverage many of these to make your business a real success in our UpWork Starter Kit and Strategy Series. Check it out if you are interested and shoot us a note if you have any questions.
We’d love to hear about your thoughts on some of these tools in the comments section below.