5 Tools All Starting Freelancers Should Use
The tools that enabled me to kick-start my freelance career, saved time, and solved problems early on.
About 6 months ago I started my freelance career. Rapidly learning during the first wild months. Before, I primarily worked at agencies. The “work” is the same, but you’re much more dependent on yourself, not having a team to support and to rely on. Being more dependent on yourself, working solo on projects, means that you have to be more resourceful and smart with your time. Tools have been a major help during my journey.
In this blog I’d like to share the tools that have made me more resourceful. Your toolset should make it easier for you to freelance, preferably automate certain tasks. Rather than recommending you the “best” tools, I’ve written this blog from a meta perspective. Recommending the purpose of the tool and the tension it solves, including the tools I use. All tool recommendations in this blog have a free tier.
“You’re very resourceful.”
One of the greatest compliments I’ve received, in my early career, from an Account Director.
Let’s go and save some time!
⏲ Track your hours per project and client
Let’s start with the most important tool for freelancers: time tracking. Time is your most precious resource. It’s the equity a freelancer offers their clients. Measuring the time spent on a project is the core economical model for freelancers. Tracking your time per project forms the basis of creating invoices and can function as a data-set to calculate future projects.
Tracking time can be fun and efficient, using the right tool. Some of my freelance tools use a spreadsheet to keep track of projects. Other use tools that are quite the struggle. It’s important to find the right tool that works for you.
For the past months I’ve used Toggl to keep track of my time spent. Toggl is actually fun to use, looks geat, has a separate timer app and allows you to book hours per client and project. And that’s just a small part of the features Toggl offers. I’m trying to create a proper data-set for myself, so I label all time spend in meetings. Fun fact: In just 6 months, I’ve attended over 300 hours of meetings already.
💸 Save time by automating your invoicing workflow
To stay on the financial topic, in order to generate your income, you need to send invoices to your clients. For many starting freelancers, sending invoices can be quite stressful. Invoices need to be created according to specific rules, include all correct information, and then your clients might have specific requests too.
Researching how to create invoices and creating new ones for each project by hand is a waste of time. Use a tool to create them for you. And automate that workflow. There are many great tools out there that:
- Create invoices for you
- Manage your finances
- File your tax returns
- Automates your invoicing workflow
- Keeps track of payments
My tool of choice is Moneybird. It’s very easy to use, has a great automation workflow and integration with a bank account. The free tier allows you to send up to three invoices per month, which is for when you just start out. Moneybird also has a lof of written resources for freelancers. The email and invoice customisation options are my favourite.
📆 Manage your workload and meet deadlines using your calendar
As a fresh freelancer, you’ll be balancing client projects with new business development. When starting out, I recommend blocking dedicated time in your calendar for projects and your other to-dos. Surprise, use a calendar app that suits your needs.
But here’s where it gets a bit more complex. Many companies provide their freelancers with a corporate email address. Which includes another calendar. I recommend combining them all in one calendar app to keep track of your work and avoid scheduling conflicts.
During the first few months of freelancing, I played around with multiple calendar apps. Apps like Fantastical looked very promising. But in the end, I went back to the native calendar app on my Mac and iPhone.
One app I do recommend using as an addition to your calendar is Meeter. This Mac app sends a reminder 1 minute before the start of a meeting and allows you to join any call with one click.
✨ Use stock assets to make your work look fancy af
As a freelancer, you have to rely on yourself. And that includes making your work look fancy and ensure proper delivery. You can book a designer to help make your presentations, documents and spreadsheets look nice, or you can do it yourself when you like doing so. But don’t create everything from scratch, be smart with your time. Here are a few resources I like to use to make work look much better:
✅ Organise and keep track of your projects using Asana
I can’t stress this point enough, you need a proper place to manage your work and projects. You don’t need to be an expert in GTD to use a project management tool. (some knowledge wouldn’t hurt though)
A core element of freelancing is managing many projects and clients at the same time. You need an ‘external mind’ to take care of tracking your projects and reminding you of due tasks. This will leave space in your head for what’s actually important: your thinking. Your brain is for coming up with ideas and solutions, not for keeping track of your tasks.
There is only one tool to rule all your tasks. And that’s Asana. We can pretend that your average to-do list app or Trello are good options. But no tool is as advanced, easy to use and creates a proper overview like Asana. The tool works perfect if you’re using it individually, as well as working with a team.
Thanks for reading! 🚀
I am always on the lookout for other great tools to help improve my workflow or enable me to do things I couldn’t do before. When one part is optimised, there will be another tension to solve. My current struggle is managing documents between different cloud services. If you have a tool recommendation for anything, please let me know in the comments.