When you’re a freelancer, using the right tools can make or break your business! There’s a sea of information about all of the best freelance tools, though, so it can be hard to sift through it all. If you need some straight talk about what tools to use in your freelance business, here’s what we recommend at the Creative Entrepreneurs L.A.B.!
Best Freelance Tools for Systems and Organization
This is the first category because, without a good system and organization, your business can easily devolve into chaos. If you have your ducks in a row, though, you’ll be better set up for success! Here are our top 3 systems and organization tools to get you started:
CRM (Customer/Client Relationship Management)
If you haven’t heard of a CRM before, that’s okay. You may have heard of tools like Dubsado, FreshBooks, 17hats, Honeybook, or any of the other myriad ones out there, though. Those are all considered CRMs, to one extent or another. So what does a CRM actually DO?
A CRM is one of the best freelance tools out there because a good CRM can do a little bit of almost everything. We use Dubsado here at The CE L.A.B. and it handles everything from proposals to contracts, invoices to client portals, and so much more. If you set up a CRM optimally, it can take a lot off your plate. Your CRM can automate a lot of processes, leaving you more time to find new clients and do the work that actually brings you income!
File storage is important because for many freelancers; if we lose our files, we lose a LOT of crucial information and even finished project work! We bought a new desktop a couple years ago and transferred our old hard drive into that new desktop. Lo and behold, we discovered that a significant number of files had been corrupted and were no longer retrievable! Some of it included some finished musical tracks for a project over at Scintilla Studio that we could never get back. It was devastating, to say the least.
We learned from our lesson, though, and I hope you will too! Since then, we decided that one of our best freelance tools was digital storage. Here are two of our favorites:
This was the real gamechanger. The MyCloud and similar personal cloud devices operate similarly to a hybrid of Google Drive and a regular hard drive. You receive the physical device (which is a huge plus since you have direct control over it) and connect it to your internet router. That enables your computers to connect to the personal cloud and access it just like you would an external hard drive. It’s like magic.
We even set up our MyCloud with partitions so that we had more granular control of the files. We have a partition for non-business files, one for The CE L.A.B., and one for personal projects. Within those partitions, we can create folders and add files just like a regular hard drive. Western Digital (the maker of the MyCloud) stores a backup for us as well, just in case. I love the MyCloud because now we don’t have to worry about losing our files due to a bad hard drive again! Definitely one of the best freelance tools if you ever worry about losing your important files.
Google Drive/G Suite
I use these tools a LOT for The CE L.A.B. It makes collaborating with others SO much easier, especially if we’re doing simultaneous editing. While I hate the idea of giving all of that data to Google, I’m kind of resigned to it at this point (they probably remember what I ate for lunch better than I do), so the pros outweigh the cons for me.
We use the Google Drive folders to share project files with collaborators and G Suite to manage our email. (I hate paying for it, but my email deliverability is better. Grr.) And the Google Slides tool is one of my surprise favorites because it’s actually quite versatile – I recently started using it to design my eBook PDF pages! If you get creative with your Google tools, you can do a lot with them.
When you work at a computer all day, having the right office ergonomic tools can be crucial! After experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, some tennis elbow symptoms, and back pain, I’ve made sure to use as much ergonomically optimized office tools as I can! Here are my favorites that might help you:
This may be a new one for you (I only discovered it recently), but my vertical mouse has made a huge difference for me. If you have wrist or elbow pain, using a vertical mouse can almost immediately relieve it. (I’m not kidding – as soon as I turn my hand sideways on my vertical mouse, my wrist and elbow pain vanishes! It’s crazy.)
I don’t know how scientific it is, but if it helps me work without pain, I don’t really care! I highly recommend the Evoluent brand of vertical mice. A friend who’s also on the computer almost all day got a cheap vertical mouse and found that it actually caused more wrist pain than it relieved, at least partly because the mouse’s thumb position was badly placed. Most cheap vertical mice seem to have the problem, unfortunately (I’m guessing Evoluent patented their design and they can’t copy it too closely).
The Evoluent brand vertical mice are a little pricey, but they are SO very much worth it. If you can’t afford the regular price, check eBay. I bought my Evoluent mouse on there for about 30% of the regular retail price and I am so glad I did. The other nice thing about Evoluent’s vertical mice is that they not only have both wired and wireless options, but they offer a ‘regular’ size vertical mouse as well as a small vertical mouse, which is what I got. It sounds like if your hands are under 8″ from heel to longest fingertip, the small mouse is your better bet. It’s been such a boon to my freelancing life!
BONUS: Evoluent’s vertical mice let you program your buttons, so I now not only have the regular right- and left-click buttons, but I can also page up and down as well as copy and paste – right from my mouse! They have a lot of options, so if there’s something you do regularly, you might be able to delegate that to your mouse. (You can’t delegate your house cleaning to your mouse, though, unfortunately.)
The right desk chair for you
If you work at a desk, which many of us freelancers do, you’re probably sitting on a chair. Most standard office chairs are not very ergonomically designed for some reason and they can actually cause you more pain. I ended up getting a knee chair (which my chiropractor was very happy to hear!) and it’s helped keep my spine better aligned as I work. If you’re struggling with back pain, it’s a great idea to check out some less mainstream office desk chair options and see what works best for you!
If you’ve ever tried to schedule a meeting with a client, you know what a hassle it can be. “I’m free these days at these times.” “Oh, I’m free this day, but not that time.” “Okay, well, I can make it work at that time, but not that day.” It feels like it never ends!
Using a scheduling tool takes all the back and forth out of the process. You just plug in the days and times that you’re regularly available. When a client (or whoever else you give the scheduling link to!) goes to schedule a time, the tool checks the calendar you synced with the tool to eliminate conflicts and only shows the client the times you’re actually available. They pick a day and time and voila! Meeting scheduled and you never had to do a thing except send a link.
Calendly has a free account option, but it is limited, as should be expected. You can only create one type of event (so if you offer free introductory calls as well as hour-long consulting calls, for example, you’ll need a paid account) and you’ll have to be okay with Calendly branding on your scheduling page. Calendly will send reminder emails for scheduled events, but you can’t customize them on the free plan.
When you get to the paid plans, you get unlimited event types, no more Calendly branding, and can add your team’s availability to your scheduling. You’ll also be able to customize your reminder emails, integrate with Zapier and other tools like GoToMeeting, and you get better/more support from Calendly.
Acuity also has a free account option with different limitations from Calendly’s. You can create unlimited event types, but Acuity doesn’t send reminder emails on the free plan. You’ll also have Acuity’s branding on your scheduling page, same as with Calendly’s free account.
On Acuity’s paid plans, you get reminder emails, automatic time zone conversions, and can add your own logo and brand colors (though you can’t remove the “Powered by Acuity” from your scheduling page unless you’re paying $50/mo for some reason!). Their mid-tier plan also lets you send text message reminders and offer packages and gift certificates, and their top-tier plan lets you remove that pesky “Powered by Acuity,” add additional time zones for other team members, and use custom CSS on your scheduling page.
Best Freelance Tools for Marketing
Once you have your systems in place and your business organized, you’ll be better equipped to start bringing in more clients. That’s where marketing comes in! After all, if no one knows you exist, how will they hire you?
There are a few key marketing areas that we’ll take a look at, including in-person, email, and social media marketing. You’ll also need a website and being able to track your digital marketing through links is helpful. Let’s dive in!
If you’ve been in the online business space for five seconds, you’ve probably heard people screaming about how important your email list is. If you aren’t sure where to start, I’ll share a free and paid email marketing option as well as one of my favorite tools to GET those email subscribers!
I’m going to be upfront here: I haven’t personally used this platform. I started on MailChimp (and regretted it) and then moved to ConvertKit, which we’ll talk about in a moment. A lot of my business friends use or have used MailerLite, though, and from what I’ve heard, it’s a great tool!
You can use the MailerLite free option for your first 1000 subscribers and you can use automation, which will improve your email funnels! MailerLite offers a lot of features that make it one of the best freelance tools when it comes to free-level email marketing. Check out their full list of features HERE.
ConvertKit is what I currently use for my email marketing. They don’t have a free version (but you can get a free trial by clicking the ConvertKit links in this article!), but the thing I really love about them is that their subscription confirmation process is so intuitive! Almost every other email marketing service I’ve seen has subscribers click a boring button to confirm their subscription. No real reason for them to do it except to receive yet another email that finally has their promised freebie. Blech.
Instead, ConvertKit pools that all into one step. When someone subscribes, they receive an initial email, but you can customize the button they click! So instead of being “click here to confirm,” it could be something like “click here for your worksheet!” That button will immediately let them download the file or redirect them to a webpage (your choice), so there aren’t the extra steps that many other email marketing providers use.
ConvertKit also has their customers at heart. They take our input seriously and they’re making big changes that I’m super excited about. ConvertKit strives to go beyond a simple email marketing solution to help their customers run profitable businesses. It doesn’t hurt that they have some great tools like being able to tag a subscriber who clicks a link in an email (great for following up on things people are interested in!), either!
If you’re like me and hate the idea of having to make YET ANOTHER freebie workbook or cheat sheet or what have you, Interact may be exactly what you need. It’s an opt-in quiz tool that lets you create a fun and informative quiz that your visitors can complete and opt into your email list at the end.
There are a lot of ways you can use opt-in quizzes, too! They can help you segment and qualify your customers (are they REALLY ready to work with you, or are they REALLY a good fit?) as well as just give your customers a more fun way to opt-in instead of the usual printable or digital file. If you’re curious about how to use opt-in quizzes, I have a couple of blog posts about Interact and how to use it. It’s been a game changer for The CE L.A.B. and I hope it is for you too!
We all know that social media marketing is the 800-pound gorilla for many online businesses these days. Trying to use it effectively, though, without spending all day on it? That can be the challenge! There are a few tools that you can use to help manage your social media marketing efforts, though:
This tool has saved me SO many hours of time! Tailwind’s main product is Pinterest scheduling, though they also offer an Instagram tool. With their Pinterest scheduler, you can fill a queue, which is set to post to Instagram on an optimized schedule. Tailwind finds the times that your Pins are most likely to get engagement from your audience and lets you create a smart schedule based on those times and the number of Pins you want to create daily.
This does not necessarily take the place of Pinning manually entirely because Tailwind only creates brand-new Pins, which are then aggregated with all duplicates and repins of that same content. While that’s not inherently bad or anything, I recommend using Tailwind to Pin other peoples’ content and then manually Pin your own content. That’s what has created the best results for The CE L.A.B., though I’m continually experimenting!
The best thing about Tailwind, though, is that they are an official Pinterest partner (and one of the only official partners that are actually affordable for smaller entrepreneurial ventures!). That means that they work closely with Pinterest to make sure they stay within guidelines and to give suggestions from their users. They have also hosted Q&A sessions with high-level Pinterest employees, so you could say that Tailwind and Pinterest are pretty tight! That means that Tailwind, unlike unofficial Pinterest tools like BoardBooster, won’t be getting shut down by Pinterest.
SmarterQueue is an amazing tool – kind of like Tailwind for other social media! SmarterQueue lets you create smart schedules and then fill content queues for your social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can customize each post for the different social media platforms, too; after all, Facebook and LinkedIn don’t really care about hashtags, while Twitter is all about them!
They also have a very unique pricing system: you can choose different aspects of their packages to create a custom price for yourself. So if you need the lowest package’s number of social media accounts but need the medium-priced package’s number of posts, you can mix and match. This is one of my favorite features of SmarterQueue! (Aside from the tool itself, of course.) If you want to save time on your social media posting, SmarterQueue is for you.
SocialBee is similar to SmarterQueue in terms of letting you customize a post for different social media platforms and post them on a schedule. However, they have a few extra goodies too! They also include Grow and Engage tools in SocialBee. What does that mean, you ask?
Well, the Grow tools let you do things like monitor the rise and fall of your Twitter followers, see how your Twitter follower count correlates with your post consistency, find new followers who are in your target audience, and more! While I pretty much ignore the auto-follow tool and things like that that don’t feel authentic to me, I love using the Copy Followers tool, which lets you easily look through the followers of an account with a similar audience and see who you’d like to follow. I hop on there every once in a while to find interesting new accounts to follow.
While I don’t use the SocialBee Engage tools much (just because, again, I feel a bit weird using them because of how automated they are), they could be useful for certain situations. These tools let you create @mentions and direct messages on Twitter. You can set parameters to target these mentions and DMs if you want, too. I may play around with these Engage tools in the future, but for now, I’m happy to schedule my content and use some of the Grow tools. I’d love to hear if you have any innovative ideas for how to use the SocialBee Engage tools, though!
Instagram has long been one of the social media platforms that made your scheduling life difficult. Until they started letting you schedule posts without having to manually post them, it was such a pain in the butt! Luckily, Later and a few other tools are now officially approved by Instagram to post directly to the platform. No more having to interrupt dinner to post that Instagram photo you scheduled last week!
Choosing the right website host can be crucial to your business success. If your website is down when a potential client is looking for it, you could lose out on projects. Finding the right balance between affordability and reliability can be hard, though. Here are the two website hosts I recommend:
Budget website host: FastComet
If you need affordable website hosting, FastComet has been good to me. I used them for quite a while before I realized that I had too many domains spread across the web and decided to consolidate. FastComet’s customer service is good, especially for a budget website host, and their reliability is a good deal for the price, too. As of the time this post was published, FastComet cost $2.95/month (when you buy a 3-year plan. I believe it’s $3.95/month if you buy a 1-year or 2-year plan) and includes a free basic domain name (in other words, a .com, .org, .net type domain name). Since domain names can cost $5, $10, or more per year, that’s a nice little bonus.
FastComet also has one-click install options, including WordPress. They make it easy to manage your website and I had several times I contacted them for various things and their customer support was responsive (and did NOT seem to be using the obnoxious copy-paste responses like some companies who use overseas customer support! *cough*Amazon*cough*). If you need a good budget host who DOES NOT draw you in with a good deal and then hike up their prices after your initial contract (the prices I mentioned before are their standard pricing – no gimmicks), FastComet is a good choice.
Best website host: SiteGround
If you have multiple domain names to manage or just want one of the best website hosts out there, I HIGHLY recommend SiteGround. I have been nothing but impressed with them. They are more pricey than the budget website hosts, but if you can afford it, they’re worth it. As of the time of this post was published, their prices start at $3.95/month (keep in mind this is regularly $11.95/month) for a single site and $5.95/month (regularly $19.95/month) for multiple websites. That second one is the plan I’m on and I love it.
With that multiple-website plan, I have five domain names on it, as well as a few subdomains, so while I only about break even on the cost, the ease of management is SO helpful. SiteGround’s customer support is also out of this world! They offer a full-service, free website transfer and you can do your own automated WordPress transfers, too (been there, done that – it’s so easy!). SiteGround also has a lot of tools that help make your website better, including automated backups (which I’ve used to restore my site after an error and they work like a charm) and a WordPress caching plugin to speed up your site. If you haven’t checked out SiteGround, it’s worth a look!
This is the company I buy most of my domain names from. They usually have the best prices and I’ve been happy with their customer support. It’s easy to buy domain names from Namecheap and it’s easy to manage them, too. I’ll be honest, I’ve hoarded a couple domain names that I may use in the future because they were such a good deal on Namecheap. If you need a new domain name or want to transfer to a less expensive registrar, Namecheap is a good place to look!
If you need a WordPress theme that’s easy to use and looks AMAZING (plus comes with some great pre-made designs for you to use immediately), Divi is a great option. It offers a straightforward visual builder so that you can see exactly what you’re creating in real-time and they have support baked right into their page builder! Elegant Themes, the creators of Divi, also offer great customer support when you have a question that can’t be answered through the built-in documentation. You also get access to not only Divi but all of Elegant Themes’ WordPress themes for one price. If you’re looking for a comprehensive theme to take your website to the next level, take a look at Elegant Themes and Divi today!
If you haven’t taken advantage of local (and even online) networking opportunities, you’re missing out. Making personal connections is one of the best ways to get referrals and to be confident when sharing referrals!
When doing any kind of in-person networking, you’ll want to make sure you have business cards, of course. There are a lot of places you can get them. Personally, I use a trade printer called 4over. They have locations across the country and their service has been very good. I’ve gotten everything from business cards to postcards and posters. You do have to apply for an account (since they’re a trade printer and all), but it’s not too hard to get one.
If you don’t want to go with 4over, I recommend looking for a local independent printer. Vistaprint and Moo are fine, but you’ll often get better quality and customer service from a local printer. Plus, it’s always nice to be able to support a local business, right?
Okay, this is one of my favorites! This past year, I started attending a few local business networking events and some of the folks I met there invited me to join them at some of their regular networking groups. I ended up meeting a number of people there who have become great business friends (and friends in general!) and I joined my favorite networking group.
If you have any networking groups in your area, these can be an amazing resource. Not only can you get fantastic referrals, but you can make some great friends, too.
Best Freelance Tools for Business Growth
There are a lot of tools that can help you grow your business. Some of them are pretty straightforward, while others are things you may not immediately think of. Here are some you may want to try!
You may have heard the saying, “Know your numbers, grow your numbers.” This is more than just a trite quote. Without those numbers in front of you, it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts.
This is probably my top analysis tool for my business. It gives you some incredible insights into your business’s website traffic and when you pair Google Analytics with Google’s Search Console tool, you get even more in-depth stats on where your site ranks in search queries. This can help you focus your marketing, improve your search engine optimization, and even give you great insights into your customers’ interests!
If you want to learn more about Google Analytics, you should check out the Conquer Your Business Analytics course. It helps you get started with Google Analytics, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also learn where to find relevant insights AND what to do with those statistics when you find them! If you want to stop missing out on opportunities for business growth, this course is a great resource.
Keyword Hero is a companion tool for Google Analytics. You connect it with your Analytics account and it starts to gather more data about the traffic you get from search engines. It can fill in the blanks for a lot of the search queries that yield (not provided) results, which can help you improve your SEO strategy that much more! They have a wonderful free version, but if your site gets a lot of traffic, their paid plans are reasonably priced.
Best Freelance Tools for Productivity
Productivity is something many of us entrepreneurs struggle with. When you’re your own boss, it can be hard to stay motivated! If you have a good system in place, though, it’s not too hard to improve your productivity.
Discbound Notebook Planners
This is my new favorite planner option. I was introduced to discbound notebooks by one of my friends at my business networking group. They’re like the perfect hybrid between 3-ring binders and a regular notebook! Discbound notebooks lay flat (without the obnoxious binding curve of a notebook or the weird way that 3-ring binders sometimes lay) while also allowing you to add and remove pages and other tools (like bookmarks) at will.
I bought a TUL notebook and got myself some tab dividers and a zippered pocket to keep my extra pens. The official branded paper inserts are pretty expensive, so I opted to invest in a special paper punch (which was actually from the Staples ARC discbound system because they’re interchangeable and that brand has a better paper punch!) and some 32 lb paper so that I could make my own pages. It was worth the investment!
In the end, I created my own custom planner pages, which I’ve even turned into modular printable pages (they’ll be available for you soon!) so that you can drop in the elements that meet your planning needs, rather than being tied to a pre-made planner page like most planner printables. These custom planner pages have been FANTASTIC and I’m kind of in love with them. I loved the versatility of the bullet journal but didn’t have time to create a brand new bullet journal page every morning, so this is kind of the perfect compromise.
Speaking of bullet journals, that is another great planner system. Actually, it can go way beyond a simple planner, but that was mostly what I used it for. If you like to change up your planner layout on a regular basis or just want the freedom to be able to experiment, this is a great option to keep you on track! It does take some discipline, but it’s worth it if you stick with it.
If you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro Method, it’s pretty simple: you work for a set amount of time (traditionally 25 minutes) and then take a short break (traditionally five minutes). You keep doing this throughout the day and it helps you stay focused but not get burned out. If you tend to zone in on something for too long or have trouble concentrating, this can be a great productivity method.
A variation I heard recently from Elizabeth over at Art by Elizabeth Hope was a song-based Pomodoro! What she’s been doing is choosing a CD (or 45-minutes or so playlist) and working during that CD or playlist. Once all of the songs have played, she takes a break and then moves onto her next piece of art. It keeps her from getting too bogged down in one particular project but keeps things flowing for long enough to make some progress on each project. Kind of ingenious, right?
There are a lot of project management tools out there! A couple of the most well-known ones in the online entrepreneur and freelancer space have got to be Asana and Trello. I’ve used both for different applications and they’re pretty great. Asana is better for more complicated projects that have to-do items that need to be assigned and tracked throughout the project. Many freelancers use Asana to assign tasks to clients (e.g. sending their logo for a website or sending their info for a brand identity project) and to let clients see the project progress so they aren’t constantly getting “Are we almost finished?” emails.
Trello is great for projects that move linearly or for people who are very visual. I’ve used it for my blog editorial calendar and content strategy LINK, moving each card from the Freewriting stage to the Writing stage onto Editing and so forth. It’s motivating to see the tasks moving down the pipeline and know that you’re making progress!
ClickUp has actually gotten me to switch away from both of these tools, though. It’s kind of a hybrid in that it lets you have the to-do list/task style of Asana while also having task statuses so that you can move them down the process pipeline like Trello. It’s been great for my productivity and makes project management really easy (plus having everything in one place instead of two makes it a lot easier to track!). They’re working on creating amazing features like Ghannt charts, machine learning (so ClickUp can predict how long a task will take!), and it sounds like they’re even thinking about making a public “read-only” option so that you can send a project link to clients and they DON’T have to make an account to view it! ClickUp is already a great product, but once it has these extra features, it’s going to be above and beyond.
Best Freelance Tools for Graphics and Video
In the online business space, graphics can be key. They can also take a frustrating amount of time to create. Videos are even worse! There are a few tools that can help with that, though.
RelayThat is a fantastic tool that makes promotional graphics creation SO much easier and faster. You add your brand colors, fonts, and logo to RelayThat and it will automatically add them to their templates. All you have to do is swap out the text and maybe tweak the placement of the colors and background image – and you’re done! It’s simple to use and has saved me a lot of time when creating social media graphics.
If you’re not a graphic designer, Photoshop may be out of your price range. After all, Adobe’s monthly fees aren’t cheap! If you need a free alternative, GIMP is great. It doesn’t have all the functionality of Photoshop (no Smart Objects, for example), but for what many non-design freelancers would use it for, it’s more than adequate. It’s open-source, so there’s absolutely no cost, too, which is one of the best things about GIMP.
Creating videos may not be your forte, but they’re all the rage on social media these days. With Facebook pushing videos so hard, it’s hard not to jump on that bandwagon. If video editing isn’t your thing, Lumen5 can take your blog posts and turn them into engaging videos. They add text from your blog post (which you can edit if needed) and add it to stock photos and videos. You can add music to it, too, if you’d like. Once the video is to your satisfaction, you can download it or even post it directly to Facebook! No editing skills required.
Best Freelance Tools and Resources for Blogging and Writing
These days, it’s smart to have a blog on your website. Google tends to like it when your website content changes every so often and all that jazz. If you’re not a born writer or content strategist, though, it can be hard to keep up with! It doesn’t have to be that hard, though.
SEO strategy can be hard to create if it’s not your strong suit. It’s not that complicated, though – you just have to read your customer’s mind!
Okay, well, maybe you’re not psychic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make them think you’re reading their mind. One of the best freelance tools in my arsenal is my SEO content strategy. It helps me think more like my customers and meet their needs with my content. After all, if they need something, chances are they’re going to ask Google to help them find it, right? Check out this blog post to help you create an actionable content strategy!
Content marketing is important in the online business world these days. Quite often, it goes hand in hand with SEO strategy. However, it can take it further by creating content for social media and other marketing avenues. One of my favorite resources for content marketing is Your Content Empire. Haley shares fantastic tips for improving your content strategy and you can glean a lot of wisdom from her! Pinterest, of course, also has a lot of great content marketing resources as well.
If spelling and grammar are your nemeses, Grammarly is a secret weapon against them. You can get their free version for basic spelling and grammar mistakes or upgrade to their paid plan to help you elevate your writing to the next level. If you do a lot of writing (or if your writing is riddled with mistakes), Grammarly is absolutely worth the investment!
All of these tools are just suggestions, so play around with some of these tools and see what works best for YOU! We all have different working styles, so not everything that works for someone else is going to work for you and that’s okay. Just experiment and find alternatives if something doesn’t work for you. Once you have these tools in place, though, you’ll be glad you did it!
Leave a comment with your thoughts on freelance tools! Here are some ideas:
What’s your favorite freelance tool?
Did you discover a new tool here to implement in your freelancing?
Have any tips for other freelancers to find their perfect freelancing tool?