When you make the decision to go out on your own, you are faced with many choices. Should you work from home or rent a space? Bill hourly or by the job? What kind of hours should you assign as ‘work time’?
Amidst all those decisions that have to be made, you also have to choose what tools you’re going to use to actually do your job. And the web is both a blessing and a curse in this regard. It’s a blessing in that it gives you a plethora of choices for the different categories of applications. But it can be a curse because there are so many good options to choose from.
What’s a poor, green-behind-the-ears freelancer to do? Well, you can start by letting us whittle down the list a little for you. Separate some of the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. You’ll still have find which of the tools below best fit your needs and style, but this is the right place to start.
We’ve broken down the apps into larger categories, highlighted the best or most interesting in each category, and included the best of the rest. Click away — each image will take you to the app listed. Enjoy!
Invoicing and Time Tracking
First things first — you need to get paid. And so you need to bill your customers. And if you bill by the hour, you need to track your time. Whether it’s sending professional looking invoices or easily tracking your hours, these apps are the best available and a pleasure to use.
A beautifully designed application that focuses on simplicity, the Invoice Machine is one of the nicer invoicing tools available. A professional looking invoice says a lot to your client — Invoice Machine can help complete a great impression.
Once you start getting paid, you have to do something with the money. Taking care of the finances — bookkeeping, accounting, taxes included — is probably one of the least enjoyed aspects of working for yourself. But it has to be done, so you’re best off finding a tool that makes these tasks easy and efficient.
One of the more refreshing apps to come along recently, Mint was changing the way people were able to manage their finances. With their recent sale to Intuit — makers of Quicken — there has been a bit of a backlash and a lot of people deleting their accounts.
Regardless, Mint is still one of the nicest tools to keep on top of your finances.
Once you’ve gotten the business side of things out of the way, you need to manage the actual work. Projects, recurring tasks, and sharing tasks are all part of the life of a freelancer. Whether you’re looking for a full fledged project management tool or a simple way to track your own work, there are many tools available.
Use any of these top applications to stay on top of what you do.
Despite a lot of other sites copying their style, 37signals still lead the way in the project management space. Basecamp is simply the best application to manage your work. With a focus on simplicity and communication, it’s an enjoyable tool to use.
Ad with so many other web based applications integrating with Basecamp, it doesn’t appear that it’ll be knocked off its perch anytime soon.
After you spend the time figuring out what needs to get done — and start doing — the result will in many cases involve files to manage or share. Some of the project management tools above include file management and online storage. But many do not.
Not to worry though. There are lots of options for storing, sharing and backing up your data. Here’s some tools focused on this essential aspect of your business.
I’ve talked here recently about Dropbox and I have to confess — this is one of my favourite tools. It has been a great boon to my business and makes collaboration a cinch. Add the peace of mind with its file revisions and tight integration with the operating system and it simply fades into the background.
Actually, for a web tool, it feels like a part of your operating system. This still amazes me.
One other vital aspect to your business is keeping track of customers. Tracking interactions, leads, tasks, meetings and follow-up’s is needed to make sure that your revenue streams are always flowing.
Still in beta, Gist is still working out the kinks. But for those who like to get the big picture, this is a tool with a lot of promise. How does it work? It takes your interactions with others from Twitter, Facebook, your email and others and analyzes who you talk to. It then tracks the online activity of those people and ranks the updates based on their importance to you.
This is a simplified overview — sign up to check it out for yourself. It’s probably not for everyone, but it is an interesting way for busy freelancers to stay on top of the people they depend on.
Anyone who has spent some time as a remote web worker knows that paying attention to your social life is important. When you don’t go to an office and interact face to face with other adults every day, you are exposed to the dangers of isolation.
Now, the tools below are not going to replace the physical interaction we all require, but they can help fill in for the banter that you’d participate in at a more traditional workspace. Whether keeping in touch with coworkers and partners or general internet friends, the apps listed here can help you feel in touch with the outside world.
When Twitter first came on the scene, there sure seemed to be a lot of people saying they ‘didn’t get it’ or that it was a waste of time. A couple of years later and it seems that those people aren’t around anymore. Or they’re keeping quiet. Or they’re busy tweeting.
Twitter is the de facto standard for communicating online now.
Many web workers dislike using the phone, but there are going to be those times when email or IM just don’t cut it. Make sure you give your customers and/or teammates another avenue of getting your time and attention.
The following tools are aimed at mobility with flexibility.
People all over the world use Skype as their primary means of communicating. With instant messaging and voice services, including voicemail, huge long distance charges seem like a thing of the past century.
If the controversy and ownership of Skype’s technology ends well, this service will continue to be a mainstay in online business.
From many freelancers, in order to keep the work coming in, you need to be able to show potential customers who you are and what you’ve done. There are many web applications that now focus on this genre.
Here are two of our favourites.
A newer entrant in this category, Raveal shows a lot of promise. It’s intended to mix both your portfolio and resume into one entity. It’s an interesting approach.
Lastly, here are a few other tools that are somewhat in a category of their own, but may help you in running a successful business.
If you are going to interact with your clients via Twitter, than cotweet is a service that may be of interest. It makes managing a business account a little easier with support for dual accounts, assignment of tweets, and robust notifications.
That’s All for Now
There are plenty of other great web tools that could have been included here. Freelancers in this day and age certainly have no shortage of choices.
Take some time to consider your needs and then choose the tools that work for you.