I’ve noticed, after six months of stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, that a lot of people are striking out on their own to build freelance businesses. I’ve been out here living a freelance life since 2006, and I would like to welcome you all! It can be tough going for the first few years, but if you can stick it out, it is so rewarding to set your own hours, your own rates, and your own boundaries. You can do it, and a few freelance tools and apps can make it a lot easier.
I’ve tried a lot of everything over my years as a freelance writer and book editor. Freelance tools and apps have come and gone. I outgrew some of them as my business expanded, and some outgrew me when they offered more features than I could ever use as a solo worker. I’ve listed here the tools I’ve been using the longest and with the most happiness. A few of the links in this post are affiliate links, so I may make a little money if you click and buy.
When you’re first starting out, tracking your invoices and income in a spreadsheet like Microsoft’s Excel or Google’s Sheets is perfectly adequate. You need to know how much and when you expect to get paid, and you need to know when that payment comes in – or when it’s late.
When it’s time to level up your freelance tools, I highly recommend Freshbooks. I’ve been using it since 2014. It creates and tracks invoices, automatically sends out reminders when invoices are late, lets you accept credit card payments, syncs with bank accounts to track expenses, and generates just about every report you’d like to see, including the crucial profit and loss statement.
Notion replaced Evernote, OneNote, Trello, and all the to-do apps I’ve ever tried for researching articles and publishing books. You can see your notes as a gallery, a calendar, a kanban board, a list … if there’s a way you work best, Notion likely supports it.
I recently figured out how to create notes within a client folder so that I can aggregate my research links and notes, then track deadlines and publication dates for each article. I’ve created templates in Notion for book publishing so I don’t forget steps; I just have to enter the dates and milestones for the new project and I have a ready-made personalized production schedule. Life-changing stuff.
I get it. Everyone has a Bullet Journal, and it’s filled with calligraphy and watercolor art. Who has the time, even in quarantine? I started my BuJo in November 2016, when I was about to start the busiest year of my life after the worst presidential election in my life, and it kept me sane. When BuJo creator Ryder Carroll released a whole book about the method, I read it, and I loved it.
My Bullet Journal is not pretty. Mine contains only bullet lists and notes. Since writing itself is my creative outlet, the journal is really just a freelance tool. I use a Rhodia notebook and a fountain pen, but it’s still just my regular handwriting on a page. I use block capitals for to-do lists and cursive for writing my thoughts on books I’m reading or jotting down ideas for books or essays. Not a drawing in sight.
Like everyone, I used Dropbox for ages, but then they got all weird about privacy. And I’ve got Microsoft’s OneDrive because I have Office. These are fine cloud storage solutions, and they’re used widely. Being the privacy nerd I am, I chose to pay for Sync cloud storage because it’s encrypted end to end. You can still share with anyone you like, just like you do with Dropbox. I mostly use it for working files and backups. It’s also HIPAA compliant, if you’re in the healthcare industry.
This post reminded me to check on how much space I have available in my Sync account. It’s 2.9 TB. That’s terabytes. Massive amounts of secure storage for a reasonable annual fee.
Some tools and apps are kind of required by others. I use them every day, so I’ll mention them here, but I use them because my clients or the publishing industry requires them. They’re fine.
- Microsoft Office, especially Word
- Google Drive, especially Docs
- Asana project management