As a long-time freelancer, I believe now more than ever in the power of working smarter, not harder. And when it comes to finding tools to help me do that, I’m willing to commit my hard-earned funds when necessary. After all, those would be deductible business expenses. But, if I can use a free tool that really does to the same thing – and sometimes does it better – then you’ll hear me cackling all the way to the bank when I can eliminate an expense here or there.
Most freelancers I know have a list of free resources, tools, and apps they use to make their businesses flow smoother, from accounting programs to project management tools. I could write entire posts on the top 5 tools in each area, but I don’t think that would be as useful as finding out my five all-time favorite free resources. All of these resources have a free (forever) version that I personally use on a regular basis, and I haven’t been paid or perked by any of these companies.
My Five Favorite Free Resources
This cloud-based service is an entire client management system. You can create and send proposals and contracts with a few quick steps, keep track of client contacts and details, manage projects, track time, and send invoices. The service includes a lot of nifty features that impress new clients, too. You can easily edit and resend proposals and contracts during negotiations, and contracts can be signed electronically. The system can email you reminders of upcoming invoice dates, project milestones, and there are a lot of other built-in help features to aid you in your solo venture. (They even have a smartphone app, although I can’t review it. I use my phone for work as little as possible, aside from calls!)
While I love using And.co to create contracts to send to clients, sometimes the contract comes from the client’s company in a Word doc or PDF format. Sure, I could print out a PDF and hand-write my information, and then scan it back to PDF. But that’s time-consuming and feels like a waste of paper. Instead, I upload my PDF contracts to Sejda.com (which takes 5 seconds) and then I can add text (like my name, company name, and dates) and image files (my signature). I download the annotated PDF and I’m ready to reply to my client within a matter of minutes. Any tool that saves me time without costing me money is a huge plus in my book.
While I try to keep it to a minimum, I do use my smartphone for work on occasions. The TinyScanner app is one of my exceptions. TinyScanner can turn a photo of a document into a crisp PDF. The app comes in handy whenever I do find myself printing a form to complete or when sending expense receipts to clients. I’ve also been known to use this app to snap a page from one of the few print magazines I still subscribe to, either to keep an article for my own future reference or to share with someone else.
Ever get trapped in an endless back-and-forth email exchange when trying to schedule a meeting with someone equally as busy as you? Of course you have. We all have. Calendly is a web-based tool with a free option that makes appointment scheduling really easy. You set up an event type, length, and available days and times, and Calendly produces a unique URL you can email to your invitee. Then, they can pick the available slot that works for them, and fill out a quick form (based on prompts you create) and receive a confirmation email. It’s also easy to reschedule or cancel appointments, because we all know that happens sometimes.
After experimenting with a few different work-time soundscapes, I’ve found that listening to certain types of music really help boost my productivity and focus when it’s needed, and other types are better when I need to be especially creative. Although the free version limits you to five sessions per month, Brain.fm is still my go-to source when I really need to buckle down and focus.
There you have it. At least once or twice a week (and sometimes a lot more!), I use each of these tools and I know they save me a ton of time – and obviously money, too.