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A Freelancer’s Best Friends: 9 Apps to Save Your Business + Sanity

Freelancing comes with a lot of perks – independence, flexibility, being able to give yourself a raise any time you want. One of the downsides, though, is that you’ve got to handle all the organization yourself and you can wind up working around the clock.

These apps will all help you avoid that – they’ll help you work better, faster, and smarter. The best part? Most of these apps are free, and the ones that aren’t are still freelancer-budget friendly!

Email management:

Streak

There are a lot of CRM systems out there, and many are 100% overkill for freelancers. Streak, on the other hand, is perfect. It lets you easily keep track of people you need to follow up with–whether that’s guest posting pitches or potential clients. I’ve got a review video here and a use-case video here that shows you how I use it in my freelance writing business. If you use Google Apps or Gmail and have been looking for a lightweight CRM to help you keep track of your sales funnel, Streak could be the one! Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

Mixmax

Also for Google Apps, Mixmax is a free add-on that comes with a suite of tools. Using it, you can send polls, book meeting times, and track who’s opened your email (and when), which is helpful when figuring out if you should follow up with that potential client or not. You can also attach files straight from Dropbox or Google Drive, use templates to save time composing emails, and schedule emails to be sent later. What’s not to love?

Project management:

Everyone has different tastes for project management tools…so I included three options here! One of these is sure to be a fit for your needs & succeed in making you a more organized, less stressed freelancer.

Asana

Asana is a project management tool that’s super lightweight and flexible. It looks rather minimalist at first–which is why I avoided using it for the longest time. However, now they’ve added color coding, they’ve got subtasks and lists and “smart” recurring tasks, and they have project templates for everything from a product launch to an editorial calendar. It looks so simple but can be hacked into working for almost any business, no matter how weird or specific their needs. In short: I love it. (If you want to check out my Asana workflow, you can watch this video.)

Trello

If you’re a visual thinker, Trello could be a good choice. The idea is that you put a task on a card, with notes, file attachments, etc., and then you can move that card to different columns on a project board to track progress. I have a hard time with it because there’s not a good way to view all cards across all projects by due date or on a calendar, but if you don’t need to set up multiple projects and you like the drag-and-drop interface, it could be the tool for you.

Droptask

Droptask is free with a paid option ($6.50/user/month) and would be incredibly useful for super-visual thinkers. I cannot, for the life of me, work in a task management tool without a calendar view option, so although I gave it a solid go for my own task management, it didn’t work out. But I still think it’s an awesome product and would recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative to list-based task management.

General productivity:

Timeful

Timeful was developed by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist. The idea is that we easily let ourselves be overbooked because we plan in for meetings, but we don’t really plan in for tasks or other events. I don’t use it every day, but when I do use it, it immediately lets me see if I’ve overbooked myself for the day or if my expectations are fairly reasonable. I also like that it builds in the ability to remind you of habits you want to do and shows you how they can fit in with your day.

IFTTT

IFTTT can help you make completely different tools play together nicely. It was a huge factor in helping me save time while I pitched like a fiend to build up my roster of writing clients (here’s the video on how I used it for that). I also use it for social media curation – when I favorite something in Pocket, it automatically goes into my Buffer queue. Here’s a round-up of other ways freelancers can use IFTTT.

If you’re looking for something with a similar set up to IFTTT, but more business-oriented, Zapier integrates with most business apps and offers a free plan.

Evernote

Pretty much everyone and their mom has heard of Evernote, but that doesn’t mean everyone uses it just yet. It’s so full-featured that a lot of people have trouble adapting it into their workflow. My solution to this is coming up with very specific use-cases – here are some of the ways I use Evernote in my business:

  • I have an “Accounting” notebook where I scan in receipts using the document scanner with a few notes about why it’s a business expense (who I got lunch with, what we talked about, etc.).
  • I regularly scan in blog post or product/service ideas that I’ve handwritten. You can use the app’s built in scanner for this or Scannable, their iOS app that integrates seamlessly with Evernote. Their text recognition somehow manages to even figure out my messy handwriting, so I can find it later if/when I need to. (All of my world-building and plot notes for my eventual fiction serial/trilogy are in here, too. Can’t leave that lying around in just paper form!)
  • I also use that scanning functionality to scan in notes after client calls or meetings. I feel like typing on a laptop is distracting, so I take written notes, then scan them in for easy access later. I also use it to keep track of notes on invoicing or article ideas for clients.
  • I use it to curate my newsletter links.

And really, that’s not even everything I use it for. I use it primarily for its note-storing capacities and I love it for that, and I honestly haven’t even scratched the surface of how it can fit into my workflow, given the other apps I use that integrate or can integrate with it using IFTTT or Zapier. It’s free and cross-platform(iOS/Android/Mac/Windows/web), so there’s no reason not to use it.

Administrative:

Ink

Ink lets you not just create contracts but also send them for signing. I’m used to contract creation being a slow, painful process, but the first time I used Ink, I went from nothing to having a standard contract tweaked to match my business model/pricing and sending it to the client for signing within about, oh, 30 minutes? Your first three contracts are free, and after that you can either buy contracts in packs of 3 for $15 or sign up for $25/month for unlimited contracts. (I know, technically it’s a wee bit higher than the $10 cutoff…but not if you think about it per contract, and the time it’ll save you is more than worth it!)

That’s my round up of my favorite tools to keep me sane – what are your favorite business apps? 

Michelle Nickolaisen Michelle is a freelance writer and business owner based in Austin, TX. When she’s not writing for clients, she’s writing about productivity for freelancers at Bombchelle. And when she’s not doing either of those things, she’s creating a line of paper planners for freelancers, editing her novel, or watching something involving sci-fi or superheroes on Netflix.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Excellent article, Michelle. Awesome list, extensive and thorough. Do check out grexit.com, really good for sharing emails (by just adding labels – no need to forward), and for delegating emails to your team-mates. It also lets you write notes on emails.

  • Shelly

    Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for the list. There’s a few in there I use or have used and a few new ones to check out. Also don’t know if you used Shake, but it’s a contract app that comes with a bunch of templates to customize and it’s free. There may be add on’s but you can use on mobile, tablet or desktop and also send it out for digital signature. I’ve also used EchoSign for years now, (bought by Adobe) but it allows you to upload documents, create your own templates and have up to 10 free per 30 day rolling period (5 if you choose not to link your twitter account).

    Thanks again for the tips.

  • We’ve just started using one of the paid features for Slack. This is great for maintaining channels of communication and multiple teams. I’ve just enabled an email integration that allows me to email the particular channel that we can all see and discuss how it is to be handled. We’ve also got incoming feeds from our forums that our students use. There is a great free option, but the email integration I think is going to make the difference!

  • Barbara

    Looks like Timeful is going away; it seems to have gotten Google-ized. Of course that’s the one app on your list I was most interested in!

  • Also i would add two well designed apps for project management and for social media management.
    1) To make your project plans more visual try ganttpro.com. It also will help you estimate your tasks in the context of importance-urgency, understand the critical zones of your project and do your project in time, find how much resources (time) do you need.

    2) KUKU.io is a free online web tool for posting in multiple social media networks. It is simple and help you to post in Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin and other popular networks.

    I have a wonderful experience using it in my freelance practice all the time.

  • Katherine

    Hi Michelle, thank you for sharing this list. I’d like to recommend one more useful tool for freelancer, Deskun. You can use it as a task management tool to keep track of all of your projects (if you have several), or just use free features for Gmail account. There are unlimited mailtracking, email reminders and scheduling. It might be very useful for communication with partners and clients.

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