Do you work from home, waking up while millions of others are already stuck in morning rush hour to slowly turn on your computer and check email while in your pajamas? If you’re a freelancer or work on contract, you’re not alone. According to recent data published on Mashable, the US Bureau of Labor reports that 10.3 million workers in the US (around 7.4% of the US workforce) are freelancers, and companies have increased their use of freelance talent by 22% in the past three years. This means millions of Americans are left to their own devices for apps and tools to help them do the best job they can do — and make the most money without the assurance of a set and consistent salary. Here at LockerGnome, we are also all freelancers, and rely heavily on several apps and tools to produce content throughout the week.
We’ve surfaced our most favorite apps and tools that help us get the job done, and the result is this list of the five most essential apps and tools for freelancers.
As a freelancer, you likely create invoices for each and every one of your clients. FreshBooks is a free and easy solution to creating professional invoices that make it look like you are a Fortune 500 company. (You can even brand your invoices using your own logo.) Invoicing can be a painful process, but this comprehensive platform allows you to easily manage all of your projects with one dashboard at the same time — even if they have different billing rates or are on different billing cycles. FreshBooks manages invoicing for your first three clients for free, but also offers cost-effective packages if you must invoice more than three clients at once. (If you only invoice three or less clients at a time, you can delete clients as you add new.) FreshBooks is secure, encrypted, and backs up your data, and invoices and time sheets can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere. For power users, FreshBooks even features an add-on store to help you import and export projects from other apps like Basecamp, Shoeboxed, Salesforce; it can even be used just to manage your time from the desktop.
You might know by now that here at LockerGnome, we are huge fans of Evernote. Evernote features the ability to organize notes, documents, photos, audio notes, and Web clippings by categories and sub categories, which are synced into the cloud for access anywhere you go. Evernote utilizes an organizational system that is defined by you, so you can sort by tags, or browse notes by date updated, date created, title, source URL, or size. The organization system is intuitive, and notebooks can even be shared with other users, such as freelancers with whom you collaborate or even clients. While notes themselves feature ample formatting functions, such as bullet points, paragraph options, and even checklists, one of my favorite features is Evernote’s bookmarklet tool, which allows users to clip material while browsing the Web. This tool is essential for freelancers who curate content by clipping websites, either whole or in part, to Evernote with just a few clicks.
A core component of freelancing is collaborating with clients. While you can email documents back and forth, Google Docs is an easy and free Microsoft Office style of suite that you can use to share and collaborate on everything from documents to spreadsheets to presentations. Google Docs is an easy way for teams of freelancers in a group to share internal information (such as login credentials for a client) and manage calendars and idea flow. Groups can even edit ideas together in real time.
File sharing is another essential feature for freelancers. Whether you write content, produce video, or edit photography, sharing your work for review or delivery is easy with Dropbox. Dropbox is a cloud-based file sharing service that allows users to save files — including documents, spreadsheets, photos, videos, and music, to the cloud and sync it with your computers, phones, and the Dropbox website. Users get 2 GB of Dropbox for free, with subscriptions up to 100 GB available, and synced files appear automatically in a file folder right on your computer. While you can easily collaborate on documents with Google Docs, if you’re a freelancer who needs to transfer files to other contractors or clients, Dropbox is an ideal solution.
A portable laptop or tablet
Freelancers enjoy not only the luxury of setting their own schedule and rate of pay, but also their own work environment. This often means hopping between coffee shops, client offices, and even across the world. A portable laptop or tablet (I’m personally a fan of the MacBook Air) is essential to being able to get the job done wherever you are without the hassle of added weight and bulk. Both guys and girls can throw a lightweight laptop or tablet into a shoulder or messenger bag and move from work to play without having to drop anything off at home. (In fact, my MacBook fits right into my purse!) Keep in mind, though, that more in this case is not better — as a freelancer, you may not need both a tablet and a laptop — unless, of course, you are a developer or work in another similar role.
Are you a freelancer? What are your must-have apps and tools? Let us know your favorites in the comments.