Whether you’re contemplating a move to the remote working world or hoping to turn your solo venture into more of a “real business,” there comes a time when you need to invest in some tools of the trade.
At a certain point, you’ll realize that doing everything manually is eating into your working hours and your bottom line.
There’s a lot to juggle when you’re on your own. What about taxes, invoicing, time tracking and time management, billable hours, and productivity tools for example? How do you find clients and get them to pay you money? Can you just use PayPal or do you need something more specialized like Stripe for credit card payments and a dedicated freelance business bank account? How do you streamline your boring admin tasks so you can get back to work, already?
The list goes on.
We’ll look at a few different categories — spanning apps and websites to keep your finances in order, keep clients moving through the pipeline, and more.
Must-have resources for freelancers
Proposals are one of those necessary evils for a lot of solo-preneurs. If you depend on using proposals to win new business, it’s high time you stop relying on Google Drive and the copy-and-paste method to land those big fish clients.
What’s the point of a proposal, you ask?
Well, the proposal first establishes your role and the goals of the project. Meaning, this document gives the prospective client a rundown on what it’s like to work with you, and how the project is expected to go. On your terms.
But writing a customized proposal for each potential client can be a real grind, and it will certainly cut into the time you’re spending earning money.
These tools allow you to customize your proposals with minimal effort and professional design, so you can turn these babies out faster than ever so you’re applying for new jobs in real-time.
What’s more — incorporating a proposal software into your strategy allows clients to sign them electronically — turning your document into a binding contract — so you’d just killed two birds with one stone.
We found that most proposal software costs between $20 and $30 per user per month, so more than Spotify and Netflix combined.
However, many freelancers swear by this investment, and they come with some sweet features. BidSketch, for example, gives you a report of which team members viewed each proposal, so you can tailor your follow-up message accordingly. Effective communication tools are vital to your success too.
Another option is PandaDoc, a proposal software that comes with some cool built-in features and plugins like e-signature software and an analytics dashboard that provides a look at bids won and contracts signed.
One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is financial matters. As such, it’s easy to feel out of one’s depth when presented with that first tax bill or waiting around for a critical invoice when you’ve bills to pay. You need tracking tools for your finances as well as for your time.
But there’s a lot to keep track of when it comes to freelance finance. For one, you need to get really good at budgeting — setting money aside for tax season is no joke.
Second, you’ll need a better way to keep tabs on expenses — whether that’s your monthly co-working membership or all of those receipts from your digital subscriptions.
These days, it’s crazy to rely on spreadsheets and calculators to keep track of this stuff.
Cloud-based apps offer free plans, flexible pricing, automatic updating, and access from anywhere. Plus, many of these options come with automatic bank feeds and invoice collection, so you don’t have to add data entry to your mile-long to-do list.
Using a tool like Xero, QuickBooks Online, FreeAgent, or Zoho Books can help you learn some basic accounting skills—and they’re all pretty cheap. Any of these options are a good choice, but you may want to take the free trials for a spin before making a commitment.
A decent CRM
Most people think of CRMs (customer relationship management systems) as a sales tool built for companies closing major deals and across multiple reps. However, that’s not necessarily the case. There are CRMs built for companies of all sizes — including teams of only one.
Pipedrive, Base, and Agile, among countless others, all work to help freelancers and small businesses manage their relationships — giving you more visibility than you’d find in your Gmail inbox. The benefit is, you can track your client prospecting efforts, view current client communication, and keep tabs on pending milestones.
ThriveSolo might be a good choice if you’re well, running a solo operation. Pricing is $19 a month — or $190 for the whole year. Or, there’s Insightly, which starts at $29 per month.
Or, try Hubspot, a massively popular marketing platform/CRM offered for free. Zoho’s CRM is offered on a freemium model, as well.
The point is, a CRM doesn’t need to be wildly expensive, so you should just bite the bullet and take one (or three) for a spin. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a web designer, a freelance writer, work in email marketing, develop Android mobile apps, or simply work freelance for a big company like Apple; a CRM will help you in the long-term.
If you’re a freelance writer or have some marketing experience, you probably have some experience with a project management platform. Likely, you’ve tried them all in the context of working with a client.
But we’d like to make the case for adopting the practice yourself.
These collaboration tools make it easy to break big projects down into tasks and assign items to others.
It’s also a great way for freelancers to communicate with their clients. Use a tool like Basecamp, Asana, or Trello (Softonic’s in-house choice) to onboard new clients and communicate about specific projects.
We should add a disclaimer here, though. You’ll always want to check in with a client before thrusting a new tool on them.
There’s always the chance that they might not be all that excited about adopting a new tool in addition to whatever they’re doing day-to-day
Where to invest first?
When you’re freelancing, it’s hard to pick and choose which business tools and expenses are worth the splurge and which ones feel more like a want than a need.
However, you’ll need to do some soul searching to determine which areas need some extra assistance. If you’re spending a lot of time on proposals, then it might be worth getting proposal software. If accounting is a challenge, same thing.
Other tools like social media monitoring software or a CRM depends on your individual operation. As such, consider the cost of the software with how much time it will save or how it will potentially help you collect more income.
Finally, most of these options come with 30-day free trials. So, you’ll get a chance to see where that ROI might come in before you’re on the hook.
Just be sure you set a reminder to cancel your account before you get charged, as many SaaS companies choose to collect CC#s before letting you in.