Recommended Tools to Run Your Freelance Empire
The following are my top recommendations for the tools and services that most freelancers are likely to need.
If you are stuck on what provider to use for <common problem>, the tools below are great options and will let you get back to the important work: finding and serving your clients.
Disclosure: Where possible the recommendations below use affiliate links to compensate Freelance Transformation when you sign-up. Some links don't compensate me, but if I felt they were the best tool, well, I still listed them.
Invoice Your Clients: Harpoon or Freshbooks
When I started freelancing invoices and bookkeeping was a nightmare. My only real options for generating invoices and tracking expenses was to use Excel or pick one of two equally clunky desktop accounting programs for small business and learn proper bookkeeping *shudder*.
These days we have much faster, and easier options for tracking our finances and making sure that we get paid:
Invoice Clients & Forecast Your Finances Harpoon
Harpoon is special because it doesn't just help you invoice clients, it helps you forecast your finances and make sure that you are on track to meet your income goals and budget.
The most important reasons to use Harpoon for your business:
- Easily invoice clients for one-time and recurring payments.
- Accept online and debit card payments.
- Set and track income goals, expected revenue, and monthly goals.
- Set and stick to an expense budget.
- Schedule your projects.
- Understand key numbers inside your business, such as who your most profitable clients are (hint: these are your best source of even more business!)
Check out my interview with Harpoon creator Ryan Battles here.
A Solid Alternative: FreshBooks
If your main focus is to be able to invoice your clients, easily and reliably, and enter the data you need for your taxes at the end of the year, FreshBooks is an excellent and widely supported platform.
Reasons to use FreshBooks:
- Easily create professional looking invoices that you can email to clients instead of wasting time on Word templates.
- Send automatic payment reminders when invoices are getting close to due instead of pretending that you'll remember to remind your clients.
- If you choose, you can get paid by credit card. Yes I know those credit card fees add up. So does wasted time depositing checks at the bank.
- It's a full accounting system: in addition to sending invoices you can track expenses, generate key financial reports, and be ready for tax time.
- Lots of integrations.
Get a Legal Contract: LawDepot
It absolutely stuns me that there are freelancers out there doing work without a contract. Aside from the insane risk involved, it immediately reduces your status as a professional and it increases the chances that something will go wrong on a project.
Of course, most of us don't have thousands of dollars to spend on legal fees when we are just starting out, but you can try the alternative that I used:
LawDepot allows you to create their own lawyer-reviewed agreements based on solid templates and a really intuitive step-by-step wizard. The service is available in the US, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom and will set you back only a fraction of the price of hiring a lawyer yourself.
Note: Freelance Transformation readers will receive a 5% discount by signing up through the link above.
Email Marketing Automation: Drip or AWeber
An email list is a huge part of creating a sustainable funnel for generating leads instead of constantly wondering where your next project is coming from. I have tried tonnes of email tools and I keep coming back to two recommendations for freelancers:
My Favourite Email Marketing Tool: Drip
Since switching to Drip my email list has grown faster, I have sent more emails, and most importantly, I no longer feel limited by email marketing platform.
Reasons to choose Drip for email marketing:
- Easy to integrate: the high-converting Drip widget and lightboxes make integration into any website dead-easy. No special theme or landing page software required.
- Easy to create a great follow-up sequence: Drip is specifically built for drip campaigns (as the name implies), making it really easy to create powerful follow-up sequences. They'll even build your sequence for you based on your content.
- The tagging and workflow features offer ridiculously powerful marketing automation at a fraction of the price of most systems.
A Solid Alternative: AWeber
Although I am a Drip convert, not everyone is ready for marketing automation features that it provides. A great alternative, particularly for the beginner, is AWeber. The pricing starts a little lower, the system is very easy to use, and like Drip the focus is on building a funnel, not just sparodically blasting your list.
Rock-Solid Wordpress Hosting: WP Engine
I have a confession to make: I'm a weirdo that doesn't use Wordpress because I love my highly optimized weird home brew CMS.
But being a functioning member of the interwebs and not a weirdo like me, you probably do use Wordpress. And if you do, you know how difficult it can be to keep your Wordpress site optimized, loading quickly, and backed up properly.
WP Engine has built a platform specifically for Wordpress and takes care of most of these problems for you, plus provides a level of Wordpress support that goes way beyond budget hosts.
I constantly recommend WP Engine to my friends and students who are struggling with finding a good host, because I know the switch will solve their problems (and stop them from constantly asking me about website problems!)
Schedule Meetings Automatically: Calendly
Few tasks suck-up time as consistently as trying to set a meeting with prospective clients, existing clients, contractors, and whoever else you need to meet with.
I save hours a week by letting Calendly handle this mess for me.
I simply send clients a link to my calendar, and they can book the exact time they want, in their local timezone. The meeting automatically gets placed in my calendar and sends an invite to my client's calendar.
This saves me hours a week and even the free version is amazing.
Bonus Tip: you can setup links in Calendly to different lengths or types of meetings, and when they can be booked. I like to set most meetings to 15 or 30 minutes and batch them together on certain days so that my worfklow is not constantly interrupted.
Share Files with Clients
If you frequently share larger files with clients, Dropbox has your back. I have tried a ridiculous amount of cloud-based storage solutions, but nothing syncs quite as reliably or is as easy-to-use as Dropbox.
We also use Dropbox in my agency to share all project files with clients (such as graphic designs), which is far more reliable than hoping that your attachments will be accepted by the clients' email.
Fun fact: I used to have a VPN server that my team and I would use to access a $2,000 fireproof hard drive at my office. It was expensive, difficult to use and the VPN ports were frequently blocked by wifi hotspots. How times have changed.