Freelancers place a high premium on their time—at least those of us who don’t want to be stuck pulling consecutive all-nighters do. Unfortunately, however, we also don’t have a whole team to help with the administrative heavy lifting: there’s just you, your laptop and the cat—and we all know that cats don’t make the most helpful coworkers. Add that all together and you have a recipe for frustration, unless you take steps to reduce the amount of time you spend on repetitive, time-intensive tasks.
Luckily for today’s freelancers, over the past decade or so, a profusion of cloud-based apps have sprung up, ready to take some of the pain out of business busywork. These tools streamline collaboration, accounting, billing and project management for solo teams, and many of them are 100% free—great news when project overhead comes directly from your bank account. Below are the top apps freelancers use to run every aspect of their businesses right from their living rooms.
Trello is one of the most popular project management tools for small businesses and freelancers, and for good reason: it’s free, flexible and doesn’t take a day and a half to master. Modeled after the classic Kanban board, Trello boards allow you to quickly generate lists of cards, used to represent workflow stages and individual tasks. Share your board with your clients and you can snuff out time spent updating clients on project statuses. Trello integrates directly with cloud storage applications like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and OneDrive, so you can upload saved files and attach them to a card for reference. The low key minimalist interface makes it simple and intuitive to use this program. Use it for a couple of days and it becomes just another part of your day-to-day life as a freelancer, as familiar as email.
There are tons of programs that will allow you to create a task list if you need one. But the real reason Todoist makes our list is that it integrates directly with email. Just click the little Todoist button on the navigation pane and Todoist automatically populates a new task on your to-do list. Need to refer back to the email? Click on the task you’ve created and it will take you right back to the original message. You can also use it to set deadlines, group tasks into categories and display by priority, due date or category. The ability to generate tasks directly from emails is incredibly useful if you don’t want to spend hours digging through your inbox for a specific request or waste valuable minutes copying and pasting text from one program to another. And that’s more time you can spend on billable work!
Every freelancer dreads the arrival of April: in just a few short weeks, that tax deadline will come rolling around, and with it a labyrinth of deductions, credits and IRS jargon. Wave can help. It’s kind of like having a miniature accountant in your computer. It helps you generate professional-looking invoices for client billing, and will even integrate with your bank account, allowing you to accept payments quickly and easily. You can even set up recurring invoices for regular clients. An invoicing service is useful in itself, but Wave will also manage vendor billing, upload receipts and generate employee payroll, making it a full-service accounting solution. And connecting to your bank allows you to categorize and track expenses at the time of purchase, instead of backtracking through a year of statements on April 14th.
It only takes one non-paying client to convince you that you need airtight contracts. But unless you have a background in law, writing them yourself means you’re about to go down an impossible rabbit hole of legal jargon. Bonsai solves that problem by providing access to vetted contract templates specifically designed for freelance creatives. Once you’ve selected and customized one for your clients, you can send out for a digital signature right through their online platform. Other handy features include invoicing, timesheet creation, accounting and expense tracking. Bonsai promises that their contract templates are all legally binding, which will keep you protected against non-paying or unreasonable clients.
Still having trouble getting everything done? It may be time to start hiring some employees. Of course, there are plenty of apps to help with that too. Sites like Fiverr will help you locate a temporary helping hand for a large project, while Gusto will help you launch and manage payroll for regular employees. Pull it all together with organizational chart software that will help you keep track of what everyone is doing and quickly contact employees, no matter where they work. That way, you can focus on the kind of work you love—you know, the reason you started freelancing in the first place.
This article was contributed on behalf of Erin Vaughan. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes about workplace culture and human resource solutions for Pingboard. Pingboard is real-time, collaborative org chart software that makes it easy to organize teams, plan for growth, & keep everyone informed.