The Best Tools Freelancer and Self-employed People Need to Know About

Michael Hörnlimann Last updated 21.12.2020
7 Min.
FreelancerTools
Last updated 21.12.2020

There are almost as many tools and apps for freelancers as there are WordPress -Plugins. Again, the challenge is to find the right tools for your needs. I present my favorites from the perspective of a location-independent web designer.

Save time: The best tools for freelancers

Every self-employed person needs certain tools to be able to work efficiently. Absolutely clear. However, you should make sure that in the end you still spend more time on the actual work on projects instead of investing it in feeding the tools.

For this reason, it is very important to me to mention that I only use tools that generate a high benefit for me. I could certainly use other services, but the added value would then be limited from my point of view. As mentioned, I want to spend as little time as possible feeding the tools with my data.

I mainly go for premium software, meaning no free tools. Free providers are certainly good and useful to start. However, I noticed relatively quickly that then either the data protection has no high value or simply the features were missing.

So let's get to the concrete tool tips from me (not to be confused with a tooltip, but its use wants to be well thought out either way).

Acquisition and offers

Customer acquisition is the be-all and end-all for every freelancer. Without customers, there are no orders - and without orders, there is no income. I don't use any separate software for this, but have recently been holding back a bit more when it comes to cold calling. When I do, I make acquisitions with existing contacts directly at LinkedIn.

I try to make sure that the potential customer does not feel pressured. In this case, I usually proceed in such a way that I look at the corresponding WordPress website and then give concrete tips on what I would improve. Completely free of charge.

My recommendations for website improvement usually include technical aspects that a website owner is often not aware of.

Advantages LinkedIn-acquisition

  • Potential customers already know me because I am in their network
  • Very easy contact
  • Mostly very quick feedback

Disadvantages LinkedIn-Akquise

  • Can come across as a sales pitch
  • Unclear whether there is any need at all
  • Recipient simply forwards my tips to the existing webmaster and I gain little or nothing from giving away a free tip

For quotes I use the good old Microsoft Word, in my case for macOS. Of course there are some alternatives, but I just get along incredibly well with this tool. I know that's not the case for everyone...

What I also like about this is the full version model of Office. Unlike Office 365, I install the software completely on my laptop, pay for it once at the beginning and then never again. Updates are included, which I think is great.

Advantages Microsoft Word

  • No subscription model and therefore no monthly fixed costs
  • docx a very well known format
  • Easy export to PDF possible

 Disadvantages Microsoft Word

  • Some people have difficulties with the operation, for example when it comes to moving images.

Finally, I convert my offer in Word into a PDF, which is also very simple and quick.

For PDF files themselves I use my own tool: PDF Expert. What I particularly like about it is the option to add signatures and to be able to edit and annotate the PDF if necessary. Here, too, I rate the price/performance ratio as very good. 

Advantages PDF Expert

  • PDF files can be edited
  • Insert signatures or create new ones directly
  • Good price and one-time acquisition costs

 Disadvantages PDF Expert

  • none

Project Management

For smaller projects, I primarily use email for communication and logging. So far, this works wonderfully with my "Inbox Zero" principle.

For larger projects, I personally like Trello. The organization in tiles and columns makes it very easy to keep track of everything. If you work in a team, you can assign each task to a team member, add a description, pictures and links. A defined date per task (deadline) and reminders make it easier to keep the project on schedule.

Advantages Trello

  • Clearly
  • User-friendliness
  • Up to 10 team boards free of charge

 Disadvantages Trello

  • The default email notifications for tasks that are due soon can be nerve-wracking.

Time recording

Recently, the tool ValueTime has been helping me with time tracking. The web app was mainly developed by Jonas Kamber, UX designer from Lucerne (Switzerland). I notice this immediately: The UX or the user experience is impressively good. The functions and design elements are clearly and logically arranged.

To use the web-based tool, I simply registered and started by specifying how many hours I work on average per week, how many days of vacation I take per year, and my hourly rate.

Then you can already get started. Projects, the time per project, expenses (for example for Plugins) and of course the invoices are easily visible. The handling and creation of invoices and the recording of time are indeed very easy. 

The tool becomes more accurate over time and shows the following values, which are of high interest for every self-employed person with irregular income:

  • Turnover in the selected period
  • Time required in hours
  • Effective hourly rate in EUR, CHF or the selected currency
  • Billable hours in percent (unfortunately this is usually not 100%)
  • Turnover per working day
  • Time required per working day

However, the highlight for me remains the Dark Mode, which the tool also offers. I just like to read white on black and not vice versa.

Advantages ValueTime

  • Free trial (7 days)
  • Ingenious user experience
  • Fair price for all features
  •  Data location Switzerland and complete SSL encryption

 Disadvantages ValueTime

  • The standard overview can be adjusted temporarily, but the view always changes back to the last 30 days.
  • No reminders when an issued invoice becomes overdue
The Best Tools Freelancer and Self-employed People Need to Know About

Accounting

Since I don't employ any staff myself, I keep the accounting as simple as possible. Banana is completely sufficient for my needs. Furthermore, I only want to invest as much time as necessary, as this topic has not triggered any leaps of joy for me for a long time.

Advantages Banana Accounting

  • Perfect for self-employed and freelancers
  •  Double-entry bookkeeping possible
  • No subscription, easy on the budget

Disadvantages Banana Accounting

  •  Unsuitable for complex accounting
Accounting software in comparison

When an accounting software is useful for the management of your finances and what other free and paid providers there are, tells you Sven Scheuerle in his article.

Communication

A boring topic? Not at all. Without the right communication channels for you, it will be difficult to hold your own in the market. It is important that it is pleasant and easy for you as a freelancer as well as for your partners and clients to communicate with you.

Personally, I attach great importance to efficiency and the clearest possible communication. This is to prevent misunderstandings from arising in the first place. Because clarifying them is always very time-consuming, which you can avoid directly in many cases.

My most important communication tool is, old but gold, the e-mail. I have been using an encrypted solution for several years, namely ProtonMail. But there are also good alternatives from Germany, such as Tutanota.

Basically, I prefer written communication, because then I automatically find a protocol in the e-mail conversation. Of course, this only works if the communication is well structured and it is clear what the next steps are.

In certain cases, however, it is of course necessary to communicate verbally. For video calls I like to use Whereby, a tool from Norway. It's safe and, in my opinion, much better than the better-known Zoom.

Now you might be asking yourself, "Do you talk to your clients on the phone?" Yes, sometimes I do. But not in a traditional way, but better. A good friend recommended me some time ago to create a local Skype number. So that's what I did. Pretty ingenious solution, in my opinion.

I can still work from anywhere and take calls for free on my smartphone (via the Skype app) or directly on my laptop.

By the way, this was triggered by an email from Google itself, which pointed out to me that 90 percent of consumers are more likely to contact me if a phone number is stored in Google My Business. Google refers to a study, I searched for it, but unfortunately did not find anything. I guess I have no choice but to simply believe these numbers. Although faith is a different faculty.

The Best Tools Freelancer and Self-employed People Need to Know About

Also important for communication and above all personal organization: the calendar. I simply use the calendar app from Apple on my notebook and smartphone. Synchronizes (almost) flawlessly.

For larger projects I also like to use Slack for communication. The great thing about it is that 1:1 chats are possible as well as diversified channels. Are you already a member of the Slack community of RAIDBOXES? I can only recommend it.

As a web designer my daily bread in communication is of course the browser. I have long relied on Firefox, but now decided for Brave, which is based on Google Chrome (but without the advertising tracking via Facebook Pixel and Co.). That is, Brave blocks many external scripts, which is very important to me.

Backup, file storage and cloud

No, neither Dropbox nor Google Drive, sorry. I use Tresorit, which is also a solution that works completely encrypted. I even managed to hack myself once. If you want to know how that's possible, feel free to leave a comment below. The story is a bit longer, but all the more embarrassing.

Reviews and Testimonials

The Best Tools Freelancer and Self-employed People Need to Know About

For reviews from my point of view clearly the most important tool: Google My Business. I find it sometimes helpful, not least with restaurants or other cultural institutions, to read the reviews first. Nowadays (unfortunately) practically everything is rated, which does not always bring advantages. 

Final thoughts

I recommend the same approach with freelancer tools as with WordPress -Plugins: as many as necessary, as few as possible.

Tools should support you in your work and, if possible, in such a way that you do not incur disproportionate additional effort through their use. Nevertheless, with the help of the various tools you want to obtain data that will help you or that you can then use again at a later time (template for a quote in Microsoft Word or a sophisticated backup strategy).

Now I hope to have given you with this contribution a small but exciting insight into those software instruments, which I consider useful.

The best tools for freelancers: Your questions

Which tools do you use? Is there a tool that you think is missing that I should definitely try out? Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about new articles for agencies and freelancers? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.



Michael Hörnlimann, born 1991 in Zurich, loves nature and good food. Since April 2018 he has been working exclusively independently and creating WordPress websites on behalf of clients. He combines his work with his great passion, travelling to foreign countries and cultures. Michael lives and works wherever he is, sometimes in the mountains, sometimes by the sea.

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