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

7 Min.
FreelancerTools

There are almost as many tools and apps for freelancers as WordPress -Plugins. The challenge here is also to find the right tools for your needs. I present you 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 work efficiently. Totally 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, in my view, be limited at some point. As mentioned, I want to spend as little time as possible feeding the tools with my data.

I mainly rely on premium software, i.e. no free tools. Free providers are certainly good and useful to get started. But I noticed relatively quickly that either the data protection is not very important or the features were simply missing.

So let's come to the concrete tool tips I have given you (not to be confused with a Tooltipbut its use requires careful consideration either way).

Acquisition and offers

Customer acquisition is the be-all and end-all for every freelancer. Without customers no orders - and without orders no income. I don't use separate software for this, but have been a bit more reserved lately when it comes to cold acquisition. If, then I do acquisition with existing contacts directly on LinkedIn.

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

My recommendations for improving the website usually include technical aspects, which a website operator is often not aware of.

Advantages LinkedIn- Acquisition

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

Disadvantages LinkedIn-acquisition

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

For quotations myself 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, this is not the case with everyone...

What I also like is the model of Office as a full version. In contrast to 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 find 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 difficulty with the operation, for example when moving images

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

For PDF files I use my own tool: PDF expert. What I really appreciate is the option to insert signatures, to edit the PDF if necessary and to add comments. 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-off acquisition costs

 Disadvantages PDF Expert

  • none

Project Management

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

For larger projects I personally like Trello. In my opinion, the organization in tiles and columns makes it very easy to keep the overview. 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 easy to keep the project on schedule.

Advantages Trello

  • Clearly arranged
  • Usability
  • Free of charge up to 10 team boards

 Disadvantages Trello

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

Time recording

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

In order to use the web-based tool, I simply registered and at the beginning I determined how many hours I work per week on average, how many days of vacation I take per year and my hourly rate.

Then it can already start. Projects, the time per project, expenses (for example for Plugins) and of course the invoices can be easily viewed. The handling and creation of invoices and the recording of time are indeed very easy. 

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

  • Turnover in the selected period
  • Time expenditure 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 spent per working day

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

Advantages ValueTime

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

 Disadvantages ValueTime

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

Accounting

Since I do not employ any staff myself, I keep the bookkeeping as simple as possible. For my needs Banana completely off. Furthermore, I only want to invest as much time as necessary, as this topic has not been a source of joy for me for a long time.

Advantages Banana Accounting

  • Perfect for self-employed and freelancers
  •  Double-entry accounting possible
  • No subscription, saves 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 which other free and paid providers there are, tells you Sven Scheuerle in this article.

Communication

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

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

My most important communication tool, old but gold, is e-mail. For some years now I have been using a paid and encrypted solution, 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 orally. For video calls I like to use Wherebya tool from Norway. It's safe and from my point of view much better than the better known zoom.

Now you're probably wondering, "Do you ever talk to your customers on the phone?" Yeah, sometimes I do. But not in the classical sense, better. Some time ago, a good friend of mine recommended local Skype number to be created. That's what I did. Quite ingeniously solved, in my opinion.

I can still work wherever I am and receive free calls on my smartphone (via the Skype app) or directly on my laptop.

By the way, this was triggered by an e-mail from Google itself, which pointed out to me that 90 percent of consumers are more likely to contact me if a telephone number is stored on Google My Business. Google refers to a study, I have searched for it, but unfortunately I did not find it. I have no choice but to simply believe these figures. 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 for personal organisation: the calendar. I simply use the Apple calendar app on my notebook and smartphone. Synchronizes (almost) perfectly.

For larger projects I also use Slack for communication. The genius of it is that 1:1 chats are possible as well as diversified channels. Are you actually already a member of the Slack -Community of RAIDBOXES? I highly recommend it.

As a web designer my daily bread in communication is of course the browser. For a long time I used Firefox, but now I decided to use Brave, which is based on Google Chrome (but without the advertising tracking via Facebook pixels and Co.) In other words, Brave blocks many external scripts, which is very important to me.

Backup, file storage and cloud

No, not Dropbox or Google Drive, sorry. I use Vault, also a solution that works completely encrypted. I even managed to hack myself once. If you want to know how this is possible, please leave a comment below. The story is a bit longer, but the more embarrassing.

Reviews and testimonials

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

In my opinion, this is clearly the most important tool for evaluations: Google My Business. I sometimes find it helpful, not least for restaurants and other cultural institutions, to read the reviews first. Nowadays, (unfortunately) practically everything is rated, which doesn't always have advantages. 

Final thoughts

I recommend the same procedure for freelancer tools as for 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 expenses through their use. Nevertheless, with the help of the various tools you would like to receive data which will help you further or which you can use again at a later date (template for an offer in Microsoft Word or a sophisticated backup strategy).

Now I hope that this article has given you a small but exciting insight into those software instruments which I think are useful.

The best tools for freelancers: Your questions

What tools do you use? From your point of view, is there a tool missing that I should definitely try out? You can use the comment function. You want to be informed about new articles for agencies and freelancers? Then follow us on Twitteror Facebook , or subscribe to 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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