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12 Essential Freelance Tools That Will Keep Your Business Running Smoothly

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Update: I no longer use Dropbox or MailChimp. Instead, I’ve replaced these tools with Trello and ConvertKit. I now exclusively use Google Drive for cloud storage.

Being in business for yourself comes with a lot of added responsibility. Gone are the days when you can focus on your work and leave the billing, scheduling, client management, project management, and new business development to someone else.

As a freelancer, it is now part of your job to handle all of these tasks on a daily basis and to continue improving them over time. To do that, I regularly use these 12 tools to keep my freelance design business running smoothly:

1. Harvest

Harvest is a simple, elegant, and professional application that allows you to track time by creating clients, projects, and tasks. To track time, you can start and stop a timer, or manually enter your hours at the end of the day.

The platform also has advanced reporting features that are invaluable for keeping a birds-eye view of where your time is being spent.

When you’re ready to invoice your clients, Harvest makes it easy by letting you create one based on hours logged or you can choose to create a free-form, open invoice. You can also create expense reports and include them with your invoices automatically.

Harvest is a fantastic tool for solo freelancers like myself or entire teams of people. The folks at Harvest really have thought of everything and in my opinion, it is well worth the investment. So far, there’s nothing I can’t accomplish with Harvest.

Website: http://harvestapp.com
Used For:
Time Tracking, Invoicing, Expenses
Cost: $12.00/mo
Mobile App: Yes

2. Smartsheet

Smartsheet is an incredibly robust web application that lets you create various types of sheets such as gantt charts, tasks lists, and classic spreadsheets complete with dynamic formulas. This flexibility allows you to manage several parts of your business all in one place.

Primarily, I use Smartsheet’s gantt chart feature to keep track of my various project schedules and quickly see when I will have availability for new work or a nice vacation.

However, I also use the sales sheet to manage new business development such as what projects I have won and lost, their worth, expected close dates, and basic client contact information. It’s also where I keep track of ideas for my newsletter and on what dates they should be released.

Smarsheet is a beautiful and powerful tool with seemingly infinite customization options that I would have a hard time living without.

Website: https://www.smartsheet.com/
Used For:
 Scheduling, Sales, Project, and Task Management
Cost: $16.00/mo
Mobile App: Yes

3. Mint

Mint is an extremely popular financial tool that allows you to manage your money all in one place. You can easily link multiple bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and other assets. Then, Mint helps you create goals for monthly spending and long-term investment.

I use multiple bank accounts and debit/credit cards to keep my business and personal expenses separate. Mint allows me to see all of my transactions from every card and account in one master list where I can manage their categories and tags.

With Mint, I can easily track my monthly spending habits and make adjustments accordingly. When tax season comes around, I can quickly access a list of write-offs based on dates and actual dollars spent.

Website: http://mint.com
Used For:
 Banking, Finance
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

4. Clear

After years of using Doomi, an ancient Adobe Air app I recently abandoned, Clear has quickly become one of my favorite freelancing tools. Every single day I have personal and business tasks that I need to remember.

Clear helps me quickly organize and prioritize these tasks and as an added bonus, it also looks amazing while floating on my desktop. A non-negotiable feature in the eyes of a designer.

Clear is also fun to use because it’s almost entirely gesture-based, sporting only a single menu button in the desktop app that allows you to quickly switch between lists. Personally, I only use clear on the desktop, but they do have a amazing mobile app as well.

Website: http://realmacsoftware.com/clear/
Used For:
 Task Management
Cost: $10.00 (Desktop) / $5.00 (Mobile)
Mobile App: Yes

5. Gmail/Inbox

This one should be obvious. Gmail is hands down the best email client on the market. But no matter what email client you prefer, there is nothing more intimidating than logging into your account in the morning and seeing hundreds or even thousands of emails, even if you have addressed them already.

That’s why I use my Gmail inbox as a to-do list and keep all my emails in folders or labels. When a new email arrives, I do some combination of these four things: respond to it, label it, archive it, or delete it.

This helps keep my many various conversations extremely organized. Gmail is free and currently supports 2 powerful desktop and mobile apps.

Website: http://gmail.com
Used For:
 Communication, Online Services
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

6. Slack

Slack is one of the hottest new productivity apps that has hit the market in a long time. It’s essentially a supercharged messaging app that allows you to direct message people (replacing IM and email), or message a channel (replacing group texts and emails).

One of Slack’s best features is its ability to integrate with almost anything. Is your company using Google Drive, Bitbucket, Stripe, Trello, Dropbox, or Twitter? Slack brings customizable updates from over 75 online services right into slack for you.

Slack helps keep your inbox clean and your productivity level high. You can also use Slack for multiple different companies and teams, providing the flexibility and scalability you need when working with many clients each year.

Website: http://slack.com
Used For:
 Communication, Productivity
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

7. Google Drive

As you probably know, Google Drive is a powerful cloud-based file sharing tool. It also boasts some of the most powerful and advanced live collaboration features available today. You can instantly share and edit Word, Spreadsheet, and Presentation documents with anyone.

I personally use Google Drive to create, store, and share my project estimates, blog articles, client documents, personal spending/income spreadsheets, and more. But why not just use Dropbox?

Well, aside from the word processing features, I love the way Google Drive integrates with my email account and contact list. It has never been easier to share documents and large files with my clients.

Website: http://drive.google.com
Used For:
 File Sharing, Productivity
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

8. Google Analytics

If you are in business for yourself, it is imperative that you have your own website. You don’t necessarily have to code and host the website yourself, but if you do, be sure to spend a few extra minutes integrating Google Analytics.

Having a website is great, but do you really know anything about your visitors? Google Analytics can tell you where and when your visitors are on your website, their navigation path, what they click on, what they ignore, their demographic information, computer settings, and more.

This information can be used to improve your sales and marketing strategy by testing new layouts, structures, and verbiage on your website.

However, the cloud-based software has strict policies and will not disclose any personal or private information about your visitors such as name, address, phone number, email, etc.

Be sure to install Google Analytics on your website and recommend that your clients install it on theirs too.

Website: http://www.google.com/analytics/
Used For:
 Web Traffic Analysis
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

9. Google Calendar

If you are running a healthy freelance business, you probably schedule at least a few meetings each week. Once again, Google has the answer with an awesome cloud-based calendar system to handle just that.

With Google Calendar, you can create and share multiple calendars and integrate them with almost any other app you like, such as the default Calendar app for iOS. I personally have two calendars that I use to keep track of daily meetings and events. I always keep it on “Week” view to keep a birds-eye view on how busy my week is.

One calendar is for work and business related meetings (red) and the other is for personal meetings such as coffee and dinner with friends and family (green). This helps keep my calendar (and therefore my life) simple, clean, and well-organized.

Website: https://www.google.com/calendar/
Used For:
 Personal and Collaborative Scheduling
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

10. Trello

I use Trello to organize my daily and weekly tasks. I have a list for each day of the week and a card for each task. Then I moved tasks between lists and eventually onto a “Completed Tasks” list at the far right of the board. So far it’s worked well and helped me stay on track as a full-time freelancer. Trello is extremely flexible so you can use it to organize tasks and files, or manage client projects and collaborations.

Website: https://trello.com/
Used For:
 Task Lists, Organization, and Productivity
Cost: Free!
Mobile App: Yes

11. ConvertKit

An email subscription platform might not be essential to everyone’s freelancing business, but if you want a powerful way to building an audience via email, ConvertKit is my preferred weapon of choice.

Unlike MailChimp, ConvertKit sends simple, text-only emails that are proven to engage more subscribers. I personally use it to manage my newsletter. The platform allows me to create simple, customizable sign-up forms that lives on my blog, tag subscribers based on their actions, and automate response emails.

The platform is highly flexible, customizable, and scalable. You can create multiple segments to manage different types of subscribers. For example, you can create a client list and a freelancer list to intelligently and automatically deliver unique content.

I actually started my newsletter using MailChimp, but quickly realized that the segmentation and automation features were lacking. ConvertKit is the better long-term decision. Find out more about why I switch here.

Website: https://convertkit.com
Used For:
 Email Subscription and Customizable Sign-Up Forms
Cost: $29/mo for up to 1,000 subscribers
Mobile App: No

12. WordPress

Again, WordPress might not be totally essential to your business. However, it is fantastic for blogging and updating the content on your website. I actually run the blog section of my website on WordPress while the rest of it is static HTML/CSS/JS files.

There are many alternatives to WordPress (some better and some worse), but I like it because of the seemingly infinite customization options and little knowledge it requires to use. Plus, once it’s installed, it can make editing content much easier for you and your clients.

It’s not always easy to work with the WordPress framework from a development standpoint, but the platform is widely supported and has a massive knowledge base in case you get stuck.

Website: https://wordpress.org
Used For:
 Website Content Management
Cost: Free
Mobile App: Yes

When it comes to running a business, everyone has their preferred set of tools. There is no magic setup or special combination of apps for maximum productivity and organization. It’s all based on your personal preferences and style of work. Currently, these are some of my favorite ones and I hope that some of them can become yours too.

Last updated on October 7th, 2020

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.