One of the most frequent complaints I hear from freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners is that they don’t have enough time to do anything, let alone market their services.
The good news is that there are some amazing tools and resources you can start using today for free that will boost your productivity and help you grow your business. The bad news is that, once you put them in place, you’ll have no excuse not to do any marketing because of lack of time.
Online tools and resources are changing all the time, but here’s my top 10 that you must try today.
Time keeping and time recording tools
Do you charge your work by the hour? You’ll need a time tracking tool to know how much time you’re dedicating to each project, so you can bill accordingly. There are gazillions of them out there, but I’ve heard good things about Toggl. It’s simple, it does what it says on the tin and it’s free. What more could you ask for?
If you charge by project, or use another charging method (e.g. by word), a good online tool to add to your arsenal is FocusBooster. Based on the Pomodoro technique, which recommends working in 20 minute bursts to keep productivity levels up, it helps you work better by staying focused (duh!). It will also tell you where your time goes, so you can take action if there’s an obvious Twitter/Facebook/name your Internet guilty pleasure leak.
FocusBooster offers a free starter option capped at 20 x 20 minute sessions per month. You can always try it for a few days just to see where your time goes, then stop using it. Or you can push the boat out and upgrade to their individual option, priced at a whooping $3/month – a small price to pay for a more productive work life.
If you don’t use an online calendar yet, get one today and start scheduling your work pronto. Planning your week will help you use your precious time much more effectively, and may well make you less likely to go down the social media rabbit hole.
To-do list and task manager solutions
It can be as simple or as complex as you want, but if you’re juggling different projects at the same time, you need a task manager tool to keep your sanity. To manage my to-do list I use the Reminders tool on my Mac. It’s simple and it allows me to add, ahem, reminders to each of the items, and keep different list categories (e.g urgent, this week, this month) at the same time.
I’ve also tried Evernote, a classic note taking app that has been around for donkeys in Internet years, but use the free version at your own risk (it’s highly capped – if you like it, upgrade or you will end up quite frustrated). Fellow freelancers also talk wonders about Todoist and Wunderlist, both of which are available for free and include additional capabilities, such as collaboration features and the ability to prioritise.
Content and basic imagery tools and resources
If you write any kind of content marketing, such as writing for a website or blog, and you’re writing your headlines au naturel, you must check out Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer. It’s an absolutely amazing tool. Hemingway can also help you write better, clearer copy, although I have to admit that I don’t always use it (it can eat up a lot of time, even if the results are admittedly good).
If you need any kind of imagery for your online presence, be it social media, a blog or a banner of some description, Canva is a dream to use, oh-so-easy and able to deliver beautifully polished designs for nothing or next-to-nothing. Pablo, a Buffer tool, is similar and I’m told it’s almost as good for social media purposes only.
For amazing images that are Creative Commons and free to use I like Unsplash (just remember to always credit and link back to the photographer).
Project management and collaboration tools
For those of you spinning several plates at the same time (and who doesn’t), I strongly recommend keeping some kind of basic project sheet for each project you’re working on. You can use a basic word processor or spreadsheet for this purpose. Simply make sure to include basic data such as the client, date of the engagement, scope of the project, price agreed, deadlines involved, contact names, that kind of thing. It’s very simple but can really help.
Hungry for a more sophisticated approach to project management? There are plenty of free tools that can help you boost your freelance project management abilities. As a big plus, they tend to have team collaboration features that come in very handy when you’re working with other people.
Slack, a tool self-branded “the email killer” that includes instant messenger and themed channels for different conversations, has been the star of the show for a while. Trello is similar but works with a much more visual approach, creating a sort of digital cork board able to store notes, images, chats and all sorts of things. My tip? Pick the tool that best meets your needs (or that your other collaborators use) and stick with it, because there’s always a learning curve.
You’ll also need file sharing and communication tools. Some project management tools, such as Slack, come with file sharing included, but my favourite standalone solutions are Google Docs and WeTransfer, with Dropbox a close second. Skype has been my go-to solution for speaking or messaging people from my desktop for ages (not a big fan of Google Hangouts), and Doodle is simply the best at getting people to agree on a time and a date.
Social media management tools
Entrepreneurs and mall businesses often list managing their social media presence as one of the top time consuming tasks on their to-do list. But there’s an easy solution. If you still haven’t tried scheduling your social media posts, my friend, get started now. At least give it a try. One of the most effective ways to improve your productivity is to batch task, and with Buffer, Hootsuite, TweetDeck (Twitter only) and Friends+Me (Google+ only) do just that by allowing you to schedule social media posts in advance.
(Side note: Hootsuite and TweetDeck are slightly baffling to the uninitiated, so you may find you need a YouTube tutorial or two to get started).
There are lots more free social media tools out there that you can use to analyse, monitor and generally keep an eye on their social media presence. I’ve tried and tested a fair few, and my three current favourites are Moz’s FollowerWonk (Twitter only), Klout and Affinio Discovery, which by the way is a lot of fun to use.
Finally, let’s talk about shortened URLs, indispensable when character space is so precious (I’m looking at you, Twitter). Many of the social media scheduling tools include the use of their own URL shorteners, but I use the standalone tool Bit.ly. I just like their puffer fish. Oh, and the analytics. Which brings me nicely to the last lot.
Google Analytics, Google Analytics, Google Analytics. There are companies out there that make in a day what you will make in the next thirty years, and they still use Google Analytics. So, if it’s good enough for them, why shouldn’t it be good enough for you? Get it set up correctly (pay for external help if necessary, or even better, learn to do it yourself – check out Udemy for quality training at a very reasonable price) and start using it.
Do you know any other tools that other freelancers would benefit from? I’m always looking for new suggestions to try and share so please leave your comments below!
Image: Sue / CC