PLEASE NOTE NOTE: This is an archived blog post that has not been updated for a while, so quite a few of the tools suggested aren’t around anymore (although you should be able to find suitable replacements relatively easily).
One of the most frequent complaints I hear from freelancers is that they struggle to do everything they are expected to do to run their business. As a result, marketing always ends up at the bottom of the list, and they rarely get to it.
The good news is that there are some fantastic free tools and resources you can start using today to 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. Here’s my top 30:
Timekeeping and time recording tools
If you charge by the hour, you need a time tracking tool to know how much time you’re dedicating to each project so that 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.
If you charge by project or use another charging method (e.g. by word) an excellent online tool to add to your arsenal is FocusBooster. Based on the Pomodoro technique, it helps you keep your focus and tracks where your time goes, so you can take action if there’s an obvious Twitter/Facebook/name your Internet guilty pleasure leak. You can try it for free for a few days and if you like it upgrade to the full version, priced at $3/month – a small price to pay for a more productive work life.
My favourite time keeping tool is RescueTime. It sends me a report once a week telling me how many hours I have spent on your computer and what I have actually have been doing. I love to know where my time goes so I can keep track of my work/life balance. There is a free version and a premium version, check it out.
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 complicated 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 easy 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 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 generate any written material, particularly if it’s for a website or blog, must check out Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer. It’s a great tool to help you nail your headlines. Hemingway can help you write better, clearer copy for free, and so can Grammarly, which is a brilliant tool. You can try Grammarly at no cost, but I thoroughly recommend the premium version – it’s worth every penny.
If you need images to jazz up your online presence, Canva is a dream to use, and you can create beautifully polished designs for your blog or social media accounts for nothing or next-to-nothing. Pablo, a Buffer tool, is similar, but it’s mainly for social media.
For amazing Creative Commons that are free to use I like Unsplash (just remember to always credit and link back to the photographer) or Pixabay (to get that Karma flowing, buy artists a cup of coffee every now and then).
Project management and collaboration tools
For those of you spinning several plates at the same time, I strongly recommend keeping a project sheet for each project you’re working on. You can use a word processor or spreadsheet for this purpose. Just make sure to include essential data such as the client, date of the engagement, scope of the project, the price agreed, deadlines involved, contact names, that kind of thing. It’s straightforward but can help enormously.
If you are 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 corkboard able to store notes, images and chats. My tip? Pick the tool that best meets your needs (or the one your 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 and the desktop version of WhatsApp are my go-to solution for speaking or messaging people from my computer (I’m not a big fan of Google Hangouts), and Doodle is brilliant at getting people to agree on a time and a date.
Social media management tools
Entrepreneurs and small businesses often complain that managing their social media presence is very time consuming, 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 Buffer, Hootsuite, TweetDeck (Twitter only) and Friends+Me (Google+ only) do just that by allowing you to schedule social media posts in advance.
(On a 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 keep an eye on their social media presence. I’ve tried and tested a fair few, and my current favourites are Moz’s FollowerWonk (Twitter only) and Klout.
Finally, let’s talk about shortened URLs, indispensable when character space is so precious. 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. Speaking of which…
There are companies out there that make in a day what you will earn 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.
Free tools are great, but remember that you will need to embrace marketing if you want to grow your business. Read my tips on how to focus your marketing efforts and do marketing when there is no marketing department.
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