There are a lot of articles out there that claim to showcase 50 or more ‘essential’ web and desktop apps for freelancers who want to run their businesses 100% digitally.
The reality is that anyone who claims there are 50 or even 30 ‘essential’ apps for freelancers probably has no clients and plenty of free time to fool around with software. I’ve been thinking about the absolute minimum essential software I need to run my business, and these apps need to be cross-platform (ideally web apps so that platform doesn’t even need to be a consideration) and have mobile apps or are easily accessed on a mobile browser.
That way I can move around as much as I want without ill-effect — or stay in my office without feeling like I’ve sacrificed features to have a more mobile set of apps. These are my results.
Tracking your time, invoicing your clients and managing projects are the kinds of administrative tasks that take up enormous amounts of your time as a freelancer. Things like tracking your time for accurate reporting and invoice even add an overhead when you’re in crunch mode, ignoring administrivia to focus on output.
Paymo is the Swiss army knife of freelancing. It’s got intuitive, unobtrusive time-tracking tools for a variety of platforms, quick and easy invoicing and robust project management. If you bill by the hour, you’ll find you get paid more with Paymo because you can capture your time and bill for it more readily than you can with alternatives.
With all your time tracked and invoices sent, you need to keep your books maintained as the money comes in — and as it goes out. LessAccounting provides a service that’s a bit like replacing your monthly visit with your bookkeeper, and is best used in conjunction with a service like Paymo. You can set it up with many banks to import your expenses and deposits each night.
One of the great things about LessAccounting is that you can add the assistance of a real bookkeeper with your plan — on top of the $30 monthly fee, it costs just $70 a month for 6 hours of bookkeeping help each quarter or $270 a month for 7 hours of help every month.
One of the most important practices a freelancer should implement is good contact management. Even when you’re swamped with projects, keep your rolodex maintained and keep in touch with those who you’ve met or who have shown interest (however faint) in your business.
While your vanilla Address Book app will work, a great application for robust contact management is Gist. It’s one of the first social contact managers, which makes it really easy to catch up on what a person has been up to personally and professionally before getting back in touch. Best of all, Gist is free, where many web apps of this caliber are quite expensive.
Social media marketing is all the rage, but for freelancers, word-of-mouth is much more important. That doesn’t mean social media isn’t important, though. With HootSuite, you can monitor a range of networks including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, post updates to each of them and communicate with other users.
Having one place to check, post and respond from is a real timesaver: you don’t have a lot of time to play around on social networks but you need to invest the time in strengthening the connections you make. HootSuite is probably the best solution for reducing the time you spend in that arena without reducing your effectiveness.
5. Google Docs
Google Docs is an obvious choice but far too essential to leave out. Every freelancer needs a place to write documents, a place to collaborate with others, and an easy way to share those documents with the intended victim.
For writers working digitally, it is obviously essential to have a place to create articles that can be shared with clients and exported in their most convenient format — from HTML to Word. Google Docs provides excellent organization and search facilities which are important for the high-output writer. And for other freelancers, proposals and reports are still a fact of life and Docs is the best option out there aside from some horrendously bloated and usually expensive desktop office suite.
Some might wonder why it is worth using Docs and Evernote. My biggest reason, and admittedly most superficial, is because I like to keep documents I’m working on, such as a proposal or article, in Docs and the clutter of web clippings, notes and brainstorms in another app — and that’s what Evernote excels at. Most of us need to take so many notes and clip a lot of information every day and it just drowns out the real work in Google Docs.
More importantly, it’s easier to get notes and photos into Evernote on the fly whether you’re on a desktop or mobile. Google Docs is too slow for quick capture tasks.
It’s obviously best to use a more professional email address on a domain that you own rather than an @gmail.com address, so it’s a good thing that you can do just that with Google Apps for Business. But there’s just no provider on the web that beats Gmail. The storage is massive for the free price tag and the webmail software is beyond compare.
If you’re using the email server from your ISP or hosting provider, switch to Google Apps and shut that inferior rubbish down.
Skype replaces a number of things and works well on just about any device you can throw at it, from the desktop to iOS and Android to regular phone handsets built for Skype.
With Skype you can set up a business number that you can take anywhere, make cheap calls around the globe and free calls to other Skype users. Most freelancers spend a lot more time communicating by instant message than by voice, and Skype makes a great replacement for other instant messaging services with great archiving for later reference. But you’ve probably been using Skype for years and it doesn’t need much introduction — just keep on using it!
Wunderlist is a fantastic task manager. I’ve traditionally preferred apps like OmniFocus that deliver a lot of task managing superpowers, but sometimes you just need to make a list and get it done. Wunderlist lets you do that with minimal fuss, and works on most desktop and mobile platforms.
It’s also got the simplest and best task sharing of the productivity apps, and this comes in handy for managing subcontractors and collaborators.
Designers and pirates will have Photoshop. Mac users have options like the wonderful Pixelmator. But to be sure you have access to quick and easy image editing — all of us in the digital professions need to at least resize and crop images on a regular basis — Aviary is a good choice. It lets you edit images, screenshot the full length of websites and so on for free.
These are the 10 essential apps to beat all essential apps lists. There are plenty of apps that are profession specific that aren’t included, such as Photoshop for designers and photographers and Maya for 3D animators, but these are the universal tools for running a freelance business anywhere, on any computer, with minimal fuss.