As freelancers, our time is finite. The more hours we devote to the minutiae of email, social media, and business admin, the fewer hours we have to spend on making a buck.
To help you cut down down on those necessary but time-consuming tasks that keep your business afloat, here’s a list of the tools and apps I use to lighten my workload.
Time Tracking and Invoicing
Worrying about tracking your billable hours, invoicing, and chasing down unpaid invoices, can kill your creative flow. Harvest automates it all.
In addition to time tracking and invoicing, the app lets you set up recurring invoices, and activate reminders to clients who still owe you money.
Unless you’re hyper-organized and numerically minded, you’re probably not thrilled about taxes, tracking expenses, bookkeeping, or accounting.
Expensify helps you create expense reports from imported bank statements and photos of receipts. Just snap a photo of your receipt, and Expensify's SmartScan function will attach it to the appropriate expense report. No more paper!
Bench automates the tedious task of bookkeeping entirely. Unlike DIY accounting software, it’s an online bookkeeping service that connects you with a dedicated bookkeeping team and uses simple software to do your books for you.
(full disclosure: I write for this company, and I’ve seen the relief they provide to freelancers like me who can’t stand financial admin).
Images and Graphic Design
Trawling through stock image libraries to find quality images is cumbersome. Check out Unsplash for high quality, easy to find, royalty free images.
Use Canva to quickly design and create images online.
And if you find that you’re briefing multiple design projects, check out Design Pickle. The service lets you submit unlimited graphic design requests to a pool of freelancers for a single monthly fee.
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Automate Your Inbox
They say there are two kinds of people in this world. Those with ‘inbox zero’ and those with enough unread emails to last a lifetime.
If you fall into the latter category (like me), use Sanebox. It eliminates junk email by bundling it all into one daily or weekly email so you can check it (or ignore it) all at once.
Unroll.me is a free alternative that allows you to opt-out one at a time or en masse.
Once your inbox is cleaned out, get quicker at replying to emails with Canned Responses. It’s a free feature for Gmail that allows you to create and send template replies at the click of a button.
Consider setting up templates to follow up with your best prospective clients and templates to politely turn down clients who aren’t a good fit for your business.
Monitor Trends and Competitors
These services send you an email any time someone tweets, shares, or writes about a keyword specific to your niche (e.g. your domain name, your brand, your competitors).
Make sure you’re quick to react to any breaking news or social conversation that could result in paid business.
Engaging with influencers in real time will help you to network and build an online following more efficiently. It will also increase the visibility of your professional profile, and encourage inbound enquires.
Client Relationship Management
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your solopreneur operation is “too small” to benefit from a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool.
These tools are great for cutting down on the time you spend converting new inquiries into paid business, pitching to clients, and tracking where your most profitable leads are coming from.
If you’re just getting started with CRM automation, check out Insightly. It’s free, user-friendly, and it integrates with Gmail.
Boomerang for Gmail is a great way to keep track of leads that go cold. If a prospective customer doesn’t reply to you, the app returns the conversation back to your inbox and reminds you to follow up.
Sidekick by Hubspot notifies you when people have opened your emails.
If This, Then That
This one’s slightly advanced, but IFTTT (If This, Then That) is the way of the future. It acts as a “middle man” between your apps and web services and gets them working together by creating helpful “recipes.”
Some of the more useful recipes for freelancers include:
- If a new contact is added to your address book, then you receive an email reminder the next day to follow up with them. This one’s particularly handy after a networking event (get the recipe)
- If you leave a GPS area, then send a text reminder to track mileage (get the recipe)
- If a receipt is received via email, then attachments are automatically saved to Google Drive (get the recipe)
- If you favourite a Tweet, then it gets saved in Pocket to be read later (get the recipe)
Similar to IFTTT, Zapier is an automation tool that links different apps and programs together. I use this integration to receive an email notification every time a new, relevant job posting appears on LinkedIN.
If you work remotely and you need to chat with your clients, don’t do it via email.
Create a channel in Slack instead. The chat app keeps team communication in one place where all stakeholders can view it, so there are no more broken email chains or forgetting to ‘reply all’.
It also lets you share hefty files, and integrates with a huge range of third party apps, such as IFTTT, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google Apps.
Traveling for work is great. Planning work travel? Not so much.
TripIt can help you cut down on the time you spend organizing your work trips.
It scans your inbox for flight, hotel, and car rental reservations, and pulls them all into one place. It syncs bookings with your work calendar, helps you locate alternate flights. And you can can even share your travel plans your client!
Using these tools won’t make your business run itself, but they’ll definitely give you some valuable breathing room so you can focus on your next big move or client project.
Wondering which tool is the right investment for you? Check out Kate Hamill's post 4 smart freelance investments.
Freelancers Union members get 20% off their first six months with Bench. Claim your free trial now.
Cameron McCool writes for Bench, the online bookkeeping service that pairs you with a dedicated bookkeeping team and uses simple, elegant software to do your bookkeeping for you.