Five tech essentials for freelancers

May 4, 2017

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Modern technology is what allows many freelancers to live the working life they do. For a great number of us, our laptop is THE most essential tool of our trade.

The ability to make money with a laptop is a wonderful thing, but when the technology goes wrong, it can spoil our day like nothing else.

I have a slightly unique take on technology for freelancers, because in the past decade I’ve migrated from IT consultancy to freelance writing. I’ve morphed from a person who fixes computers to one who truly uses them. And despite my technical background, I’ve still managed to come unstuck a couple of times.

With that in mind, here are five tech essentials that I feel every freelancer should have covered:

A Backup Plan

A technical backup plan for a freelancer doesn’t just mean a regular backup of all data.

I truly hope everyone reading this at least backs up regularly, ideally both to an external drive and an online cloud service. Sadly, many years of IT consultancy lead me to suspect there are still a fair few people who leave things to chance. If this applies to you, go and run a backup right now. Please!

A true backup plan needs to go beyond a basic data backup. This is something I discovered myself several years ago when my MacBook decided to die on me when I was absolutely booked solid with freelance work.

At the time, my nearest Apple store was hours away and my deadlines were far closer than that. I had to bite the bullet and go to the nearest store to buy a replacement, deferring dealing with the faulty machine until time permitted.

It was an expensive day, but not as expensive as it could have been if I’d let down and lost the clients.

Ever since, I’ve ensured my backup plan also covers exactly what I will do if my main computer is broken, lost or stolen. When I next upgraded my Mac, I cleaned up the old one and now have it in reserve, frequently booting it up and checking it works. Whenever I get tempted to eBay it for some extra cash I remember that fateful day.

While it may not be feasible to keep a spare computer on hand, just in case, it’s worth some serious thought as to what you would do if the worst happened. Companies have disaster recovery plans – freelancers need them too.

Reliable Internet

A loss of Internet connectivity isn’t necessarily as disastrous as a computer failure, thanks to Wi-Fi availability almost everywhere you go. It’s generally possible to connect somewhere.

However, good connectivity is essential for freelancers. Being able to jump on a Skype call at a moment’s notice and have a smooth, clear conversation can make the difference between landing a new client or not.

A solid connection in your home or main place of work is a must, but it’s also worth having a fall-back option. In my case, that option is a decent monthly data package on my phone that allows me to use it as a 4G hotspot if there’s a problem with my main connection. It’s also incredibly handy whenever I find myself in a hotel or elsewhere with nasty, slow Internet.

Legal, Current Office Software

Only yesterday, I was doing work for a client and one of the people on the project had to request that a PowerPoint file be converted to PDF for them because they didn’t have PowerPoint.

Clients are not impressed by such things!

The days when buying a copy of Microsoft Office was a significant expense are long gone. It’s now sold on the subscription-based Office 365 model, so freelancers can always have an up-to-date copy for a small monthly fee.

Sure, it’s possible to get by with free Google Docs or something like OpenOffice, but Microsoft’s suite remains the industry standard. It simply doesn’t look that professional not to have access to it.

A Working Webcam and Microphone

A vast number of meetings now take place over Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts and similar systems.

Despite this, there’s always one person who struggles to get connected, or gets connected without anyone able to hear them.

You don’t want to be that person! Install these applications, use them and test them, because you never know when efficiently jumping onto such a call will be the start of a lucrative new contract.

Organized Email

Email is now an extremely well-established communication tool, but some people still really struggle with it.

It doesn’t matter whether this means missing emails, not having accounts properly set up for access away from the office, or not having an effective system in place to back messages up.

If you’re aware that you have email “challenges,” prioritize working out how to fix them, or pay someone to help you do so. You’ll spend far less doing this than you could lose if you inadvertently ignore a client due to poorly configured email.

I’ve detailed some more computer fundamentals for freelancers over on my website.

Ben has been a freelancer for over a decade, doing everything from IT consultancy to freelance writing and project management. His latest project is - a website dedicated to helping aspiring freelancers meet their goals.