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Just as a gardener needs tools to grow a successful garden so does a business. When you start out on your own as a business owner or freelancer, you’ll find the next best course that will help you succeed with your niche or sign up for an ebook that will answer most of your business questions. We all need tools and systems for business, however we should focus on the basics to really move our business forward. There are some top business tools freelancers need to succeed and it’s not that shiny sparkly object that you spend $2,000 on and wonder why you needed it in the first place. Tools that make work and life easier!
Without the essentials, you’ll find your freelance business wandering out of sync and that’s the exact opposite of what you want for your business. Business tools that will keep track of business essentials, such as: contracts, email communication, website, design, social media, project management, day-to-day communication, scheduling, invoicing, and online payment solutions.
Yes, we’ve got lots to go through so let’s get to it!
Top Business Tools Freelancers Need to Succeed & Grow
Early on in my virtual assistant business, I found that contracts are extremely important for both myself and the client. Contracts set boundaries and provide details of what is to be expected by both parties. You can find many different types of contracts suitable for freelance work online, however you may find that some need additional clauses depending on the kind of work. I found my contract through a business coach and I only had to make a couple of changes, and it’s worked wonderfully. You can get the contract here.
When you do have your business contract ready for a client, how do you have them sign it? Gone are the days of faxing or emailing a contract for a signature. Everything is done electronic and there are many tools that can get this done quickly.
Here are a couple that are best for freelancers:
17hats (aff. link) is an amazing business tool and it doesn’t just help you get those contracts signed (you’ll learn more about them as you read on). This tool is an incredible time saver! It’s integrated with your email. Clients look at the contract and can sign immediately. Meanwhile you look like a genius!
HelloSign is great for freelancers, especially starting out, it’s free when you have 3 contracts to sign (per month) and then it’s $13/month for unlimited documents. It integrates well with Gmail and Google Drive.
Email is your lifeline. Not too many people pick up the phone to hire a freelancer and would you want to list your phone number out on the internet anyway? So yes, email communication is crucial. This is how you’ll get your gigs and market your business. First, make sure you get a personalized email address as firstname.lastname@example.org. This can be done through your website host or you can check these tips to learn how to do it a couple of other ways.
Once your custom email address is set, then you’ll need to start an email subscriber list to communicate with potential clients that are interested in your services. People love to receive free tips and advice! Be sure to provide valuable tips within your emails. You’ll need tracking and reporting on the emails you send out, this can’t be done with a Gmail or other typical email account. You’ll need to sign up to an email marketing provider such as these:
MailChimp (aff. link) is great to start off with as it is free, then when you’re ready to use more robust features like automation or your subscriber number increases then it’s $10/month or more. It provides tracking and reporting of who opens and clicks links on the emails.
Mad Mimi is also great to start off with because it’s free but then there’s pricing while you gain subscribers. It does the job of email marketing and you can track the campaigns. Colleagues who use Mad Mimi are devoted fans.
AWeber is a bit more of a monthly expense at $20/month but I hear a lot of people use them and love them.
There are so many email marketing providers and if you’re a new freelancer, these 3 that I mention would be the best to use until you’re ready to upgrade.
I’ve heard many freelancers state they started out working without a website but it doesn’t stay that way. You can’t rely just on social media to market your business. You need to have an online home. Think of it as your storefront. Eventually potential clients will want to know more about you to learn if you’re the person they’d want to work with. A website helps them make that determination. That brings me to your domain name. Be sure to grab your domain name of your business as soon as you can. GoDaddy is the most popular site to get that set up.
Here are a few website providers that can get you started:
WordPress.org is quite popular and customizable for any type of website. You’ll have to pay for hosting.
SquareSpace is a great option as well. Most people who are in fashion or lifestyle branding seem to choose this provider.
Wix is also popular and there’s no additional fee for hosting.
Take advantage of having your own website to display your portfolio, your services, and blog about your expertise.
You may be thinking, “What do I have to design?!”. Well… there’s quite a bit that you’ll need to design because the online world is a visual one. You won’t need to be a graphic designer but be able to do simple social media designs to market your services.
Here are a few design tools that will make you feel like Picasso:
Canva is incredibly popular with more than 10M users and counting. You can create flyers, business cards, social media posts, brochures, social media banners, and so much more. It’s an amazing tool! Here’s a post to give you a little more insight on what you can do with it. Canva is free to use but the premium feature of Canva for Work has awesome tools to help keep designs organized thus more efficient and productive.
Pablo is not as robust as Canva but it sure is easy to use especially if you use Buffer as a social media tool (which we will go over in the social media section. 😉 ) It’s free, it provides quotes, and photos. Of course, it allows an option to Buffer the image into your queue.
Snappa is also really easy to use, it is free to get started and you can upgrade to premium to create unlimited designs each month and connect up to 10 social media accounts. It provides photos, templates, and also integrates to Buffer.
Stencil is an easy and FAST social media design post tool! It provides quotes, high-res photos, and icons to choose from to create an amazing looking social media post for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. You can share them directly to social media platforms, Buffer, or download them. I go through the details on Stencil in this post.
Buffer… I know I’ve mentioned Buffer quite a bit and finally I can let you know how it works. Buffer is a great social media tool that you can use to share all your blog content and other source content. The app has a web extension, so when you see an article of interest and it’s of value to your audience then you can click on it to add to your queue of shared content. It takes all the articles and can be shared by their suggested times throughout the day or whenever you’d like to schedule them. You can share content through Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. It’s free version does great however it’s limited to 10 posts per platform at at time. The upgraded version, Awesome, is… awesome at $10 per month, you can schedule up to 100 posts per platform, which is such a timesaver. The analytics are great, you can see how each shared piece of content is performing.
Edgar is another amazing social media platform! Edgar works a little differently in that it uses a library of content. You can fill up a category like all your blog posts then several other categories that you can label that your audience would find valuable. You can keep adding articles by using their app extension while on the article you’d like to share or add it directly into Edgar. You’ll keep a calendar of scheduled posts according to category.
The library keeps its stock and all you need to do it keep adding new and fresh content into it. Edgar does all the rest and it’s wonderful to share old pieces of content that may never get shared ever again however Edgar takes care of that by sharing it all over again. Your audience may not have seen that blog post more than a year ago and they may need that information at that very moment, so how cool is that to provide relevant content years after. I highly recommend this tool to all my clients as well. However if you’re just starting out you may want to upgrade to Edgar when you can, the monthly fee is around $50 per month. You can use Edgar to share to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
CinchShare is another great social media platform that really focuses on the images (I like that!) because images are most likely to get clicked. The user interface is quite appealing and easy to understand. Posting to Facebook groups and events is a breeze. The monthly fee is $10 per month for posting to Facebook and Pinterest.
Getting work done on your own is easy but collaborating with a client can be a little tricky in making sure all tasks are organized. This is when a project management tool is best and there are several that are easy plus free to use.
Trello is amazing for project and brainstorming! I think of it as a big white board with notecards on it. You can invite team members or clients to the projects. List each card according to it’s category and list away all ideas that you have and tag fellow team members for their thoughts. There are color labels for organization and attach links for further details.
Google Drive is quite helpful since all documents can be stored within the Drive. Comments and links can be used on all documents. You can have a specific folder for a client with all projects and tasks within spreadsheets and docs. It’s easy access and it’s live editing, meaning you can both be in the project to go over changes.
Asana is great also and I know many people who can’t live with out it! It focuses on the tasks and completing one to get to the next task. Again you can invite and tag people in the tasks for collaboration. Link to details needed for ideas.
Basecamp is another great business tool and they offer a free trial. However it’s actually $29 a month and it’s gotten quite an improvement over the years. It’s more organized with sections for reports, to-do lists, message board, docs and files, and chatting.
Speaking of chatting…
Okay so email is great but you already have about a billion emails in your inbox… and now you’re trying to find an answer to the quick question you had for your client. This is a complete time waster. That’s why you need a day-to-day communication tool that you can quickly ask a question and get an answer. This is where chatting or messaging tools are amazing!
Skype™ has been around since for a long time and it’s easy to use. If you need to do a screenshare it can be done quickly with Skype. If you need to share a quick file, link, or a happy note it can all be done through Skype messaging. Easy peasy.
Slack is becoming HUGE. Everyone seems to be using Slack now. It’s a bit different from Skype since it integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, and other productivity tools. It’s all about channels. You can use private channels for clients and message them directly plus share files.
Getting a scheduled interview on Skype or phone call is wonderful! What can go wrong, right? Your potential client has to change the call and you’re going back and forth with dates and times. Or you call the potential client and it’s the wrong time since you had the wrong time listed on your calendar (Doh! That’s never happened to me… okay yes it has.) These things happen! Well to avoid all of these mishaps. You need a reliable scheduling tool. Here are a few to check out:
Assistant.to is awesome! Love this scheduling tool. It integrates with Gmail and Google calendar so everything scheduled is perfectly on my time and it integrates with the potential client’s calendar. They select the times that are available from your calendar, which are automatically inserted into your email. It’s wonderful. If the potential client needs to reschedule they can go their appointment email and click on reschedule. Super easy. It also works great if you have Outlook.
Calendly is another great option. Very simple and sleek, you pick and choose what times work best for you and it offers it to the potential client.
This is a very important business tool for any freelancer because we’ve got to get paid! Here are a few invoicing tools to take a look at:
17hats… yes, I mentioned this tool in the contract section earlier! It’s quite versatile and has many features to help any entrepreneur. Since it handles the contract portion, it functions as a CRM, organizing clients with invoicing and workflows. You can have a questionnaire completed and once that’s done, a contract can be sent to the client and when that’s signed, an invoice can be sent to client automatically. Nice, right? The annual plan comes out to about $24 per month.
Freshbooks is a cloud accounting software and can be used mobile or on desktop. It has time tracking, customizable invoice to include a logo and professional look, tracks expenses as well. It starts at $12.95 per month and increases as you grow your client work.
Invoice2Go is a wonderful mobile and web invoicing app. This is great for freelancers who meet with customers or are on the go quite a bit. The invoices can be customized with a logo and sent to the client directly via email. It has Apps2go which carries additional features for receipts, time tracking, mapping, electronic signing, scanning, and statements. The Starter plan is $49 per year.
Online Payment Solutions
This is SUPER important because obviously you’re looking to get paid!
PayPal is probably the most popular source to gain income directly to your bank account. People feel secure when using PayPal and clients will most likely use this tool to pay on invoices. The fees for selling is 2.9% plus $.30 per credit card charge.
Stripe is also a popular payment tool and can be integrated with invoicing. They charge 2.9% plus $.30 per credit card charge.
Square is a mobile friendly payment tool that accepts payments through a tablet or phone. They charge 2.75% per swipe or invoice.
Over 27 Business Tools That Freelancers or Entrepreneurs Can Use
Wow! Let’s wrap this up. This list of business tools seems overwhelming however I like to give several options for each topic. Not all tools are for everybody. I can talk with one colleague and find they don’t like Trello or one person may not like Cinchshare because they do a lot of tweeting so it’s not useful to them.
Basically you need to find the best business tools that will work for you and not what everyone else says works. Hopefully this list will provide a stepping stone into the right direction to choose the basic tools needed to succeed as a freelancer or entrepreneur.
Which of these tools do you like or would you like to learn more about? Let me know in the comments!