The old aphorism that “you get what you pay for” may serve well in some situations, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how many incredibly useful free tools I’ve encountered that have become invaluable to me in working as a freelancer.
Many of these will be very familiar to most freelancers and small businesses, but others are a little less known and might help you accomplish some of your business needs more easily and affordably.
Skype is probably one of the most commonly used and valuable resources available to web-based contractors and small businesses. The free account offers:
1) A real time chat function that allows for easy drag and drop file transfers between users
2) Both one on one and multi-person online phone calls
3) One on one video calls
4) Easy screen sharing between users
You may have to buy a microphone or webcamera to use the phone and video call features, if your computer doesn’t come already equipped with them (Macs usually do). For a relatively minimal costs, you can also choose to establish a skype phone number, enable calls to phone numbers (domestic and international) and upgrade to group video calls.
For small businesses with remote employees, skype is an extremely effective tool for helping bridge some of the difficulties that come with not being in a shared office environment. It makes communication between workers, customers, consultants and anyone else a company needs to be in touch with simple, without increasing costs.
For a freelancer, it allows you to work from anywhere with internet without losing the ability to be in touch with clients and partners.
I’ve already written a bit about how valuable blogging can be to a small business, and the same applies to any freelancer. WordPress is one of the most user friendly platforms for beginning a blog. Starting an account is simple and getting a blog into place requires no prior knowledge of html or web design. There are a wide variety of templates and different applications available to help make your blog look how you’d like it to and include the features you’re interested in. WordPress also has a powerful statistics module that helps track the number of visits made to your blog and where they come from in an intuitive fashion
Accounting is one of the more intimidating and painful aspects of running a business. Freshbooks is a free software that allows for the creation of customized invoices and easier tracking of business payments and expenses. It also offers a useful feature for tracking your hours by project and task.
Lazymeter is a simple tool for creating and tracking your to do list. You can add items to be completed right away or on future dates and check them off as they’re done. It’s a good way of tracking your progress and productivity and keeping items from falling off your radar during busier times.
Every business with a website should have a Google Analytics account. As with everything else on this list, it’s free and fairly simple to use. You can keep up with the number of visits to your website, what search terms and engines people are using to get to it, and what other sites and social media sources are referring hits to you. The data collected can then be used to improve your website copy and SEO strategy to help ensure you’re attracting the right audience for your products and services.
There’s a bit of overlap in the features offered by Wave Accounting and Freshbooks, Wave also allows you to create invoices and track business expenses and payments made. In my experience, they’re a bit more feature rich and useful for the latter tasks. You can easily track payments received from sources other than the invoices issued through Wave Accounting (not an option I’ve seen in Freshbooks) and the dashboard provides a handy visual representation of your account’s financial snapshot. Sure, you could use Excel to keep track of your income and expenses, but keeping up with spreadsheets can be a pain and Wave Accounting is much more visually intuitive. It also allows for integration with Freshbooks, so you can set it up to keep track of the invoices you create and send through Freshbooks without extra effort.