6 Awesome Free Tools for Freelancers and Small Businesses

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.

1. Skype

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.

2. WordPress

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

3. Freshbooks

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.

4. LazyMeter

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.

5. Google Analytics

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.

6. Wave Accounting

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.

SEO Best Practices: Blogging

Making sure your small business ranks well in the main search engines isn’t easy, but there are several SEO best practices that you can implement to increase the likelihood of achieving and/or maintaining a good ranking for relevant search terms.

If you spend any amount of time at all reading up on SEO, you’ll see the same mantra repeated over and over: content is king. Search engines are designed with the goal in mind of prioritizing websites that users are most likely to want to visit. Thus, if you make sure your website includes content that people are likely to be interested in and, consequently, link to, it earns your webpage virtual currency in the view of search engines.

For most businesses, descriptions of your products and business in and of themselves won’t necessarily bring the level of attention to your website that will encourage repeat visitors and links from related websites. One option for developing regular, enticing content is to begin a company blog.

The blog can be a mix of announcements directly related to your products and company, posts that speak more generally to your industry and any topics that are likely to be of interest to your customers. Its worth investing the time and resources into producing quality content whether you decide to maintain the blog yourself, or bring on writers to develop blog posts for you.

Starting a blog isn’t too difficult, many webhosting services have features that make it easy to install a WordPress blog. Designing it to look how you’d like it to and implementing SEO features can be a bit more of a challenge, but there’s a thriving support community for WordPress users and plenty of free templates, plugins and other resources to help you get started. You can always bring on a consultant to help create content and get your blog started.

If you’re still at a loss for the best topics to write about or how to get a blog going, spend some time seeking out blogs related to your industry to see what others are talking about. Seeing what works well for others is a good way to find ideas. Don’t be hesitant to leave comments and begin making yourself known as a contributor to the larger conversation happening about your industry online. A big part of developing a successful web presence is becoming part of an online community.