This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti for Bidsketch, proposal software that helps creative professionals get more clients and grow their business.
Ah, the life of self-employment.
It is certainly a rewarding one, but remember, it’s a jungle out there.
Here at Bidsketch, we feel your pain: the internet offers such a vast ocean of resources that it can be hard to tell which ones are actually worth using.
I’d like to believe that this post will alleviate a huge part of that burden.
While it took many hours to write, edit, and re-write, it took countless hours of me procrastinating from my work and trying out new tools!
Let my many hours of exploration become your “cheat sheet” to the most worthwhile freelance and self-employment related resources on the web.
Not only that, I’ve grouped them all neatly for you, feel free to browse at your leisure and share this resource if you find it useful!
How to Avoid Procrastinating
It’s my personal belief that every massive list (especially one made for people that get things done) needs to come with a bit of a disclaimer.
My best advice for approaching large lists like this is to remember that you need theright resources, not the most resources.
Don’t get caught in the trap of signing up for every service (or checking out every site) below, pick the ones that fill a hole, solve a problem, ease a headache, and then… get back to work!
That being said, I hope you find some resources that make your life easier, it can certainly be to your advantage to keep up to date and informed on how to streamline your freelance business (or small-business team).
You can’t expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.
The Grand List
In order to make this list easier to approach, here’s the full thing broken down by topic for easy browsing:
- Project Management Tools
- Productivity Tools
- Email Apps
- Business Tools
- Customer Support Resources
- Customer Acquisition & Social Media
Project Management Tools
If you’ve ever struggled with brainstorming for large projects, this could be your savior. MindMeister is the best “mindmapping” application I’ve ever come across; before you give your next project a go, be sure to check it out.
If you’re not quite ready to step-up to Basecamp (more on that below), be sure to give FreedCamp a try. It aims to be a project management and collaboration tool that’s free for all to use.
This is necessary stuff for the pros who need to collaborate with other team members. This one-two combo will make sure you and your team (or contractors) are always up to date one what’s going on and what needs to be done.
Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and how far along certain projects are.
6. Google Apps
A must-use for almost anyone doing business online today, Google Apps for businesses has some of the best software on the web for keeping projects in line.
One of the simplest ways to send scheduled reminders to your phone. I use this when I have something that pops up on my schedule when I need a reminder (that isn’t big enough to warrant going on Google Calendar).
Stay on top with the things you need to do with this superb task management app. Also works inside of Gmail, so if you’re a user, be sure to check that out.
9. Teux Deux
This is definitely my favorite to-do app because of it’s minimalist design and simplicity. It came recommended by Seth Godin as well. You can use it to easily keep your daily “to-do” in order without the excess clutter or bloated features.
Going hand-in-hand with the Pomodoro Technique, this is a must use set of tools for me. If you’re a Chrome user, check out the second offering: it’s an extension that allows you to block sites for a “Pomodoro block” (25 minutes) so you can get work done.
Toggl is one of the best time tracking tools out there, and it’s simplicity makes it something that you won’t be scared to regularly use. You know that time is money, so make sure you’re utilizing your time to it’s potential.
This time-tracker, on the other hand, is to help you realize just where your time being spent in order to watch out for any slacking. You’ll feel guilt tripped about going to Reddit if you see that last week you sat there for 10 hours (for shame! ).
These two tools (pick your favorite) are fantastic for hanging on to essential notes and articles. Freelancers need inspiration, but you don’t want to get caught off-track reading 10 articles in a row, so make sure you use one of these to save them for later.
Maybe essential only after you sign up for all of these tools! Actually, 1Password can be a great way to save time and headaches by letting the app manage your passwords for you.
Most of us online have to write at some point during there day, it’s not something that only freelance writers need to do. In order to get it done quickly and with minimal distraction, be sure to check out ZenWriter, a full-screen writing tool.
If you are always forgetting to follow up with clients (or hate having to remember all of those follow up dates), be sure to check out FollowUp.cc, where you can schedule such things automatically.
If you want to get through a massive inbox in the shortest amount of time, you should definitely give The Email Game a whirl: designed to make tackling your inbox a fun challenge rather than a tedious chore, it certainly helps speed up the process of getting to “inbox zero”.
A very interesting take on email that incorporates algorithms that determine the importance of each email, moves unimportant messages out of your Inbox into a separate folder, and then summarizes them all for you.
21. TextExpander (Mac Only)
If you find yourself typing out the same emails over and over and over again, be sure to check out TextExpander, which can help you create codes to generate generic templates in a single click.
22. Gmail Labs
I highly recommend you check out some of the tools available in Gmail Labs if you haven’t already. One that’s been a great mini-time saver for me is the “Send & Archive” feature, which allows you to archive all emails that you reply to (clearing out your inbox faster).
This tool is more for managing leads, but it integrates nicely with both Gmail (for messaging purposes) as well as MailChimp (for lead generation purposes).
Okay, so we have a little bias for this one, but we think you’ll agree that the typical proposal process could use a major overhaul. Bidsketch allows you to cut down the time spent doing proposals so you can get back to doing the work you love, plus your proposals will look professional, even if you aren’t a designer.
Nothing can mess up your flow quite like billing hassles. Freshbooks makes billing clients a breeze, no more personal emails with hours and rate calculations, just input your time, your rate, the project name, and Freshbooks handles the rest. (Freshbooks also integrates with Bidsketch as an added bonus)
Being able to do your work online is great, and one of the perks is location flexibility. Make sure all of your needed resources are available by syncing your computer, laptop and smartphone with DropBox so your files are always a click away.
Possibly the fastest way to turn your pile of receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation.
If you are looking for a simple financial tool to help you keep track of expenditures and income, this is it! Not only is the design great looking and streamlined, Mint is also very easy to use.
If you’d like to accept calls online and want to upgrade from Google Voice, be sure to give Grasshopper a go, it’s a great service with a hilarious marketing sense.
All sorts of documents for professionals to utilize… you’ll see below just how much I hate doing paperwork!
The bane of people working for themselves HAS to be the paperwork! Outside of terrible customers, this is the most annoying thing there is. Cut down on your time spent by using LegalZoom.
A great service that aims to make accepting credit cards online as easy a process as possible.
Customer Support Resources
The perfect app for capturing and annotating screenshots to help customers when they run into problems.
Great little live-chat solution to implement for customers who want to get in touch with you before their purchase or for support afterwards (to avoid excessive emails).
Getting useful, candid feedback can be tough. Hively seeks to solve this problem by adding a fun element to getting feedback and rewarding your co-workers and contractors.
Join Me allows you to connect with customers (even if they don’t have an account) and show them what’s on your screen. Perfect for helping clients with tasks that may be over their head.
37. Help Scout
Disclaimer: I work for Help Scout.
Help Scout is an invisible help desk that allows you to manage support emails from an organized interface, while your customers don’t see anything but a personal email from you.
Customer Acquisition & Social Media
Blogging has come a long way since it’s inception on the web. Blogs today are useful tools for lead generation & for acquiring new customers as you show off your expertise with well written content relating to what you do.
While there are many others, these are my two favorite email marketing tools. If you don’t know, you’ll find out now: more people buy through email than through any social network out there, so be sure that you’re creating leads through your blogging efforts.
There are a number of great tools out there for analytics & measuring conversions on your homepage. My favorite as of late is the often underrated Google Analytics and the inbound marketing suite from HubSpot. If potential customers are hitting your freelance homepage or small-business site, make sure you are optimized for conversions and know who is sending you traffic.
Twitter can be a serious waste of time, especially if your tweets aren’t getting sent out when people will see them. Find out when your followers are online the most with Tweriod.
After you’ve figured that out, be sure to schedule your updates with the BufferApp to make sure you’re always sending out interesting content at the right times.
Pluggio is the tool to use to take back your time from social networks. Manage multiple accounts from a single dashboard, schedule, drip, automate and even include team members, this app let’s you knock out all of your social media obligations at once.
If you need to incorporate video into one of your projects (like how a former WordPress freelancer created WP101), Wistia is the go-to choice. Self-hosted videos with great analytics, and they are super reliable.
47. General Freelance & Smart Finance Blogs
These blogs cover the general topics of freelancing, moneymaking, networking and productivity. Great for beginning your side-hustle journey.
The biggest freelance related site in the world, this Envato powered behemoth has freelance related posts that cover ALL aspects of being a freelancer. A must read for beginners.
Ramit is a controversial personality, but his insights on utilizing social psychology and tested “scripts” when dealing with clients is incredibly useful.
c.) Pocket Changed
Caleb’s blog is not necessarily about freelancing, but is is about breaking away from the ties of the cubicle. I especially enjoy his podcast and the Get Paid Manifesto.
Authored by James Clear, this blog is all about making more money from your side hustle. James has some great posts in areas that aren’t usually covered very well; check out this article on networking tips as an example.
WorkAwesome provides life hacks and tips and on how to be productive at work. Even if your work is conducted from your home office, this blog can be a great resource.
48. Writing Blogs
The following blogs all specifically pertain to making a living as a freelance writer or on improving the craft of writing (a useful skill for anyone to utilize).
A fitting name! Carol is a very prolific writer who I’ve seen on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, and everywhere in-between. If you are looking to take your writing gigs from part-time to full-time, this is a blog you need to read.
b.) Young Pre Pro
Onibalusi has made an entire career out of his freelance writing endeavors. Not only is he a great writer, but he also knows how to acquire customers, and a lot of his content can help you in those areas.
A blog told through the perspective of Tom Ewer on how he left his former world of work to pursue a life as a full time freelance writer. Tom shares a ton of great articles that cover numerous aspects of the freelance (and online income) lifestyle.
Linda Formichelli makes a living as a full-time writer, and to date she has written for over 130 magazines. Her blog covers how to break into being a better freelance writer, and what it takes to do it full-time.
e.) Write to Done
This is like the ZenHabits of writing blogs. Posts here focus on getting things done on your writing schedule, along with turning each of your articles into a more memorable read.
49. Web Design Blogs
Blogs on the art and science of great web design. From resources to creating beautiful designs that convert more customers, be sure to check all of these out.
a.) Design Break
This is Rafal Tomal’s design blog, and it’s awesome! Rafal works for Copyblogger Media, and as such, he has a great eye not only for good design, but also for designs that convert.
b.) Smashing Magazine (and related sites)
SmashingMag has turned into a large conglomerate of sites relating to web design, so be sure to check out these satellite sites in addition to the main site.
This blog covers all the bases on the topic of web design. A great place to look for inspiration and new tutorials as well.
d.) Treehouse Blog
Formerly ThinkVitamin, this blog now focuses on skill-related posts in the areas of web design and web development.
e.) Premium Pixels
I mean, how can you not love all of those delicious freebies that Orman is always handing out? One of the best places for PSDs, graphics and more.
50. Marketing / SEO / Social Media
I know a few of the Bidsketch users are freelance marketers of all types. Even if you aren’t a marketer, these sites can help you understand how to better market yourself and acquire more customers.
a.) KISSmetrics blog
One of the better marketing sites that has an interesting focus on conversions, analytics, design, and even psychology.
If you’re interested in SEO or just want to figure out how to rank for “Web designer [your city]“, this is where you should get started.
For your social media fix. There are a lot of social media blogs out there, but this one is pretty consistent and by far the largest.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Whew, that was a massive list, so thanks for reading and for making it to the bottom!
Now I want to hear your opinion:
- I gotta know: What are some tools that you use that weren’t listed here? Any of them solve a big freelance/entrepreneurial headache?
- Which of the tools listed is your favorite?
Thanks for stopping by, I’ll see you in the comments!
Latest posts by Gregory Ciotti (see all)
- 50 Essential Resources for Online Freelancers & Entrepreneurs – August 29, 2012
- 5 Psychology Studies for Smarter Web Design – July 23, 2012