Being a freelancer used to mean a gun-for-hire with no particular systems. Someone who would bring their skills to a project or deliver on a task, on a temporary or contract basis. And go where the wind — or the work — took them.
In the digital age, however, you can’t have a successful freelancer without pulling back the curtain and taking a look at the online apps that help make the show run like the well-oiled machine it should be.
All effective freelancers are only as strong as the tools they use to engineer their success.
Lesson one: you need to invoice on time to get paid on time.
Lesson two, you need an online app that not only automates your invoices but allows you to store client information in the cloud, take payments and view time logged. Enter apps such as MoneyPenny, which has solutions that let freelancers access past project quotes to properly estimate and bill for current project-related expenses. You can also give clients a snapshot and updates as to the completion status of their ongoing projects.
Clients now not only prefer online payments, they’ve come to expect it. For freelancers, especially those acting as “solopreneurs”, or contract workers, billable hours and time logged are just one aspect of work.
Invoicing like a boss doesn’t only mean taking payments. It means having a good sense of all the financials tied to managing the current state of your business, along with being able to forecast and review where you’re going. This is why the smart freelancer will look for a suite of functions, a solution, rather than just a tool.
Whether you prefer morning meetings or the afternoon is your in-the-zone time, finding the right tool to organize meetings and consult with clients is a must-have.
The bonus is using a tool, like Skype, which will hook up with other Windows apps, your Outlook account and your OneDrive online storage.
Some freelancers choose to have check-ins as part of the project’s contract and deliverables. It’s an effective way to stay accountable on your end while making sure that your client is updated and in the loop.
Meanwhile, others use Skype to run “discovery calls”. This is when there’s a prospective client who is looking to get more information about you and your services. You may not have listed your prices right away on your website, so you can take this discovery call session as an opportunity to sell yourself, your service and sign them on as a client.
Being a freelancer can mean a variety of things: you could operate as part of a team of other freelancers and combine your powers to form an agency. You could work as a collective of freelancers or sub-contractors. You could come on-board a company’s departmental team for the duration of a project.
Or you could simply have a need to communicate, through messaging, with a client halfway across the world using an all-in-one solution that doesn’t clog up your email.
Slack is the elegant and lean machine that combines old-school messaging, but it’s built specifically for collaborative teams and groups of learners on one project, under one umbrella. It allows for so much more than simply communicating in real-time. Slack has multiple channels that allow you to tag others. This way, conversations can be kept on-topic and only people who are tagged will receive notifications. Slack also has document and version control and the ability to download and upload multiple files.
Part of more than one team on the go? Simply install the Slack desktop app and add each team that will appear under your one account. No more lost passwords, missed connections or files floating in the ether.
No freelancer’s toolkit is complete without an app to access, read, edit, merge and use PDFs. These are the most common and flexible document formats around. You can use them to create fillable forms for client feedback or to run surveys, send clients proposals and contracts with signatures and even use them to create paid course materials.
The point of a PDF is that anyone, anywhere in the world can download, open and use or read them. But how do you create and edit them?
You’ll need an online tool like ZonePDF to help you do more than simply read, view and print. While browsers such as Chrome have extensions for PDF integrated, an online tool like ZonePDF allows you to go one step further. Everything stays in the cloud and is simply emailed to you so you don’t have to download any buggy software that might otherwise slow down your computer or a suite that may be over budget.
A free tool like ZonePDF lets you create PDFs from Word docs, convert PDFs to image files, merge, split and annotate. This is particularly useful when you’re working on shared projects remotely.
The power and familiar function of the Office Suite — Word, Excel and Powerpoint — under one set of applications: that’s the vision of Google Drive.
This is without a doubt one of the most powerful opportunities for version control, team sharing and editing. The best part about Google Drive is that anyone who has ever used a Microsoft PC in the 90s will be able to work it. Zero learning curve and absolutely no time onboarding.
You can control privacy based by toggling a switch on and off. Share whole folders across teams by turning on sharing or simply give access to one document by copying and pasting the link. Sharing privileges in Google Drive can get pretty granular. If you’re the original creator of the document, you can choose to transfer ownership, allows certain viewers to only view while others can edit.
When you want to do more than simply store online — when you want to create, control and share documents and spreadsheets and upload files to the cloud, either for client or team access, Google Drive is an awesome go-to.
Making live design changes means more than simply running meetings where other’s screens are viewable.
Yes, you can choose to run a “voice” call or share screens. But the app ScreenHero allows you to remotely control the other party’s computer screen. This means real-time edits for design change requests take no time at all. You can skip the heavy editing and explanations. Just log on to ScreenHero, take control of the shared desktop and start moving through the software. It’s powerful enough for budding coders and novice programmers to arrange pair-programming, a way to teach and learn how to code.
For freelancers, this tool is a time-saving ninja. Collaboration over content can now happen while both parties are present and each person can leave the meeting feeling like a task was accomplished.
And that feeling of productivity is a heroic feat in itself.
Main image courtesy of rawpixel.com.