Ever feel overwhelmed? Stuck in a rut? As a freelancer, you promise to not waver. You vow to persist. You will take control of your life, yes, but right now work feels just a bit too much. Your task list towers like the pile of laundry you’ve yet to sort out. You need systems. You need tools that will help you reclaim order in your freelance life and thereby produce work that matters and sings.
Luckily, there are tools you can take advantage of. And more importantly for you, dear solopreneur, there are apps that can help revert you back to productive heights you’ve enjoyed before, and they’re quite affordable apps, too.
But as the ol’ adage goes: It’s not the bow and arrow; it’s the archer. Let that be your takeaway from this extensive unpacking of the best productivity apps that won’t break the banks of freelancers and solopreneurs like you. Some don’t even cost a penny.
Looking for something specific? Jump to the productivity management categories you need!
Essentials: Productivity apps I cannot live without
A huge bulk of my work’s success may be attributed to Trello. Its intuitive UX makes it really easy to create editorial calendars, freelance client CRMs, project dashboards, goal setting, or really, anything that suits any requirement. I use it every day to track all my projects so that I’m on top of everything relating to my freelance work.
Todoist is a really smart task management tool. It helps me sort out my to-do list by way of priority, duration, and designated projects. But its indispensable feature has got to be the Smart Scheduler, which, through algorithms, automatically suggests a schedule from the words you key in for the task. It saves me a few clicks and offers me peace of mind, knowing that I’ve saved my task at my chosen schedule and that I’ll be notified.
The granddaddy of note-taking apps, Evernote offers the most effective solution for creative professionals and business owners. Its features, while reliable and robust, are very intuitive and flexible to suit most people’s needs. It’s my go-to app for when I need to take a quick note or when I have a million-dollar idea I need to put on paper (well, not technically “paper,” but you get the point). Plus, there are great add-on features, chiefly the Web Clipper, which allows me to save web pages as notes for later reading.
Getting paper: Making sure you get paid
Contracts. Don’t ever work without them. The valiance of our work is helping great companies solve great problems. The trouble is there are also not-so-great, pesky clients who can prolong payments—or worse, not pay at all—unless they’re legally bound. Bonsai makes it easy for freelancers to make sure this doesn’t happen. It’s a whole suite of tools essential to freelancing, including invoicing, proposals, and project management.
If you’re just starting out, you’re probably pulling your hair out from sorting out the mess that is your finances. Why not turn to our technological overlords and try such apps as Wave? It’s a turnkey solution for freelancers who are losing the financial battle when it comes to payments, cash flow, and more. Make no mistake: though Wave is a free app, it comes packed with great features I’ve been enjoying since the first day I’ve started using it, chief among them are the gorgeous invoice templates.
To those who need a more complex and flexible solution, cast your eyes to Freshbooks. It’s designed with small business owners and solopreneurs like yourself in mind. It edges out Wave by a few premium features, being that it’s a whole suite of tools essential to anyone from self-employed professionals to fully-fledged agencies. Although it isn’t free, it’s still a steal at $15/mo., which gives you (or your accountant) a generously-sized room to play with in terms of features. Freshbooks also offers a 30-day free trial.
Searching for free invoice generators, apps, or templates? Look no further.
Client management: Keeping clients happy
I use Typeform a lot. Its standard use is surveying, but it can be more vital to your business than that. I, for example, use Typeform to collect information from clients before even considering working with them. Such a process is called “roadmapping,” fulfilled in a bid to determine whether a prospective client is a good fit. Setting a roadmapping questionnaire is easy, thanks to Typeform’s clean and intuitive interface.
How do you communicate with clients? Surely email is on the table. But here’s the thing: email is a little too congested; it actually deters rather than enable creative professionals like yourself to produce awesome work. Slack is a much better solution. I have one set up for my team, and there we bounce around ideas in real-time, as though we’re high schoolers bickering on an iMessage group chat. It’s a lot of fun—especially with the Giphy integration—and though it won’t replace email anytime soon, it makes things more interactive, efficient, and faster.
I’ve heard many great things about Basecamp that it warrants its spot here. I’ve only tried using it a couple of times, but in those few times, I’ve been consistently impressed. Its key features, mostly directed at the client-worker interaction during a project, I can easily replicate in Trello, an app that I’m more familiar with. Like Trello, it makes the work process more streamlined and involved, especially because the client gets to pitch in their ideas. Basecamp is a premium app, with a 30-day free unrestricted trial for new users.
Timesavers: Apps that save you time through automation
IFTTT, which stands for “If This, Then That”, is a great productivity tool. Its premise is simple: you make recipes, formulas that connect apps through a triggering action that deploys an automated sequence from one app to another. For example, you can set up an IFTTT recipe that automatically saves your Instagram posts to a Google Drive folder. Great, huh? I know. I’ve been using it for years, and have shaved off a great fraction of that workload. You should try it, too.
Streak is an app that enhances Gmail. It offers a complete solution to those looking to make email better. And that’s us—freelancers and solopreneurs wanting to cut as big a time as possible from crafting, sending, and returning emails. Streak helps by enabling a number of features, including email tracking, mail merging (perfect for sending an email to a lot of people), and even an intuitive CRM you can use right inside Gmail. The service is free, but Streak also has premium options should you require more robust and complex solutions.
Calendly solves the biggest hassle: setting meetings. If you constantly find yourself in a rut, bouncing emails back-and-forth with someone to wiggle yourself into their calendar (and vice versa), Calendly is a tool that might interest you. It makes setting meetings and appointments very easy by giving your prospect your ideal meeting times based on your allotted time slots for meetings and against other agendas scheduled on your calendar. It makes the process automated and saves a heck of a lot of time. Calendly has free and premium options for users.
Marketing: Putting yourself (and your business) on the map
Buffer / Later
It’s easy to get lost on the daily grind. As freelancers and entrepreneurs, our brains are wired to create, solve problems, and produce great work. But as social media grows noisier and noisier, how does one’s work rise above it and shine? How do we get eyes cast upon the work we’ve created? How do we capture the attention of our audience and thereby get new clients for our business?
For me, using a social media scheduler has been amazing. I create content, load it up on Buffer, and share it at the optimal posting times, saving me precious time which I shall then use to create more content. I also use Later, which is like Buffer for Instagram. Both services are free, with an option to upgrade for more premium features.
If you’re looking to save even more time, Edgar is a wonderful tool. Like Buffer and Later, Edgar allows users to schedule social media posts on principal platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and more. However, its most unique feature happens to be its best one: using algorithms, Edgar will fill your posting queue with your best content automatically. It’s an amazing, set-it-then-forget-about-it solution, which is why I think the pricier $49/monthly price tag is worth it.
Whoever said email is dying needs to get their heads checked. It’s still the home of our work. For many of us, it’s what we jump into first thing in the morning and the last thing we check before the day is done. Everyone looking to talk to the right people should have an email newsletter. And no other service makes this as easy and affordable as MailChimp does. I use MailChimp to connect with fellow content creators through my weekly newsletter, “work/life.” It’s free for small email lists, but more sizable ones will have to pay for the premium version.
Getting shit done: Keeping yourself focused
Yep, Spotify is a productivity tool. There have been too many times this humble app had springboarded me into productivity when I’m in a rut. This is especially true when I need to get into a concentrated thinking headspace, like writing. I bust out one of my favorite playlists on Spotify, “Deep Focus,” and a handful of tracks in, I’m ushered to what feels like creative flow.
Brain.fm recognizes that music can play a vital role in keeping people in a creative, more productive headspace. The app’s curated focus music is based on scientific thought, and claims that they need only 10-15 minutes before you’re completely in the flow. It works really well. Apart from focus, Brain.fm also offers music for meditation and sleep. Brain.fm offers a free trial, but will cost $6.95/mo. after that.
I use the Pomodoro technique quite a lot. It helps me put my mind in focus in small increments of time. The technique requires you to work intensively for twenty-five minutes, rest for five, then get back to intense work again for twenty-five minutes, and so on. Pomodone is one of the best Pomodoro apps around, being able to integrate with my most used apps like Trello. It’s free, too, with the option to upgrade to more premium features.
Conclusion: Be a better archer
To echo my beginning sentiments: tools are just tools. They don’t really do anything unless we use them, and more importantly, learn the lessons they’re trying to teach us. You can have at it—go wild and try everything on this list!—but I urge you to keep in mind that it’s still the way we’ll use these tools that will make a great difference in our daily work lives.
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Comments ( 6 )
June 2, 2020
My favourite productivity tool is kanbantool.com . I think it's very affordable, especially when 2 boards for 2 people are enough for you -then you can use it for free. You can also test all the options for free. I use the app to manage my tasks and thanks to it, I'm much more efficient doing it.
December 6, 2019
Thanks for suggestions. My favorite productivity app is kanbantool.com . I use the free version (up to 2 boards for up to 2 members) and it's enough for me, I'm happy with that option. I've noticed I'm a lot more efficient since I started to use the tool, I also keep the deadlines and waste less time. I like it a lot.
October 18, 2018
Love the list! Very helpful.
If you don’t mind I would add one more to help with project management and invoicing clients in a easy way. It is 17hats. It is limited but if you are starting out it does provide some great features such as easy client invoicing, contracting, project scheduling to name a few!
July 11, 2018
This is awesome list.
How about online storage like dropbox or onedrive or gdrive.
June 30, 2018
I would add an Amazon Echo to that list. Great replacement for the music apps on the list and it can be used to set timers, spell words do math, conversions or as a thesaurus.
May 31, 2018
This is a great list and I also use many that are on it (and I'm familiar with most, but not all of the ones you covered). Evernote with Webclipper is a key app for me. I keep my notes there (any that aren't hand written, something that I have to try hard to avoid - say no to paper scraps!)
I would add SCANNABLE to your list - this free app allows you to scan paper documents and receipts AND automatically save to one of your Evernote notebooks.
You can btw, use Evernote for your To Do List (and it's ONE of the ways I track tasks). I use Pivotal (free for what I do) to track work to-do's in an agile way.
I use Basecamp for college courses I teach (but for freelancers I think this is an expensive option and there are other free competitors such at Trello and Asana).
As a marketing guy there are a ton of tools I have at my disposal -a full suite for social media posting - two that you didn't mention that come to mind are Content Studio.io and PromoRepublic (social media tools are worthy of a post on their own).
Here's one I want to mention for personal productivity that I absolutely have come to love: Start.Me
This is a browser plugin so you have an icon placed to the right of your browser address bar. Click on that and you can bookmark whatever page you are on. It saves these in groups that are visually presented on boards (much like trello). It's far and away the best browser bookmark manager I've seen and also is free.
Finally, there is TrackMySubs which is a tool where you can keep track of and organize all of your subscriptions and tools that you have as a freelancer. Unfortunately it's not free but is extremely useful for me (you could do it all with Excel - Excel can do anything, right? But TMS is more practical to use). With TMS I know exactly what tools I have to get things done (more complicated than you might think - my TMS subscription is maxed out with 50 tools/subscriptions tracked. Yes, I could upgrade but there is a cost for that).