A pen might not actually be mightier than a sword, but with the right tools, you can champion your first year as a freelancer. Freelancing is no cakewalk, but you can get your hands on some sweet weapons to help you get started. While not every tool is essential to succeeding as a freelancer, they can certainly help you get ahead of the curve and reach new heights. Whether you're a freelancer for five days or 5+ years, you'll find these resources helpful.
What To Look For in Apps and Resources
Before we dive into the ocean of options available to you, here are some best practices and things to consider when choosing your next tool:
Start lean. Make a list of all of your needs and buy only what you need. If you can get a free option or service that covers most of your needs, then start with that. This will save you some cash and you can always invest in something more advanced later.
All-in-one solutions. Why use two apps when one will do? If one app combines the features of two or more different ones, then that's a pretty sweet deal. For instance, if an invoicing tool has time tracking, project management, and accounting solutions, then everything is in one place and you can save a little bit of time and money.
Automation. If you're going to be doing a lot of repetitive tasks, then it might be worth your while to find options that allow you to automate them. This means that you can set up workflows and processes and let the app do the work for you. This is especially helpful if you're doing things like invoicing because it makes sending out invoices, reminders, and late notices a breeze.
User-friendly design. It's easy to get caught up in features, but what matters is how something works. Find tools that are intuitive and easy to use so it won't take a lot of time to get up and running. Just because it has tutorials doesn't mean you should HAVE to train yourself.
Integrations. One of the best things about apps and software is that they often work together. Make sure your tools play well with others and you'll find yourself spending less time switching between apps and more time getting things done.
Popularity. If most of your clients use Google Docs, for instance, then you should probably use it, too. It will decrease the number of inconsistencies in your work and make it easier to keep up with what you've done. Of course, this shouldn't be your only criteria for choosing a tool. Sometimes, you can find the best app to use even if it's not as popular as the rest.
Tools Every Freelance Writer Needs
For this list, I'll be sticking to web-based tools that have free or freemium options. While the most popular tools mostly fall into this category, you'll also find some paid apps that are still essential to use as a freelancer.
Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced in order to help you make the best choice for you.
#1 Microsoft Word
I know, I'm probably gonna get a lot of flak for this one, but if you're writing longer content - especially blog posts and press releases - then Microsoft Word is the way to go. Sure, Google Docs has come a long way, but Word simply has useful features that streamline the writing process:
The mini toolbar pops up where you are working so you don't have to navigate to the ribbon. Commonly used commands also pop up when you right-click on anything, which saves time.
There are tons of shortcuts, so you can fly through your work without having to take your hands off the keyboard.
You can use Track Changes to collaborate with others and provide feedback on work in progress. You can also insert comments, track revisions, and keep a record of all the changes that are made to your documents.
The Design feature lets you edit your document's formatting and layout with relative ease. So, your work looks stylish, yet professional.
#2 Google Docs
It's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of Google Docs. It has improved immensely since it was released, but it still leaves a lot to be desired (but I'm being petty). The spell checker isn't always accurate (none of them are), but it's better than most spell-checking extensions out there. It does integrate with Google Drive and there are lots of useful collaboration features like sharing docs with others, viewing other users' cursors, and chat.
The best this about Google Docs is the cost. It's free and a lot of start-ups and small businesses use it. So, you can save some money if you have clients that use Google Docs, too.
LibreOffice is among the best free office suites. It's a great tool for collaborating on work with others and has mostly the same features as Microsoft Office. It won't have quite as many bells and whistles, but that's a small price to pay for all the great things it will do. Just make sure you download the right version for your operating system.
Grammarly is one of the best apps to use if you want an AI-powered grammar checker. It doesn't have everything a traditional Word processor has, but it will catch 80-90% of your mistakes with ease. Plus, you can use it as a plagiarism tool and work on your productivity skills, too.
That's not what I love most about Grammarly, though. The app automatically tracks your errors and emails a weekly update of your most common errors, tone, and words. With each error comes a link to a refresher article that will help you sort out any problem areas. You can also opt-in to a paid version that will give you more detailed reports and track your progress over the long term.
You can try the Grammarly desktop app for free. It just takes a minute to install and you'll be good to go.
#5 Hemingway App
Hemingway is a great web-based tool that helps you make your writing more clear and concise. It also scores your writing in terms of its readability, so you know how difficult it will be for readers to understand. While Hemingway has a paid desktop version, you can save some dough and use the free web app.
It has a built-in editor that allows you to view your text with different colors and underline the things that make it difficult to understand. It'll give you a readability score and color-coded text to help show you where you need to beef up your writing.
If you're stuck, there is a wealth of free resources for writers on the Hemingway website.
Finally, here's a not-so-basic tool that can help you with any writing projects. Jarvis.Ai is a smart AI-powered tool that learns and adapts based on your style and preferences. It's a bit pricey, but it's a great investment if you need to crank out hundreds of articles, headlines, and blog posts. Unlike other AI writers, Jarvis has a long-form writing tool that integrates with Grammarly and SEOSurfer.
The tool uses your writing samples to learn about you. It'll also track your choices in words, punctuation, and formatting so it can learn even more about your style. With this information, you can use Conversion. Ai to convert ordinary text into compelling content that rivals the stuff published in top industry journals.
While Jarvis.Ai is a great tool, it is not a replacement for your writing skill, critical thinking, or research. It is simply a great assistant that can make your life easier and especially when you are swamped with work for several clients and running out of ideas. It does come in pretty handy when you're stuck though.
But don't take my word for it, you can try it for free at Jarvis.Ai.
Project Management and Communication
Keeping track of your projects and clients can be a nightmare, especially when you have multiple clients asking for different things. That's why project management tools are so useful. You can sync your clients and projects for seamless communication, plus you'll always know where things stand.
Here are some of the best tools to help you with that:
Trello is a free web-based tool with several organizational features. It's the most versatile project management tool available. You can use this for everything from simple to-do lists to managing a whole team.
Trello makes it easy to get organized, assign tasks, check on deadlines, and communicate with your clients. You can use the tool in several ways. For example, you can use it as a collaboration tool where you and your clients can make to-do lists together or assign tasks. You can also use it for time tracking to make sure your clients are adhering to deadlines.
Trello boards are customizable, so you can have boards for each client or just use it to keep track of multiple projects. Plus, you'll love the Trello integrations with other tools on this list. The freemium plan is great for most freelancers, but if you need extra features, like deadline reminders, it'll cost you a little extra.
I used to think Asana was over-rated until I was forced to use it because one of my clients insisted on it. Now, I can officially say I get the obsession. Unlike the limited free features of some project management tools, Asana gives you everything you need for free. It's perfect for group projects with multiple people, especially if they're scattered around the globe. It's equally great to use for yourself. Like Trello, it has a Kanban board format so you can keep track of your backlog, workload, and completed tasks and deadlines.
Asana makes it easy to assign tasks, get updates, and communicate with your team. Plus, the tool integrates with several of the tools on this list, so you have a lot of options. Like Trello, Asana also has premium features with additional costs. But if you just need a solid free project management tool, Asana is an excellent choice.
If you like building your workflow systems, Notion is a great choice. The web-based app is simple to use, but it's a complicated system. For example, you can make your Kanban boards to track tasks, write notes, and save web pages. You can also use it for collaboration with clients or team members.
What makes Notion great is that it's fully customizable to fit your system. You can build up or tear down features until you have the perfect system for you. It's a great tool, but it takes time and patience to build something useful with it. You can't just dive in and expect to use it the way you would a more traditional project management tool. While it's too DIY for me, Matthew Encina shared an insightful video about how he uses Notion for his creative projects.
# 10 ClickUp
Another free web-based project management tool that focuses on simplicity is ClickUp. It's by far my favorite project management and CRM tool on this list. It's one of the few project management tools that makes it easy to keep track of your clients and projects from a single platform.
It has all the basic features you need to get organized, but the real power is the native time tracker. It's super easy to log time spent on a project or task with the click of a button. If you manage a team, the Workload view lets you see what's on each team member's plate and where they're spending their time. It's a great way to monitor working hours and project progress without going into each person's tool.
The free version will serve you well, but if you want to upgrade to pro, the cost is reasonable. Plus, the ClickUp integrations are amazing. You can use it in conjunction with other tools on this list, like Slack.
Try ClickUp for yourself, and you'll see why it's on my list of essential tools for freelancers.
Invoicing & Accounting
No matter what type of freelancer you are, invoicing is an integral part of business. Whether it's charging clients or accepting payment for projects, you need to know your payment terms. That's why it's so important to have an invoicing tool that makes the process simple and fast. The last thing you want is to be bogged down with paperwork when you could be working on projects or spending time with family and friends.
Starting with a free option, Wave is a solid option for invoicing. The tool makes it easy to create custom invoices, accept online payments via PayPal or Stripe, and manage your clients. It's also great for sending out bills or setting up automated recurring invoices. I used Wave for many years, and I still think it's a solid pick, especially if you're just getting started.
PayPal is a no-brainer for freelancers, especially if clients request to pay you with PayPal. As a web app, it works on just about every device imaginable. That means you can manage your invoicing, expenses, and business accounts from anywhere. PayPal is free to use, but it charges transaction fees to both clients and freelancers.
South African freelancers using PayPal will need to open an FNB account to withdraw funds. The process is relatively seamless and FNB has a zero fees business account, so you can transfer your earnings to your business account for a minimal fee.
With its focus on simplicity, FreshBooks is another great invoicing tool. It's an easy-to-use invoicing and accounting tool with a few standout features. For example, it has a built-in project management system that lets you track time spent on a project and invoice your clients accordingly. Plus, you can easily create recurring invoices for ongoing work arrangements.
FreshBooks also lets you stay on top of accounting and taxes. The tax invoice feature makes it easy to manage and submit your expenses throughout the year. You'll enjoy a 30-day free trial, but after that, you'll have to pay for the service.
QuickBooks is a solid option for freelancers looking to manage their finances. Boasting an easy-to-use interface, QuickBooks makes it easy to keep track of your finances. It's great for any freelancer looking to track expenses, manage their income, and pay taxes. One of the coolest features is the ability to create custom categories for your clients, projects, and invoices.
The free version has limited functionality, but you'll have to upgrade to the pro version to access all of the features. If you're a freelancer in South Africa, your accounting could get complicated if you hire employees or subcontractors. You'll want to make sure you're using the right tool to manage your accounting, which is why QuickBooks may be a good choice.
#15 FNB Instant Accounting
For the freelancers in South Africa, I recommend you use FNB Instant Accounting to track your finances. It's a free useful tool that allows you to manage and submit your business and personal expenses. Plus, it's updated regularly, so you can stay on top of your finances throughout the year. I recently switched to Instant Accounting, because running a lean ship means staying on top of your finances. Plus, I can generate annual financial statements for tax purposes.
While it's not an invoicing tool, Yoco is a payment gateway that makes it easy to accept card payments from clients. It allows you to create custom payment links and a branded payment page that you can send your clients for easy payment. Like PayPal, Yoco charges a fee per transaction. You can add the payment link to your invoices and track your clients' payment history and balances.
One of the biggest problems freelancers face is receiving and sending money from international clients and consultants. If you're publishing work on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, in particular, you'll need to receive your royalties through Payoneer.
Payoneer lets you create a free virtual bank account in any participating country. You can use this to receive payments from clients or as your US bank account on your KDP profile. You can then transfer the money to your local bank account or request a Payoneer bank card and withdraw funds at a local ATM. The process is fairly simple and they don't charge you too much for transactions. It's a nifty tool to have in your arsenal, just in case.
There you have it. These are my essential tools for any freelancer. From invoicing and project management to accounting, these tools will help you start and run your business. As I said, I've tried most of these apps and tools. And each is great in its own way.
If you'd like to see more reviews like this, let me know in the comments and I'll consider making a part two.