Secret tools and hacks
The great thing about being a freelancer in 2021 is the amount of tools at your disposal. From productivity and social media management to invoicing and content
The great thing about being a freelancer in 2021 is the amount of tools at your disposal. From productivity and social media management to invoicing and content creation, there’s no shortage of tools to help you grow your business.
But while lots of choice is a good thing, it can also make it difficult to know where to start.
Let me help you narrow down your options with some of my favourite tools and the benefits of each.
Let’s start with my (and Iconosquare’s!) favourite subject: social media management.
If you’re a social media freelancer, you know how challenging it can be to manage multiple different accounts simultaneously. Not only are you switching between different brand voices and priorities at the drop of a hat, but you’re also jumping from task to task. For example, scheduling content, reviewing analytics, competitive analysis - the list goes on.
That’s why social media management tools are so valuable. They consolidate many of these moving parts into one place, making your busy to-do list easier to manage.
Now I may be a little biased here, but there’s not a lot Iconosquare doesn’t do. In addition to the features found with other social media management tools, Iconosquare offers advanced scheduling, competitor performance tracking, and custom Instagram feeds.
Whether you’re a solopreneur or a social media freelancer working within a team, there’s a variety of plans (all packed with value) to choose from. Check out the 14-day free trial to see just how great the insights are.
If social media is one core part of your marketing strategy, what are the others?
Your website and email marketing.
A website isn’t essential, at least not when you’re just getting started as a freelancer. However, I recommend setting one up as you get more experienced. That way you can reap the benefits of organic SEO and because - truthfully - some clients will feel more comfortable learning more about you and your services on a website as opposed to Instagram.
As for email marketing, if you are serious about growing your freelance business, sending out regular emails to your list is one of the best ways to do this. Email is a fantastic way to convert people into clients - in fact, 59% of marketers claim it’s their biggest source of ROI.
A super simple, great value do-it-yourself website builder, Squarespace is my platform of choice. There’s heaps of templates to choose from and their customer service is exceptional. Seriously, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve jumped on the customer support chat to troubleshoot a problem.😅 The agent on the other end is always lovely and very helpful.
If you’re just starting to build your email list, you can’t go wrong with ConvertKit. They were my first email service provider and similarly to Squarespace, their customer service team is fantastic. This is a serious benefit when you’re new to things like sequences and rules.
Not only that, but you also have nice looking opt-in forms and easy-to-build landing page templates to use, which makes setting up your lead magnet (a guide, template, freebie) simple and fast. Sign up for a free trial to play around with the different features available.
If you’re going to grow your freelance business, you need to ensure you’re fully in control of your finances. The best way to do that is budgeting. And while “budgeting” sounds incredibly dull and uninspiring, there are tools available that make the process of goal setting and spend tracking fun (yes, really!). Here are two of my favourite free ones:
This budgeting app allows you to connect all of your accounts in one place so you get a high-level overview of your finances. Mint also allows users to track spending and savings, set budget goals, and receive reminders so you can easily pay your bills on time.
The downsides to Mint are: 1) It doesn’t cover as many UK/European banks as US banks and 2) There is a lack of investing features. However, for a free app focused on budgeting, it’s brilliant whether you’re a budgeting pro or total novice.
This app - described as a “fitness tracker for money” - syncs your budgets to your payday and tracks all of your payments throughout the month, while making you aware of future commitments. This is how you can keep on top of your finances with real-time information and historical data.
The standout features of this app include its budgeting capabilities, the “quests” - which encourage you to explore the app in return for badges and icons - and “histograms”, which allows users to see how their spending has changed overtime. The only downside of Emma is that currently, there is no savings category.
Keeping track of your finances doesn’t have to be stressful. Take it from someone who used to find the prospect of accounting and bookkeeping completely overwhelming!
Once you get used to your finance tool of choice, understanding your numbers will be the difference between coasting along, doing “okay” as a freelancer, and being fully in control of how you’re going to scale your business in the future.
Why is Xero my accounting software of choice? The customizable dashboard, the templates that are easy to set up, the ability to integrate with a variety of different softwares, and the direct feed to my bank account to import my statements every day. Disclaimer: my accountant completes my tax returns, but thanks to Xero I can keep on top of all my expenses and invoices so that everything remains organized.
The only downside to Xero is that their customer support isn’t as responsive as I would like. However, the Xero community is big and very helpful, and I’ve found most answers to my questions through the forum. If you’re interested in trying out Xero for yourself, you can access all the features for free for 30 days.
Another accountancy option is QuickBooks - and honestly, there’s not a huge difference between this and Xero. However, based on feedback from customers, QuickBooks Online is the better option if you’re US-based and/or you want a lot of value at a low price point.
For just $25/month, you can send as many invoices and bills as you want, track income and expenses, and stay on top of tax. For freelancers on a budget, QuickBooks is a great option.
One of the reasons many freelancers avoid video work - either to promote themselves or to use for clients - is because they don’t feel well-equipped enough to handle it.
The truth is: video editing isn’t as complicated as you might think. Sure, there’s software like Adobe Final Cut Pro that takes a lot of time to learn if you’re a total newbie.
But there are plenty of easier, more intuitive video editing tools available like the examples below. And once you get to grips with them, the possibilities are endless. You could offer light video editing as one of your services or channel your skills into a new project like starting a YouTube channel.
If you’re brand new to video editing, OpenShot is the place to start. It’s an ideal video editing tool for beginners thanks to its intuitive interface and minimal design. It offers clip resizing, scaling, trimming, snapping, and rotation, as well as credit scrolling, frame stepping, time mapping, audio editing, and real-time preview. And the biggest benefit of all? It’s totally free.
Cloud-based video editor WeVideo is great because it doesn’t have too many bells and whistles to contend with. Its simple layout provides complex and easy-to-use features to offer you as much (or little) creative control as you’d like. And, because it’s cloud-based, you can access WeVideo from anywhere that has the internet and you don’t need a fancy computer with lots of storage to save your files. Sign up on the Power (starter) plan to test it out for $9.99 per month (or $4.99 per month billed annually).
Over the last 18 months we’ve all become very accustomed to virtual events. And as a freelancer, hosting webinars and workshops can be a great way to bring in additional revenue by offering your services to more people at lower cost. Here’s two of my favourites.
For smaller workshops and webinars (under 100 people) Demio is an excellent solution that’s great value for money. Set up is fast and intuitive, and any questions I had were quickly answered by Demio’s brilliant customer service team. As a relatively new kid on the block, Demio does lack some advanced features that competitors offer (like gated recordings and automated comments), however this is something that I’m sure will come with time. They offer a 14-day free trial and the “Starter” plan comes in at $34/month.
The great thing about Whereby is that you don’t need to download an app or software to start using it. You choose a personalized URL, load up your preferred Internet browser and away you go. The interface is simple and beautiful to use, and there are different plans to choose from including the free version (limits group meetings to 45 minutes) and the Pro plan (which at just $6.99 per month includes unlimited group meetings, unlimited recording, company branding and a custom subdomain).
Some of my favourite things about Whereby include the ease of having just one link to share with clients and colleagues, versus needing a specific meeting ID and passcode every time. And, while Whereby allows you to lock your rooms, you can still let new guests in. They’re just required to “knock” and be approved by the meeting administrator in order to enter.
Content creation is a big part of many freelancers’ day-to-day and that’s why it’s so important to find ones that make your work shine. But creating content takes time, effort, and resources. And with so much choice, you could spend just as much time evaluating different tools - so let me help you by providing a couple of the best ones to grow your business in 2021.
This is the tool that turns everyone (even the least artsy people like me) into a graphic design pro. There’s little - if any - fault to find with Canva. There’s a variety of plans (free and paid) available and you can use it for almost anything: presentations, flyers, social media graphics, logos, booklets, your resume, the list goes on.
The only drawback for a tool that offers a lot for free (or £10.99 per month for their Pro plan) is the overuse of some designs. Because lots of people use Canva, there is a tendency to see similar design templates pop up again and again online and social media. However, you can avoid this by injecting more creativity into your work.
Being productive is an incredibly important skill for any freelancer - especially one who is keen to grow their business in 2021. When you’re working on your own, tools like the ones suggested below will help keep you organised and on top of your tasks. As you grow and increase your team, these tools will allow you to delegate accordingly so that projects run smoothly.
Notion’s clean interface allows you to build your own personal “wiki”, a place where teams and individuals can plan their projects, work, and goals using different templates and “views” (kanban, board, table, etc.) to suit you.
The app has an extensive integration list, so you can embed your favorite tools and use them without shifting from one platform to the next. For that reason, you could replace almost all of your existing tools with Notion - or connect them so that this tool becomes your one-stop-shop to access everything you need on a daily basis.
If you’re looking for something a little slicker and more refined than Notion, ClickUp is an excellent choice. Especially if you’re working as part of a team. Whether you’re using the app or the desktop version, ClickUp allows you to centralize all workflows, to-do lists, calendars, emails, events, project management, and spreadsheets.
While initially the features can be a little overwhelming, once you get the hang of the interface, this tool is fast, flexible, easy to use and great value for money. You get a lot for free, so definitely explore ClickUp if you want to organize your business and different workflows.
Freelancing brings with it so many joys. You control your schedule, choose your clients, and have the ability to make more money than you ever would’ve done at your corporate 9-5. Not to mention the freedom to work from anywhere.
However, with all of those perks comes a major challenge: resisting temptation to sleep in late or work while Netflix plays in the background. Overcoming distractions to stay as productive as possible when you haven’t got your boss watching you 24/7 is hard. But thanks to productivity apps, it’s about to get a whole lot easier.
Monday.com is the best project management tool for freelancers that want to keep things simple. Benefits include an attractive interface, useful project visualization tools, and integration with other platforms. And whether you’re collaborating or flying solo, Monday.com helps you work more productively. Assigning individual tasks to different members of your team is easy. You can then access a comprehensive “Timeline” view of various projects to stay on track.
If you're working on a complex project with multiple internal and external collaborators, Asana is my recommended project management tool for freelancers. Its team management features centralize all information in one place, and advanced features like portfolios and workload allow you to accurately allocate resources.
There’s a variety of “views” you can use including Timeline (essentially a Gantt chart) and Portfolio, which lets you see which projects you’re responsible for, monitor progress and task updates, and set priority levels to manage your workload. I use the free version of Asana and as a social media freelancer with a small number of 1:1 clients, this is perfect for me.
If you haven’t read any of my pieces on time management, you may not know what a huge fan I am of time tracking. As a freelancer working in the world of social media, my time is precious and easily runs away from me. That’s why I am obsessed with managing my schedule as much as possible to keep on top of daily tasks and remain as efficient as possible.
Toggl’s free plan is perfect for freelancers. You get a timeline, auto-tracker, idle detection, the ability to edit time tracked, tags, offline time tracking, and weekly reports. It’s simple to use, with minimal clicks and screens between remembering to log something and starting a timer - essential if time tracking is something you’re going to stick to.
If you want to spend a little more money, you can’t go wrong with Harvest. Not only is it a fantastic time-tracking tool, but it also includes other features like invoices and expense tracking. And, if you want clients to pay you through Stripe or Paypal - you can do so with the click of a button. This may not be so essential for freelancers just starting out, but as your business grows and you look to consolidate different tools and features into one place, Harvest could be the ideal solution. At $12 per person / month, you can break down projects in all kinds of ways to figure out how much time you can afford to spend on each task.
You don’t need me to tell you how important communication is when you’re a freelancer. While we spend a lot of time on our own, being creative, we also spend a large chunk of our day chatting to clients and collaborators. Questions, feedback, ideas, are pinged backwards and forwards from the moment we wake up.
That’s all very well, but as you look to scale and grow your freelancing business in 2021 and beyond, you will need a place to streamline and consolidate those messages. Why? So that you can collaborate without getting buried under a pile of (constant) messages that are almost certainly not urgent but vie for your attention nonetheless.
Slack isn’t just for in-house teams - it’s also great for freelancers who have a permanent client-base or a remote team they collaborate with regularly. It’s simple to use and prevents unnecessary emails. Some of its best features are direct messaging, group chat, mentioning with @, and chat channels that are specifically assigned to different topics. There is a free plan available, too.
My recommendation would be to turn off desk notifications if you can, so that you aren’t constantly distracted whenever someone sends you a message.
Scheduling apps and booking software are life-savers. Without them, you can easily spend hours each week emailing potential and existing clients and collaborators trying to sort out a good time to chat. This is precious time (not to mention a drain on your energy) that could be better spent on actually growing your business. So if you’re serious about scaling your freelance business in 2021, it’s time to use a tool that takes on this burdensome task for you.
Thanks to its intuitive interface and editing options, Calendly is easy to set up and start using immediately. While it offers less frills than its competitor, Acuity, it has all the features you need as a growing freelancer for just $8/month.
Not all of these tools will be right for you and your business. But since most of them offer a free trial or plan, you can try out the ones that fill a current gap in your toolbox and see how you get on.
Using the right tools for you can feel a little bit like having a personal assistant that manages time-consuming administrative tasks on your behalf. That way, you’re freed up to focus on money-making activities that grow your freelance business in 2021 and beyond.
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