Essential Tools for First-Time Freelancers

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It goes something like this:

  1. Freelancers write up a proposal for a potential client
  2. A contract is signed between the freelancer and the client
  3. Freelancers track the time they spend on various projects
  4. Expenses accrue on the project and are tracked
  5. Freelancers send an invoice to clients that include all costs
  6. The government requires freelancers and clients to pay taxes

Each of those important steps keeps the businesses that freelancers and clients afloat. They cannot be ignored.

The question then becomes: How can freelancers set themselves up for success on each of these items so they can focus on their core work?

It’s a big question that freelancers all over the globe face on a daily basis. While there’s still no “killer app” for freelancers that pulls together all of these tasks into one neat framework, most freelancers are juggling a few tools to get this all done.

Here we look at a few of the top platforms freelancers are using to get this necessary administrative work accomplished:

Proposals

Freelancers have got to bring in that bacon. (Bacon = Clients)

Well-constructed proposals that help potential clients understand how the project gets executed and how it helps them to meet specific business goals is the first step. Here are a few proposal development tools that first-time freelancers can employ:

    • Clarrow: If you’re in the market for custom proposal templates and unique commenting features that allow for live updates while engaging with potential clients, this is your tool. Clarrow even allows you to test-drive the product with one active client—no charge.
    • Proposify: This tool allows you to spruce up your proposals with premium typography and even allows you to include live chat, interactive pricing, and videos. Proposify even offers users analytics that shows which proposal sections are getting the most attention and for how long. Not bad for a starting price of $19 per user per month (max five active proposals).
    • Qwilr: For freelancers in the market for a proposal tool that gives them instant notifications when potential clients view proposals and allow for signing, acceptance, and payment in a single flow, then Qwilr is your tool. The cost is considerable though, coming in at $75/month or $66/month with annual payment.

Contracts

Locking in deals on favorable terms is a huge part of freelancers’ ongoing business.

Contracts set up the basic working relationship between the freelancer and the client. Getting contracts right is critical from both a legal and financial perspective.

Let’s consider some of the top tools freelancers can use to put together effective contracts:

  • Bonsai Freelance: For $16/month (paid annually—or $24/month for Premium), this tool gives you the ability to review and adjust contracts with clients and lets them e-sign it legally. A great choice if you’re looking for those notifications when clients receive and sign contracts, too.
  • Clarrow: Having Terms and Conditions that are pre-vetted is a huge advantage with this tool. You can also quickly customize contract language and secure those e-signatures from clients. Best of all, Clarrow is still in beta and can be sampled for free.
  • LegalZoom: One of the biggest names out there, LegalZoom offers a library of legal document templates. Contracts are included in that batch. For $7.99/month you can get access to all of those templates and you can even add attorney support for $31.25/month.

Time-Tracking

As a freelancer, those hours and minutes are your dollars and cents.

So making sense of how you’re spending your time on each project is crucial. Finding a streamlined way to do this is the trick. The less time you spend tracking your time, the better. That means more hours spent on client work.

Check out these tools that help freelancers track how they’re spending those working hours:

  • Toggl: If you’re one of those “one-click” freelancers, then Toggl is the tool for you. Just click “Start” when you’re ready to go and “Stop” when you need a break. Don’t worry, Toggl’s idle detection feature will notice if you forget to turn off the app when you step away from your work. Toggl even syncs between your phone and computer. With a free basic version and paid plans starting at $10/month, Toggl is a solid choice for freelancers looking to track their time.
  • Timely: This tool is a much more “set it and forget it” option. Timely automatically tracks the time you spend using different work apps. It also uses artificial intelligence to cook up those timesheets. If you pay annually, it’s $5/month or $7/month if you opt for the monthly plan.
  • Clarrow: If you’re tracking time for just one client, Clarrow is free. Paid versions start at $9/month. Very affordable. That said, a great feature for Clarrow is the way time-tracking integrates seamlessly with expense tracking and invoices. Having everything in one place is a huge time-saving. Clarrow even allows you to enter time manually if you’ve missed recording a client phone call or other work-related activity.

Expenses

If you’re not tracking what’s going out the door, it’ll be hard to find your sweet spot when it comes to profitability.

Freelancers are constantly looking for ways to keep those expenses down while bringing in more high-value clients. In order to get that done, you need a baseline understanding of your expenses.

These tools below help freelancers easily track ongoing business expenses:

    • Clarrow: The magic with Clarrow is its additional features. With this tool you can receive suggestions for how to manage expenses aligned to different client projects. Clarrow can also help if you’re looking to reconcile your bank accounts, credit cards, and client accounts. That comes in handy when trying to sort through all of those reimbursements. All of that on top of standard expense tracking functionality makes Clarrow an attractive option.
    • QuickBooks: With their Freelancer package selling at $15/month, QuickBooks is the big name among expense tracking software products. You can track your mileage, log receipts automatically, and even transfer payments from employers without incurring fees. If you use TurboTax for your taxes, you can also sync your information painlessly with your QuickBooks account. This tool comes with a lot of benefits for freelancers.
    • Expensify: This tool saves freelancers considerable time doing most of the work for them. Expensify submits expenses for approval and reimbursement (by the freelancer) automatically. If you’ve got five or fewer expenses to scan in each month, Expensify is free. For $4.99/month you get unlimited scans.

Invoices

It’s one of the least glamorous parts of freelancing: Pushing out those invoices.

But invoices are oh-so-necessary when it comes to getting paid. Getting invoices out to clients in a timely and efficient fashion ensures the stability of your business.

The following tools help freelance run a streamlined invoicing process:

  • Freshbooks: At $15 to $50 (depending on your client load), Freshbooks is one of the most popular invoicing tools out there. The tool allows you to check when an invoice has been viewed and lets freelancers send automated reminders to clients that still need to pay. Freshbooks even gives clients the option to pay via credit card, which helps you get paid faster.
  • Clarrow: This tool is a good option if you’re looking to link your Paypal or Stripe accounts to your invoicing. Clarrow allows you to add your logo to invoices and sends email notifications once the invoice has been paid. It’s also free up to two invoices per month.
  • Invoice2go: If you’re looking for a solid mobile app and payment options ranging from direct deposit and credit cards to PayPal and debit cards, Invoice2go is worth a look. The tool has various templates to select from as well as automated notifications sent to clients when payments are upcoming or overdue. A more narrowly-focused yet effective invoicing tool.

Taxes

OK, this is definitely the least glamorous aspect of freelancing.

Whether you’re making those quarterly estimated payments or paying in a lump sum, it’s still important to keep track of how those tax obligations spread out across all of your client work.

These tools assist freelancers with keeping all of those pesky tax requirements in check:

  • FreeAgent: If you’ve got a great accountant who handles tax stuff for you, FreeAgent is your tool. It allows you to give your accountant access to the app so they can file taxes on your behalf. That’s one major headache now out of the way for busy freelancers. FreeAgent also comes with time-tracking and expense reporting functions. The tool starts at $10/month.
  • IRS2Go: If you’d rather go the “official government app” route, IRS2Go is for you. Make tax payments and check the status of your tax account with the IRS using this app. If you’ve got tax questions, the app also allows freelancers to connect with a tax professional. It’s also free.

How The Right Tools Can Enhance Your Freelance Business

Freelancers have a lot on their plates.

The best tools make things easier and more streamlined when it comes to running a freelance business. When choosing different potential tools, consider which features you’ll need most along with the “mix” of tools you’re putting together to manage your work.

The right collection of tools will accomplish much of the administrative work for you so that the client work can take precedence. That’s how you grow a stronger freelance business.

About Author:
Paul Perry is a freelance writer and operations lead with Optimist. With a background in education and social impact, he cares deeply for improving the lives of the self-employed and freelancers, covering topics from business strategy to mental health. He’s been working full-time as a freelance writer for over 5 years which allows him to travel the world and sample pizza from all possible regions.

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