I had a comment on a post several months back asking for more information about how I began my freelance work and the tools I use to run my business. The reason it took me so long to write a post in response was that I was busy doing the work itself! Usually after a long day on the computer, I try to take my leisure time away from screens, which means that posts get written around here a little less often. Fortunately, again and again in my life I am reminded that, like Glennon Doyle, I read to inhale, and write to exhale. So, finally, here we go! Here is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use to run my current business, as of September 2017. You can learn more about my work here.
Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post, but my opinions are always and forever my own, and this post is not sponsored by anyone except me myself and I.
I’ve written about my love for these two services before, but I’ve been using them both in conjunction since I first started a self-hosted blog back in 2009! A lot of people are switching to Squarespace these days, which makes sense because it’s pretty and drag-and-drop. If you only have or need one website, I would recommend it, especially for beginners. If you’ll be building more than one website (ie. I have my blog, my personal website, my former podcast website, etc), it’s far more cost-effective to go with WordPress, and the service is a lot more robust.
Time Tracking: Timely
Most things I use to run my business are completely free, because I like to keep things simple and lean. Timely is one of the services I’m happy to pay for, because I’ve tried most of the other options and they’re just not as good, not as well designed, and not as easy to use as Timely. I can manage all my clients within one platform, bill my time at various hourly rates, and run a timer for the exact length of time I’m working on a project. Trust me that it’s the best.
I don’t use most of the (many!) features available from Wave, because I do my accounting the old-fashioned way: in a spreadsheet (albeit a Google one!) and ask to be paid by either e-transfer, Paypal or direct deposit. But I do like their invoices, because they are easy to create and look professional. I save all mine as PDF and send by email manually. That said, I’m hoping that Timely (see above) will come out with an invoicing feature soon!
I switched to Tangerine right when I became a full-time freelancer, and I’ve never looked back. Tangerine is only for Canadians, but I would encourage you to look into no-fee bank accounts in your country and go through the process of switching. So far I’ve saved about $200 in fees alone since making the transition, which is a non-trivial amount!
There is not much more on this planet I love more than I love Slack. If you are working with any size of team, I recommend using it. Hell, even if I was working 100% alone, I can still think of features I’d like to have access to (their Posts function is great for storing ideas or lists). I cannot recommend anything more highly! I have now been responsible for getting two separate work teams onto Slack, and the productivity increase and stress decrease in both cases has been palpable.
I run all my email through Gmail accounts, and Inbox is my favourite app for my phone (with all the notifications off, of course!). I especially love their function to ‘snooze’ emails to come back at an appointed time, since I operate under Inbox Zero as much as possible.
I have a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud for Photographers, which comes with Photoshop and Lightroom for around $11 a month. If you’re just starting out: don’t even bother. Canva is amazing, has so many interesting and well-designed templates, and is really easy to use. It makes creating graphics something that just about anyone could do in just a few minutes.
I’ve tried a lot of different to-do list apps, and have settled on Todoist (for now) on account of enthusiastic testimonials, mainly from my friend Isabelle, who is incredibly organized and productive. It’s loosely based on the GTD model, which I am reading about right now, but mostly I like that it is very fast and very simple. If I had a larger team to manage or in-depth projects, I might use Asana, but for my own personal stuff this is perfect.
And of course, my brain likes paper far too much for me to be 100% digital! I use a bullet journal that is not even a little bit artistic or fancy – it is extremely basic and utilitarian, which works for me. I mostly use it for lists of ideas, goals, quotes, and planning out a week at a glance. Anything that doesn’t really fit on a “to do list” but I want to capture somewhere goes here.
I like Drive way more than Dropbox for most things, although I do have a great Dropbox setup going for sharing files with one of my clients that syncs directly from my computer. For most other things, I like Drive. I don’t save many emails, so I still don’t have to pay for Drive! Yay!
I now pay for Spotify Premium and I have never once looked back. Once it was pointed out to me that I listen to music for my entire workday, and that I was hearing annoying ads every 20 minutes, it was an easy choice to spend $10 a month.
I love all these things, but I didn’t buy them all at once, and none of them are strictly necessary to start your own business. I have a refurbished Macbook that works like a charm, and I take care of it well because it is my livelihood. For my work, it’s important that my computer work fairly quickly, and that it can handle video and audio editing programs without becoming a sloth. But Sarah of Yes and Yes uses a cheap laptop and swears by it!
The headphones I have are so great: I wear them every morning at the café I work out of and they’re noise-cancelling enough to help me focus. I mainly wanted over-ear headphones because my ears were literally bleeding from wearing pointy earbuds all day long, and asked for a quality pair for my birthday, but any kind of headphone that doesn’t irritate your ears would work.
Lastly, my keyboard and mouse are a huge part of the reason that my chronic back pain has subsided – I am no longer hunching all day long.
Whenever possible, I look for tools or solutions that are cheap or free, and that work well. I am always looking for ways to pare down or streamline, especially when it comes to unnecessary business expenses, but I am also open to spending money to get something that works and makes my life easier.
What’d I miss? What else would you like to know about the way I run my business? Do you have any tools you would recommend to me?