I started freelance writing for SaaS, marketing/advertising, and data science companies nearly a decade ago. Why did I let go of the security of company subsidized health insurance and a matching 401K?
Well, I wanted to be the boss of myself, I desired the flexibility that comes with the digital nomad life, and I didn’t want a salary cap on my income.
When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing. In fact, I started out waiting for penny-per-word SEO content mills just to get some extra experience and a teeny tiny bit of cash flow. Sidenote: I do not recommend this method.
After ten years of trial and error, I can now say I now officially know how to run a kick-butt, six-figure freelance writing business. The best part is I’ve also managed to prioritize time with my family, travel the world (30 countries and counting), and make significantly more money freelancing while only working half the time that I did at any of my previous 8-5 jobs.
While I can’t fit all the advice I have for new freelance writers in a short blog post, I can tell you exactly what tools I use to keep my freelance business up and running. Here are the seven most helpful tools I use.
1. Invoicing Tool
The first tool I simply cannot live without as a freelancer is my invoicing software. I like to make the payment process seamless and to keep a close eye on my outstanding invoices.
With a cloud-based invoicing tool, it’s easy to create professional invoices and deliver them to your clients via email. When looking for an invoicing software, pick one with the following features:
- Clients and finances in one place – Look for a tool that keeps all of your clients, invoices, and accounts receivable and payable in one location.
- Easy invoicing – The software should store client and company information and allow you to create and send invoices via email with a click of a button.
- Reporting – You’ll want easy access to dynamically generated reports, including monthly and yearly statements, accounts receivable and payable, and income and expenditure summaries.
- Online payments – Choose a program that lets clients pay online via PayPal, Stripe, and credit card.
- Tracking – A useful software will help with monitoring of time, miles, and expenses.
There are plenty of different invoicing tools on the market. What you end up selecting will depend on your needs and client load, but most of the free invoicing tools are sufficient for sole proprietorships or single-member LLCs.
Recommended free invoicing software: Invoicely
2. Website & Web Hosting
If you don’t have a website for your freelance writing business, potential clients won’t take you seriously. You either won’t land clients, or you won’t get paid what you’re worth.
I even accidentally tested this theory. Long story short, I had a mid-career crisis last year and took down my WordPress website for a couple of months so I could regroup. The problem was as soon as my site went down, I lost my credibility. Clients didn’t know anything about my experience, processes, previous clients, or even how to contact me. It was a disaster.
I quickly realized the errors of my way and built a fresh new website. As soon as my website went back up, so did my workload. Imagine that.
The first thing you need to do as a new freelance writer is to build a website. Include a home page, about page, services page, testimonial page, and a contact page.
Recommended web hosting service: HostGator
3. Appointment Scheduling Software
Trying to find time to connect with a potential client is challenging. They are busy. You are busy. The last thing you want to do is play phone tag for days on end.
I avoid this problem by using appointment scheduling software. There are several platforms on the market, but I like Calendly. It’s easy to use, and essential services are free.
With Calendly, I can select what times I am available for client meetings. I usually only meet with clients Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 12 pm (a perk of being the boss of myself).
Once I have set my availability, Calendly will review my connected calendar and eliminate any time slots that I already have booked. Once a client requests an available meeting, Calendly will send me a meeting request via email and populate my calendar.
4. Proposal Software
After you talk to a client about a potential project, send them a proposal. This practice will set you apart from your competitors and help you land the gig.
The best thing about a proposal software is you don’t have to know much about proposal writing or design. Proposal software programs come with templates, and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
Once your client approves your proposal, you can also use the same tool to send a contract and allow you to accept electronic signatures.
Proposal software also stores all your client proposals and contracts in one place. You can quickly see which proposals are pending and which ones clients have accepted. You can also reference contracts without having to sort through your thousands of messages in your inbox.
5. Project Management Tool
I have anywhere from 8-15 clients at any given time. Each client has different needs, deadlines, and slightly different expectations. So, how do I keep things straight? That’s right! I use a project management tool.
A project management tool is a platform that organizes all your projects and tasks in one location. This helps you hit your deadlines on time and makes it so you don’t forget any critical milestones.
With a project management tool, you can create tasks for the individuals on your team and assign due dates. For example, if I am writing a blog post, I may assign myself due dates for an outline, the first draft, and the final draft. I would also assign a due date to my editor to proofread my first draft and make suggestions for revisions.
A project management tool will send status updates to your email address, allow you to track progress, and easily collaborate with everyone involved in your project.
As a freelance writer, I personally like Asana. However, remember that even if you are working as a contractor, you’re part of a larger marketing team. And, that established marketing team may use a different project management tool. Get familiar with other top tools like CoSchedule, Basecamp, Airtable, and Trello.
Recommended project management tool: Asana
6. Editing App
If I had to pick one essential rule of writing, it would be this. Don’t edit your work. It doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are, you need an editor. Even J.K. Rowling needed an editor, and her book is now a theme park. Kapeesh?
Sometimes you will have the good fortune of working for a company with a full-blown content team, and you’ll get your very own assigned editor. Breathe a sigh of relief.
Other times, you will work for smaller firms where no one on the team (other than you) can put together a single sentence. In this case, you have to break my favorite copywriting rule and edit your work.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little help. Grammarly is an editing app, and it’s an essential tool for every freelance writer.
Grammarly lets you paste your finished text into the app, and it uses smart technology to check for mistakes, repetition, and plagiarism.
Grammarly does offer a free version, but it’s worth it to splurge and pay for the premium version.
7. Google Apps
Google Apps is an absolute must as a freelance writer, and it’s free. Google Apps has robust functionality and includes the following apps:
- My Business page (your business information for local search)
- Drive to store all your business documents
- And more!
These apps help you with important tasks like creating a local business listing for Google’s search results, making shareable presentations, and managing your calendar. Google Hangouts is also a good alternative for online meetings if you don’t have a Zoom account.
As a freelance writer, the app I use the most is Google Docs. It works essentially like Microsoft Word, except you can easily share and simultaneously access documents with others.
Google Docs is also integrated with the Google Marketplace. If you click on “Add-ons” in the navigation bar, Google will connect you with the Marketplace, and you can search for additional features that make word processing easier.
I use a word counter add-on and a case changer extension the most often, but there are hundreds of options that will improve your Google Docs experience.
Starting a freelance writing business was the best thing I ever did for myself. There have been several lessons I’ve learned along the way, but the most important lessons are:
- Always keep your website live and updated
- Take advantage of relevant business tools that keep you organized
For more information about getting your website up and running, visit HostGator today.
Learn more about running your own freelance business:
- How to Build Your Freelance Website [Step-by-Step Guide]
- How I Found My Favorite Freelance Clients
- 7 Lessons on Managing Freelance Clients’ Expectations
Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.