25 Essential Productivity Tools for Freelancers and Small Businesses
The great thing about being a freelancer or small business owner is that you work for yourself. The bad thing about being a freelancer or small business…is that you work for yourself. No IT department, no accounting expert, no marketing team.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great tools and platforms at your disposal that can help the self-employed with everything from managing finances to developing a social media strategy. The question is: which ones are actually worth it? We know how overwhelming this can be, so we’ve done the legwork for you.
Here are 25 essential productivity tools for freelancers and small businesses:
1. Agorapulse manages your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram platforms. Not quite a social media curation tool, not quite a scheduling tool, Agorapulse is a customer relationship management (CRM) tool for Facebook and Twitter that makes it easy to manage your content, conversations, and analytics in one place. The small business package, which lets you run two accounts per platform, is $49 per month, but there are free tools and a free trial option.
2. Asana is an organization platform that allows you to keep track of tasks and projects. Because it was built with work teams in mind, it’s especially useful as a group communication tool (with filters, so you won’t receive every single status update email!). Up to 15 members can use the basic service for free.
3. Aweber makes email marketing a whole lot simpler by letting you create automated email campaigns that are seamlessly integrated with your marketing program and your brand. This platform makes it easy to send and track emails, which saves you time and can lead to a higher conversion rate for your small business. Standard pricing starts at $19 per month.
4. Basecamp is a project management tool that lets you communicate with your team and clients, store files, and manage projects. It’s a simple but great tool to keep projects neatly organized, ensure that discussions remain on topic, and all appropriate files are contained within the right project folder. Also, they have project templates that make the site appealing and easy to use. The cost: $29 per month, no matter how many users are involved.
5. Boomerang is a browser plugin designed specifically for Gmail. It allows you to schedule emails to be sent at a specific day or time, “boomerangs” important emails back into the top of your inbox so you don’t forget them, and reminds you to follow up if you haven’t received a response from a recipient. It’s like having your own personal assistant to manage your email communication! The basic plan is free.
6. Dropbox saves files, music, videos, and photos in the cloud and allows you to sync them with any device. Because it offers extra free storage if you connect to it through social media platforms and invite new users, it may be a more cost effective option than comparable cloud storage systems like Google Drive. Dropbox Basic is free and gives you 2GB of free space, which you can upgrade to the Dropbox Pro 1TB plan at $10 per user per month or Dropbox Business at $15 per user per month.
7. Evernote is an app for note taking and organizing, as well as saving and archiving basically anything—boarding passes, receipts, articles to read later. It transforms your notes, photos, and data into a meeting-worthy presentation format with one click of a button and works across all of your devices. You can also use the virtual workspace to collaborate with others involved in your project. The basic tools are free or you could upgrade to Premium ($49.99 per month) or Business ($120 per user per year) accounts.
8. Freshdesk is customer service software that provides a range of options to small businesses, like 24/7 support and multiple channels for customer feedback so you can always stay on top of comments, questions or concerns. Use Freshdesk to put together a self-service platform complete with a knowledge base for free or upgrade to one of four additional paid packages up to $70 per agent per month.
9. Grasshopper is a virtual phone system that allows you to input unlimited extensions, send callers to voicemail, put people on hold with music, transcribe messages, and receive them as emails—all from the cell phone or toll-free number you already have. This is a great way for the self-employed to appear as professional as a large corporation. Pricing ranges from $12-199 a month.
10. Help Scout is a virtual help desk that streamlines customer assistance, making it simple for customers to post inquiries and get direct responses. A constant stream of new features and integration apps that let you connect to MailChimp, KISSmetrics, and others make this an especially useful app. One price/no surprises: $15 per month.
11. Hiveage. Yup, that’s us! Our online billing software is perfect for freelancers and small businesses because it lets you send invoices and estimates, accept online payments, track time and expenses, and get detailed reports from one easy-to-navigate platform. With unlimited invoicing, you can add á la carte services so that you only pay for what you need. You can try some Hiveage right now for free using our Free Invoice Generator.
12. Hootsuite is a social media management platform that can automatically schedule, post, and even discover content for you, freeing up your valuable time. It also helps you create keywords to track mentions and respond to customers. Its main advantage over the competitors is the number of channels you can monitor, including Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress blogs. Hootsuite Pro for small businesses starts at $9.99 per month.
13. Join.me is a video conferencing system that is simplicity itself. Online meetings with unlimited audio conferencing let you collaborate anytime, anywhere for free with just a click of a button. Upgrade to Pro ($20 per user per month) or Enterprise ($25 per user per month) for more features.
14. KISSmetrics is a user-friendly, person-based web analytics tool that helps to boost the conversion rate of traffic on your website and social media by identifying obstacles and reasons for churn. They’ve even created an infographic to help you understand their features. Starting at $200 a month, it is more expensive than comparable sites, but is still an excellent tool for small businesses to see what’s working for them and what’s not.
15. Legalzoom was created by attorneys, so it’s a great resource to help small businesses and freelancers with tax and legal advice, corporate structuring, copyright protection services, and more. You pay for services as you need them (like custom-drafted legal documents) and have the option to speak with an experienced attorney right on the site.
16. MailChimp is a well-known email management app that designs, automatically sends, and tracks the performance of your email campaigns. Advanced data analytics and mobile capability give this app the competitive edge. Free for subscriber lists under 2,000, making it a great option for fledgling companies.
17. Rescue Time tracks and categorizes the hours you spend online, giving you a detailed report of your daily activities and bad habits so that helps you become more productive. The app can also send out alerts to keep you focused on the task at hand. It’s easy to download and set up, the basic program, RescueTime Lite, is free, or you can upgrade to Premium for just $9 per month.
18. Slack is a team-collaboration tool that allows you to communicate via instant messenger with all your virtual employees or contractors. You can label different channels for specific conversations (“general” or “accounting”) or hold private one-on-one conversations, as well as filter notifications to alert you only when your name or a keyword is mentioned. You can also send files, images, PDFs, etc.
19. SmartSheet is a project management tool that lets you coordinate all aspects of a job into one spreadsheet format. Think of it like Excel but with added project management features and crowdsourcing capabilities. Whether it’s a simple task or a more complex project, you can attach files, set alerts, and automate workflows.The price for individuals is $10 a month if paid annually.
20. Sprout Social manages all your social media platforms in one single stream, provides powerful analytic tools to boost visibility, and lets you schedule posts for the most optimal times. It’s similar to the less expensive HootSuite, but has smarter organization when it comes to scheduling and publishing. Manage up to 10 profiles for $59 per month.
21. Toggl is an insanely simple app that lets you keep track of your billable time from wherever you are, as the tool keeps running even when you are out of wireless range. The basic productivity tool is free though for $5 per user per month you can add things like time estimates and report sharing.
22. Toptal is a huge network of the top freelance engineers, software developers, and web designers in the world. If you need to build custom software or design a better website, this is a great resource. Prices vary depending on what you need to have done.
23. Trello lets you visualize all aspects of your project at a glance by creating a virtual board around which you can move cards with notes, conversations, diagrams, and photos. It’s the digital version of index cards taped to your wall and it’s free.
24. Writer Access is a brokerage platform where you can hire professional freelance writers to create well-crafted SEO content that drives customers to your website. You can pay as little as $.02 a word to hire a prescreened writer, though keep in mind that the higher the price you pay, the better the quality you’ll get. Not only can you find specific types of writers, but you can keep track of the workflow and communicate with writers here, too. Membership is free and all content is priced by the word.
25. Zendesk software handles all your customer service needs, from inputting customer feedback for easy access to tracking your business’s response performance against that of your competitors. Easy to set up, it costs only $5 a month for an essential package that includes unlimited channels.