Best of the web for freelance creatives

Freelancing has its upsides -- avoiding the rush hour commute, the option to stay in your pyjamas while you work and of course, being your very own boss. But such self-employed workers also need to be creative, productive and organised – often all at the same time!

If you could do with a little technological boost on any of these fronts, we’ve compiled a list of fantastic tools that should help, writes Chris Conway of Accounts & Legal, a freelancers’ tax advisory. Oh, and all 17 are entirely without charge. As they say, ‘the best things in life…’

Creative: Writing

Hemingway app
The Hemingway app is like spell-check for your writing style. The tool analyses your writing and suggests a range of edits to tighten and improve your prose. Overly complex sentences, the use of weak adverbs and a passive voice are all highlighted by Hemingway. The writer also receives an analysis of the text’s overall ‘reading age,’ to help ensure the copy being produced remains as clear and simple as possible.

Pro Writing Aid
Pro Writing Aid offers similar functionality to the Hemingway app, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. This tool identifies overly repetitive sentence structures, suggests replacements for commonly used words, highlights clichés and ensures consistency when using punctuation, capitalisation and hyphenation.

Creative: Design

What Font
This simple little tools helps users identify what fonts are used on a particular web page, which can prove immensely helpful when a designer comes across a font on the web that would work perfectly in their own design. What Font can be installed as a Chrome extension, a Safari extension or a browser bookmarklet.

PlaceIt helps designers create fast, professional mock-ups in less than a minute. With a wide range of smartphone, PC, food and apparel templates available, designers can simply drop their chosen image, brand or logo into the template to create a professional, real-world mock-up.

Many designers will have access to (and be confident using) Photoshop and Illustrator. However, professional designers aren’t the only freelancers that need high-quality graphic design tools from time to time. Content marketers may need to create an infographic, copywriters may need to lay out a brochure or advertisement, web developers may need a website mock-up.

For freelancers that don’t have the experience (or the budget) to use Photoshop there is a free, easy-to-use alternative – BeFunky. With professional design tools available via the web, and 125 photo effects available at the touch of a button, this little tool could be a great addition to a freelancer’s arsenal.

Productive: Connecting & Sharing

Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector
If you’re one of the many freelancers who like to roam around your city to find quirky new places to write, design or develop, you’re going to want somewhere with free Wi-Fi. Enter the Wi-Fi Inspector from Xirrus, which can not only help users optimise the Wi-Fi in their own home, but can also help them use their laptop to locate new Wi-Fi connections available nearby.

Many freelancers use Gmail as their primary email platform, but for those who miss having a desktop email client there is Thunderbird, the free email client from Mozilla.

With many similarities to Microsoft’s Outlook application, Thunderbird also boasts a wide range of extensions and add-ons that can help transform it into an incredibly powerful email tool.

If you do favour Gmail then you might find the Boomerang plugin rather handy. This tool brings the email scheduling functionality that is so common in email marketing to the world of ordinary business emails.

Perhaps even more useful, though, Boomerang can also clear away email you have already received and re-deliver it to you at a later date, giving freelancers the opportunity to postpone dealing with less important messages without the worry that they may forget about them entirely!

Organise: Work

Evernote is more than a notetaking tool – while the premium service includes many more features, the free version of Evernote is a great tool for freelancers, allowing them to create detailed task lists and share them with clients or collaborators. The tool also lets freelancers save, highlight, annotate and share any web page, article or research piece from the web, which is useful for research-heavy freelance work.

As the name suggests, MyLifeOrganized is a tool to help users organise any and all aspects of their lives. The tool takes to-do lists to the next level by allowing users to break tasks down into smaller chunks, create structured, hierarchical to-do lists, set up recurring tasks and schedule task reminders. MyLifeOrganized is a paid tool on PC and Mac, but is free on iPhone and Android.

Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is another to-do list tool, but despite the name it’s much more powerful than a simple grocery list. Remember the Milk lets users create, label, colour-code and schedule tasks until the cows come home, and its nifty ‘daily digest’ emails ensure freelancers never forget anything important, no matter how many balls they’re juggling.

Google Drive
If you’re more interested in organising your files than your tasks, Google Drive is a no-brainer. The cloud storage service from Google offers users a very decent 15GB of free storage, which can be used to store Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, photos, designs, and audio and video recordings. Since the service is cloud based, freelancers can access the files on their Google Drive from any PC, Mac or mobile device.

Dropbox is a worthy alternative to Google Drive, with similar functionality and ease of use. Dropbox is also slightly more popular than Google Drive, with about 300 million active users compared to Google Drive’s 240 million or so.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the free plan on Dropbox offers considerably less cloud storage than Google Drive – 2GB with Dropbox compared with Google Drive’s 15GB.

But since they’re both free and available from any device, why choose? Sign up for both and benefit from a combined 17GB of cloud storage.

Organise: Clients

Many freelancers may think Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are the preserve of large companies with thousands of clients, but Insightly’s free plan is perfect for a typical freelancer. Offering 200MB of storage and a contact database that can hold up to 2,500 contacts, Insightly can help freelancers organise their professional relationships, keep track of contacts and their likes and dislikes, and schedule tasks, meetings, calls and emails.

Insightly also integrates with Gmail, Evernote, Google Drive and Dropbox, making it even more valuable for freelancers that are already using these other tools.

Organise: Money

Money doesn’t grow on trees, even for the most talented freelancer, but savvy financial management can help a freelancer’s income go a little bit further. Cue OnTrees, a money management tool recently acquired by MoneySupermarket.

After connecting your current accounts, savings accounts and credit cards to your OnTrees account, you will be able to categorise and sort your income and spending, generate charts and reports that highlight your biggest expenditures, and analyse your spending habits to discover potential opportunities to reduce your expenses.

Money Dashboard
As with OnTrees, Money Dashboard aggregates transactions from your various bank accounts and credit cards, making it easier to analyse your income and expenditure, visualise your key financial information in one place and identify opportunities to reduce your outgoings.

Organise: Tax

Self-employed ready reckoner
The annual self-assessment tax return is the bane of many freelancers, with both new and seasoned freelancers often struggling to forecast ahead of time how much they will have to pay in taxes come January 31st.

However, with HMRC’s self-employed ready reckoner tool freelancers should find it just a little bit easier to plan how much they may have to set aside for income tax, Class 2 National Insurance and Class 4 National Insurance.

Organise: Us

The above tool from HMRC is designed to give you a heads-up about how much tax you’ll pay, but if you need more in-depth guidance about your tax and accounting obligations, then consider consulting an independent, reputable and qualified accountancy practice.

And we would say this wouldn’t we(!), but we also recommend finding an accountant who’s more than just merely ‘familiar’ with your set-up, status and structure as a self-employed person. In short, and to avoid any nasty surprises or unexpected tax bills, make sure that rather than being just a generalist, they - like you - live and breathe the freelance world of work.


21st April 2016

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