Work Smart, Not Hard: 7 Freelancers’ Favourite Tools
All freelancers want to make more money.
To start you could put in more hours, of course. While this might work for a while, you’re likely to burn out eventually. Which might mean needing to take time off to recoup (and end up hurting your bottom line instead of improving it). Ultimately you are working harder not smarter.
The other option is to raise your rates. This risk’s putting off clients who aren’t willing to pay what you want. Or find alternative clients, who are willing to pay the professional rates you deserve. Given this is a good strategy, but it’s not an overnight fix. You might not be able to afford to drop your lower-paying clients in the meantime.
There is another solution: practice working smart, not hard.
Essentially, the work smart, not hard mentality means optimising the time you have. By increasing your productivity and cutting out wasted time that could be spent on paid client work.
At this time there are literally hundreds of tools out there to help you increase your productivity, automate dull, repetitive tasks, and just generally make your life easier so you can focus on what matters.
Read on for seven freelancers’ favourite tools for working smarter, not harder.
Bonsai is an all-in-one product suite for freelancers, designed to simplify and automate all your paperwork.
Using the platform, you can create proposals and contracts just by inputting some basic details about your client and the project. It will auto-generate an invoice for each contract too. You can set it to send your invoice to your client automatically on a set date, or manage this manually.
Through integrations with PayPal and Stripe, Bonsai can even manage payments for you too. Pricing starts at 29$ (£22) for the basic package, and you can get started with a 14-day free trial.
What freelancers say: “I love using Bonsai. It saves me so much time that I can use to work on actual projects. I used to waste so much time on the boring admin side of freelancing, but now Bonsai helps me focus on the actual work I’m doing and frees up so much of my day.”
Publishing duplicate content can be extremely harmful to a website’s SEO. But duplicate content or content that’s similar to another webpage doesn’t (necessarily) mean that someone’s plagiarised another site. In fact, it can be quite easy to accidentally produce content that’s not 100% original. Particularly when you’re using another web page as a source or for inspiration.
That’s where Copyscape comes in: it’s an easy-to-use plagiarism checker that will tell you in just a few seconds if your content appears anywhere else on the web. Copyscape also has a super simple pricing model: they charge 3c (about £0.022) for each search for a text of up to 200 words, then an additional 1c for every 100 words after that.
What freelancers say: “Freelance writers have to be one hundred per cent sure that the content they produce is original, and Copyscape is a really useful tool to help with that. It’s particularly useful when I’m assigning work to a writer I don’t know very well, especially if I’m not sure what sources they’ll be referring to.”
Surfer is an SEO-optimisation platform with a whole array of tools in its belt. It can perform technical SEO audits and compare your content to your competitors’ websites. Both of which were previously time-consuming manual processes. It also comes with a keyword research tool and SERP analyser. The in-built content editor helps you create high-ranking content. By offering tips on how many words, headers and paragraphs you should aim for to rank for a particular keyword, as well as secondary keywords you could include.
If you manage content or do SEO writing for clients, Surfer could help you to get the job done faster — bumping up your hourly rate. Surfer’s packages start at $59 (£44) per month if you pay monthly.
What freelancers say: “I use Surfer for suggested keywords, headings for ranking, length, and to see articles written on the same topic for comparison — all must-haves if you want people to check out and get engaged with your content.”
Toggl Track is a super-simple time tracking tool that you can install as a plugin for Chrome or Firefox.
This tool can help you to track how much time you spend on each task, and also allows you to assign each task to a project and each project to a client. Making it a perfect tool for freelancers who charge clients by the hour. You can even generate reports to send with your invoice in just a few clicks.
Even if you don’t charge hourly. The weekly summary emails telling you how long you spent on each project in the last week can provide useful insights into what’s taking up most of your time. The best part? Toggl’s free version has enough features to keep most freelancers happy. So you can start tracking your time (and increasing productivity) without spending a penny.
What freelancers say: “I use Toggl Track constantly to track the time I spend on each project. And even each task within that project. I can then generate reports for specific projects or clients to get a bird’s-eye view of how long everything takes. It’s really helped me to nail down my hourly rate and see which part of each project takes the longest. I can work on cutting that time down.”
Mint is a totally free budgeting app designed for anyone who wants to keep track of their personal finances — and it works well for freelancers too. You can connect the app with all of your financial products. Such as bank accounts, credit cards and loans, and use it to create (and stick to) a budget. The app will help you to keep an eye on the financial health of your business (or yourself), and even your credit score. It also comes with cool features. Like bill reminders and notifications when you’re close to overspending. So you can stop worrying about how much you’ve spent and focus on making money instead.
What freelancers say: “Mint really helps me keep track of my spending across both my personal and my business account. I use it to manage all my income, and it’s super easy to add your own categories and customise the tool according to your own needs.”
Writing and sending proposals to new clients is a time-consuming task for almost any type of freelancer. Enter: Proposify. This online platform allows you to create professional-looking proposals. Either from scratch or using a template from their extensive content library. You can then send these to clients directly using the integrated email system. From the client side it’s easy to add comments or accept the proposal through the platform (though your more tech-phobic clients will still be able to download a PDF).
You can track whether your client has viewed or downloaded your proposal and how long they’ve spent on it. And reminder emails and follow-ups can be tailored and sent either manually or automatically. Thanks to an integration with Stripe, you can even integrate payment directly into your proposal.
Proposify’s free plan allows you to have five active documents and comes with access to the entire content library as well as tracking and Stripe payments, so it should be enough for most freelancers.
What freelancers say: “Proposify is a brilliant tool that helps me with the one thing I am not so great at: writing proposals. It helps me write great proposals that capture exactly what I’m trying to say and then allows me to track them after I’ve sent them. It’s a great tool for freelancers, especially if you’re just starting out.”
HelloSign is an online document signature platform that lets you create templates and send out documents such as proposals and contracts for your clients to sign digitally. You can also use the platform to send reminders and receive notifications when someone signs your document. It comes with security features such as two-factor authentication.
The HelloSign mobile app means that digital nomads can request signatures from anywhere. And it’s easy for your clients to sign via mobile too. Although there are various pricing levels available, most freelancers should be able to get by with the free version, which includes three signature requests per month for one user, as well as reminders and notifications.
What freelancers say: “HelloSign is great as I have to sign loads of documents as a freelancer, like SOW (statements of work) and other paperwork. HelloSign lets me do it in just a couple of minutes. Compared to having to fill out all my details every time.”
Anything to add?
Feeling furious that we’ve forgotten to include your favourite tool? Let us know what apps, tools and programs make your freelance life easier and how you work smarter not harder!