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Working as a freelancer requires a special kind of focus, especially as you’re almost entirely reliant on yourself. Having the backing of good software can help bring everything in order, so we’ve collected what we see as not only the best apps for freelancers, but simply essential types of software to have in your overall arsenal.
We’ve broken things down into 6 sections, with a choice of two recommended apps for each.
If there’s anything in particular you’re interested in, you can jump ahead here:
Trading blows with Microsoft Office, the Google “office” suite adds a whole lot of ease and convenience to the process of document creation.
All three apps are cloud-based, meaning there’s no need to save manually, as your documents are frequently auto-saved.
You can also invite others to edit documents with you, even in real-time, which allows you to iterate and collaborate in a far cleaner way than having to manually trade document files. This also means that as long as you have the respective app on your devices, you can easily access your files from wherever you have an internet connection.
If you prefer to install your software locally and have it accessible at all times – internet or not – then LibreOffice is the way to go. It’s an open-source alternative to the Microsoft Office suite, kept frequently updated and for the attractive price of $0.
This isn’t to say that if you have access to Microsoft Office that you shouldn’t use it – it’s a great software suite. However, if you’re looking to save some money, LibreOffice will cover your bases and then some.
Trello (Free + Paid)
Trello takes list-making and gives it a little shot of steroids. While you can keep things simple with pure lists, you can also have separate boards on different topics, give different people access to different boards, and allocate specific lists to different people depending on who is responsible for the related items.
Either as a collaborative tool or by yourself, Trello is fantastic for keeping both a high-level and more detailed overview of your ongoing projects.
The free version offers plenty for most freelancers and includes essentially all the same core elements that the pro plans do.
Google Keep (Free)
Google is once again in the ring with Keep, a note-taking and list-making app which helps you break your life and work down into, well, notes and lists.
I use Keep several times a week even for trivial things such as shopping and any general life to-dos, but for work it also frequently shines.
For quick note-taking and list creation Keep is ideal, and the app is both fast and can integrate into your Google Calendar for adding ease of access. While you set note-specific reminders and labels, the downside is that it is by no means as fully-featured as Trello, which I would recommend over Keep if you plan for anything more than fairly basic notes and lists.
Tracking time is something that every freelancer has to deal with, and simultaneously something no one wants to spend much time worrying about.
This is where the best time tracking software for freelancers comes into the picture. I have used both TSheets and Toggl in the past and have nothing bad to say about either. The fact that they offer such fully-fledged offerings to individual freelancers is great, and both are sure to save you time and energy tracking time manually.
Simply sign up for a free plan of either, and install the browser extension and/or mobile app, which will allow you to start and stop tracking time, manage projects, and check reports.
Drive (Free + Paid)
Google Drive is primarily a cloud storage service, giving you a convenient and trustworthy place to back up your important files. As a free user, you receive 15GB of space, and if you need more, upgrading is actually quite affordable. Via Google One, 100GB will set you back $1.99 per month, with 2TB coming in at just $9.99. However, depending on your priorities, there may be better cloud storage services out there for you – though, for the lean price of free, Drive’s basic storage space should be plenty for most users.
Dropbox (Free + Paid)
Dropbox has long been one of the most popular kids on the block in the world of cloud storage, and for pretty good reason. Its online interface is sleek, its desktop integration is efficient and effortless, and it overall makes for a great experience.
Dropbox’s initial free offering only comes with a relatively stingy 2GB, but can be beefed up by inviting friends or answering questions on the Dropbox forums – up to a total of 16GB.
Invoicing and Accounting
QuickBooks or FreshBooks (Paid)
Unfortunately, dealing with invoices and accountancy issues is par for the course as a freelancer. Thankfully, software like QuickBooks and FreshBooks makes it a hell of a lot easier to deal with.
These platforms can help keep everything in order as you make your way through the tax year. They create and track all invoices, profits and losses, sales tax, and you can even give your accountant easy access to the backend so they can work their own magic.
This can be especially useful for those in the US, where the tax system is (somewhat purposefully) horrendously difficult to navigate.
f.lux isn’t a traditional productivity app, but if you find yourself often working late nights, or simply just before you head off to sleep, it can make for a fantastic quality of life improvement.
How f.lux does this is by changing the color temperature of your computer screen, taking the strain off your eyes, as well as lowering your exposure to blue light which is known to interfere with your natural sleep cycles.
If your work is color-sensitive, such as photo or video editing, f.lux can also be easily and quickly turned off so it doesn’t mess with your work.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) (Paid)
The case for a VPN has likely been made to you a dozen times all across the internet by now, and if you’re still a holdout you might think you have no need for one.
However, a VPN doesn’t simply act as extra online protection against malicious actors – something I think everyone who makes their livelihood online should make use of – but can also help you circumvent geo-blocked content, block ads and trackers, and in some cases bypass bandwidth throttling by your ISP.
When it comes to VPNs you should operate according to the idea that if you’re not paying for the service, then you’re the product – or the product sucks.
If you’d like to learn more about VPNs, I’ve written an extensive article about the best VPNs for digital nomads and freelancers.