To maximize your productivity as a freelancer, you need the right technology stack. With the right apps, you can do much more in less time (especially in administrative and other non-core value activities);and even more importantly, you can do it with less effort. At the bottom line, your time and energy are the most precious resources, so you must treat them with utmost care.
But choosing the right tech stack is not that simple. There are so many apps out there and it can quickly get confusing which ones to choose. Since there’s an app for almost everything, it can also get too complex (and way too expensive) to keep track of everything in too many apps. Thus, in this blog post we’ll answer all the crucial questions about choosing the ultimate technology stack for freelancers.
We’ll provide answers to questions like:
- What kind of tools do you need as a freelancer?
- Should you choose one general tool or several specialized ones?
- How can you choose the right tool for you personally?
- Which brands are the best for different types of tools?
- How can you make sure you regularly use the tools?
The basic rules of choosing the best business applications
In the big overflow of all the business apps for freelancers, there are a few ground rules to follow that will help you choose the best fit for your individual needs. These ground rules are:
- Don’t go with too many apps, otherwise you won’t use any of them in the end. It’s better to use 3 apps consistently than 10 apps from time to time.
- If you aren’t looking for a very specific niche solution (for your industry, a solution with a very specific features), go for market leaders or proven solutions that are usually a safe choice.Nevertheless, be on alert for disruptive newcomers that come from time to time and provide a way better solution.
- Always test a few different applications before you make the final choice. Most apps offer a free trial period. Play around a little bit and compare user experiences. No review beats testing an application for yourself.
- There are a few brands that offer several tools in one single suite. It’s hard to be good at everything, so combining a few tools that do one thing really well is often the better way. Be careful with generic tools that try to solve everything.
Another big challenge when you finally chose your technology stack is regular use. It takes a lot of discipline and commitment to use all the tools. A simple rule (assuming you have the best stack for your needs) is that if you don’t use it regularly, you probably don’t need it. In rare cases, maybe you should even reconsider whether freelancing is the right choice for you, if you lack the necessary discipline.
Nevertheless, it makes sense to encourage yourself to use apps with measures like:
- Creating bookmarks in your browser (or desktop shortcuts)
- Setting reminders and notifications
- Involving your business partners and clients in the app use
- Tracking costs for all the apps (which can sum up to quite an amount and that could motivate you to really take advantage of all the apps)
Which apps do freelancers really need and why?
Assuming you already have an email, calendar and office solution (like G Suite or Office365), as a freelancer you definitely need the following stack of apps:
- Time tracker with an invoicing solution
- Accounting application
- Note‑taking application
- Cloud storage application
- Communication applications
The most basic productivity tool of every freelancer is a time tracker. A good time tracker will not only help you keep a record of every work hour spent, but also stay productive, keep a work-life balance and automate many administrative tasks. A good time tracker will provide features like:
- Many ways to track your time (start/stop watch, manual entries,mobile app tracking etc.)
- Different visualizations of how you spend your time
- Record of billable and non-billable time
- Automated invoicing and reporting to your clients
- Track of budget and expenses
- Different types of reports
It’s important that as a freelancer, you don’t choose a solution that’s an overkill. You want a simple time tracker that you will actually use. You also shouldn’t spend too much money on a time tracker. But on the other hand, you want to make sure you choose a solution with all the core functionalities that must work flawlessly. A time‑tracking app might be hardest to use, but it can do miracles for your productivity.
Go for… If you…
My Hours… value simplicity and classy design
Toggl… want to track time primarily from your browser and you prefer funky design
Harvest… need a more powerful tool for bigger teams
Time Doctor… need a tool with automated screenshots, chat monitoring and numerous integrations
Accounting applications (and similar)
The point of an accounting application is to precisely track your financial situation – including income, expenses, bank account balance, tax estimations, and so on. Money always needs good management and an accounting app should help you stay in charge of your financials.
It differs from country to country, but you should make sure you have the right legal business solution as a freelancer, hire a good accountant (if you need one), and do your taxes right. It’s really important to keep a good overview of your freelancing business’ financial situation.
Go for… Because you need…
Quickbooks… the best money management application
Freshbooks… an alternative to Quickbooks
Wave… a free alternative
Paypal… to send and receive money
Invoice2go… an invoicing solution with credit card processing
Shake… to sign contracts
As a freelancer,you need a central place for all vital business information. You should try to digitalize as much as possible (with digital notes, electronic invoices etc.) and keep everything in one place, so you can find it promptly. A good note‑taking app is thus vital part of a freelancer’s technology stack.
There are many different ways you can use a note‑taking app as a freelancer, such as:
- Keeping meeting minutes
- Creating different to-do lists (it can even serve as a project management tool)
- Writing notes, journal, memos etc.
- Keeping different articles and references in one place
- Sharing notes with your clients (for confirming minutes etc.)
- Having a simple CRM system
Go for… If you want…
Notion… to use many templates
Evernote… to save everything in one place (including photos, clips, notes etc.)
Bear… a very simple note‑taking app in Gmail style
Cloud Storage Application
Next on the list is a cloud storage and document management application. A big majority of freelancers create some kind of documents for their clients – design files,documents, code, PDFs etc. Thus, you want to have a good cloud file management solution that enables you to access your files from anywhere, keep a safe backup and, even more importantly, easily share your work with your clients.
When it comes to files, there’s one more frequent pain. Keeping a good versioning system (not to mention naming files properly). Many cloud storage providers support some kind of versioning, change tracking or restoring previous versions. It’s important that you create a file naming system for yourself, regularly do backups and know exactly how your cloud storage provider handles older versions of the files.
Go for the… If you…
Drobox… need the ultimate synchronization and sharing solution
Google Drive… work with others who need to edit and co-create your documents
OneDrive… want to use the solution that comes with Office365
Creative Cloud… do creative work with Adobe applications
Finally, we have communication apps. When it comes to communication apps, the situation is usually quite different. You can’t choose just one app that you prefer. Clients use different communication apps, and you frequently have to adjust to their preferences. Here are the apps that are most frequently used:
Most freelancers have to install most of them and then use different tools with different clients. And that’s okay. What is more important is that you don’t let all the chat apps interrupt your workflow. When you do the work you are paid for, you should completely focus without any distractions. And when you have a meeting with a client, be 100% present in the meeting. Apps like Forest and Freedom can be of great help at staying focused, and plugins like WP Reset help to speed up your work with your website. And these are the last three apps were recommend to every freelancer.