There are tons of freelance tools out there that claim to make life easier for freelancers—and there are plenty that actually do. But not all tools are created equal—and if you don’t want to waste a ton of time with tools that overpromise and underdeliver, you need to figure out how to sort through the clutter and find the tools that are going to make the biggest impact on your business.
But how, exactly, do you do that? How do you make sure the tools you add to your freelance toolbox are the best tools—and not just the “best” according to the freelance powers-that-be, but the best tools for you and your business?
Determine Your Needs
Before you start searching for the right tools, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, you need those tools to do. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the best tools for freelancers; the “best tools” are going to entirely depend on your business and needs.
Are you spending hours every week trying to stay on top of your finances? You probably need an accounting tool. Are you constantly running behind for meetings? A time-tracking tool will help you get back on schedule. Are you constantly bouncing between different software, projects, and email accounts? Then a unified inbox that organizes all your conversations, messages, projects, and documents in one easy-to-use platform (like Spike!) is going to be a complete gamechanger.
The point is, the best tools for you are going to be the tools that solve the biggest problems in your business. But in order to find those tools, you need to be crystal clear on what those problems are—and once you have that clarity, it’s going to be much easier to figure out which tools are going to be the right fix.
If you’re not sure what areas of your business could benefit most from the right tools, it’s time to start asking yourself some questions:
- What’s the biggest struggle in my business right now?
- Where am I spending too much time and energy?
- What are some tasks in my business that I absolutely hate?
- What are some tasks in my business that could be automated?
Asking these deeper questions will give you insights into areas of your business where you could use some support—which will help you figure out what kinds of tools are going to be the best fit.
Do Your Research
Once you know what kind of tools you need, it’s time for a little detective work.
Ask Your Community
The best way to know if a tool is going to work for you? If it works for other people like you.
Ask your community what tools they use for the issues you’re dealing with. Connect with other freelancers directly and get down to the nitty-gritty of why they’re recommending a specific tool. What do they like about it? What are the benefits? How does it address the problem you’re struggling with? What are the potential downsides?
The more information you can get from your community about their experience with certain tools, the easier it will be to pick one for yourself. (And if you don’t have a community, it’s time to start building one! There are tons of opportunities out there to connect with other freelancers in your niche, whether through Facebook groups, at coworking spaces, Meetups, or in mastermind groups—and the more connected you are, the easier it is to get help and support when issues come up in your freelance business.)
Looking for some communities to plug into? Hit up a local coworking space or Meetup or check out these online resources for freelancers:
- Six and Up: A Community For Freelancers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs
- Freelancers Union
- Goal Digger Podcast Insiders
- Graphic Designers (for designers)
- The Cult of Copy (for copywriters)
Google Your Heart Out
Whatever kind of tools you’re looking for, you’re bound to find enough content about it out there to rival War and Peace. Seriously—whatever kind of tool you’re in the market for, there’s probably at least 10 articles out there on it. And while not everything on the interwebz will be accurate (or unbiased), when you read through content about the kind of tools you’re looking for, you’re probably going to see some patterns—and certain tools that keep popping up.
When you’re doing Google research and reading through all the “best tools for freelancers” lists, keep an eye out for any patterns. Is there a specific company or tool that keeps coming up again and again? If so, that’s something you want to take note of—and a tool you might want to consider adding to your toolbox.
Be on the Lookout for Free Trials
You can ask your community for recommendations, read through all the “best of” lists, and Google your heart out—but investing in a tool you’re not 100% sure is going to work for you can still feel scary.
So, if you can avoid it, don’t!
There are TONS of tools out there that will let you “try before you buy” with a free trial or basic membership. It’s the best of both worlds; you can test out a new tool and see if it solves your problem without making an upfront investment. If it works, great! You have a new tool to add to your freelance toolbox. And if not, no harm done.
Now, remember—money is an investment, but so is time. If a freelance tool offers a “free” trial but requires a major time investment to get things up in running (like a deep tech integration or a three-hour call with their onboarding team), it’s not exactly “free”—so choose wisely.
Do a quick Google search for “[tool name] and free trial.” And if you do a free trial and fall head over heels for a tool, make sure to check AppSumo before you make a purchase; the deal site often has freelance tools available at a huge discount.
As a freelancer, there are tons of tools out there that can make your work experience easier, smoother, and a lot more fun—and now that you know how to find them, all that’s left to do is get out there and start building that toolbox!