For the majority of my adult life, I prided myself on being more or less organized. I worked toward that reaction from friends of “damn, she’s got her shit together.” It came naturally to me. I never wrote down assignments in college or their due dates. They were all locked up there in my brain.
And then something weird happened.
I got older. I mean, not even a year out of college all of the sudden I was using a calendar. I was forgetting appointments and meetings. It was like a piece of my brain fell out once my diploma was placed in my sweaty palms.
It took me awhile to transition. Pride got in the way. Phrases like “I don’t need no stinkin’ calendar” or “every planner I’ve ever seen is ugly so why would I get one” were going through my head, but then I would forget that tomorrow was a concert or date night. If I didn’t write it down good luck with me even remembering we had a conversation.
I finally acquiesced to the changing times. I took the deep dive, bought a smartphone (call me a late adopter to anything about technology), and synced up my Google calendar. Holy crap.
And the obsession with tools took hold of me.
It helped that I worked remotely for a startup in Spain who reviewed apps at the time. I started needing an easy way to track my time, send emails, and balance a bajillion projects at once all using different skill sets (high five to all you startup people who know what I’m talking about).
Recently I took the leap of faith off the Cliffs of Insanity to go full time as a freelance conversion copywriter. Now I didn’t just have a boss telling me what needed to get done I had clients, and that’s a lot more management.
My Google Chrome bar now looks like an icon robot barfed all over it. Extensions galore!
But you know what?
Each and every extension makes my life easier, and when you work for yourself, that is the #1 goal in life.
When things are easier you can focus on projects, clients, and make the money you need to pay those bills and have fun.
I’ve put these apps and extensions in the order of frequency of use.
Toggl I use every day, every single hour. Time to Decimal Calculator I use once a month when I do my books.
Keeping track of time is more important than we freelancers care to acknowledge. I keep ridiculous notes on how long I’m spending on each project and how long each piece of that project takes me. Toggl makes it super easy to track a client, project, and task.
You can run reports and filter it down by task or client. For me, most importantly, I can see how long I’m spending in meetings. I noticed the other day that I’m eating up 20% of my time in meetings, so now I’m working on figuring out how to streamline or take out unnecessary ones.
Price: Totally free, but you can always upgrade if you want more bells and whistle to trick out your ride. Track your time now.
The Great Suspender
Seriously, download this extension RIGHT. NOW. I don’t know anyone who has a clean internet browser open. When I say clean I mean they have max 2 tabs open at any given time. One of my best friends has so many tabs open you can barely click on them they are so tiny.
All those tabs really kill your internet speed. Every single one is constantly refreshing which eats up your bandwidth. The Great Suspender pauses the tabs you haven’t been to in awhile. You can set the time parameters to how you like. When you need that tab again, just open it up, click, and it magically reloads for you.
Hello to faster internet.
Price: Totally free. Get it now.
Yeah sure, I might be a professional copywriter, but I make some stupid mistakes sometimes. Like just now I used a comma in a weird place. Grammarly put this annoying red line under it, told me how to fix it, and voila I look like a grammar wizard again. It doesn’t work in Google Docs or Gmail, but for almost every other online site it checks as you go.
No more embarrassing misspellings or misplaced punctuation in your tweets (that we still can’t edit- dang it Twitter, when will you make this feature a thing?!?).
Price: Totally free, but you can upgrade to more fancy features. Be super awesome at grammar now.
As a freelancer I find myself writing the same type of email over and over again: meeting scheduled, see you soon, my process, this is why you only get one revision...the list could go on. Instead of taking 20 minutes each time I need to write these, I’ve saved templates in MixMax. Now when I get those frequent requests I can just load up the template, add the little necessary details, and hit send.
The best part about this tool is that it tracks clicks and opens. That’s right, now you can see if a potential client actually opens that pitch email, if they click, and if they download. Perhaps they opened but didn’t click. Ok, cool. Why didn’t they click? Ask them.
You can also schedule emails to send later. If you are burning the midnight oil and don’t necessarily want your client to get an email from you with a 1:00 AM time stamp, schedule it out for 8 the next morning.
Price: $9 for starter plan (what I use). Write fewer emails now.
We’ve all done it. We’ve done that annoying email hockey trying to figure out when everyone is free for a meeting. It finally gets scheduled and then Joe Schmo realizes he has to pick his kids up from soccer practice. The cycle begins all over again. Sigh.
You can link your Acuity with multiple calendars so it automatically blocks that time off. Set up different types of appointments, have people fill out a form before they schedule, write reminders that send automatically- Acuity does it all.
Price: I don’t pay anything for Acuity, as it comes free if you are a Squarespace user. But if you are on another website platform I would suggest ponying up for the $15/mo plan. You have to be able to sync at least one calendar for the tool to really work its magic.
This one is pretty easy to explain. I clearly have a lot of tools and apps and things I need to be signing in to all the time. Typing in passwords takes time. It also takes precious memory space in my brain. LastPass puts them all in one spot and auto-fills for you. Magic.
Price: Free. Save your passwords now.
Please don’t use Skype for your business calls. I mean, if you do, at least have a professional username. Skype adds an extra layer of friction for your client. You have to ask their username (and if they don’t have one they have to make one just for you), friend them, and then set a time.
Zoom is video conferencing for professionals. You can schedule meeting times, get links for clients to join, and the best part is that you can record your call so you don’t have to take notes during. The connection is generally better than Skype and you look like you know what you’re doing.
Price: Free, but I would suggest upgrading to the Pro plan at $14.99/month. On the free plan, you can only have one other person on the call with you. You could always wait until you have a multiple person conference call, but what if the client didn’t tell you other people were calling in? You’ll be capped at 40 minutes and look totally unprepared. Don’t let that happen to you! It almost happened to me.
At the end of the day, you have to get paid. If it’s hard for your client to pay you they might not or they might take longer than you want them to.
Freshbooks is so easy to use. You can customize your invoice to match your brand and set up recurring invoices that send automatically. You can also set up reminders or charge interest if a client pays an invoice late.
Bonus- it integrates with Acuity. If you have billable hours, or if people can book you for a power hour of work, have them pay upfront with ease.
Price: Free, but you are limited to 5 clients and they can’t pay with credit card. Please upgrade to the Lite ($15/mo, limit 5 clients) or the Plus ($25/mo, limit 50 clients). I upgraded to the Plus because I happily passed that 5 client limit.
Almost every potential client asks for some type of portfolio, and Carbonmade makes my portfolio look jaw-droppingly awesome. It’s easy to use and you get to look super cool by dropping a link in the email instead of a thick PDF full of slides that they’ll probably just gloss over.
Price: Free with a 5 project limit. I’ve made this work for me, as I’m trying to keep my costs as low as possible. For only $6 though you can get 10 projects and really beef up that portfolio. Get it now.
When I’m working on emails or wireframing, sometimes I need to know what the brand colors are. Not all companies have a brand style guide, so you have to fly by the seat of your pants. Eye Dropper lets you hover over anywhere on a webpage, click, and it will tell you the exact color you are seeing.
I use it more than I realize.
Price: Free. Match your colors now.
Google Analytics URL Builder
UTM (urchin tracking module) codes are so so so essential for my work. When I’m building a paid ad strategy or putting in my author bio information on a website I write blogs for I always put UTM tracking in them. That way when someone clicks on that and visits my site I know exactly where they came from.
For clients and ad strategy, they need to easily be able to see if the ad campaign is bringing in any traffic and if that traffic is converting. UTM tracking gives Google and you a leg up on analytics.
This extension is so super easy to use. Go to the webpage you want to track, click on the extension, fill in the form, and click “copy link and parameters.” Easy as pie.
Price: Free. Track now.
Time to Decimal Calculator
There’s no use in tracking all that time in Toggl if I’m not seeing how it converts to paid time. I am pretty rubbish in math so any tool that helps me make 2 + 2 = 4 makes me smile. Converting my hours and minutes into decimals helps me fill out my spreadsheet of time spent vs amount paid to calculate hourly pay.
Why do I calculate this? So I know if I’m setting my prices right in my proposals.
Price: Free. Convert now.
Bonus: Percentage Calculator
But seriously I am a stinker at math. I love this calculator for so many reasons.
Freelancing isn’t easy work. Sure, it’s awesome to wake up and work in my PJs until I have to take my dog on his morning walk, but it requires massive focus and the ability to wear multiple hats at once. These tools help me reduce my hats and keep my stress levels to a healthy minimum.