When I started my freelancing business, I didn’t know about most of the tools and software available to help streamline things and save time.
I wasted an atrocious amount of time trying to figure out how to make booking meetings easier, how to create nice-looking graphics for my blog, and how to make my opt-in boxes look better.
Not to mention all the time wasted looking through old emails to find a client’s Twitter password or editing the wrong version of a word document.
But eventually, I started to learn about the tools that could save me time, money and headaches, while making me look like a more organized and professional business owner to all of my clients. Talk about win-win-win.
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Freelancer tools you NEED to run a business online
1. Email accounts management program: GSuite
You’re going to need to be able to email people and you want to keep it professional — I know, this is groundbreaking stuff. I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a domain and building a website (even if it’s just a few simple pages to start) and having a email@example.com email address. This is the simplest way to look professional and it takes almost nothing to do.
You’ll need a:
- Domain (get ‘em cheap at Namecheap)
- A web host (I recommend Dreamhost if you want to keep it budget-friendly)
- A Gmail account (I HIGHLY recommend their basic business plan, but you can do this with a free account too)
IF YOU ARE USING A FREE GOOGLE ACCOUNT:
You’ll need to connect your domain to your host then create an email through your hosting account. Once you have the email created, you’ll need to add it as an ALIAS via Google. Make sure that you can both send and receive via that email address and you have a fully profesh-looking account with $0 in monthly email program fees.
2. Payment processing: Wise & Stripe
If you want to make money as a freelancer (and I’m willing to bet you do) you will NEED payment processing financial software. There is literally NO WAY around it. I use a combination of Stripe (credit cards) and Wise (bank transfers), occasionally I also use business PayPal occasionally, but I try to avoid them when I can.
You’ll be stoked to know it doesn’t cost you a penny to open a Stripe account as a PayPal alternative, and you can use it in tandem with a TON of invoicing software or you can send invoices directly from it. But there is a credit card processing fee, which you’ll need to pay for ANY program you use when you accept payments. This fee is only taken when a transaction is made and it varies, depending on where you are.
Wise costs a little up front ($42 USD) but it’s well worth it if you’re going to collect US currency but ARE NOT from America. As a Canadian, I could open a US bank account in Canada… for a price… or I can use a Wise account. Clearly, I go with the latter. I love Wise because you have the option to switch currencies when you want to, and can open different currency accounts.
Since I live in Mexico and do a lot of cash transactions, I pay myself in USD from my business to my personal Wise account. I then exchange the money from USD to MX pesos inside of wise for a minimal transaction fee, and finally take my pesos out of a bank machine with my Wise account. I cannot express to you, as a digital nomad, how much of a lifesaver this is.
Make sure if you are going to use it, you have a business PayPal account. You don’t want it to be closed because you’re not using is correctly.
3. Invoicing: HoneyBook
I personally use HoneyBook, but I’m a partner so I have a complimentary account and I DO NOT invoice with them. Instead, I whip up an invoice in QuickBooks and collect payment via Wise or Stripe. I often recommend Freshbooks over QuickBooks because it’s cheaper and QuickBooks doesn’t allow you to collect payment in currency other then the one you’re registered in.
The thing that I LOVE about HoneyBook is that it offers a variety of other functions that you’ll need as a freelancer, not just the ability to manage your business accounting. Some of my favs from their feature set include:
- Email management
- Create proposal documents
- Basic project management
- Contracts and questionnaires
- Automated meeting bookings
Plus, it makes you look super professional and organized – always a bonus!
If you’re not set on HoneyBook (yet), there are a few other ways you can do invoicing.
You can do it through your bookkeeping software (hello, Freshbooks). It doesn’t have as much razzle-dazzle in the client management area, but it’ll get the money job done.
Or you can do a free alternative by using Google Docs or Canva. You’ll need to manually make and send the invoices each time, and the linking to your payment processing probably won’t be as smooth. But, ultimately, you’ll get the job done.
4. Bookkeeping and accounting software: Freshbooks
Invoicing isn’t the only important financial function your freelance business needs to undertake, you’ll need to keep the books up-to-date too!
Freshbooks is incredibly easy accounting software to set up and customize so your invoices and documents look great. Not only that but you can record and categorize any income and outgoing money (AKA do your bookkeeping) right inside the program. That way when tax season rolls around, you’re already prepared.
Unfortunately, my favorite client management software, HoneyBook, does not offer this functionality. But if you want a truly all-in-one freelancing solution, Bonsai does. I find that Bonsai’s bookkeeping functions only really work if you’re a US-based freelancer, but there is the option to work in other currencies. It’s just not as smooth.
Now, I’m all about programs and automation, but I do my monthly and day-to-day bookkeeping on a manual spreadsheet that I purchased via Etsy. Why? Because I found that I was getting lost in the technology of it all and really didn’t know what was going on money-wise. So I decided to embark on a manual journey for a while to truly get to know my books.
If you’re brand new to business, I highly recommend keeping your financials manually so you can really see what’s going on. But make sure to transfer them to a program to make your accountant’s life easier!
🔍 Want to get more into your books? This spreadsheet helps me keep on top of my 💰
5. Website hosting: Lyrical Hosting
I firmly believe that ALL independently working individuals need a professional website. It doesn’t have to be hella fancy, but you need a presence. Trust me, if you don’t build one you’ll regret it years down the road when you realize you need one and you’re starting from scratch (she says from experience).
WordPress is my favorite website building platform — I even build and sell WordPress websites as an income stream. It’s free to use BUT you need a domain name and a host to run it. That’s where Lyrical Host comes in.
Lyrical Host offers managed WordPress hosting, that means their team helps you with all the things you don’t know how to do (hosting-wise). It’s seriously worth the money but it is a little more expensive.
So, if you’re just starting out and need to keep the budget tight, go with DreamHost. While The Freelance Hustle is hosted on Lyrical Host, I have several blogs (including this starter lifestyle blog, Real Adulting) hosted with DreamHost.
Having a great-looking website can help you stand out from other freelancers, and shows you mean business! Plus, with the flexibility of the WordPress platform, you know that your website can grow with your business and never hold you back from reaching new goals.
6. Time tracking software: Toggl
Using time tracking software is really important for freelancers because:
- If you’re billing hourly, you need to know exactly how many hours you worked
- Even if you’re not billing hourly, it’s nice to know how much time certain tasks take so you can determine if you are charging enough for your work
- Tracking your time can help boost your productivity because you’ll know where you are spending time
- Time tracking reminds you to take breaks!
My favorite time tracking software is Toggl. I can track my time to specific clients and projects, see how much time I’m spending on different activities, and even use the Pomodoro timer to remind myself to take a break every half hour.
Best of all, you can use Toggl time tracking at no cost with their free plan!
7. Project management tool: ClickUp or Notion
Both my preferred client management programs — HoneyBook and Bonsai — offer some form of project management tool, but they’re really not up to par if you like to dig into the details like I do. With that in mind, I recommend going with ClickUp or Notion. I like them both for different reasons and they both have a generous free plan.
ClickUp is a project management tool that offers the ability for you to manage your projects using lists. There are other ways to view this data (LOTS of ways) but everything is ultimately classified into lists and folders. If you like neat, organized stuff and enjoy tracking the details, this is the program for you. It also has a Chrome extension, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Full disclosure: I have a paid version of ClickUp via their annual subscription (it’s less than $100 for a year). You don’t NEED it, but I love the functionality of Dashboards, which allows me to tally incoming money from my various income streams. This is not necessary, especially if you’re just starting out, but it’s really fun to do. I act as a listing agent with Niche Investors and like to keep a running tally of site commissions that I’m working on. Likewise, I can keep an eye on incoming affiliate revenue and client projects.
Notion is slightly different. While things are managed in “lists” the primary management tool is linked documents. I LOVE the functionality in Notion, but I use it less because I’m a very visual learner and the color coding isn’t nearly as good. But I do love it for templated items like checklists as you can easily set up a new template and use it over and over again.
Both are great for helping you with staying focused on the task at hand, and are a solid choice because they’re both available for multiple devices.
8. Scheduling tool: Calendly
If you’re looking for a separate scheduling tool, I’m assuming you’re NOT using HoneyBook (and that’s totally OK). If you are using HoneyBook, skip this because you already have one.
Scheduling meetings is painful. One of the worst parts of finding clients and trying to book them for meet-and-greets is the constant email tag when you’re trying to set up a meeting. For the most part, I’ve banned meetings altogether — but there are situations where it’s necessary to take part. That’s where Calendly comes in.
Calendly allows you to set up time slots that clients can book with you, without you having to actively manage it. You simply send them your calendar link and they slot themselves in when it works best for them, without you having to participate in the meeting dance.
This is really a no-brainer for anyone who needs to book meetings with clients, and you can use the free plan if you only have a single type of appointment to set up.
9. Video conferencing: Gsuite or Zoom
A lot of virtual meetings take place via video conferencing, which means you need some kind of software to work with. Most people use Zoom.
You can use their free plan for meetings for 2 or 3 people, up to 45 minutes, which should be enough. But they do have a paid plan if you’re a frequent video conferences.
I don’t personally love Zoom, so I use Google’s native software to do it. Most people have Gmail accounts, which gives them access. But I do use Zoom if they don’t. You can use Google’s for free if you have an account, so it’s super easy!
10. Proposal software: HoneyBook
Do yourself a favor and don’t go with a client management soft ware that DOES NOT allow you to create proposal documents. It’s such a simple function that you’re wasting your money if you can’t do it and you’re using a paid software (#SorryNotSorry).
As a creative professional, proposals allows you to give clients a customized document that lays out your services for their entire project. Not only does this look like you have super profesh business skills, but it’s good to have that in writing so you can refer back to it if things seem to go beyond the scope that you originally agreed.
Both HoneyBook and Bonsai offer proposals (as do a few other software choices I like). I think HoneyBook has the prettier option, but overall they’ll both suit you well. To make your life easier in the long run, I’d encourage you to go with something that allows your clients to “choose” a plan and sends them an automated contract and first invoice — HoneyBook accomplishes this really well.
11. Legal contracts: The Contract Shop
Freelancers NEED to use contracts with their clients, and your best option is going to be providing your own. Why? Because everyone makes their own contracts to their own benefit — this makes sense but it’s not helpful to you for you to use a client’s contract that hinders your working ability.
The Contract Shop is my favorite place (and a seriously solid choice) to get legal document templates. They’re pricey, but you can buy one and continue to use it over and over again. Simply put it into your eSignature software (see below) and you can automatically send it out to clients. Plus these contracts are written by an actual lawyer, so you’ll have better legal terms set up.
12. Esignature software: HoneyBook
On top of everything else that HoneyBook does, they also allow you to collect signatures from your clients on contracts and other legal document templates you might need to use, which is super helpful.
You can set up automated sequences that ensure that you don’t start work until you’ve have signed contracts and collected an initial payment. This is the BEST way to complete freelance work.
Add the contract that you purchase from The Contract Shop to HoneyBook, and continue to use it it over and over again.
They allow you to set up templated documents to sign contracts that can ultimately make your life considerably easier. It’s as simple as grabbing your templated contract, and sending out a templated email to a new client!
13. Design tool: Canva
If you’re not a photoshop whiz, you can still create great designs using a free tool called Canva. Canva has hundreds of templates for social media posts and headers, blog graphics, PDFs and downloadables, flyers, business cards… you name it.
The tool is incredibly easy to use, even if you have zero design skills. You can use their templates and elements to create professional looking designs. You can also upload your own images to use in your designs, or select from theirs (some available on the free plan, some cost $1+ or are exclusive to pro).
Full disclosure: I use Canva Pro and I HIGHLY recommend it. Not only does it have free templates and stuff to use, but you can also use their paid options as well. That means you get access to photos and graphics that you don’t have to pay for separately. Both their monthly and annual plans are highly affordable and it’ll help give you a real professional edge.
14. Bank account: Wise
I talked about Wise already, but it’s worth calling out again as a full-on bank account. This doesn’t reduce your need for a bank account at a brick-and-mortar bank in your home jurisdiction (I mean, it can, but I’d recommend it doesn’t) because you want accessible money in case something happens.
Full disclosure: I have heard of nightmare stories about Wise freezing bank accounts with seemingly no reason why — but my experience with them has been fantastic. In fact, when my wallet was stolen in Cancun and my Canadian bank froze my bank account and reissued cards (which took MONTHS to get to me in Mexico) Wise allowed me to get paid directly from clients, pay my rent and stay on top of bills without access to my home accounts. I truly cannot sing praises for wise enough, especially if you’re a digital nomad.
Here’s how Wise works:
You sign up for a free account, but if you want to open other currency accounts (you do) you’ll need to pay a ONE TIME FEE of $42*. Once you have a set of bank accounts you can collect payments in many (not all, but many) currencies directly into an account with that currency.
I primarily use this to provide wire transfer payment options to clients paying in USD. Once I have the money in my USD account, I can transfer it to my personal account, use the card to pay for services directly in USD, or exchange it into another currency to pay for other services. For example, I pay for my Canva account in Mexican Pesos, which I can do online via my Wise account. There are exchange and transfer fees, but they are minimal compared to any other service I’ve used.
It truly makes doing online business a breeze.
*This is the fee at the time of writing this article, it obviously could change.
15. Email marketing software: Flodesk
Something I struggle with is email marketing — seriously, I’m in Liz Wilcox’s amazing membership and I still struggle to do it at times… most times. That said, it’s a BIG part of online business (and my 2023 business plan). But to do it, you need a solid tool.
Flodesk is my FAVORITE because it’s hella easy to work with and doesn’t charge you ridiculous amounts when your list grows. You can start out at $19 a month with this fancy little link, and stay at that price for the full year. There is also a checkout system that you can utilize if you need something for sales pages.
If you simply cannot afford that $19 in your budget (we’ve all been there) you can start with MailerLite for free. You can use it up to 1,000 people and can send a limited amount of emails per month. It’s not my favorite software, but it’ll get you in the door until you have the cash to afford something more advanced.
> Promote Liz’s membership
16. Calendar management: Google Workspace
We briefly touched on calendar management when I went hard on promoting HoneyBook earlier (seriously, I love it), but appointments aren’t the only thing on your calendar. My favorite tool for managing a calendar day-to-day is Google Workspace’s calendar because it’s free (or comes with ANY plan you’re using) and can be used on multiple devices.
Apple is my preferred OS, but I find the native calendar limiting. I do have non-Apple devices that I use as a backup internet and a tool to test digital planners on, and not being able to access the calendar (and other tools) seamlessly really hinders business. So, I stick with good ole Google, and their calendar has never let me down.
17. Cloud storage: Google Drive
File storing and file sharing wasn’t something I really thought about before I started freelancing. I just kept everything on my desktop and send emails to the latest version of a document. But once I started dealing with clients and sending files back and forth, I quickly realized that a shared system would be much better.
With Google Drive, you can set up shared folders for your clients and upload all the files you need – images, documents, spreadsheets, etc. You can actually store a lot of files in Google Drive for free, and both you and your clients (and anyone else you give access to) can see everything.
Plus, you won’t have to save a copy of your document and end up with file names like ‘final-blog-post-title-version-1’ and ‘final-final-blog-post’ and ‘no-really-this-is-the-final-version’. You and your clients can make live changes and it is all stored in the cloud, so you can always see the latest version without going on a hunt.
18. Stock images: Envato Elements
Envato Elements offers a simple monthly membership that allows you to download unlimited stock elements from images and videos to WordPress themes and fonts. I use it ALL THE TIME and I highly recommend you get yourself access because it can save you time and money in the long run.
There are free stock image sites, Pexels and Unsplash are my favorite. However, recently there have been horror stories about bloggers being sued for using these sources when the creators take the images off and say a proper licence was never granted. It’s a hella shady business practice, but you’ll save yourself the trouble in the long-run if you just use paid assets instead.
But Google LOVES original imagery. If you’re in a position to take photos or create graphics yourself, this is ALWAYS the best solution.
19. Spelling and grammar: Grammarly
Every interaction is an opportunity to show that you are a professional who gives a damn about their work. Sending an email or proposal with a few spelling errors sends the wrong message to clients and other small business owners. Grammarly is a free plugin that will save you the embarrassment of spelling mishaps.
This is especially useful if you’re creating content for yourself or even freelance content for clients. No one wants to post a Facebook update with a misspelled word! So do yourself a favor and install the free plugin.
20. Analytics: Google Analytics + Search Console
If you’ve got a website, you need to connect both Google Analytics and Search Console.
Analytics shows you how much traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, and what the readers are looking at. While Search Console helps you see how you’re doing on Google — it gives you an idea of what search terms your posts are showing up for and what else you should consider adding to improve your posts.
With this combined info, you can:
- Create more valuable content that attracts your audience
- See the pages people are spending the most time on, and improve conversions on that page
- Spend more time on the marketing channels that are bringing you traffic (for example, you might see that Pinterest brings you twice as many people as Twitter, so you should spend more time promoting on Pinterest)
- Understand the keywords people are using to find your site
21. SEO research: Keysearch
If you want to be a freelance writer and offer SEO-focused services, or you simply want to run your own website, you need an SEO research tool.
For less than $25 per month you can:
- Research terms
- Spy on competitors
- Watch your progress
- Check on content
- Create lists for future ideas
… and that just scratches the surface.
If you want to be an SEO pro, I highly recommend you start here and grow. You don’t need to spend $100+ to get started — Keysearch is a great place to learn.
22. AI Writer: Jasper or WordHero
AI is blowing up these days and this is going to be a controversial pick. But I’m both a writer and a multi-site owner, and I use AI all the time.
Now I’m a firm believer that AI is not going to do away with writers, it’s a tool that writers can use to do their work more efficiently. Being afraid, mad or vehemently opposed to it isn’t going to get you anywhere. With that in mind, I HIGHLY recommend learning how to use a tool like this the right way.
I personally use WordHero because I have a lifetime deal (which you can still get) — but I’m still working on my “how to” course. But if you’re just dipping your foot in and itching to get started, I recommend giving Jasper a try. One of my biz BFFs, Nina, has a killer eBook that can help you get started with prompts.
p.s. this blog post was written with WordHero — though, full disclosure, I do a TON of editing. So there are probably only about 300 to 500 of the original words in it
23. Abstract planning: Figma Jam
Hola fellow visual learners — planning is something I regularly struggle with (though I LOVE doing it). Luckily, I found Figma Jam which has a generous free plan, and it helps me plan visually in maps.
This is NOT going to be the right tool for everyone. But I draft everything from my editorial calendar to my annual sales strategy in there and it works wonders for me. It’s fun, you can play around with colors, and it’s great for visually mapping your business or just a part of it.
It’s probably the best project management solution, in my opinion. But it doesn’t work for everything!
Final thoughts: Best freelancer tools to run your online business
There are a TON of great tools out there to run your freelance business, it’s up to you to find the ones that work for you. These 23 are tried and true (by yours truly) but they might not work with the kind of business you’re trying to set up. And that’s OK!
If you’re just starting out, try not to get overwhelmed with having the right everything set up. Honestly, I’d recommend starting somewhere easy — like an all-in-one client management program and expanding your toolset as you see things you’re missing.
Most of us started from zero, and we hand to figure things out by trial and error. It’s OK if you take your time and work your way through this list. Don’t sign up for a bunch of accounts on day one… you’ll just end up overwhelming yourself.
If you’ve read this far and you’re looking for more start-up content, here are a few that I’d recommend: