3 tools to grow your freelance business
A 2016 study by Upwork found that 73% of freelancers in the U.S. believe that technology has made it easier to find freelance work. Indeed, technology is one factor that allows the 55 million American freelancers to secure work that can replace the income they were making from their corporate jobs. But finding clients and completing the work aren’t the only things freelancers have to do. They must also become efficient accountants, marketing professionals, project managers, and expert communicators. So, how does one do all of these things without losing their mind? We’re going to show you which freelance tools you should have in place so you can make the most of your time.
Marketing is the bread and butter of any freelance business. While you probably know the importance of getting the word out about your services, it’s also a good idea to have systems in place for how you’ll do that. Depending on your field of work and your personal preferences, there are several options to consider.
If you have a blog, it’s likely that you’ll want to engage in email marketing. Tools like Mailchimp offer free and paid options that can help streamline the process of collecting email subscribers and promoting your product or service to them.
For freelancers who use social media as a means to find and connect with potential clients, platforms like Buffer and HootSuite are freelance tools to schedule out posts, respond to comments, and follow people. Being able to perform all of these actions in one place can save you the time and hassle of trying to manage each platform separately.
Social media and blogs are both great marketing tools — they can help you get in front of the right audience and establish yourself as an expert in your industry. However, the most effective way of getting clients is direct pitching. Once you’ve established which brands or publications you want to work with, reaching out to them via email is a solid way to land the gig. If you’re using this method, having a strategy in place is even more important. You can create a spreadsheet that allows you to track who you’ve pitched, who the contact person is, when you pitched them, and whether you need to follow up. In addition to a spreadsheet, there are a couple systems that can help make this process flow even smoother:
- Tools like Boomerang that allow you to create reminders for certain emails, like if a client asks you to follow up in a few months
- All-in-one project management systems like 17hats that let you track leads and then convert them into jobs
Client Relationship Management (CRM) Tools
Once you’ve landed a client (great job!), you’re going to need a way to communicate with them. Once you outline all of the points of contact you’ll need to have with your client — from sending a proposal to signing a contract to submitting your work — utilizing a system that allows you to set up a workflow can help this process become more efficient and will save both you and your client time. Ideally, you’ll find a CRM that also allows you to manage tasks; the less separate systems you have to manage the better.
There are many great client communication systems available, and finding one that works for you and your business may take some research. Here are a few of the most popular CRM’s for freelancers, to help you get started:
Accounting and Invoicing Tools
You’ve got some money rolling in from all those clients you marketed to and impressed with your killer communication skills. So, how are you tracking all that income? What about the expenses you incur as a freelancer? Accounting systems, of course. This is one area you don’t want to skimp on, especially when tax season rolls around. And, if you make more than $1k a month, tax season is every quarter.
Depending on which CRM you choose, it may be able to serve double duty as an invoicing and accounting tool. Still, you’ll want to weigh your options as many accounting systems require a monthly fee and/or take a percentage of each payment you receive. Either way, be sure to select a system that allows you to invoice your clients, so you’re not having to manually add in payments. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular freelance accounting systems, how much they cost, and the fees they take:
Cost: Between $15 and $50 a month, depending on which plan you use
Fees: 2.9% + 30 cents for credit card transactions
Fees: 2.9% + 30 cents for credit card transactions
Cost: $12/month, billed monthly or $10.80 per month, billed annually
Fees: No transaction fees but they do use PayPal and Stripe to accept payments, both of which do charge the standard transaction fee of 2.9% + 30 cents
Keep in mind that nearly every accounting and invoicing system will take a fee because they have to pay to process credit card payments. Some allow your client to do a bank transfer, which is free for both parties. Depending on your client and the systems they have set up, you might not have a choice in how your invoice is paid. Some still use checks (so old-fashioned, right?), some utilize PayPal, and some may have their own professional invoicing software. Be flexible in how you receive payments from your clients but, no matter what, choose a system that allows you to track all payments and expenses so you can accurately calculate (and pay) your taxes.
Setting up freelance tools can feel like a hassle and many freelancers don’t set them up until they need them. However, being proactive about getting systems in place saves you time and money in the long run and convey a high level of professionalism to your clients. Do your research and get your systems going and, before long, your business will be running like clockwork.