General Organization: Evernote- Free, upgrades available
This is a must-have tool for me. I use it for EVERYTHING in my life, business, volunteer work, homeschooling, family organization and more. Anything important is saved to Evernote, including important documents from my safe. This article was originally written in Evernote before posting online.
With this tool my information is available from any device, I can easily "clip" websites and save them to my Evernote account, sort by "Notebooks" and categorize with tags. The search feature means that I can find anything that I need in seconds. I can draw, speak to and record through the mobile app and later access that through my computer. I can set reminders and share notes with others. I can encrypt notes for extra security. So many features that I love.
The free version has limitations on monthly uploads and number of devices but it has met my needs just fine for the 6 years that I have been using it. They offer Plus and Business levels for those that need additional devices, collaboration tools, and other features.
E-mail, calendar and general office: Google's Tools (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc)- Free, GSuite $5+ per month
I had Microsoft Office since before I started freelancing but if I didn't I would use Google's office suite exclusively instead of paying for MS Office.
I am not a fan of checking multiple e-mails or having to use a program like Outlook so I love my Gmail because I have all of my different e-mail addresses funneled to the same inbox and replies go from the correct address with the custom signature automatically. With filters, I can tell at a glance what is business, personal, etc and with a click I can see an inbox of just business messages,
I use Google Drive for cloud file storage and sharing with clients. When a client uploads a file through my website, it goes directly to my Drive bypassing my server completely for increased security.
With Google calendar I track not just business but also have personal and group calendars connected, I also have my Facebook calendar linked so if I RSVP to a Facebook event, it automatically shows up on my this calendar. This integrates with my appointment booking software so a client will never book an appointment at a time when I am busy with something personal.
If you are setting up a new business it may be worth using GSuite for the custom features, at $5 per month it's a pretty good deal for what you get. Due to the extensive customizations of my free tools and the fact that my Drive has expanded storage, I haven't had a need to switch and pay for GSuite.
Phone- Google Voice- free
I don't like to use my personal cell phone number for business but at the same time, I don't want to have to pay a monthly fee for a landline or carry a second mobile. Google Voice is perfect for this, I get a free business line and I am able to make and receive phone calls from my computer and cell phone. I get call forwarding, text, voicemail transcription, call recording and more. When my cell phone rings I can easily tell which line it's coming from so I can answer appropriately.
Accounting Software- Wave Accounting
You can't be self-employed and not keep track of your finances. If you don't want to be bothered by this, hire me and I'll do it for you.
This software choice comes as a surprise to other bookkeepers. As a Certified ProAdvisor, I get QuickBooks Online Plus AND Self Employed versions for free and as a Xero certified advisor I get that software for free as well yet I use this free accounting tool.
I started using Wave with a previous business before I had access to the other tools but it wouldn't have been hard to switch at all. I tried QuickBooks for a while, I am very familiar with it since it's what most of my clients use but I found that I enjoyed Wave so much that "if it ain't broken, don't fix it". This isn't the right tool for everyone but it's great for freelancers. I love that my income is automatically tracked and I can just email receipts to a special address and they get digitized and processed to approve so I don't have to do any data entry. With the reports, I can easily see how the business is doing.
Invoicing/billing- Wave Accounting- free, pay only to process online payments
Since I already use them for my personal accounting, it's only logical to use them for my billing too. While I have access to other invoicing and payment processing tools, using Wave's integrated features means that the bookkeeping side is automatically done for me so all I have to do is reconcile at the end of the month.
It is easy for me to create an Estimate, convert that to an invoice, configure recurring invoices, set up automatic monthly credit card charges to my client's card so everything is automated requiring minimal to no effort once configured. In addition to credit cards, through this platform I am able to accept bank payments which means that I no longer have to wait for a check in the mail, the payment processing fee is competitive to popular processors such as Stripe and Square and well worth it when I get paid faster and don't have to worry about making a deposit to the bank because it's done for me.
Customer Relationship Management- Streak CRM- free, upgrades available
I am late to the "CRM" game, I fought the need for as long as I could, I tried other CRMs such as Agile and Insightly but they weren't a good fit. I don't need bells and whistles and don't want yet another system to log on to so I was happy when I found Streak.
I found this by accident when I had outgrown my old e-mail tracking tool, this is just one of many features that Streak offers. This CRM is a Chrome extension that works with your current Gmail so everything is done within my e-mail inbox. I love it so much that in addition to business I use it to track my volunteer work and book reviews that I do for fun. There are mobile apps to access data while on the go but I haven't had a need to use those much.
Cloud Storage Box/ Dropbox- free and up
As mentioned above, I mostly use Google Drive for internal storage and client uploads but I also use these tools with some clients, mainly to share completed work. Their free plans are adequate for my needs but upgrades are available if you need extra room.
File Encryption- AxCrypt- free, upgrades available
I make it a habit to keep all client files in the cloud but from time to time I may save something locally along with my personal business files. While I have firewalls to prevent remote access, if someone were to just take my computer or hard drive I would be in big trouble without file encryption. Sometimes clients will request a backup on CD, DVD or USB drive and I like to encrypt those as well.
There are tools that will encrypt the entire hard drive or have additional features but I have been using AxCrypt for years before those tools became popular and it's another case of "if it ain't broken, don't fix it".
Password Manager- LastPass- free, upgrades available
Working with so many bookkeeping and website clients I have a long list of username and passwords to keep track off. It's very insecure to keep those written down on my desk. I originally had an encrypted list on Evernote but there are just too many of them. LastPass makes it so I only have to remember 1 password for everything. It keeps all other logins secure for me, I can sort them, edit them, view them and I can use it to generate strong passwords when creating a new account. The browser extension does the typing for me, there is a mobile app as well.
Contract Signing- Hello Sign- free, upgrades available
If you are a freelancer, I strongly recommend that you have written agreements with all of your clients. They don't have to be fancy and there are plenty of free templates online. When working virtually like I do, I never meet most of my clients in person, so signing contracts can be a tedious process. In the past I would email the document, they would print, sign, scan and email back or send it via snail mail, it was a pain in the rear. With Hello Sign I am able to e-mail the agreement and they sign online with a few clicks. It's quick, easy and legally binding. Their free account gives you 3 documents per month which is adequate for my needs, there are plans for additional documents and other features.
There are other options that also offer a few free signatures per month but I prefer this one because of their Gmail integration so it's faster for me to get the signing done.
Appointment Scheduling- Calendly- free, upgrades available
I offer a free consultation to all potential clients and sometimes have a need to have a virtual meeting with current clients. Trying to find a mutually convenient time via email can be time-consuming and have a lot of back and forth. Calendly allows customers to view my availability from my website, select the time that works for them and book their appointment in seconds.
I have tried many other scheduling services before but I like this one best because it syncs with my Google calendar automatically, that is usually a paid feature with other services and I don't book that many appointments per month to justify paying a monthly fee. If I enter something on my Google calendar, the time is no longer available to book and when someone schedules an appointment, it automatically shows on my Google calendar.
Social media management- Hootsuite- free, upgrades available
I admit that I don't use this tool as much as I should. Marketing is my Achilles heel and I suck at it, my business would grow faster if I could be better at it. This tool allows you to plan and schedule your social media posts in advance to promote and maintain customer engagement.
Internet Security- VPN Unlimited- Price varies
While the firewall and file encryption protect the client and business files on my computer. The VPN give you privacy while working online and protects the data being transferred through the web to prevent those passwords, etc from being intercepted. If you work while on the road and use public Wifi, this is a must-have in my book. There are other reasons why a VPN is a good idea beyond just business needs so you should research that. There are many VPN options available, some free, some very expensive. I like VPN Unlimited because they offer a lifetime subscription, fast speeds, lots of server locations and no data limits. Combined with a special promo I paid a very low price for lifetime protection for 5 devices. They have plans for more devices if you need.
Remote control- Teamviewer- free, upgrades available
I rarely if ever use this anymore since all of my tools are cloud-based. This comes in handy a client has an issue that needs remote access to their computer. I have used it to teach how to use accounting software, or the WordPress backend before.
The only time I use it now is to access my computer while traveling, that way I don't have to bring a computer with me.
Teleconferencing/ Screen Sharing- Free Conference Call- free, premium features available
Another tool that I don't use often but it's great to have. I get free conference calling through Google Voice so I really only use this for the rare occasion when I teach a webinar using screen sharing or have to get together with a large group of people. If I wanted to have a large conference right now, I can just post my number and access code and we can all join and chat without pre-planning.