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How to Be More Productive: The Best Tools for Creative Freelancers

best online tools for creatives
After spending several years as a self-employed solopreneur myself, and working with a team of 3-4 people, we’ve tested out lots of different tools and apps to help streamline our business process. This has helped us learn how to be more productive as well as earn more money in less time.

From managing our financial goals, to working with clients, to balancing everything on the go, our desire is to work smarter not harder. Likewise, your big goals probably include growing your online business, building a bigger and better community, and landing more clients.

To accomplish this you need some serious tools to help you be more productive, without wasting a lot of time and money.

To that end, here are our favorite tools and resources so you can get started working towards making your business a massive success this year!

1. The Mint Manual, from Tim Murphy ($29 ebook). Finally there’s a step-by-step guide that will save you tons of time and headache trying to figure out how works. Tim doesn’t just do the cut-and-dry tips either. He includes screenshots, secret tips, and even a cheat sheet. He also uses his own finances as examples and even displays a few super nerd sections (that you can skip if you’re not a business nerd like I am).

2. Asana: The Definitive Guide from Asana ($17 ebook). Asana is a task management tool that our entire team swears by! It helps us collaborate, stay on top of deadlines, and communicate in one place. We especially love that it keeps our inboxes clear from unnecessary back-and-forth emails. This guide will teach you how to use Asana effectively and is packed with tips and tricks to help streamline your productivity.

3. FreshBooks (invoicing software, various package prices, first 30 days free!). I use FreshBooks to track time on my projects, send out all my invoices, and to manage my monthly reports. I love FreshBooks because it’s so user-friendly, makes invoicing (and following up) with clients hassle free! Plus you can save LOADS of money on PayPal fees. How does it work? Essentially they’ve worked out a deal, when your client pays the invoice via PayPal with their account balance or echeck, that you’ll only have to pay a $0.50 flat fee, instead of the usual 3ish percent.

4. GoDaddy Bookkeeping (online bookkeeping, starting at $8.34/mo). GoDaddy Bookkeeping is THE go-to tool that we use to estimate quarterly tax payments and to keep track of business income and expenses. It’s especially effective for managing income/expenses paid via PayPal. For the price, it keeps my finances organized and on top of my taxes every year!

5. Karma WiFi (wifi on the go, $99 for a limited time). If you want to work on the go and not stress about internet, you’ll want to check out Karma Wifi! This device is super fast and fits in your pocket. My favorite part is that you only pay for what you use, and there are no monthly contracts or fees. One of the best parts of being your own boss is that you can work from anywhere — with this tool, you can enjoy being location independent, while still managing your work.

6. Dropbox (online cloud software, free to $15/mo). Where would I be without Dropbox? It helps me save all of my photos, videos, PDFs, and documents on the cloud (it’s a great backup!). Not only that, but I can share my files easily with my team. You can get a free plan, but in the event you need more storage, you can upgrade to a paid plan. If you want to organize all your digital media (and sync it with your mobile phone), Dropbox is where it’s at.

7. Grammarly (editing software, monthly premium account for $29.95, a quarterly plan for $59.95, or a yearly plan for $139.95) If you are a writer or editor, then this tool will completely change the way you work. Grammarly is an online writing app that enhances and checks your writing for spelling mistakes, errors in punctuation, grammar, vocabulary usage, and more. As a writer or editor, your work has to be error-free. We all make mistakes, but with Grammarly you can catch all of your errors before you hit send.

8. Focus@will Music (focus enhancing music app, free 15-day trial, or $49 per year) I love listening to music while I work, but it really takes the right kind of music to keep you focused on the task at hand. Luckily, I found just the thing to do that. Focus@will is a music app that is scientifically proven to help you make the most of your time, be more productive, and reduce distractions. You can choose from around 10 different “stations” of music, from acoustic, to upbeat, to sounds from a coffee house so that you can listen to music and stay focused.

9. RescueTime (time tracking software, free or $9 per month for the premium version) As a solopreneur, your time is your greatest asset. If you have ever felt like time is slipping away and you are not sure where your day went, RescueTime can help track your productivity. RescueTime tracks  your online activity so you can see exactly how much time you are spending on work, email, and social media. The results may be surprising! But it is so helpful to actually know where your time is being spent.

10. You Deserve More from Stephanie Halligan ($297-$397 course, depending on package). If you’ve ever struggled with setting your prices or raising your rates, this 7-day course can help you price yourself with confidence. The course is full of great resources like sample scripts, video coaching sessions, as well as an ebook. You can sign up with your email address and get access to a free 7-day email series. Stephanie has been interviewed on Careful Cents before and shares her experience of how she increased her salary by $12,605 in one year.

11. How to Design the Ultimate Home Office, from Hassan Osman ($9.95 ebook). Do you have an unorganized, cluttered work space? This is one of my favorite books for learning how to make the most of your space, and is what I used when I redesigned my home office for $76. The guide is very easy to read and filled with pictures, prices and the direct links to products, that Hassan actually uses, so you don’t have to waste your time researching.

12. Getting Rid of It, from Betsy and Warren Talbot (Kindle: $4.99 Print: $7.99). Did you know the average person spends one year of their life looking for lost things? At Careful Cents we strive to eliminate extra clutter from our offices and our minds. In this “intervention” of a book, you learn practical steps to getting rid of stuff. But it’s more than that, not only is it a step-by-step guide, this book addresses the emotional and peer pressures of decluttering and why we accumulate stuff.

13. Rockstar Blogging, from Shannyn Allen ($24+ ebook). Everybody loves free stuff, but how about $1K in free products and sponsorships, so you can start earning money from your blog? This guide has it, and I’ve used it to earn income directly from my blog as a brand ambassador and receive sponsorships. It’s been especially helpful in guiding me to create a custom media kit that I sent out to prospects, and explains exactly how to get noticed by brands you love and how to pitch to them.

14. EPIC BLOG: One-Year Editorial Planner from Regina Anaejionu ($15.69 blog planner). As the title suggests, this blog planner is EPIC! It can help you create blog content that is both purposeful and profitable — I’m currently using it for my #blogtobizplan and I LOVE it. Included are various resources like a mini business plan, ideal reader survey, monthly theme planning, and tons more.

15. The Ultimate List of Better Paying Blogging Gigs, from Sophie Lizard (Free PDF). I’ve used Sophie’s tips and advice (and even interviewed her) for building my successful freelance business. This guide offers a giant list of sites and blogs that will pay you $50 or more per article you write for them. It’s packed with other tips like how to format, how to really impress the editor and more!

16. Pocket (free!). This is the tool I use every to save over 4 hours a week in wasted time on social media! Pocket is basically a bookmarking tool that works similar to an RSS feed. When I come across an article, a video, or an image that I like but don’t have the time to read, or aren’t in a quiet place to watch, I simply can save it to my “Pocket”. I’ve also started using it to save articles I want to include in my portfolio list for later.

17. How to Create a Freakin’ Fabulous Social Media Strategy, from Alexis Grant ($59 ebook). I started my online career as a social media manager and used this guide as a jumping off point. Alexis is a digital genius who’s passionate about making a life on her own terms (check out her interview). This guide will help you craft a winning social marketing strategy so you can reach your big goals. It even includes a sample social media strategy so you can see how one digital strategist puts all the pieces together.

18. 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writer Success by Gina Horkey ($47 course — priced at a discount for Careful Cents readers only!). Are you wondering how to break into freelance writing? Gina Horkey’s course offers a step-by-step guide on launching your business and provides insight on how to get started and break through. Gina recently quit her full-time job and is now making over $4,000 a month from freelance writing. In this course, learn the strategies that helped her quit the nine-to-five and be a full-time writer. My favorite part? From start to finish it has 32 lessons and is super budget-friendly!

19. The Lateral Freelancer from Saul of Hearts ($35.10 ebook). This guide will give you all the tools you need to be a successful freelancer in the Share Economy — you’ll learn how to find the right clients, make multiple income streams, and grow your talents into freelancing success. If you haven’t earned back the price of this book within your first 30 days of freelancing, there’s a 100% money-back guarantee.

20. The Careful Cents Club, from Careful Cents (FREE private forum). An exclusive club I created for other creative solopreneurs looking to take the leap to full-time biz owner. We share tips, advice and questions for creating work-life balance, increasing revenue and all the other things that come with being your own boss!

Got another to add? Name one online tool or product you’ve used to make your business better!

[All the items listed are products I use personally. Some of them are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you! However, the opinions here are my own.]
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About the author: Carrie Smith is a financial writer, business consultant, and freelance coach. After paying off $14,000 of debt and quitting her full-time accounting job, she launched Careful Cents to help other creative freelancers overcome financial mountains. She works one-on-one with side hustlers and go-getters who are ready to make a profit without selling out. When she’s not writing about finance, and geeking out over numbers, she enjoys painting, sketching, and making food with her chef husband. You can connect with her in real time on Twitter or Instagram: @carefulcents.

28 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own

  • jennyblake January 11, 2013, 10:36 pm

    Thanks so much for the mention, Carrie — I really appreciate it!

    • Carrie Smith January 12, 2013, 6:40 pm

      My pleasure Jenny!

  • Kickstart Kitchen January 12, 2013, 8:52 am

    Thanks for including us Carrie, AND wow! thanks for compiling such a fantastic list. What a great resource!

    • Carrie Smith January 12, 2013, 6:39 pm

      Thanks for the support! I couldn’t do it without all of your amazing tools for making successful entrepreneurs.

  • Caleb Wojcik January 12, 2013, 10:44 am

    Thank you for mentioning Make It Rain Carrie! I appreciate the support. :)

  • Budget & the Beach January 12, 2013, 11:04 am

    Great list Carrie! Bookmarked for future reference!

  • Sandy Sidhu January 12, 2013, 11:16 am

    What an awesome resource, Carrie! Thanks for including Thrive Hive!

    • Carrie Smith January 14, 2013, 10:38 am

      I love being a part of Thrive Hive, and a resource I can’t help but share! Thanks for making such an inspiring tool for female entrepreneurs :)

  • Tahnya Kristina January 12, 2013, 1:00 pm

    Great resources Carrie! Love the roundup.

  • Joe Cassandra January 12, 2013, 5:16 pm

    No brainer Bookmark, thanks Carrie and congrats on YEC 😀

    • Carrie Smith January 12, 2013, 6:40 pm

      Thank you Joe :) I’m really excited about YEC.

  • Benny Hsu January 12, 2013, 11:38 pm

    Thanks Carrie! That’s a great list and think there is definitely something for everyone.

    • Carrie Smith January 14, 2013, 10:38 am

      Thanks for creating such an awesome resource Benny! I’m honored to have it as part of my list.

  • Hassan Osman January 13, 2013, 9:51 am

    Thanks for the mention Carrie! This is a fantastic list!

  • Sophie Lizard January 13, 2013, 2:14 pm

    Carrie, this is insanely useful! I’ve found a few things here that I didn’t know existed – including your Freelancers Club – going to check those out now. Thanks for the mention, and I hope you have a HUGE 2013!

    • Carrie Smith January 14, 2013, 10:33 am

      So happy you found my suggestions useful Sophie! Anytime you’d like to be part of the Freelancers Club, you’re absolutely welcome. We share your stuff in there all the time – it’s super helpful!

  • Chris A Stumble Forward January 13, 2013, 3:06 pm

    Awesome list I definatly like the book on designing a home office, I’m looking to do this in a few years with my basement.

  • Dana Sitar January 14, 2013, 7:05 pm

    Amazing list, Carrie! Thank you so much for including me in this great company :) I’m going to need days to scour through all the resources on this list.

  • Jordann January 15, 2013, 6:41 am

    Wow this is an amazing list! I’m so busy with other life commitment that I have absolutely no time to read them, but I’m bookmarking this for future reference!

    • Carrie Smith January 15, 2013, 9:50 am

      Thanks Jordann, I’m glad you found it useful and hope you can take a peak at some of them in the future. Good luck with your to-do list!

  • Jeffrey Trull January 15, 2013, 11:40 am

    Super list! I use a few of these already, and I agree they’re very helpful!

  • Shannyn January 15, 2013, 8:53 pm

    Aww, thanks so much Carrie, I appreciate the mention!! :) You rock!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money January 16, 2013, 10:49 pm

    This is one heck of a list! I will definitely have to check some of these things out. Thanks for putting it together.

  • Maegan Anderson January 25, 2013, 1:03 am

    Almost all the information needed to become successful in online entrepreneurship were posted on this article. Thanks for sharing all stuffs Carrie, this is a big help especially to those online entrepreneurs who wants their business become more productive.

  • Anthony Mazzocchi January 28, 2013, 3:22 pm

    What an amazing list! I have a pile of books getting ready to be read….time to add a few more…

  • Stacey Harris March 1, 2013, 1:10 pm

    Great resources! Great job Carrie. I’m already a part of a few of these groups but I might be adding to my reading list thanks to you.

  • Kayla March 28, 2015, 8:44 am

    I love when you share what tools work for you. Thanks so much Carrie! Some of these are new to me and I’ll have to check them out.

  • Colodia March 31, 2015, 6:10 am

    Being a content writer these are quite useful resources.I will recommend you to check out proofhub too a great tool, I found it awesome. Btw I will join your club :) Thanks for sharing
    Keep on writing

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