American guitarist, songwriter, singer and producer Steve Vai once said, “I’ve learned over the years that you’re going to be most successful at the things you’re most excited to do. Every artist has a special set of tools. When you really use those tools, and you make yourself feel really good about the product you create, I think you’ll find an audience for it.”
Isn’t that also true for us freelancers? Our work is so much better when we’re excited about it. In turn, we’re more likely to be excited about our work when it’s the best possible. Good news is, there are a ton of tools available to make us better at our jobs.
Here are some favorite tools (most of them free!) that will improve your writing, further your reach and keep your life as a freelance writer in order.
There’s a lot of great products available to help you manage your editorial schedule, including Asana and Trello, covered below. Here’s a couple of additional options.
CoSchedule makes it easy for WordPress users to plan out each post from end-to-end. Collaborate with your team members on task lists, deadlines, etc. It’s great if you have a designer working on images, a marketer working on SEO, a community manager on distribution, and editor approving the post, etc.
Cost: Ranges from $10/month for 5 users and 10 social profiles to $299/month for an enterprise option.
Sometimes the most simple option is the best one. The beauty of using a spreadsheet is that you can customize it however you like and collaborate on a schedule with little need for product education. If you could use some inspiration, here’s a whole bunch of templates.
Both forums offer a sea of information in the form of discussions. Of course, you don’t want to use someone’s opinion as fact, but you’re likely to stumble across helpful links on both.
Search any topic to see the most popular posts based on social shares. You can also search a specific URL to see the most popular posts on any blog or site.
Cost: Free for your first five results and ten searches. Plans range from $79/month to enterprise.
Search links and tweets on any topic for the most popular articles. You can then drill down by relevance, date, language and more.
7) Jurn, 8) Google Scholar, 9) Academia.edu and 10) Springer
For stats, data and science-based research, these sites are excellent resources with free access to scholarly articles, journals, scientific studies and more. They’re all easy to navigate, but for the quickest results, start with Jurn and Google Scholar.
11) Tumblr, 12) Pinterest and 13) StumbleUpon
With these platforms in my toolbox, I can easily discuss the importance of headshots and coordinating outfit colors for family portraits in a blog post, as well as hair trends including ombre, Brazilian blowouts and balayage — simply from observing what’s hot and trending on these social media sites.
Cost: Free for all three
I love Pocket for it’s Chrome extension. Tag and save any story from the web to revisit later when you need the best articles on a specific topic. Download your stories to the mobile app by simply refreshing when you have wifi or data service and then read them offline.
Cost: Free with an option to save the stories forever for $4.99/month.
Pinboard feels a bit more like a research tool than Pocket. It’s handy because you can search your own pins or pins from the public like you would a search engine. You can also see how many times each piece of research has been pinned. It also has a Chrome extension.
Writing and blogging platforms
It may be the oldest tool on this list, but Scrivener is great for large projects. You can save bits of data, stats, photos, etc. during your research process then organize them into a cohesive final product.
Cost: $45 one-time fee
WordPress is a good old stand-by. It’s super easy to use and offers a ton of customizable design templates and third-party plugins for SEO, photos, social sharing and pretty much anything else you can think of. The best part is, everything is open-source!
Cost: .com version is free to build a basic blog with a standard theme, plus hosting and installation fees. You can also pay a developer to build a custom site on the .org version. This post has a great cost breakdown of running and marketing a WordPress site.
Aside from its beautifully simple design, Medium is great because it comes with a built-in community. The people who follow you will automatically receive your new articles via a digest. If they recommend your piece, it will also be delivered to the people who follow them, giving your content the opportunity to reach a broader but still relevant audience.
Another simple and elegant blogging platform, Ghost can be completely customized in design to suit your needs and your brand, whether that’s a company blog or a full scale newspaper. It also allows for team collaboration, Markdown syntax for easy editing.
Cost: From $8 to $200/month with an Advanced plan at $24/month for 100,000 monthly views and 3 blogs.
Squarespace makes it easy to build a good-looking blog without any programming experience. They provide a range of theme options, but if you’re adept at coding you can also build your own. Customizing Squarespace themes can be a bit wonky at first, but it becomes easy and quick once you have the hang of it! Their support team is ace as well.
Cost: From $8/month
One of my favorites, CoSchedule’s tool analyzes and compares your headlines, assigning a score to each based on character count, word type (common, uncommon, emotional, power), word balance and more! It even shows you what it will look like in Google search results and as the subject of an email.
Grammar and style
22) Dictionary.com, 23) Wikipedia, 24) BrainyQuote and 25) Thesaurus.com
As I write, I continually use some of the most basic of websites to either confirm a word choice, help me to better understand a term or theory, or back up my hypotheses. These may seem standard, but Dictionary.com, Wikipedia, BrainyQuote and Thesaurus.com are resources I tap into on a daily basis.
26) Hemingway Editor
The Hemingway Editor will highlight run-on sentences, complex sentences, common errors, and even confusing sentences. It even marks adverbs so you can get rid of them and passive sentences so you can give your writing a bit more punch.
Search engine optimization
Yoast is the SEO go-to for any blogs on WordPress. The plugin makes it easy to optimize each post with tips on changes to make your content more discoverable on search engines.
Cost: Free for basic with premium accounts available.
For research on which keywords you should be trying to rank for — meaning, which have the greatest search volume — Moz’s keyword difficulty tool is pretty robust, but easy to understand.
Cost: Plans range from $99/month for five Moz Analytics Campaigns, 300 Keywords and 250,000 Crawled Pages to $599/month.
29) Google Trends
A free solution that’s not quite as effective as Moz, but works if you’re on a budget. Search any terms for a dashboard displaying search volume, location and other similar terms searched by the people looking for your term. You can also compare terms.
Images and stock photography
All photos on StockSnap fall under the Creative Commons CCO license, meaning you can copy, modify, distribute any photo on the site, even for commercial purpose without asking permission!
A side project from the fine folks at Crew, all photos also fall under CCO. Search for specific actions or themes or browse by category. You can also toggle between “all” and “featured,” which is kind of like their “staff picks.” You won’t come across a photo that isn’t stunning.
Death to Stock is a pack of high-quality, professional photos around a different theme delivered to your inbox each month. What’s cool is that they also provide some background about the photographer and where the photos come from. Knowing that there’s a unique story behind the photos I choose always makes me feel good about using them.
Cost: Free for the emailed pack; $15/month for access to the entire library plus a bonus pack
Flickr is perfect if you have your own pictures that you want to upload. It’s cloud based so you can access them from anywhere and you can also view images from other amateur photographers for inspiration.
Cost: Free for up to 1,000Gb of storage
Not every picture is going to fit perfectly into the right space and may need to be cropped, resized, recolored, or have text added to it. That’s when Pixlr can help you edit your pictures to suit your style or format.
Cost: $1.99/month or $14.99/year
35) Canva and 36) Pablo by Buffer
If you’re looking to create visuals that are not photographs, Canva or Pablo by Buffer are both easy-to-use tools for creating graphics pre-sized for any social media channel.
Cost: Both are free
Content distribution and social media management
Bit.ly shortens your super long URLs, making social posts more polished while allowing you to track clicks. To see how much engagement your Bit.ly link has gotten, paste the link in your browser bar with a “+” added at the end, and it will pull all the analytic you need.
Cost: Free with a premium option for brands.
Hootsuite is an awesome time saver. You can view several social media accounts at one time on your screen, making posting and responding to messages a easier. You can also sync your calendar and get analytics reports from your various social media accounts.
Cost: Free for 3 social profiles; $9.99/month for 50 social profiles, advanced scheduling and more.
Buffer lets you easily schedule your posts across social media accounts with a Chrome extension. This is great for when you want to batch posts to save time or maintain momentum. The platform includes analytics to help you see which content is resonating the most with your audience.
Cost: From free to Awesome ($102/year for 10 social profile sand 100 posts) with a Business account option ranging from $50-$250/month.
Many brands mistakenly forego building an owned content distribution channel. SumoMe offers beautifully designed pop-ups and scroll-boxes for email collection when building your newsletter list.
Cost: Free with Pro options that include A/B testing, custom design and more for $20/month per app or $100/month for the whole suite.
Among my favorite SumoMe tools is Content Analytics, which tells how many readers a specific post has seen, how far down they read, where the average read is, and where the drop off is. You can then use this data to optimize the length and use of photos, quotes, etc. for future posts.
42) Google Analytics
The standard for measuring content success. You can track simple metrics such as visits, time on site, bounce rate, etc., but the real value of GA is tracking which content sees the most visits, where your traffic is coming from, and the user journey throughout a site or blog. Advanced use of GA can be a little tricky. I suggest checking out this guide before getting started.
Asana and Trello know that no man or woman is an island, providing effective solutions for team communication and collaboration. These databases keep any collaborators on your projects on the same page with group conversations and task lists so everyone knows the details of every project and who’s responsible for what.
These tools can also be used as content or social media calendars. Here’s an example from Asana.
Cost: Free with Premium plan offers.
Among the favorites of to-do lists in the startup crowd, Wunderlist makes it easy to plan, track and get things done! Available on pretty much any Mac or Windows device.
Cost: Free with a pro plan available.
Time-tracking and invoicing
The app allows you to import your calendar and track your hours based on your task list. It makes it easy to find inefficiencies in your workflow and to set up better processes to get more work done in less time.
Cost: Prices range from free for one user and five projects to $199/month for 45 users and unlimited project with a free 30-day trial.
Harvest is similar to Timely, but with robust reporting and invoicing added. The tool has a beautiful interface and provides you with the insight you need to estimate future projects.
Cost: Free for 1 user, 4 clients and 2 projects. The Solo plan looks like the best deal at $12/month with up to 3 users and unlimited clients, projects and invoicing.
At any given time, I’m working on multiple projects and have several invoices I’m waiting for payment on. FreelanceSuite software keeps track of all of these factors and more.
Cost: You can buy the license for a one-time payment of $74.95.
Accounting and admin
Xero is like QuickBooks’ younger, hipper kid sister. The best thing about SaaS products like Xero is that they’re cloud-based so you can access your account from anywhere at any time, including from mobile. Perfect for the freelancer of the digital nomad persuasion.
Cost: Plans range from $9-$70/month, but the sweetest deal seems to be the Standard plan at $30/month with unlimited invoices, banking transactions, etc.
Mint.com is a free site that makes tracking your expenses easy and almost fun. Seeing how much you’ve spent on coffee and lunches in a week can be difficult, but Mint allows you to create budgets for different categories and will alert you when you’re about to go over…you know, for better decision making. 😉
With this extensive list, I’d love to challenge you to implement at least one of these tools into your daily work routine. One of my goals is to always work smarter, not harder because life is too short to spend all day at the computer. After all, I think we freelancers already work hard enough, don’t you?!
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