If you’re one of the 24 million Americans who’s thought about quitting your full-time gig to work for yourself, or the 56.7 million Americans currently freelancing, you can likely relate to the 66% of full-time freelancers who feel anxious about all they have to manage.
Why? Well, freelancers wear a lot of hats, handling everything from project proposals and time-tracking to invoicing and bookkeeping.
Entrepreneur book club favorite The E-Myth Revisited advises startups and small business owners to make a list of all the tasks that need to get done and assign them out, and if you’re a freelance content writer, that list might look something like this:
- Marketing (design, writing, video editing, social media): You
- Sales (email, booking calls, video meetings, proposal, CRM, contracts): You
- Finance (invoicing, bookkeeping, payment options): You
- Fulfillment (time tracking, SEO software, document management, grammar tools, project management, productivity tools): You
It’s a lot. Luckily, the right tools can help freelance marketers hang up a few of their hats for good.
Below, we’ve rounded up the 40 best tools in eight different categories, according to self-employed marketers.
Best Communication Tools for Freelancers
Communication comes first for a reason. Whether you’re looking to onboard your first client, bring on more, or strengthen current relationships, knowing how your clients and prospects prefer to communicate pays off in client satisfaction and retention. The opposite is true for poor communication. Too little, and clients will feel ghosted; too much, and they'll want to unsubscribe from your mailing list.
1. Google Workspace (Winner).
An all-in-one platform that includes popular freelance apps like Gmail and Google Docs, Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) apps received more votes than any other tool — and it was a write-in ballot. Google Docs, Calendar, Meet and Keep were mentioned most frequently.
“Everyone who freelances should be deeply familiar with [Google Workspace]... especially on the collaboration side,” Preston Wickersham, a senior content marketing manager at Remote.com, told MarketerHire.
“Everyone who freelances should be deeply familiar with [Google Workspace]... especially on the collaboration side.”
Cost: The free versions of Google Drive and Gmail will work fine if you’re just starting out. Once your business gets going, we recommend upgrading to a Business Starter account (which includes extra security, storage, and a branded email domain) for $6 per month.
Pro tips: A few months ago, we came across Kelly Stocker’s Gmail system workshop, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method. Using native Google settings, her system can turn your inbox into a makeshift Trello board by adding extra columns and statuses.
Two other heaven-sent Gmail features for freelancers:
- The scheduled send feature: Just click the arrow next to the send button to send your email at a specific time.
- The email templates: Save your go-to responses to recurring email (like onboarding info) as templates using this handy guide.
Think of this Chrome extension as a Gmail expansion pack. While Gmail’s “schedule send” feature makes part of Boomerang obsolete, its free read receipt and reminder features for Gmail still come in handy.
If you’re sending out any kind of cold outreach — backlink and guest post requests, or client prospecting — Hunter will help you find the right email addresses.
One example use case: Freelance content strategist Kris Hughes uses Hunter.io to score guest blogs on websites with domain authorities between 60 and 85.
It’s nearly as commonplace as email, and Slack “channels” help organize ongoing internal and client communication — on a browser or desktop app, iPhone or Android. It also integrates well with third-party apps Google Drive, Google Calendar, Trello, Asana.
You can use this screen-recording Chrome extension to create tutorials on how to upload blog posts to a finicky CMS, or how to respond to comments on paid social ads. Give it a descriptive name, and you can easily follow up with new clients in real-time when they run into the same issues.
“Loom is phenomenal for creating videos on the fly,” Wickersham said.
“Loom is phenomenal for creating videos on the fly.”
Best Scheduling Tools for Freelancers
“The early bird gets the worm” definitely applies to freelancer response times. By the time they send that inquiry, inbound client leads are often more than ready to get started. Replying immediately to prospects with a calendar link can distinguish you from your competition. Ultimately, setting up a meeting with you should be as easy as buying from an e-commerce store.
1. Calendly (Winner).
“What times work best for you?”
“Hmm. Those don’t work for me, what about next week?”
“I’m actually out on vacation that week, what about the week after?”
Calendly puts an end to this kind of scheduling chit-chat. It syncs your work and personal calendars into one shareable calendar. Prospects, clients, and collaborators can then choose a time you’re free that works for them, too — in a single touch.
Cost: Calendly’s free plan gives you one event type — so, one meeting length and one meeting title. (For instance: “15-minute website audit.”) More flexible paid plans start at $8 per month.
Pro tips: Integrate with all calendars and set up with your preferred video chat app.
Here’s how to set up Calendly, including calendar syncing:
This scheduling tool is similar to Calendly, except for one major difference: It comes with a built-in video conferencing feature, so you don’t need to connect it to Zoom or Google Meet.
3. Acuity Scheduling.
With a FrontRunners badge on Software Advice, Acuity’s features and experience give it a slight edge over Calendly with system specialists like Chaya Gutnik.
4. Google Calendar.
We recommend using Google Calendar when sending a calendar link feels too impersonal. It can come in handy for booking internal meetings with collaborators or syncs with long-time clients who have given you a company Gmail. You can use the “Find a Time” feature to work around a team member’s schedule without wasting their time or yours.
5. Microsoft Outlook Calendar.
Like Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook Calendar allows you to view and find an available time with colleagues. You can also book a conference room (post-pandemic) using the Scheduling Assistant and Room Finder features. Microsoft Outlook is also available to Mac and iOS users via the App Store.
Best CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for Freelancers
While not mandatory, pulling together siloed contacts and communications after years in business is not something we wish for anyone, especially freelancers. If nothing else, we recommend creating a CRM workflow early on — in your inbox, spreadsheets, or a CRM application. This will help you scale client management as you go, not once something falls through the cracks.
1. Streak (Winner).
A digital rolodex is important to freelance business owners, but a true CRM isn’t all that necessary for a one-person operation. The option that won out in our poll? Streak for Gmail, a free Chrome extension that helps you manage projects, leads and partners from your inbox.
Cost: Free for up to 500 contacts. Paid plans start at $15 per month.
Pro tip: Make saving emails from new addresses a habit as they come in. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also set up the Gmail to Google Contacts automation using Zapier.
2. Google Contacts.
We know, this isn’t really a CRM, but it may be all you need. If you’re already using Gmail, just get in the habit of saving new email addresses to your contacts by right clicking on the person’s thumbnail image and hitting “More Info.” Then in the sidebar, select the person-and-plus-sign icon in the top right to save to contacts.
3. Google Sheets.
Using Google Sheets, you can create and download contact lists as CSV files, making it easy to send and upload lists to your marketing automation software. If spreadsheets aren’t your strong suit, we recommend starting with a Google Sheets CRM template.
Its database-style setup and variety of views — including gallery view and a calendar view — makes it ideal for a simple freelancer CRM. Plus, you can use their free CRM template to get started.
Similar to Airtable but greener (and with a lower starting price). Its handy Web Clipper Chrome extension also makes it easy to add contacts directly to your CRM without leaving Gmail or LinkedIn.
Best Project Management Tools for Freelancers
Two of the first to champion the kanban style, Trello and Asana remain favorites among freelancers for project management. They came in third and fifth place respectively in our 2021 poll for best overall tools for freelancers. That said, underdog project management tools like Airtable, ClickUp, and Monday.com are out-marketing them — and some say they outperform them, too.
1. Trello (Winner).
A visual project management tool with an intuitive design, Trello is ideal for editorial calendars and public product roadmaps. You can also find Trello templates and inspiration for just about any use case by searching “free Trello templates.”
It’s the perfect project management software to use “to keep clients aware of project progress,” Disruptive Digital founder Maurice Rahmey told MarketerHire.
Cost: Free until you need to add integrations, additional storage space or boards. Paid plans start at $9.99 per month.
Pro tip: Get creative with your kanban columns. Sometimes it will make sense to add status labels, like “Assigned” or “In Progress”. Other times, you can label by category or day of the week, depending on your workflow. Remember to give yourself buffers between projects.
A popular project management software with robust features and integrations, Asana is perfect for teams — and probably not strictly necessary for freelancers. That said, it’s often better to have more functionality than you need than less.
Yes, this ranks in two categories. (It’s also on our CRM list.) This database-style tool lets you view data any way you want, with sorting and filters similar to Excel’s, but easier on the eyes. It’s great for collaboration and customization.
With a robust free option, rich text and shortcuts, we think ClickUp may pass Asana in popularity in the near future. Paid plans start at $5 per month.
Often compared to Asana, Monday is “super efficient in managing competing deadlines and fun to use,” said digital strategy and CRM consultant Ellie Stamouli.
“Super efficient in managing competing deadlines and fun to use.”
Best Finance Software for Freelancers
Unless you are a freelance accountant, chances are you didn’t get into freelancing to balance books. On top of good accounting, invoicing and payment processing software, you’ll want to find an actual bookkeeper and, eventually, an experienced CPA. Between your appointments with your finance team, this bookkeeping technology can help you out.
1. Wave (Winner).
Unlike other invoicing and bookkeeping software, Wave doesn’t require a monthly subscription to get started. Its freemium model alone makes it a great app for getting started in freelancing — you only pay when you get paid. So while QuickBooks topped Wave in our poll, Wave's upfront value at no cost to freelancers earned it the top spot here.
Cost: Free, minus a small fee on invoices paid through the app.
Pro tip: Request check payments to avoid credit card-related processing fees.
The gold standard in business accounting, QuickBooks makes it easy to upgrade plans as you grow. It also syncs your bank account and integrates well with its sister apps, TurboTax and Mint. It’s great for teams, and preferred by most professional bookkeepers and accountants.
A rising star in the bookkeeping space, FreshBooks bills itself as the “#1 invoicing software for freelancers.” Their pricing currently undercuts QuickBooks’ and it offers most of the same features. The big knock used to be their outdated UI, but with a new coat of paint, this might be the best paid system for freelancers.
The easier you make it for your clients to pay you, the less often you will have to wear your collections officer hat. With a business PayPal account, your clients can pay you via PayPal, instead of snail mail. You can connect your business credit card to your business PayPal, too. Like Stripe, PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction.
A many-in-one freelance product suite, Bonsai helps freelancers create contracts and invoices with fill-in-the-blank templates and built-in e-sign. If you have a simple freelancing business with straightforward products, Bonsai is a good fit.
Best Time Management Software for Freelancers
Whether or not you bill hourly, it’s helpful to track time to know how long it takes to complete a task. It makes it easier to plan your days and charge appropriately — and these apps make it a low-lift process.
1. Toggl (Winner).
Toggl dominated the time-tracking category in our poll. Freelancers love its filters, simplicity, reports and generous free plan.
The Toggl Tracker “helps me to track the time I'm spending on a given task, group by projects, and send invoices for billable hours at scale,” said Divisional founder Trevor Sookraj.
“[Toggl] helps me to track the time I'm spending on a given task, group by projects, and send invoices for billable hours at scale.”
Cost: It’s free for all features you’d need as a freelancer.
Pro tip: Take advantage of the Pomodoro timer and the integrations with Gmail and Asana.
A powerful Chrome extension, Clockify lets you clock in and out or add time afterward. Users can add project titles, descriptions and tags to entries, which helps generate clean reports. This one’s free until you need to manage a team or add auditing functionality — which most freelancers don’t need to do.
A recent Fiverr acquisition, AND.CO pairs freelancers up with good project management tools and good advice from real human beings. Similar to Zoho, Freshbooks, or G Suite, it includes a suite of tools, including a time-tracking tool that turns timesheets into invoices.
4. Freelancer Onboarding Workbook.
To take the stress out of timesheets, we recently built our own weekly time-tracking tool for freelancers (along with an onboarding checklist) in Google Sheets. Test it out and track your working hours for free here.
Companies and freelancers alike use this time-tracking app. It looks like a traditional timesheet but, similar to Clockify, it includes a timer and lets you track by project and task for detailed reporting. It’s free for one seat and two projects; for unlimited everything, upgrade to a paid plan.
Best Tools for Notes and Bookmarking
Physical notebook? Chrome bookmarks? Social media bookmarks? After a while, using multiple note-taking technologies can become more of a hassle than a help. In our poll, freelancers told us their favorite tricks for how to pull all all their ideas and creative inspiration together in one place.
1. Notion (Winner).
Notion lets creative folks organize their many ideas and tasks — and store cool ads, articles, and GIFs from around the web for inspiration. Freelancers generally use the tool for note taking, business documentation, content planning, to-do lists and swipe files.
It’s the “[b]est app for note-taking and sharing said notes,” said Sookraj. “Lots of flexibility with formats (tables, images, etc.) and easy to organize,”
“Best app for note-taking and sharing said notes. Lots of flexibility with formats (tables, images, etc.) and easy to organize.”
Cost: The basic plan is free for personal use plus five guests. It includes unlimited pages and blocks. An upgraded personal plan costs $4 per month.
Pro tip: You can convert Notion databases into pages to create makeshift columns.
Here are 23 other Notion hacks worth the nine minutes (if you’re a Notion user):
One of the first notes apps of its kind, Evernote lets you organize your thoughts and to-dos in a simple, searchable way. It’s as easy as Google Docs to share, but more visually appealing. We find it’s perfect for brainstorming and writing.
3. Google Keep.
Google Keep is a sticky notes app that works well on mobile and desktop. In fact, the desktop app sits on the right sidebar of your Gmail and Google Docs, so you can easily stash images and text in for future emails, blogs and more.
A simple list app that will help you stay on track, Todoist is Google Tasks on steroids. Users can drop in priorities, notifications and comments, or delegate tasks to others. It even tracks and displays your progress in color-coded graphs.
5. Microsoft OneNote.
Think of OneNote as the three-ring binder you used in seventh grade — but digital. It has similar tabs for every subject, chapter and assignment, and you can even doodle directly in the app.
Best Client Pipeline Tools
The best productivity and project management tools won't help you if you don't have work to manage. To keep a steady pipeline of new clients and projects, we recommend tapping into your existing networks, asking existing clients for referrals and establishing partnerships with other freelancers, but we know that can be a lot of unpaid work. Luckily, these platforms connect freelancers with high-quality leads — and they can help you carry the load.
1. MarketerHire (Winner).
Full disclosure, this is us — but we’re a great pipeline resource for freelance marketers, if we do say so ourselves.
Unlike non-exclusive, non-specialty freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr, MarketerHire vets marketers and only accepts the top five percent as freelancers. Our goal is to connect top-tier marketers to companies that respect their craft, and drive real business results for both.
"MarketerHire is a great platform to get high-quality clients that are great to work with,"Cameron wrote in a TrustPilot review about MarketerHire. "Since signing up, I've had a continuous stream of leads and can select which clients are the best fit to work with me. Plus, you get to set your own hourly and get paid for the value you are bringing!"
"Since signing up, I've had a continuous stream of leads and can select which clients are the best fit to work with me."
As a MarketerHire freelancer, you set your own rate and focus on what you do best, while we match you with opportunities that fit your skills, set client expectation and take care of invoicing and administrative work.
Cost: Free to apply as a freelancer. You charge your own rates, and always make what your hourly rate is.
Pro Tips: To join our network, you'll need prior experience in the role you apply for, a track record of success, and the ability to prove all that in real-time.
Similar to MarketerHire, Paro is a vertical marketplace. Instead of placing marketing talent, though, they find and match freelance finance-industry professionals" with companies in need of their services. They place freelancers in contract positions ranging from bookkeeper all the way up to CFO.
Another specialized freelancer marketplace, TopTal gives connects tech startups with the top 3% of their applicant pool — an eclectic mix of software developers, designers, finance experts, product managers and project managers. So far, the platform has attracted talent from tech giants like Microsoft, IBM, and Yahoo!
We’ve all heard of this social media site — it has more than 675 million members! — and some self-employed consultants are making $8,000 per month on LinkedIn alone. After all, your ideal clients are likely there. It's just a matter of appealing to them through LinkedIn profile optimization, content and strategic outreach.
In a Databox survey, 48.3% of respondents said Twitter outperforms other social media when it comes to B2B lead generation — so use it to generate leads for your freelancer business. Marketing freelancers like Kaleigh Moore and Nik Sharma regularly turn to Twitter to share their expertise, helping them build a following and fill their pipeline.
Obviously, when it comes to tools, freelancers have a lot of options. So where do you begin? We recommend you start with a free time tracker. Then take a look at what’s eating your time every week, and try out some free productivity software, or some Gmail auto-replies and canned responses, to set some freelance chores on autopilot.
In other words, don’t overcomplicate it, and don’t impulse buy. Just track, stand back, and see what you can outsource to tech.
When first starting out, we’d say you only really need three core tools:
- Free Google tools
- A time tracker
- Accounting software with invoicing capabilities
As your business grows, though, your needs become more complex, and you may need to return to this list.
Ultimately, though, all freelancers should keep in mind that clear communication before, during and after an engagement helps you land and maintain clients. It also elevates your personal brand.
And that’s a free tool you don’t even have to download. It just takes practice.