These days, it really does feel like there is an app, tool, or type of software to solve any and all problems.
Well, maybe not—that’s a bit of a reach. However, if there’s something you need done to help you as an entrepreneur and in your small business, you’ll likely find tons of options for tools that can make your life easier.
However, many of these tools don’t come cheap. While there are plenty of offerings that are worth the price tag, I wanted to share my list of the best free tools, apps, and software offerings for freelancers, or entrepreneurs running very small businesses.
Want to see my favorites? Keep reading.
Now, full disclosure: I haven’t been compensated for mentioning any of these tools. This list encompasses tools that I personally use and feel confident recommending, or that other freelancers have recommended and found success with.
What is your favorite free app or tool? How does it help you do your work better, smarter, or more efficiently? I’d love to know.
Task organization and to-do lists:
If you’re after a fairly straightforward to-do list that you can check off, Wunderlist might be exactly what you need.
With Wunderlist, you can create lists for various types of projects and tasks, share your lists, and check off completed items. You can also set due dates and reminder alarms, so you don’t just create to-do lists and forget to actually check off items (I’m personally guilty of the well-intentioned and forgotten checklist).
If you’re after something even more simple, Now Do This is a handy web-based application.
With Now Do This, you simply type your to-do items into the box, in sequential order. Once you hit the “ready” button, you’ll be taken to a screen that displays your to-do item and prompts you to press the “done” button once you’ve completed the task.
Overall, Now Do This is an incredibly bare-bones and pared-down version of a to-do list, but if you’re having trouble working step-by-step through a project, it’s a great addition to your arsenal.
One of the more feature-heavy to-do apps on this list, Remember the Milk allows you to add to-do items to multiple lists, and assign them a priority level, due date, and more. You can also tag your list items, search by keyword, and break your task items down into subtasks.
The real way that Remember the Milk stands out, however, is the fact that you can set it up so that you’ll get a reminder notification via email, text, IM, tweet, and the app itself. You can also sync Remember the Milk with your Google and Evernote accounts, too.
I’ve been a fan of Trello for years, and I have used it both for personal projects and in a professional capacity.
Trello is great because it’s so inherently flexible; you can have as many boards, cards, and list columns as you like, and you can rearrange and shuffle cards around at will. It’s perfect for keeping track of a project that has multiple phases, and since you can sort by labels, it’s easy to keep track of different projects on the same board.
As a bonus, consider downloading the free Ultimello extension for Google Chrome. This extension works as a great complement to Trello, as you can sort cards by due date, title, labels, and so on.
You may also be interested in checking out Wrike, MeisterTask, and Avaza—all of which offer free project management software (or at least a free version). However, these options are geared more toward teams, so their usefulness will depend on how you plan to use the software within your own business.
When it comes to email marketing, MailChimp really is the undisputed winner. With MailChimp, you can send emails for free for up to 2,000 subscribers, and up to 12,000 emails per month. While you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version beyond that point, for freelancers or entrepreneurs running smaller businesses, MailChimp’s free version is generally sufficient.
Not only that, but MailChimp offers an easy-to-use interface, the ability to customize email workflows, and plenty of extras like split testing (so you can determine which email performed best) and analytic information. If you’re looking to easily build out an email marketing initiative (or even just keep in contact with a handful of clients), MailChimp is a must-have.
Special mention: Drip (they’re a newer more powerful email marketing tool that’s quickly becoming very popular.)
Accounting and legal
Wave’s biggest selling point is rather its lack of a selling point: Wave is completely free to use.
Well, at least its base services are free—that is to say, their invoicing, accounting, and receipt software are all free to use. If you want to process credit cards or handle payroll, you can upgrade to their paid offering, but for the majority of freelancers, the free version will cover all the needed bases.
Not only that, Wave is intuitive and easy to use and offers a fairly robust feature set for a free software—you can even customize your invoices by adding your logo or specific tailored layout elements to match your needs.
If you’re looking for the easiest possible way to invoice clients, PayPal is probably it. For one thing, the chances that you already have a PayPal account are fairly high, which makes setting up invoices easy. You can create templates, review paid and past invoices, and easily transfer money into to your bank account.
PayPal is free to use, but transferring money to your bank and out of your Paypal account does incur a small fee, so be aware of that. However, as most accounting software comes with an associated fee to use, if you invoice fairly infrequently, PayPal may be a good fit.
I love Genius Scan—more than I ever thought I could love something that is essentially just a scanner in app form.
But really, how awesome is that? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never personally had a scanner in my home; I remember years ago frantically running down to my local UPS store anytime I needed something scanned, and it was wildly inconvenient.
Genius Scan is a free app that uses your phone camera to take a picture of a document, and then automatically converts it to a PDF. From there, you can share the document with yourself via email, print it at home, and so on. You can also upgrade to a paid version of the app that lets you export your documents to Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, and more—but in truth, I’ve never found the paid version personally necessary.
Did you know the IRS has an app? I didn’t either, until quite recently. Nevertheless, IRS2Go does exist, and I can’t fault the usefulness of the app itself.
With the app, you’ll be able to make payments, check your refund status, and get free tax help. While some of these services might be a bit superfluous to those employed in the traditional sense, if you’re regularly preparing tax documents as a freelancer, the IRS app will likely come in handy.
If you need to get contracts and other sales documents signed, you’re going to want to take a look at Docsketch.
While it’s still in early access, it gets a special mention because it’s both free and something created by the Bidsketch team. With Docsketch you’ll be able to get your sales documents back in minutes, without paper or setting up form fields (which you can’t do with any other electronic signature tool).
Do you feel like your days slip through your fingers, making it difficult to achieve your goals? You might want to look into RescueTime, a time management tool that will force you to take a good, hard look at your web browsing habits.
RescueTime runs in the background while you work, and will track the time you spend on different websites, giving you a clear breakdown of how you spend your time. While it might be a bit galling to realize how much time you spend on, say, Reddit or Pinterest when you’re supposed to be working, this free tool will certainly force you to evaluate your work habits, and hopefully, inspire better time management.
At the risk of recommending a resource that not everyone will benefit from, WorkFrom doesn’t list every city in the U.S., much less worldwide. However, if your city is listed on WorkFrom, you’re in luck, because it’s a great place to find coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and other freelancer-friendly workspaces.
Search on the map to find a place to work near you, or use the filters to find a place that matches exactly what you’re after (for example, quieter spaces, spaces with food, and so on). By clicking on the different spots listed, you’ll be able to see reviews from other users, look at photos, and see details such as noise level and the number of outlets.
If you’re after a more traditional coworking space, ShareDesk might be a good one to check out. With ShareDesk, you can search coworking spaces in your community and sort by a variety of factors (such as duration that you’d like access to the desk, price, and so on).
That being said, my assumption is that the larger your city, the more useful you’ll find ShareDesk. A search in Portland, Oregon (which is where I’m based) only turned up four spots, so your mileage may vary.
Did your favorite make the list? If not, leave me a comment and tell me what tool makes your life easier, and why!