The professional life of a freelancer is no picnic. While it’s true that there are some perks to this type of occupation, such as the freedom to choose clients and take vacations whenever you want, as well as the joy of being your own boss and setting your own schedule, there are also some decided drawbacks to leaving the corporate office behind. You’ll never again have job stability, you’ll become responsible for taxes, insurance, business expenses, and everything else normally covered by an employer (although you’ll likely charge higher rates to cover the spread), and you’ll have to take on the burden of managing every aspect of your business. If you thought you were just going to do the jobs you’re contracted for, think again. You’re also the payroll department, the accountant, the marketing and sales rep, customer service, the secretary, and the legal department. You do everything. And in order to make your business run a little more smoothly you’re going to need some help. Here are just a few essential pieces of software that can deliver the goods.

  1. Teambox. One of the biggest problems you are likely to face when working with a team is visibility, and this could affect you whether you’re interacting with a group at the company you’re contracted with or if you happen to hire on subcontractors for certain jobs. Teambox is an online software (as well as an app) that lets you communicate with all of your team members, assign and track tasks, provide forums for ideas, store and share files, and basically ensure transparency for everyone involved. As tools go, it provides ease of use while meeting your project management (or participation) needs. And it’s free!
  2. Dropbox. This cloud-based software is a must-have for freelancers that frequently access stored data or share it with others. You can upload and download files from anywhere, including your home computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other devices. And this includes everything from documents to photos and videos. You’ll never again show up to a meeting with a client and find that you’re unable to access the files required to close the deal or deliver the goods. And you need only send a link to allow others to see files on your account. It’s a simple tool that delivers extremely useful functionality (also for free).
  3. Skype. The freebies are just piling up! Skype is another cross-platform solution that no respectable freelancer can go without. Available for use on computers and mobile devices alike, this video conferencing tool makes it easy to stay in touch with clients remotely. And if you happen to travel quite a bit for work, you can use the calling feature to make international calls for a lot less than the cost of other options.
  4. Expensify. One of the biggest headaches for most freelancers centers on submitting expense reports to their clients in order to be reimbursed, or alternately, compiling receipts and creating reports of expenses that weren’t reimbursed in order to claim them as deductions at tax time. This free app helps you get the job done with less hassle. Sync it with your credit and debit accounts to easily pull charges related to work, snap photos of receipts so you don’t have to paw through a shoebox to get them in order later on, input mileage, and easily create reports that can be emailed out for approval or printing.
  5. Harvest. Tracking your time and sending out invoices is important if you want to get paid, and Harvest can help you here. This comprehensive program not only allows you to track hours worked and create invoices; it also creates reports to show income versus money owed, allows you to apply budgets to projects, and offers compatibility with other essential software like Excel and QuickBooks. And for as little as $12 a month you get to enter unlimited clients, projects, and invoices. It does for your business accounting what calibre does for your e-book collection: keeps it organized with very little fuss.

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