As a freelance designer, having the right tools can make all the difference in your business. Not only do they help you be more productive and efficient, but they also make it easier to manage clients and projects. In this post, I'll share with you my favorite online tools that have helped me run my freelance design business successfully. You won’t find any tools for design here—the ones in this list are all focused on the business side of things.
The best tools for a freelance designer give them the ability to manage their clients, work, and operations efficiently so that they don’t have to spend time on low-level administrative tasks. The gig economy is booming and by 2027, 50% of the US workforce will be full-time freelancers!
I know better than anyone that freelancers wear a million hats, so in this list, I’ll share both all-in-one platforms, as well as individual tools that can be mixed and matched. There are a number of other great tools that didn’t make this list because I felt they either had too many features, required some technical knowledge to get set up, or I had no experience using them.
Kitchen.co is a CRM project management tool to help you manage your clients. It’s very affordable and has a sleu of functionality that’s powerful enough for agencies. Some main features include a shared inbox for all communication, invoicing and billing, tax calculation, quote estimation, reusable templates, and team collaboration. If you want a single source of truth for communicating with clients, file handoff, and billing, Kitchen has everything you need when you’re a business of one and beyond.
Bonsai is an all-in-one product suite that is aimed for solo freelancers and solopreneurs. With Bonsai you can use it’s powerful workflows, which will allow you to take your project from the proposal phase all the way through contracting, time tracking, task management, and accounting. In only a few clicks, they make it easy for you to send proposal and contract templates equipped with billing so you can close clients faster.
Honeybook began as a platform for photographers and event booking companies. Since then, they’ve expanded their service to include features that would be needed for all creative freelance businesses. Like Bonsai and Kitchen, Honeybook contains a shared inbox, invoicing and billing, reusable templates, automation, scheduling, and more. They have a mobile app that gives you the convenience to manage your invoicing and communication when you’re on-the-go.
Hectic is another affordable platform with all the features you’ll need in your freelance business. Manage your projects, organize accounting, send invoices, and collaborate with clients and team members all in one platform. Hectic has a mobile app as well, which comes in handy when you don’t have access to a computer.
<span class="post-section-heading">Productivity and task management</span>
Clickup is a task management tool that is set to replace all productivity tools on the market. It’s very robust, and for some, may be a little too overwhelming. The great thing about ClickUp is it uses relational databases. That means you can manipulate the data and view it in different forms. For example, if you have a Kanban board, you can change its view into a calendar, list, timeline, or gantt chart, all with a click of a mouse. Updating one view will update the rest. ClickUp has built-in automations, and can connect with other third party tools as well.
If you’re looking for a task management tool that has a simple user interface with just the everyday features, Asana is a perfect place to start. It comes featured with board, list, and calendar, and gantt views, and a custom workflow builder. They make it easy to collaborate with teammates, guests, and client boards too so everyone can always be up to speed on the latest comment, file, or project updates.
Slack is the online messaging and communication tool that helps you stay organized and keeps all your conversations in one place. Aimed to be a replacement for email communication, you can create different a channel for topic or project, and bring in guests, team members, or clients. Plus, there are tons of integrations with other platforms you can connect with so you can do things like set up automatic reminders, or get notified anytime there’s a comment on a team doc you’re working on.
Coda is a cloud-based tool that brings your word docs, spreadsheets, and data all into one single document. If you use Google Docs, you’ll need to have a browser tab open for each doc or spreadsheet you use. In Coda, all of that goes away with one single doc that can grow as your team grows. It feels like editing a word document, but Integrate with third party apps and you’ll have yourself a document, but performs like a fully functional app.
Notion is a direct competitor to Coda—with it, you can connect all your docs and spreadsheets into one doc. Each page in a Notion doc can be customized to fit your team or workflow. Notion comes with a plethora of ready-to-use templates and a large community for support. Use Notion to organize your notes, client lists, contract templates, and more.
Airtable is database automation tool that can replace all your spreadsheets. Connect your data, docs, teams with Airtable. It’s commonly used as an external database and CRM. It’s a great way to keep track of your projects and tasks—you can create different views for different purposes and easily share them with others to create an easy team working environment.
Dotcal is the first calendar booking app made for designers. It allows you to create your own booking page with modern designs that match your brand colors. Give your potential customers the options to meet via phone or video chat. Connect your existing calendars, customize a design template and share your booking URL in your email, socials, website, and more.
Toggl is a time tracker that gives you a better understanding of how you spend your time. As freelancers, we are always cognizant of that and are looking to becoming more productive. Features include easy time tracking, reporting, project and revenue tracking, and team management.
Loom is a great video recording tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Whether you're creating a tutorial, recording a meeting, or just sharing something fun with friends, Loom makes it easy to capture your screen and record your voice. It's easy to use—just install the browser extension, click record, and you'll be good to go!
Make is a no-code automation platform that connects over 1000 software apps to automate busy work and create workflows. The platform offers a wide range of integrations, including popular apps such as Gmail, Slack, Dropbox, and more. Make also provides a powerful set of tools for building complex automations based on filtering and conditional logic.
Zapier is one of the most popular automation tools on the market. And for good reason: it’s simple to set up and use, and it can automate just about any task you can think of. For example you could use Zapier to automatically add new leads from a form on your website to your CRM. Zapier works with over 5000 apps, so you can bet your favorite services will be supported.
Lance is a fee-free virtual bank designed for freelancers and independents. There are no fees or minimums to open an account, and it comes with impressive features such as budgeting, payments, quarterly tax payments, and a pre-filled Schedule C when it’s time for taxes! Lance is FDIC insured and account holders get a Visa debit card with 1.5% unlimited cash back!
Stripe is the leading payments infrastructure company in the industry. Stripe provides a way to accept and manage online payments. Send invoices to clients, create subscriptions, and even create virtual cards for employees. It’s a unified platform that will get you accepting payments from clients quickly, without any subscription fees or the need to pay for ecommerce software.
Wave is a popular accounting and payment software used by small businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide. Wave gives you simple bookkeeping features to manage your business finances, invoicing, subscriptions, and payroll. Wave is free and easy to use, making it a great choice for freelancers and small businesses owners.
19. Quickbooks Self-Employed
There's no denying that QuickBooks Self-Employed (SE) is an industry powerhouse for managing your finances and keeping track of your income and expenses. Quickbooks SE offers mileage and expense tracking, estimated tax calculation, and best of all, the ability to transfer your records straight to TurboTax so you or a TurboTax CPA can file taxes in a flash.
Xero is an online accounting software company that provides freelancers with a way to manage their business financials. It’s got all the standard functionality that you would need—income and expense tracking, reporting, and invoicing. It also has some additional features not found with the other apps on this list, such as inventory tracking and bill pay. Should you ever need additional help using the platform, you get the ability to work with certified Xero bookkeepers to manage your books for you.
For freelancers that are too busy to manage bookkeeping, or have the ability to hire, I recommend Bench. They are your all-in-one financial go-to solution that can handle your books, tax advisory, and filing. Just connect your credit card and banking accounts using their platform, and they’ll handle the rest. At the end of the year, you’ll receive a year-end tax package, which you can then give to a CPA or one of their partner CPAs to file taxes for you.
Collective is a business formation company that specializes in forming S-Corporations, which offers great tax savings for self-employed people and sole proprietors. The company handles your bookkeeping for you, payroll, and files your quarterly and year-end taxes. For sole proprietors that are growing their business beyond $80000 per year and want to avoid paying more self-employment taxes, work with the Collective and save money from forming an S-Corp.
<span class="post-section-heading">Teams and collaboration</span>
Miro is an incredible whiteboard and collaboration tool. It's simple to use and has a ton of features that make it perfect for remote work and teams. Document meetings, mind maps, brainstorming sessions, and more with an infinite canvas that updates in real time and asynchronously. Miro boards can be easily shared or embedded in your website, plus it integrates with your favorite third party apps for supercharged functionality.
When you’re ready to manage a team of contractors and freelancers for bigger projects, Wethos allows you to pitch more services to your clients by harnessing the power of teams. Scope complex projects using a peer-sourced database of services, and when you’re ready, team up with Wethos’ network of designers and pay them all from an easy-to-use dashboard.
Remote is a global payroll, benefits, and taxes platform for hiring contractors from anywhere in the world. What makes Remote great is that it handles labor law and tax compliance for you, which means you and your contractors are protected from penalties and fines. Manage your team and pay them in their local currency with zero exchange fees.
What is a freelance designer?
As a freelance designer, you are self-employed and work independently, rather than being employed by a company. Depending on the industry, you may work remotely from home, although you may occasionally have to travel to meet clients or attend conferences. Freelance designers typically work on a variety of projects at once, often for multiple clients.
The great thing about being a freelance designer is that you have the freedom to choose your own projects and clients. You get to be your own boss, but it ultimately means that you are in control of your own success.
There are a lot of great tools out there to help freelance designers run their businesses. The best tool for any given designer will depend on their individual workflow and what they need to get the job done. I've listed the top tools that I use and recommend in my business today. By investing in some of these essential tools for running a freelance business, designers can manage their time effectively and set themselves up for success.
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