5 simple tools to make life easier as a freelancer

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Life as a freelancer can be full of freedom and opportunity, but it comes with its fair share of hurdles and frustrations too. A lot of that is down to the fact that you are responsible for every aspect of your business, and the phrase "that's not my department" must be erased from your vocabulary.

These frustrations can be relatively minor, such as having to keep hold of your expense receipts, or Wi-Fi dropping out for a few minutes; or game-changing to the point that everything grinds to a halt – such as a string of clients not paying you, or work not coming in at all. 

Fortunately, there are some simple tools for designers that will help with at least some of these things. Read on to discover five of them...

01. Keeping track of paperwork is a nightmare

Bonsai app

Bonsai helps you stay on top of contracts, invoices and more

This one's a bit of a catch-all. Admin tasks can suck up large amounts of your time as a freelancer – and by that we mean everything from expenses to invoices to contract negotiations. And the worst bit is, it's not billable time either – you need to figure that into your day rate.

There are various tools to help you automate common design tasks, and plenty of productivity and project management apps to smooth things over – it's worth taking advantage of some free trials to find out what works best for you.

One catch-all tool that's particularly useful for the admin side of things is Bonsai. This web-based app is perhaps best known for its ability to generate hassle-free freelance contracts, but also covers off the whole gamut of admin-related tasks, including proposals, invoices (and payment reminders), expenses and time-tracking. You can even automatically set up late fees for tardy clients. Its interface is beautifully clean, simple and calming too.

02. You're constantly getting distracted

Effortless app

Brutally simple app Effortless keeps your head in the game

Procrastination is the bane of the freelancer. Whereas when you're on a salary, you can sneakily poke about on Facebook or chat with colleagues in the kitchen safe in the knowledge that you'll get the same pay cheque at the end of the month – so long as you do your job, of course – every hour counts when you're your own boss.

If you find yourself drifting onto other things, or struggle to focus and prioritise the task at hand, there are plenty of simple productivity tools that can help keep you on track, as well as tools to save you time on common or mundane tasks.

One of the simplest and most single-purpose tools we've seen to keep you focused is Effortless (Mac-only). Type your task in the pop-up window, and how many minutes you estimate it will take, and a countdown timer will appear in your taskbar. If you need longer, you can add more time in five-minute chunks.

Toggle between tasks to check how long you have remaining, and mark them as done when they're done. That's literally it, but the fact that there's no complex interface or suite of features to worry about means your only concern is the time you have left to complete the task.

03. Your tax return is an annual headache

99 Deductions

Discover what you can claim against tax for various different freelance professions with 99 Deductions

While tools such as Bonsai will help you keep on top of your expenses and minimise the hassle of the annual freelance tax return, even with the best will in the world, it's still a source of stress for most. Hiring an accountant will help, but if you're a relatively new freelancer unsure about what you can claim for, there are tools to help.

99 Deductions is an invaluable resource that tailors advice for what expenses are allowable, depending on your role. This includes plenty of non-creative freelance roles, but designer, developer, copywriter and photographer are all covered. It's a US site, so some of the advice is tailored accordingly if you're based elsewhere – it's always worth checking what applies in your local territory. In the UK, HMRC's own guidelines for self-employed expenses are worth a look, for instance.

04. WiFi keeps crashing out while working remotely

Mobile WiFi

A mobile Wi-Fi tool could save you from Wi-Fi woes

One of the best things about being a freelancer is the capacity to work anywhere – within reason. Whether that's a couple of hours in a coffee shop in between meetings, working from a bench in the park on a sunny day, or taking it to the extreme and running projects while travelling the world – it's all possible if you manage your time, and your clients' expectations.

There are various tools to help you work remotely as a freelancer, but one of the biggest sources of stress and frustration – especially if you're away from your trusty broadband connection a lot – is unreliable Wi-Fi.

You may strike it lucky, and find the perfect spot with super-fast Wi-Fi on tap, in return for a flat white and a muffin to munch while you work. But you can't pin your business on that, particularly in more far-flung locations. Accordingly, one of the most important tools you need is Mobile Wi-Fi (or Mi-Fi if you prefer). There are plenty to choose from: check out our sister site Techradar for a comparison of five of the best mobile WiFi tools on the market today.

05. Work is a constant cycle of feast and famine

Timely app

Timely uses automatic time tracking to increase your profitability, productivity and efficiency

This final point takes some getting used to, especially if you're a new freelancer. No longer are you guaranteed a predictable income – as well as completing the projects on your slate, the onus is on you to win the work at the start, and chase for payment at the end. If either of those critical stages of the process fails, you could end up with a cash drought – hence the well-trodden advice to have three months' savings in the bank before taking the plunge.

At the other end of the scale, after a period of scarcity, suddenly several big projects could come along at once. This is a potential feast, but you may be forced to turn some of it down if you don't have the capacity. You need to be super-organised and productive to plan your time and deal with this unpredictability, and fortunately there are some tools to help you there too.

Pitched at "those who trade in time" – which is any freelancer, really – Timely enables you to squeeze the most out of every hour in the day through automatic time tracking. As it learns more about how you work, Timely makes suggestions about how to increase your profitability, productivity and efficiency – an ideal way to deal with the notoriously feast and famine world of freelancing.

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