What started as an additional income stream, bringing in a little extra money when it was needed most, has blossomed into something that seems to take up more and more free time. You’ve planned, you’ve daydreamed, and you’ve marketed. Now, your freelance writing has grown into something that resembles a full-time business.
Unfortunately, with a limited number of hours in the day, you have to carefully balance the time you spend on administrative tasks and the time you spend writing. You also need to maintain that work/life balance so you don’t burn yourself out before you’ve gained any serious traction.
It’s a competitive industry, and you’ve got to stay on point if you want to know how to market yourself to gain new business while bringing in traffic that generates revenue. That revenue is a big concern, too. 59% of freelance writers feel that uncertainty of income is their top concern.
And it’s difficult to keep the revenue flowing when you have to spend so much time trying to get processes right and managing your business.
Staying competitive goes beyond just quality writing; you also need to have the right tools that make it easy to run your business so you can spend more time writing, building traffic, and marketing yourself.
Here are some of the best tools you can use to streamline processes, so you can get back to doing what you do best – writing.
Nothing can kill the writing mood faster than being forced to sit down and balance your books, handle accounting, chase tasks, or plan the schedule – basically anything that’s not writing. Some of us are naturally organized and can run a freelance business from a stack of sticky notes and a notebook. Others could really use the right apps to simplify this side of the freelance business.
1. Less Accounting
Unless you absolutely love math and numbers, accounting and dealing with the books is a major downer. While it’s nice seeing the income from your efforts, dealing with taxes, fees, and other bookkeeping tasks is nothing more than an interruption to your creative process.
Less Accounting is a fantastic application designed specifically for people who hate bookkeeping. It simplifies every aspect for you, with a setup process that can be completed in minutes. Track expenses, proposals, invoices, and income from various sources easily through a single dashboard. With third-party integrations, your revenue information can be imported automatically, reducing the need for manual entry.
There are a ton of time-tracking applications out there on the web, but it’s hard to find one with the ideal feature set, that’s also completely free. TopTracker is great if you have a hard time focusing your efforts on a single task, or you want to be able to split your time effectively to remain productive while tracking the time you spend on specific tasks.
Even better, if you do freelance writing for clients, you can use the app to track hourly payments, which includes screen blurring, activity-level tracking, and time screenshots to prove to your client that hours were used effectively. Either way, it’s a great tool to help you stay productive when you know you should be working.
CoSchedule is best used by entire marketing teams, but a simplified version with a very affordable monthly fee is available for individual freelancers. The great thing about CoSchedule is that it lets you put all of your tasks, topics, and content into a single editorial calendar. That includes any social activity you have planned for promoting your content and marketing yourself.
With WordPress integration, you can load your content directly into CoSchedule and it will get pushed to your WordPress site. It’s a terrific and affordable way to plan your days and weeks to come.
When you need to get serious about task tracking, Asana can keep you on point with detailed task management, due dates, and notes. Whether you’re dealing with tasks for clients, or getting big projects done for your blog (like creating an ebook) you can break them down in Asana and keep track of every minor detail. Use it to manage your tasks and as a sales collaboration tool for you and your team. This free task system should be in every freelancer’s toolbox.
5. Tomato Timer
The Pomodoro technique is one often used by professional writers, creatives, and people bound to office tasks to help them stay on task. The technique involves taking a break and walking away from tasks every 20 minutes or so for a brief brain refresh and body wake-up.
The Tomato Timer helps with that by giving you a countdown timer that runs backwards from 25 minutes. Once the clock hits zero, you take your scheduled break (you can designate long or short) and then jump back to work after restarting the clock. Studies of the use of this technique have proven that it boosts creativity and productivity. Try the app out today and see how it changes your focus.
6. Google Docs/Dropbox
Organization is important, especially when it comes to freelance writing and the documents you have to deal with. Nothing can wipe out your progress faster than misplacing a document or post you were working on, or having a system crash that wipes all of your content.
That’s why we recommend cloud storage, and encourage any freelance writer to get organized with either Google Docs or Dropbox. Both have free versions (as well as paid tiers to get more storage space.) You’ll never have to worry about lost content, and it’s super easy to access your files from another computer or collaborate with other writers.
Freelancers spend tons of time each day researching new topics, unearthing trends, checking up on competitors, and sourcing content ideas for skyscraping or curation. That time can be dramatically reduced with an investment in a couple of clever tools.
Buzzsumo is probably the number one research tool that every marketer and writer should have at the ready. Not only can it help you find influencers in your industry to aid in your research (and influencer marketing for the savvy writer), it will also let you search by topic or keyword to discover which content has received the most social shares and engagement. There’s no better way to quickly and easily discover the topics your readers will love.
2. Google Trends
If you’re trying to unearth new trends to cover in your content or check the relevancy of a topic with your audience, then Google Trends is the place to turn.
The Google Keyword tool used to be a great way to check relevancy for search phrases and topical keywords, but it has recently been throttled and is only really effective for regular advertisers.
3. Open Site Explorer
Want to find out why your competitors are outranking you, and where their traffic is coming from? Rather than waste precious time manually searching, you can use the Open Site Explorer from Moz . This tool provides you with a list of links that point to any URL, so you can find out who is linking to competitor sites and blogs.
This is a great method for spying on the content strategy of competitor blogs.
You never know when inspiration will strike, and it’s incredibly frustrating to think of a great idea for a blog post or promotion… and then have it disappear forever from your memory. Evernote becomes a digital notepad in your pocket when you install the app on your mobile device. Record those great ideas and never lose them again. It even syncs across all devices so you can access your notes from anywhere.
Anyone can sit down and start writing, but the best freelance writers will leverage the apps that help them write faster, improve their skills, and ultimately make them better. Here are a few of the applications we recommend to step up your game.
1. Hemingway App
Did you know that most people read at an eighth grade level or below on the web ? The easier your content is to read and process, the more likely your audience is to remember it, put it into practice, and share it.
The Hemingway App allows you to paste in your content and get an instant analysis of the readability of your work. The app lets you know the average reading level of your content, and highlights sentences or segments that might be too difficult for your audience. You’ll also get other flags that can help improve your writing. It’s a great tool that can shave your editing time considerably, helping you deliver more polished work that your readers are more likely to enjoy.
2. Microsoft Office/Google Docs
For straight writing, you can’t go wrong with Microsoft Office . It’s packed with features, and since switching to a subscription model, Office won’t cost you a few hundred out-of-pocket anymore. If you don’t want to pay the low monthly subscription fee, you can always jump into Google Docs.
Docs are free to use and share with others, and make collaboration simple. You’ll also find virtually the same features in Google Docs that you can get with Office.
Pacemaker is a simple planner that helps writers create word count goals and stick to them. This allows you to set a benchmark according to whatever timer you have set for your work. Pacemaker helps you visualize how much writing you have to do day-by-day in order to hit your goals, making it a prime motivational tool as well as one that improves your productivity.
4. Edit Flow Plugin
This is a terrific plugin for WordPress users, and if you collaborate with any other writers it’s the perfect tool to make you more organized and productive. The Edit Flow plugin lets you work with your editorial team right inside WordPress, with modular functionality to suit your specific needs. It even works as a ready-to-go editorial calendar for better post planning.
Microsoft Office and Google Apps are designed to check your grammar as you write and review, but the software can easily miss things. Grammarly is designed as a safety net and as a tool to help you improve your writing. It makes suggestions within your content so that everything you produce is easy to read, effective, and free of mistakes.
There’s even a browser extension, so Grammarly can follow you around the web, making all of your writing (even social posts and emails) super clean and professional.
Every freelance writer knows that the secret to success is getting people to see your content. Behind every well-trafficked post is a strategy for promotion and distribution that gets eyeballs to your site. You can’t just produce content and hope it will do well, especially not in the beginning. These tools can help you grow your visibility.
Don’t let your posts live only on your blog. Repurposing your content for Medium is a great way to get general content for various industries in front of the right audience. It’s a completely free platform, and getting your content live is as simple as pasting it in and adding compelling visuals to your articles.
It’s a common practice to put a call to action at the end of your Medium content, with a link that points back to your blog. Marketers also use this method of content posting to generate opt-ins for their newsletters. If you’re trying to build a list to grow your audience, start pushing your older content to Medium and cross-promote your new posts on this channel.
2. LinkedIn Pulse
LinkedIn is primarily a B2B platform, but your posts can still do well here even if you have a B2C niche. You can post original content to LinkedIn’s network, but like the strategy with Medium above, you can also repurpose your content to expand its reach with LinkedIn Pulse .
With a simple WYSIWYG editor, it’s easy to drop in your content and let it go live. You can then promote it to your followers as well as to any groups you’re a part of on LinkedIn. Like Medium, you should also include a call to action in your content that links back to your blog or the original post to help drive that referral traffic back to your site.
Along with everything else you have to manage, it’s not always easy to manually promote your content across multiple channels – especially when you’re frequently posting content. Repeated manual posting to multiple networks gets tiresome, and it’s easy to miss the occasional social channel or forget to do it entirely.
Buffer steps in to make the process that much easier. Just integrate your social accounts once; then, when you make a new post, you can add that content to your queue. Buffer takes it from there and will publish your content out to your social channels at the time you designate.
You can add any content to your Buffer queue, including great stuff you find online that you want to share with your followers.
Quuu is a two-way tool for marketers and freelance writers. First, it’s a great free tool for sourcing relevant content that your readers will love. Instead of taking the time to manually hunt for great content, just pick relevant topics, and Quuu will feed those posts to your Buffer account so they get published to your social channels. It’s fully-automated content curation, and will save you hours every week.
On the other side, it’s a great tool to promote your own content. For a very small fee per post, you can submit your content for review. Once the team checks its quality and relevancy, it gets approved and placed into the relevant topic queue. It’s then pushed out to other Quuu users who utilize the service for curating content.
Increase the likelihood of your content being found with StumbleUpon . Hundreds of thousands of people use StumbleUpon every day to find interesting new content on the web as it serves up random pages relevant to their interests.
Take your best-performing content and your new posts, and submit them to StumbleUpon to start generating more referral traffic for your blog completely hands-free.
Quora is one of the few remaining Q&A sites that is still highly active, and it can be a great source of referral traffic for your blog. When you create an account, you can designate areas in which you’re an expert and capable of sharing information or answering questions.
A great tactic for this site is to provide answers relevant to your blog and the topics you write about. Within your answers, be sure to link back to a post you’ve written that answers the question in a lot more detail.
You can also find top questions with a lot of views, then go write a detailed blog post around the topic. Once it’s written, provide an answer to the question with a link back to your newly-created post, then watch your referral traffic start to climb in the coming weeks.
As your readership grows, you’ll want to build an email list of visitors and subscribers to let them know when new content goes live or to share really great info, offers, etc. MailChimp integrates with content platforms like WordPress, making it easy to create an opt-in form on the sidebar or on a landing page within your blog.
One of the best features of MailChimp is the ability to create an automated email workflow for subscribers. Deliver emails automatically in a series to keep them engaged, so when you share new content they’re more likely to respond and keep your traffic growing. It’s a far simpler approach than manually creating an email every time you want to communicate with your subscribers.
Set processes to increase your productivity
Even if your fingers fly at 160+ words per minute, you still only have so many hours in the day for producing your best content. Some of that time has to be dedicated to administration, promotion, and running your business to keep revenue coming in.
It’s critical to choose the right apps and tools that help you stay productive, focused, and effective. Start with the resources we’ve listed here, and you’re guaranteed to see an improvement in your daily productivity and the ease of handling those necessary business processes.