When you start a business or start freelancing online, it’s tough to know what tools you need and what tools are best. There is no singular answer to tell you what the “best” tool is for any given task. In reality, there are millions of tools out there specifically for web designers, graphic designers, and freelancers of all types. Some do stand out above the rest.
Here is my list of tools that I use on a daily basis as a business owner/project manager, providing web design and development services. All these tools are beginner-friendly, almost all are free (some have paid upgrade options) and compatible with both Mac and Windows systems.
For Communication and Project Management: Trello
Project management tools are incredibly important for keeping yourself focused and communicating clearly with others. In lieu of email, a good project management tool will create a dedicated space where you can store conversations, send files, keep track of tasks, and set due dates.
There are a ton of great tools out there – I’ve played with Asansa, Basecamp, and a few others. Find the one that is best for you. But for beginners, or for someone who works on a small team, I always recommend Trello first and foremost.
There are a ton of tools available within Trello’s simple and elegant interface. It’s unintimidating and gives you a ton of power out of the gate.
If you’re thinking of joining Trello for free, consider using my referral code!
For Storing and Sharing Files: Google Drive
There are many reasons why I like using Google Drive for storing files, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and exchanging long-form content.
- It’s incredibly easy to organize files and folders to create intuitive file structures.
- Easy to use permissions means that you can keep certain things private, allow others to just view/download certain files, or collaborate evenly on files with others.
- Collaborating on a file means that you can see someone else typing live in the document. This is great for receiving content for websites because instead of emailing documents, you can share one document which can be edited continuously.
- There is a variety of file types you can create and edit – documents, spreadsheets, slides, forms and more.
- Most people have a Google account, so sharing files is incredibly easy and syncs with preexisting accounts.
- The mobile/tablet Google Drive tools are awesome to use, even for a beginner.
- Upgrading to larger storage sizes is very, very cheap.
For Time Tracking: Toggl
Keeping detailed logs on what you spend your time doing is incredibly important for so many reasons. Toggl is a a great free tool/app that lets you do it with ease.
You need to have a solid idea on how long it takes you to perform certain tasks. This way you can create estimates and pricing structures based off of this data. Potential clients will ask you how long it takes you to complete a project, so if you’ve timed yourself doing it before, you’ll be able to answer that question with ease.
Also, if you charge for hourly work (which you probably should be doing) you need a reliable way of tracking that time and then reporting on it.
Multi-Site Management/Updates: GoDaddy Pro
If you’re reading this because you provide website services, ManageWP could be a lifesaver for you. If you don’t manage any websites but your own, ManageWP is still an invaluable tool.
It’s main function is allowing you to update your WordPree software (plugins, themes, and WordPress itself) from one Dashboard. This means that if you have 100 sites under your support package, you can update them all with a single click.
ManageWP also lets you take backups of your site, monitor downtime, and perform an array of optimizations. Pricing starts at $1.80 per month for the shiny extra features. (That’s right, less than $2!)
GoDaddy Pro is one of the newest tools I’ve started using. It connects with your existing ManageWP account (if you have one) and basically elevates the experience by providing perks for people who manage websites. Read my detailed review here.
For Meetings and Training: Zoom
There are so many popular options for video conferencing/screensharing, like Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and more. My personal preference is Zoom.
It’s incredibly easy for me to schedule or create meetings, my clients tend to have zero issue logging in to chat, I can record meetings, do conference meetings, and share my screen with the other user. I’ve not found another free program that does all of this in such a seamless way. It also integrates super well with Calendly (more on that later).
For Invoicing and Receiving Payment: WaveApps
While PayPal is handy for accepting payments and sending invoices, it pales in comparison to WaveApps. It’s a free online software that allows you to create, send, and keep up with invoices. You can create profiles for your clients, set up recurring payments, allow clients to save their card info so you can auto-charge them, and so much more.
There is a fee per payment that you accept, but that’s the case with any reputable invoicing software. WaveApps connects to your bank account to automatically deposit your funds and its dashboard shows you how much money you’ve got. It keeps track of when payments are due, sends automatic reminders, and provides a plethora of reporting tools.
For E-Mail Marketing: MailChimp
There are multiple options out there for email marketing. One day, I may feel the need to upgrade to something like ConvertKit. But today is not that day. If you’re just starting out with collecting email addresses, or if you do so sparingly like me, MailChimp is the tool for you.
It’s free plan is free until you reach a certain number of subscribers. While its tools could be more intuitive, I still rely on it for freebie opt-ins and for emailing clients in bulk. There are an infinite number of training tools out there for MailChimp users.
For Scheduling Calls and Meetings: Calendly
There is something very empowering about being able to set your own working hours. Because I work from home and don’t want my cell phone to constantly be buzzing, I use Calendly (in tandem with Zoom above) for calls. Calendly allows me to:
- Set my own blocks of time.
- Set different blocks for different types of calls (a training call would be longer than a consult)
- Have an availability calendar my clients can use instead of asking when I’m free.
- Accounts for differing time zones.
- Charge for calls if need be.
- Automatically send my clients a Zoom link when they sign up for a call.
Calendly has amazing free features, but it really comes to life with it’s paid options. I use the $10/month option. It allows me to save a TON of time scheduling calls and prospective clients have an easier time getting in touch with me at the best possible time. While it is faster to just pick up the phone and call, I never risk missing a call by using a scheduler.
For Exchanging and Receiving Signatures: SignNow
I’m constantly reviewing and revising my contracts. I’m never quite happy with them. But I’m very happy with the flow I have when it comes to getting them reviewed and signed by clients.
SignNow enables you to upload a contract template (I make mine in Google Docs). You can then basically insert fields for as many signers as you like. It’s very easy to say: this person signs these fields, this person initials these fields, etc.
I like that it automates sending the contract to the signers, so that if more than one person is one the team who needs to sign, they can only sign in their designated places. There are fields to fill out text, fields to add a checkmark or initial, and fields to add a binding signature.
I pay $7 per month to use SignNow, which is an amazing value for what it provides.
just starting your business?
Running a new online business can be a big endeavor to take on, but it always helps to have someone in your corner, especially as far as your website is concerned. Check out my Website Strategy Session – which gives you an expert’s view into how your existing website can perform better for your business.
Allie is a WordPress designer and developer based in Miami, FL and the founder of Pixel Glow Web Design. She is a proud member of the WordPress community and is passionate advocate for education about and through the internet.