business of freelancing

The best (free and paid) tools for freelance writers

By September 12, 2018 June 29th, 2019 16 Comments

I am definitely not someone who nerds-out on the newest freelance writing apps or writers’ organisational tools, but I have to say, there are a lot of super helpful (and easy to use) tools that can make a freelance writer’s life so much easier. In this post I’ve rounded up the best tools I’ve found for freelance writers – I use them all and they have saved me time, money or a mental breakdown (and at times, all three). 

The best (free and paid) tools for freelance writers

Just a note to let you know that this post contains an affiliate link, which means I may earn a small once-off commission if you use Rev. That said, I’m not savvy (or stupid) enough to have littered this post with affiliate links – I only ever recommend tools or resources that I use and trust, regardless of any affiliate connection. 

While the tools below have undoubtedly helped me streamline my business and make it more efficient, I think it’s really important to say that it’s not necessarily the tools that are the key here, but that you use them to develop a system that works for you.

1. Organisational tools for writers

Evernote

Are you like me and have hundreds of tabs open on your computer at the same time? One of the best organisational tools I use and that is great for writers to control their multi-tabbing tendencies is Evernote.

I love Evernote because it’s free (well, the version I use is) and if you come across a great idea or article, you can simply click and save it to a folder to read later. And it syncs across all your devices. 

You can create folders to organise your content and notes, but I must admit that I just use my Chrome extension to clip articles or websites that I want to come back to at a later time.

Multi-tabs be gone (or at least be diminished. I currently have seven tabs open). 

Calendly

Since I started coaching writers at the start of this year I quickly found myself becoming sick of the email chain that would inevitably happen when we tried to set up times to organise our coaching sessions.

What I love about Calendly is that now I just send people a link to my online calendar and they can see the days and times that I am available and can book in a coaching session automatically. 

Calendly also syncs with Google Calendar, Office 365, Outlook and iCloud, and you can also manually make times available/unavailable.

I coach a lot of writers in countries other than Australia and I am hopeless at working out time differences, so I love that when writers book a coaching session with me they choose their time zone and it automatically works out what times I have available in their local time zone. 

Calendly has different pricing levels starting at free up to $12 USD per user per month. I think I’m on the middle plan (I guess I really should check!)

Hours Tracker

I do all kinds of writing work for magazines, newspapers, digital publications, corporate organisations, universities and non-profits. 

Mostly I charge by the word, but depending on the client, sometimes it’s a flat project fee and other times it’s by the hour. 

So to keep track of the hours I’ve spent on any one project, I use the Hours Tracker app on my phone. 

When I was working out how I spent my time, I found the app really useful to notice where I was spending lots of my working day and where I could be a bit more productive.

Now I use Hours Tracker to track my time and my earnings (you can put in your hourly rate for each project), and I also use it to keep note of the hours I use at my co-working space

I know some members at my co-working space have turned on the location function so it automatically prompts them to log their hours when they arrive at ‘work’. Cool, huh? 

2. Transcription tools

Rev

I’ve written about this before, but I think the single-most game-changing thing I did for my freelance writing business was getting my interviews transcribed by Rev.

I had dabbled with all kinds of transcription services (like those through Fiverr), but a friend recommended Rev and I have never looked back. 

You pay $1 (USD) per audio minute, and while that may seem steep, more often than not it’s mere hours (usually a maximum of 12) before you receive your recording all beautifully formatted and transcribed by an actual human. 

Jennifer Gregory talks about how getting her interviews transcribed saves her money and time, and for a long time I wasn’t onboard.

How could it possibly save you money? But it does. 

As soon as I’ve completed an interview I send it to Rev and move onto my next task.

Yes, it may cost me $10, $20 or even $40, but just say I am worth (conservatively) $120 hour, spending half an hour of my time (valued at $60 to transcribe a 20 minute interview) just isn’t worth it when I can get it transcribed by someone for $20.   

So yes, I can’t rave enough about Rev. 

And if you haven’t used Rev yet, you can get $10 (USD) off your first order.  

(If you’re after a much cheaper option – you can try Trint a speech-to-text transcription option that costs $15 (USD) per hour of upload. I haven’t tried it yet, but friends have and they say it’s particularly good for speeches or when there is very clear audio.

Or read the comments below for a super tip about an automated transcription service called Temi where you pay 10c/word.)

3. Invoicing software

Wave

I think that Wave has to be the best (FREE!) invoicing for small businesses.

I used it for years before I went full time and probably wouldn’t have switched, but as I earned more, my tax was starting to get more complicated and I needed to be using an invoicing system that my accountant also shared. 

So I switched to Quickbooks. Do I love it? The short answer is no. (No affiliate link here!)

I was keen to try Rounded, an accounting system built specifically for freelancers (and Australian ones at that) and if I ever ditch my accountant, I may just switch over. 

While this isn’t invoicing related, I don’t think I ever would have earned as much as I do without using my simple income target excel spreadsheet – it’s super simple, but super effective. You can download it for free too.

4. Social media management

Social Jukebox

As a freelance writer I see social media as a bit of necessary evil and try to spend as much time off it as possible.

But I recognise that it’s good to share regular, useful content so I use a social media management tool.

I initially used Buffer, but became frustrated when I couldn’t automatically reschedule tweets to recur (maybe you can, but I’m not the most technologically-advanced writer in the world), so when champion freelancer Ginger Gorman put me onto Social Jukebox, I was sold.

I simply populate my ‘jukeboxes’ (I know, it’s very retro) with useful information that I want tweeted, select the times I want it to tweet for me and away it goes. 

5. Keeping track of experts and case studies

Rachel’s List – Toolkit

Before I discovered Rachel’s List’s Toolkit of goodies, I was relying on my memory to locate and relocate useful talent. 

Instead, now I use Rachel’s excellent Expert Tracker spreadsheet (it’s $6.95 AUD) and all my contacts are in one place. 

It’s been especially useful for me when I’m writing in specific areas such as children’s health or psychology and I want to know quickly who I can call on for an expert opinion. 

6. Free images

Unsplash 

It’s rare that I’m asked to provide images for my articles, but when I have written blog posts for clients, it has been a request that I’ve received. 

When fellow freelance writer and tech-guru Lilani Goonesena designed my website and recommended Unsplash as the place to go for beautiful, free images, I took her advice.

I use Unsplash images every week on this blog and I love the variety and quality. I can’t believe they’re free! 

Ok so that’s it for my recommendations. I know there are loads of helpful apps for freelance writers and organisational tools that writers can use out there, but these are my go-to favourites.

What writing tools do you use? Do you see any that are obviously missing from my list that I should try? 

16 Comments

  • Barbra Cohn says:

    Thanks for this very informative article!

  • Olivia says:

    Hi Lindy! Rev has started offering a free automated transcription service called Temi. I tried it yesterday – it isn’t as good as Rev, there were several mistakes, but it was super fast (the transcription was returned to me in under 5 minutes!). Maybe one to try if you have very clear audio and only need something quick transcribing.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Oh Olivia, thank you. What a great tip. That kind of return speed is amazing!

    • Sabiq says:

      i checked it out but it isnt free as you mentioned – u have to pay $0.01 per min – tho its not that much, for people like me who live in the lower developed countries its pretty expensive

      • Lindy Alexander says:

        Thanks for pointing that out Sabiq, you’re right. I’ll fix up the original post. I think they were offering a free trial but it’s now 10c/minute.

  • Kati says:

    Very helpful, thanks Lindy! I have two suggestions for things you might like, if you haven’t come across them already. First is OneTab, a browser extension that keeps my tab addiction roughly under control. I find it much quicker and easier to use than copying individual addresses into a document — you just click and it cascades all your tabs into one clean list. Very soothing.

    The other is Toggl — have you tried it? It’s a time tracker, and the free version is great for keeping track of tasks for different clients. I also use it to track my own admin, emailing, and marketing time so that I stay on schedule. It doesn’t have GPS-activated functionality though, as far as I know.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Ooh Kati, thank you! I love the idea of OneTab and am going to check it out for my tab addiction!
      I’ve heard of Toggl but haven’t used it. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

  • Ayla says:

    It makes me sad to see you praising Rev so much. I wanted to let you know, because I’m sure you had no idea, that they don’t pay their freelancers a fair or even livable income. There are a lot of negative reviews online from past workers who feel they were exploited.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Ayla,
      Thanks for your comment – I hadn’t heard or read this about Rev, so appreciate you letting me know.
      Is there another transcription service that you use and recommend?
      I’m going to follow up with Rev about your comments and see what they say. I’ll keep you posted.

      • Lindy Alexander says:

        Hi again Ayla,
        Okay, so I emailed Rev and here’s what they said:
        "We have many freelancers who are cut from our system and had a negative experience. That being said, we have 20k+ freelancers who are active every month and very happy working for Rev."
        So I guess it may come down to an individual choice? Thanks again for your comment.

        • Ayla says:

          Of course Rev aren’t going to admit that they underpay their freelancers. They’re active every month because they need to work somehow. Same with anyone in any country with a low paying job – it doesn’t mean they’re "happy" and to me it doesn’t seem fair or right. I know of someone who worked 7 days a week on there and made about 150 USD.

  • Rachel says:

    Ahhhhhh …. I love a tools post! 🙂 But then I am a super nerd haha

    Thanks for mentioning our Expert Tracker, Lindy – I have to admit over all the Toolkit stuff we’ve created I find this so useful as well for finding my experts quickly! So glad you use it too.

    Will have to check out Jukebox – we use Hootsuite for scheduling but I’ve long wondered if there’s a more efficient way. I think Hootsuite is $100/year so there’s that to consider too, I guess…

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      No worries Rachel – I use the Expert Tracker ALL.THE.TIME. so thank you for developing it!

      Jukebox is really good – I haven’t used Hootsuite, but I want social media things that are as easy as possible!

  • Claire says:

    Some really great tips Lindy, I’m taking note. Especially the social media scheduling thing which is a new one to me and the invoicing software. I know what you mean about the time to type up interviews, it’s taken me ages in the past, and I’m a pretty fast typist. Unsplash is great for photos, I always like the ones you choose for your posts. I didn’t know you could use Evernote to save articles. I used to use Instapaper but they stopped it for a while in Europe because of GDPR. I’m terrible for having dozens of windows open, so I’ll definitely have a look at Evernote.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Claire, I really recommend Wave as a free invoicing software – I was doing mine all by manually before I started using it and it made such a difference.
      I haven’t heard of Instapaper – I’m going to look into it. Let me know if you end up using Wave, Evernote or any social media management tools – I’ll be keen to hear what you think!

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