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The best (free and paid) tools and apps for freelance writers

By July 20, 2021 July 22nd, 2021 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 lots of super helpful, simple tools that can make a freelance writer’s life so much easier. I asked members of my course Write Earn Thrive about their favourite tools and in this post, I’ve rounded up the best tools they’ve found and my own favourites for freelance writers.  Most of these tools or apps for freelance writers have saved me time, money or mental anguish (and at times, all three).

And just a note – there are some affiliate links in this post. That means if you click through and sign up I may earn a small commission. But rest assured these are only products that I have used and recommend.  

The best tools and apps for freelance writers

 

best tools and apps for freelance writers

The tools below have undoubtedly helped me and members of my courses streamline our businesses and make them more efficient. But I think it’s really important to say that it’s not necessarily the tools that are the key, but that you use them to develop a system that works for you.

Okay, ready to dive in?

Introducing …

The Rolls Royce of pitch and publication trackers

I hate to say it, but I think it might be finally time to ditch my Excel spreadsheets.

I have Excel spreadsheets for all kinds of things – tracking my pitches, my editors’ contact details, LOIs and so on.

In fact, I credit my income target spreadsheet in helping me hit regular $10K months.

But a few months ago, I showed my spreadsheets to my friend Cass Ewing (a self-confessed systems junkie) and I swear the blood drained from her face.

“There might be a better way of pulling all that information together,” she said.

And with that, she was on a mission.

A few days ago, Cass sent me what she had been working on – the ultimate Pitch and Publication Tracker for freelance writers.

It’s built in Airtable, which is like the ultimate spreadsheet database (think Excel but on some serious performance enhancing drugs).

And let me tell you, this pitch and publication tracker is seriously impressive.

I’d really encourage you to go and take a look at what Cass has created – this really is a next-level resource for freelance 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 (other writers I know use OneTab, a Chrome browser extension that reduces tab clutter).

I love Evernote because it’s free (well, the version I use is).

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).

And part of the Evernote product suite is Skitch.

It’s a fabulous little mark-up tool that lets you annotate, draw, pixelate or adjust a document. I use it almost daily.

Calendly

When I started coaching writers, I quickly became entangled in an email chain that would inevitably happen when we tried to set up times to organise our coaching sessions.

Same situation trying to set up interviews with experts or case studies.

I love Calendly for sending people a link to my online calendar.

They can see the days and times I’m available and can book in a time slot automatically.

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

When I coached writers in countries other than Australia, I was hopeless at working out time differences.

But when overseas clients or interviewees book a slot, they choose their time zone and it automatically works out the times I am available in their local time zone.

Calendly has different pricing levels starting at free up to $12 USD per user per month.

Hours Tracker

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

Sometimes I charge by the word, sometimes it’s a 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 helped me pinpoint where I was spending lots of my working day and where I could be a bit more productive.

For years I’ve used Hours Tracker to track my time and earnings (you can put in your hourly rate for each project).

And when I worked at a local co-working space, I used it to log my time spent there too.

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

Other writers in my community use and like Toggl too.

Rev

I’ve written about this before, but one of the most productive things I did for my freelance writing business was getting my interviews transcribed.

I had dabbled with all kinds of transcription services (like those through Fiverr), but a friend recommended Rev and in the past, I used them quite a lot.

You pay $1.25 (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 formatted and transcribed by a 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.

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

Otter

Lately, I’ve been using Otter.ai quite a lot, and for an AI-powered transcription service, it’s usually pretty good.

It’s not as accurate as Rev and in the past, Rev has been accused of underpaying their transcribers.

Otter it’s much, much cheaper than Rev so I go there as my first point of call then listen back to the recording (at 1.5 speed) and fix up any mistakes as I go.

Wave

In my opinion, Wave is the best free invoicing software for freelance writers who are starting out (and who are based in North America).

I used it for years before I went full time (when they accepted people from Australia).

I probably wouldn’t have switched but as I earned more, my tax was starting to get more complicated and I needed to use an invoicing system that was more robust.

Rounded

For writers who are looking for an accounting platform built specifically for freelancers, you can’t go past Rounded – it’s sleek, streamlined and so easy to use.

And one of the cool things is that you can designate your income into separate streams so you can see exactly how much money you’re making from individual clients or from types of writing (e.g. features vs copywriting vs sponsored content).

Rachel’s List Expert Tracker

While I’m eventually going to fold all my contacts (experts, case studies, editors etc) into Cass’s Pitch and Publication Tracker, I’ve loved using Rachel’s Expert Tracker spreadsheet.

Before I discovered it, I was relying on my memory to locate and relocate useful talent.

The tracker has 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.

Google Suite

When I asked around in my private community for Write Earn Thrive, quite a few members mentioned Google Suite. Some only file articles to editors using Google docs instead of Word.

One writer later said to me that she had the rather harrowing experience of watching an editor go through her article in a Google doc in real time. Eek!

Email trackers

Now I have to say, that I’ve never used an email tracker to see when (or if) editors ever open my emails.

But they are really popular and one of the members in Write Earn Thrive said she uses the free version of Email Tracker Pro.

This writer told me, “I couldn’t actually live without it! I also think it’s very accurate. And especially as I’m doing comms and media work and pitching op-eds for organisations. You really need to know when to move on with those quickly.”

I’ve also heard good things about Mail Tracker – another free tool that allows the sender to know who opens their emails.

Hunter

You can also use tools like Hunter’s Email Finder or Email Verifier to help find editors’ or potential clients’ contact details.

I love using Hunter to find those pesky emails for editors where you know their name and the publication, but you don’t have their email address.

So, you simply put in an editor’s or client’s name and website domain, then it’ll usually deliver you their email address.

I’ve used it to reach out to many potential clients and hard-to-find-editors.

With Hunter’s free plan you get 25 free searches a month.

Tape A Call

I feel like when it comes to recording interviews, I’ve tried so many options – dictaphone, Quicktime, using voice memos on my phone, Skype record and so on.

The best I’ve found is the app TapeACall.

What I like about TapeACall is that you can record calls you’re about to make, or calls that you’re already on. And although the company says that the recordings show up instantly, my experience is that it can take up to 30 (heart-stopping) minutes for the file to arrive on your phone.

So, is it perfect?

No. I’ve heard freelancers talk about calls that never recorded or glitchy audio, but personally, I’ve never had an issue.

GoFull Page

This seems like a weird thing to include, but I can’t tell you the number of times in a month that I need (or want) to capture a screenshot of an entire web page.

To do that I use GoFull Page screen capture – a nifty little Chrome extension that snaps the entire page and then presents it to you as a PDF.

There’s lots of other tools that I use and would recommend for freelance writers like the Marinara Timer that helps me get focused and Keywords Everywhere for easy SEO research.

Other writers have also suggested the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word, Grammarly, Dragon Dictation, Trello  and Freedom.

What about you? Do you have any favourite tools or apps for freelance writers?   

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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