The Insanely Useful Freelance Writing Tools I Use Every Day
Want to know exactly how I run a successful freelance writing business, with relatively low overheads? I’m happy to share. These are the exact tools I use to run my freelance writing business. They’re all you need, though you may want to check out my ebook full of free tools for a host of other tools I’ve used and loved at various points in my freelance career.
Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. This means I may get a commission if you click through and make a purchase. These really are the tools I’ve used to build my business, and I wouldn’t recommend them if they didn’t work for me. Please check that you’re happy with the features and return policy of any product before you invest. Got that? Good. Let’s get your freelance writing business up and running.
Many freelance writers and professional content creators use all kinds of fancy writing software (Evernote and Scrivener are popular, and I know writers who swear by them). Not me. I stick with Microsoft Word. Word documents are easy to work with, universally accepted by editors, and easy to convert to other formats (such as PDF) using a free online conversion tool (I use this one).
I even write my books in Word these days. It’s easy to convert a Word document to a Kindle book or to an EPub format which is what you need to sell on iBooks, Kobo and other ebook retailers. Again, you can convert for free online – I use this website. Or you can upload a Word file directly to Kindle or Smashwords and they’ll convert it for you (Smashwords can then push your book out to other stores such as iBooks, Kobo etc).You’ll need to format and save your book correctly of course – see how to format Kindle books here and download the free Smashwords style guide here.
With Office you also get Excel which is what I use to track freelance submissions, income and expenses. It’s available for Mac and PC, and sometimes comes free with some devices (you may even find you have it on your phone).
Your personal online proofreader, Grammarly can proofread everything from a blog post to a book. I’m not saying you should always skip paying a human editor/proofreader (it depends on the project) but for your day-to-day content, such as freelance articles and your own blog posts, Grammarly is great. If you’re launching a full-length book, you might want to perfect it by employing a professional copy editor and proofreader (like me!), but you can still save money by using Grammarly to improve your content before handing it over to an editor. The folks at Grammarly have created a useful video so you can see if this tool is for you. You can view it below.
I use this totally FREE online tool on every headline I write, whether it’s for my own blog, my content creation clients or my freelance writing pitches. I’ve started using it to test out future book titles too.
I store all my work in progress in Dropbox (online cloud storage) allowing me to access it from any location and any device. This is the one tool that helps me be truly flexible, highly productive, and effectively location independent in the way I run my freelance writing business. It’s also really useful for sharing files with my clients. And the basic version is FREE. (You can upgrade to a paid version if you have a ton of files to store and need more space). Find out more here.
Not sure where to pitch your articles? There are some great online resources and reference guides that make life easier. I suggest bookmarking this page at FundsForWriters.com and this one over at Make A Living Writing. I also recommend you keep an up-to-date copy of Writer's Market on your desk.
Every freelance writer needs a website or blog to showcase their work, list their rates and services and allow clients to find them easily. WordPress is where all the big boys (and girls) blog. It has a lot of cool functions, clean, attractive themes (even the free ones, but if you want a custom theme try these gorgeous ones from Coded Creative). It has easy to install plug-ins, widgets, and more functionality than most other platforms. It also integrates easily with almost any other program you might want to use, and finding advice and tutorials is always easy, because it’s so popular.
For a long time I ran a Weebly site, where I housed my freelance portfolio. Weebly is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) platform that makes building a professional looking website even easier than WordPress. It doesn’t have all the plug-ins, widgets, and integration features of WordPress, but if you want a ‘big business card’ site it's worth considering.
I found Weebly low maintenance and intuitive. Everything is drag and drop and you never have to spend time updating plug-ins (because there aren’t any). If you’re looking for a ridiculously easy website to showcase your freelance writing services, rates and portfolio, for example, and you’re really not that technical, you may find Weebly is the best option for you. There’s a FREE version, though I suggest you at least buy your own domain name. You can do that through Weebly, to keep the tech side simple (it will cost a few bucks a month). Or buy a domain name even cheaper through GoDaddy or similar and redirect it (a little more technical - I’d choose the first option. In fact, that’s exactly what I did with my first Weekly site).
An email program (to build your list of potential clients and communicate with your audience) is really useful. I use both Mailchimp and Aweber for my own lists and when working with clients. They both work really well. Aweber probably has a little more in the way of functions BUT Mailchimp is FREE (we do love FREE) for your first 2000 subscribers, which can be really tempting if you’re on a budget and your list is tiny. The free version doesn’t allow for an autoresponder sequence though, so if you want that from the start, go with Aweber.
Social media marketing is vital to grow a thriving freelance business, and it’s (mostly) free. Yes, you may end up paying for ads to increase your social media reach, but you can start building an audience on any social media site for free. You’ll find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.
I advise you to at least have a presence on all the big sites. If you don’t use a particular one often make sure your profile says what you do and who you serve, and includes a link to where potential clients can find out more about you and get in touch.
Technology is a funny thing. Ten years ago, everyone had a laptop. Now many of us mainly access the internet via our phones and tablets and may not actually have a computer at home. If you’re writing 1,500 words a day (the minimum I aim for) it can be tricky on a tablet, and a nightmare on a phone. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a laptop. The latest MacBook Air is beautiful, (and you probably will want to go for a MacBook if you have an iPhone/iPad as it makes it easier to sync all your devices). But you can get a basic laptop for under $200 on Amazon. That will get you started.
I can’t believe that I was actually born into a world where you couldn’t carry 500 books in a small handbag or large pocket. Thankfully you now can. I’m constantly reading books and reports to research my articles and books on the go. I read on Kindle which allows me to highlight passages (or quotes I want to use in my articles) and make notes easily. Already own another device? You can almost certainly download the FREE Kindle reading app. It works on iPads, PCs, phones (android and i) and most other devices. Click the image below to download the FREE app.
Image sourcing is part of my job. I regularly have to find or create images for my own blogs and social media accounts, and I also have a few clients that I've agreed a package deal with, whereby I find suitable images for the articles I write. Unless the client already has an account at a stock image site, I mainly use these free stock photography sites to source images, combined with the resources below.
Simple to use image editing software that has a basic FREE version. I (very) occasionally use the paid elements and you can do so on a pay-as-you-go basis, spending as little as $1 at a time if you want to use a premium image or graphic. This is what I use to create most of the images you’ll see on my blog posts and social media streams.
Creative Market is one of the few sites I (occasionally) buy stock photos and graphics from. They also sell premium fonts (great if you’re looking for a special font for a book cover), and themes. They usually offer a pack of free images and graphics to new subscribers. Check them out.
I use Kindle Direct Publishing to publish my ebooks on Amazon, and Smashwords to push them out to other retailers like iBooks and Barnes & Noble. I also log onto those platforms daily to monitor sales and promote my books.
Everyone needs a daily planner. You can get one from the dollar store (I certainly have before) but I think planning is by far the most important daily task for my freelance writing business. I spend time planning and dreaming and strategizing single every day, so I now treat myself to a proper, business oriented (but still fun) planner. Currently I’m loving The Biz Plan Book, created by Natalie Collins.
Freelance writing is a sedentary occupation so staying fit and healthy is a challenge. A simple strategy I’ve recently learned is to spend part of each day standing. Some people go the whole hog and get a treadmill desk, but I’m not sure I could actually work out and write at the same time. A simple adjustable standing desk like this one works fine. In fact you can probably adapt your own desk with a sturdy box or pile of books. Some surfaces in your house may even be the right height anyway (kitchen work surfaces are a good bet). However you do it, challenge yourself to spend a portion of your work day standing.
Highly recommended for brand new writers
There are a few tools that I suggest you consider if you’re new to freelance writing and want to accelerate your career in record time. Combine one or more of the tools below with a lot of hard work, and you won’t be an inexperienced freelancer by this time next year.
This self-paced online course to help you write your way to your first $1000, including ready-to-use templates, sample (successful) pitches, everything you need to know to build your writer platform and the exact method that has worked for other new freelance writers, enabling them to make their first $1000. The course even comes at three different levels (and prices) so you can choose one according to your budget and the time commitment that best fits your schedule. Take a look at the details (and testimonials) here.
When I first started freelancing another resource that really helped me fire up my career was The Freelance Writer’s Den. It’s more than a one-off training or online course. It’s an exclusive member’s club where you can access a ton of information, trainings and advice, ask questions, get feedback, and find out who’s hiring (and what they’re looking for). If you really commit to the Den and what it has to offer, it would be hard NOT to find some freelancing writing work from the leads and tips you’ll find in there. Like I said, it’s exclusive. It only opens to new members a couple of times a year. But you can get on the waiting list here.
OK, it’s cheeky to include a product I created in here, but I put all my best advice, templates, cheatsheets and checklists into this kit aimed at new writers. It includes a 15 Day step-by-step guide to improving your writing, and a workbook to help you plan and design a freelance writing website to that attract new clients, even while you sleep. Check out the kit here.