Everyday, I rely on a number of tools and applications to keep my business organized and running smoothly. I’ve been doing the freelance thing for about a year and a half now, and after trying out what feels like hundreds of different applications, these are the ones that have made it this far.
Gimme Bar allows you to grab images, text, or even a whole website screenshot off any website. You can organize your items into groups, tag them, and write descriptions. I use Gimme Bar a ton during my research phase of a project. I can browse the web and when I see something that I’d like to reference to a client or use as inspiration, I can quickly add it to my group. The best thing is that each group of items (Collections) have their own public links and can be shared with anyone you want.
UPDATE: Gimme Bar now provides the capability to backup your tweets, instagrams, and more. It is content aware and can save recipes, articles (and more), not just whole website shots. The best new feature is the ability to collaborate with others on a collection so that the specified people can all contribute to one collection. This has endless possibilities when working with other designers or even clients.
I have tried at least 20 different project management apps. Seriously. I love it because it’s like a simple to-do list on crack. One list is never enough for me, and elaborate apps usually have too much functionality and end up getting in the way. With WorkFlowy, you can nest as many lists inside of each other as you’d like, and all list are collapsible, so you can focus on whatever area you need to without being overwhelmed. Hashtags also allow you to just focus on “#today” or “#emails”.
I have a love/hate relationship with TeuxDeux. It’s a tad too simple for me, but I keep returning to it when other to-do lists or project management software just get too overwhelming. It’s gorgeous, at the very least.
Simply put, Cyberduck is my free FTP client of choice.
Wufoo allows you to create online forms with almost zero effort. My clients have enjoyed using this for employee applications and mailing list sign-ups. The biggest help Wufoo has been to me is in creating my Website Worksheet that I send to clients to gain more information about their project before I send a proposal. I used to spend so much time emailing requests for more information. Now, I just point people to my Website Worksheet.
iCal is great for scheduling blocks of work throughout the week. It helps me envision how much time I can spend on each project each day, which helps me manage client expectations as well.
Although iCal should hypothetically tell me how many hours I work on a project, things never go as planned. I have gone through a number of time tracking apps as well (TimeEdition is a close second). I use TrackTime to get an accurate report of how many hours I spend on each project, and I love that I can label each time entry with the task I’m performing. Clients appreciate seeing the details of each task on an invoice.
One of my biggest complaints about freelancing is the administrative end. The emails just keep coming and coming. TextExpander lets you designate a shorthand that when typed, will expand into the full text you’ve designated. I use this for a range of things like my address (“aaddress”), email sign-offs/signatures (“cciao”), and FAQ-ish responses. It shaves off so much time if you find yourself needing to craft the same email over and over again.
The simplest tool of all. I’m writing this roundup in TextEdit right now. TextEdit is great for all kind of digital note-taking. I use it for taking notes when on a call with a client. I can then save the notes and put them in the client’s folder for reference. I use it to draft important emails, to prevent me from speedily clicking send before re-reading. I make quick shopping lists on the fly and email them to myself for on-the-go reference. I use it for brainstorming and quick word mapping for projects. The uses are endless.
Ten bucks a month is a tiny cost for music to keep me focused and productive. Rdio wins my heart over ten times because I can link to my friends (mostly internet designer friends) and it recommends music to me. I don’t have to spend minutes deciding what I feel like listening to. I open Rdio, click a popular album that week in my network, and it’s almost always something low-key that’s great for focusing. It also allows you to stream any music (at al!) from my phone, so no more syncing music. Ever.
What a dream OpenOffice is. I never need to use Microsoft Word, but tons of clients send me Word documents containing content or other info. OpenOffice is an open source and free alternative to Microsoft Office. I can easy open any files sent to me from clients. I also use their spreadsheets to keep track of my invoices, income, expenses, and tax-deductible purchases. It gives me a perfectly organized foundation when tax season rolls around.
Everyone loves Mint, right? I can tag my expenses and focus on just my Paychecks, or just Business Expenses, which helps immensely when getting organized for tax time.
My life changed when I found out that there’s a way to host WordPress locally on your own computer. With MAMP I could finally build and shape a client’s WordPress site without having to upload files each time I made a change. Total game-changer.
I’m including InDesign in this list, not for anything creative-related, but because I use it for a variety of other tasks. I have a template for all of my invoices that I edit and export from InDesign. In addition, it’s a killer app for wireframing and creating really quick elegant mood boards to share with clients. Pasting, cropping, and resizing images seems to be the simpler and quicker than any other program.
It took me too long to discover Espresso. I was stuck in Dreamweaver-land for years, even though I was writing my own code and never used their website building features. Espresso makes it insanely simple to quickly switch between documents. It auto-completes tags, and allows you to collapse bit of code. I believe programmers can also add on little plugins called “Sugars” to increase functionality in niche areas.
An obvious choice. DropBox allows me to send and share files with clients, having them in a place that’s always accessible by both parties. The interface is as simple as can be, and all I have to do is drop files into a folder on my computer, and they automatically upload online.
I’d love to hear which apps you guys find completely indispensable to your business. Let me know! I’m always trying new things to get as productive and focused as I can be!