There are a million things to keep track of when you’re running a freelance business. And just one you.
It’s hard to wear all the hats – to be the accounting office, the marketing department, the customer service line, and the janitor while still doing the thing your business actually exists to do.
I know. I do it, too.
The first thing I’ve learned: automate everything that can be automated. You have no idea how much precious money-making (or life balancing) time you are wasting if you’re using an Excel spreadsheet for accounting or a desk calendar to remember when projects are due.
Doing *all the things* is so much easier if you have the right tools. Here are three applications I think every freelancer and solopreneur needs, regardless of industry, as well as the specific tool I use and why I chose it. I’m hard to please, so I assure you, I did a lot of research and free trials before landing on the tools I recommend.
3 essential tools for the solopreneur
1. A planning and scheduling tool (My Choice: HoneyBook)
I’ve tried a lot of planning tools. A lot.
Trello. Monday. Clickup. Eventually, they all ended up a mess.
Not because they’re not good tools. They are. They just weren’t right for me.
HoneyBook, on the other hand, changed my life.
HoneyBook was created with freelancers in mind. I was drawn to its easy-to-use system for tracking projects and to-do lists. But it actually has a whole host of features to help solo business owners save time.
It stores my branded proposals and contracts. Once I uploaded my pricing sheet, creating a new client proposal became a three-minute project, max.
Accepted proposals become contracts and contracts generate invoices and I don’t have to do anything to make that happen. The invoicing tool integrates with my accounting tool to keep track of client payments and sends reminder emails to customers whose payment is due.
HoneyBook has a scheduling tool that does the work of Calendly and an e-signature tool that does the work of VeriSign. You can build custom workflows to send email automations on a schedule or after triggering events.
Like all good planning tools, it also comes with a bunch of integrations: Zoom, Quickbooks, and Zapier, to name a few.
The full version is $39 a month, with a discount if you sign up for a year. There is a starter plan that’s only $9 a month, but its transaction limits means it’s not a good option if you plan to use it for billing.
I’m such a HoneyBook evangelist that they gave me a discount code you can use to get 50% off your first year. If you don’t use the link, you can still get the discount at checkout with the coupon code ATOMICORANGE.
2. An accounting and human resources tool (My Choices: Quickbooks Online + Gusto)
You need to get paid! A good accounting tool will keep track of your income, expenses, taxes, and all the little details that really matter if you want to, you know, earn a living from your work.
When choosing my accounting tool, I went with the 800-pound gorilla, Quickbooks Online. There is a learning curve to setting it up, but it’s mostly vocabulary. Once you understand what the different designations for revenue and expenses mean, it’s easy to keep track of where your money comes from and where it goes.
I like the business-at-a-glance dashboards and the reliability of using a well-established player to handle my money. My core plan is less than $30 a month – which is a bargain when you compare it to what you could lose through shoddy bookkeeping.
Depending on your freelance business structure, you may or may not need a payroll processor. My business is an S-corp, so even though I’m the only employee, I do. Rather than using Quickbook’s payroll tool, I went with another vendor, Gusto.
Gusto is super easy to use. It sends me reminders when it’s time to run payroll and when I need to do something for legal or tax compliance. When tax time comes around, running my W-2 and my freelancers’ 1099s is as easy as clicking a button.
If your business grows to include others besides you, Gusto also has HR tools. That’s one reason I prefer it to other payroll processors. Just because I don’t have any regular employees yet doesn’t mean I never will. If I make a hire, it will be easy-peasy to add them to the system without worrying whether I’m following all the regulatory rules.
Gusto feels a little weird to set up because it’s a DIY solution, but their customer service is top notch, so you’re not really on your own unless you want to be. And the system is designed to prevent you from making stupid mistakes.
3. An online meetings tool (My Choice: Google Meet)
It’s the digital age, baby, and if you’re not on Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams, you need to be.
My personal favorite is Google Meet only because it fits so seamlessly with my email and calendar, and because it doesn’t have Zoom’s limit on the number of people in the room. (Zoom meetings are limited to 40 minutes if your meeting includes more than two people unless you are on a paid plan.)
That said, I probably use Zoom more often simply because that’s what most of my clients know and are familiar with. I’ve had Google Meets go sideways because the other person wasn’t sure which link to click or how it worked.
I’m not a fan of the user experience with Teams. That said, it does offer one feature I love: free, automatic transcripts of recorded meetings. You can have the transcript appear live in a side panel (amazing if someone in the meeting is hard of hearing or in a noisy place) and you can download it after the fact.
You can download a transcript of a recorded Zoom meeting, but only on premium plans. And transcribing a Google Meet requires using a third-party service like Otter.ai or Rev.
You’ll need other tools depending on your line of work, but for me, these are the bare minimum I need to keep my business rolling.
Bonus Freelance Business Tool: Community
Another important thing I’ve learned as a solopreneur: “solo” is a relative term. You might be the only one on the regular payroll, but your life is probably a lot harder than it needs to be if you don’t have a small team of contractors and advisors taking the weight off your shoulders.
- Compliance specialist – When I first decided to incorporate my business, I turned to Laura Wilcox of Corporate Minutes Inc. to help me, and boy, am I glad I did. Laura advised me on how to set up my business for success. She filed all the legal and regulatory paperwork to start the business off right. And she stays on top of all the changing legal requirements to make sure my business stays compliant.
- Accountant – I may do my own bookkeeping, but taxes are another story. My accountant has also been an incredibly valuable source of business advice. When it comes to budgeting, investing, and protecting my money, he knows way more than I do.
- Freelance contractors – One of the best things I did this year was bring on a couple of freelance research assistants. When I’m working on a strategy or on a research-heavy piece of content, these two have saved me hours – which translates into saving me both stress and money, since the time I would have spent researching can now be spent on more productive activities. If there’s something eating up valuable time in your routine that you can outsource, by all means, do it.
To save time and stress on marketing your business – if you’re not going to outsource it – check out this post on free digital marketing tools or this one on making sure you’re making the right kind of content.
Disclaimer: If you buy from the links in this post, I may receive a token affiliate payment. It doesn’t cost you more. And I honestly do use and recommend every tool in this post, whether I’m an affiliate or not.