Freelancer Tools of the Trade

This is the 3rd article of my series So you want to be a freelancer developer in which aims to guide and teach freelancers how to navigate the industry.

You’ve decided to be a freelancer, and after some hard work you’ve gained some clients (after reading Getting Clients as a Freelancer, of course 😉 ). You’re working hard, staying up late, getting up earlier and hopefully creating some cool and interesting things. But you’ll need to log your time, you’ll need to track your tasks, keep up with your clients, and have a safe place to store the code or designs you’ve been working on. While there are many different tools to accomplish the above, in my experience I’ve come to trust and rely on a select few that never let me down. I’m going to share those with you.

Time Tracking

Toggle - My pick for time tracking

My Pick: Toggl

You’re going to need to track your time. Most clients will like to know what you spent your time on, or a general idea of hours worked on a task especially the ones you charge by the hour. I’m personally against micromanaging my time (for example, 5 minutes on task A, 10 minutes on task B), instead I prefer to log hours against a project as a whole and then give a breakdown if needed.

I use Toggl as it’s free (a bonus), super easy to use, and allows me to create a client, add projects to said client, and then time per project. It has a great set of tools for reports based on, daily, weekly, and monthly views. It has a breakdown of hours worked per client/project, and is overall a great way to log your time accurately and understand where your time was spent.

Invoicing

Paypal - My pick for invoicing

My Pick: PayPal

The part we all love about working for yourself is having to manage invoicing and keeping track of payments. You can approach this problem many different ways; using a software on your local machine, using a 3rd party app (SaaS), using a your favorite payment system (Venmo, PayPal, Stripe), or build your own.

I rely on PayPal’s Invoicing to handle things for me. It requires a bit of manual work, but ultimately gets me what I need. I’ve got a template in which my business name and logo is displayed nicely and I can remind clients of payments, see who’s paid, and keep an accurate and complete history of invoices. However, if you don’t use or like PayPal, an alternative would be something like Pancake (no fees), or Wave (fees). This is where you’ll need to do the most research into what makes sense for you and what features you need.

Project Management

Asana - My pick for project management

My Pick: Asana

Let’s face it, there are thousands of project management solutions out there. Some small scale ones such as Trello are perfect for a quick overview of tasks, while mammoths like Jira nearly require a college course to fully understand and utilize. A lot of these platforms will require you to purchase a subscription to either use it, or get the best features. On the flipside, you could use Google Sheets to manage everything if you’re looking for something free and basic.

Asana was the right fit for me as the free version covers my basic needs. I was introduced to it by a great developer back when I began working on big project. The platform allows you to create projects, tasks, assign people and make comments – it covers the pretty much everything you’ll need to get started and doesn’t get in your way of managing your tasks.

Git

Bitbucket - My choice for git repos.

My Pick: Bitbucket

This is the most important tool you will ever use. It’ll save you headaches, frustration, time, and at least once in your career from losing everything. Git is extremely important to learn as you can essentially track and store changes to files (be it code, images, text, etc…) You can imagine Git as a way to historically view every change with comments made by the person committing the change. It comes in handy when a client’s lost files, someone broke something, or you need to easily hand off projects to other developers.

I use both Github and Bitbucket, they each have free plans to host your code privately, and both have super easy to understand documentation for getting setup and started. Both platforms will provide what you need, with Github being the more popular and wider used of the two.

Note: There are other services such as Gitlab, or SVN, but Github will be the most straight forward for beginners.

Notable Tools

The above covers the basics, but depending on your skills and and projects, you may need other things. I’ve put together a small list of free services below.

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