If you asked some of our older parents if they ever did freelance work on the side, many of them would tell you that it wasn’t even a thought in their mind. Next, ask them if they ever worked as an independent contractor for a company. They’ll probably have an even more confused look on their faces. The traditional work environment is quickly changing due to the rapid advancement in technology. Throw in the sluggish economy and the always-increasing cost of living, and many people have turned to freelancing and starting side businesses to earn extra income for their families.
I’ve been doing freelance and contract work for the past five years. Luckily, many other entrepreneurs have caught onto the fact that freelancing is very popular, and many great resources have been developed to help us work from home and independently. Here are six essential types of online resources every freelancer needs to be successful:
1. Online Office Suite
The days of Microsoft Office dominance are slowly fading away. With open-source applications like Open Office and the popularity of Google Apps, we have a lot more options for word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets. While paid software such as Excel and Apple’s Keynote are clearly packed full of features, if you’re simply looking for an easy way to keep your side business organized, I recommend installing Google Apps on your website’s domain name. You do have a website, right? The greatest thing about Google Apps is that it gives you the full functionality of Gmail and Google Docs using your domain specific email addresses and you can access all of the apps anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection.
2. Invoicing System
One thing that will never go away is the need for invoices. You must provide bills and receipts to your clients if you expect them to pay you. The invoicing system that I use is called Fresh Books. You can add client information, send invoices as PDFs, send paper invoices through snail mail, create estimates, and keep track of time spent on a project if charging by the hour. I pay $19 a month for support of up to 25 clients. Fresh Books also has great smart phone apps to send invoices and mark them as paid all from your phone.
3. Cloud Drive
Sometimes you need your files to follow you instead of you following your files. My favorite online file storage system is DropBox. It’s really easy to use, they give you 2GB of storage for FREE, and it’s only $9.99 per month to upgrade to 50GB of storage. I love that you can share certain folders with clients so that you can collaborate on these shared files together.
4. Keeping Track of Expenses
Taking clients out to eat, buying supplies at Office Depot, and other expenses need to be kept track of and a website like Shoeboxed can help with that. Snap a photo of your receipt with your phone and Shoeboxed stores it and files it.
5. Conference Calling
If you need to talk with a group of clients, I’ve had good success with FreeConferenceCall.com. You can set it up and distribute the access code for all parties to call in and hook up for a conference call. If hosting webinars is part of your income strategy, try GoToMeeting.com. It’s about $100 a month, but it’s the best online application for doing video conferencing and webinars. Dimdim.com might be a cheaper alternative. Skype is also a great option that works well – and you can even buy your own phone number so that you can call and receive calls from landlines and cell phones.
6. Tax Accounting
When doing freelance work, the one thing you need to think about most when it comes to accounting and taxes is filing your quarterly tax estimates. I’m using OutRight, which is a simple, tax accounting online application that keeps track of all of your income and expenses and calculates your estimated taxes owed each quarter. It hooks up with Fresh Books, Paypal, and even your online checking account if your bank allows it. Quicken and Turbotax (made by Intuit) are also very popular options that work well.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the online resources available to freelancers, but it’s more of a reminder of the essential resources you should have to be successful as a freelancer. Working on the side is the only guaranteed way to make substantial extra income. You could start a blog and hope that people start clicking on your ads or you could try to buy and resell stuff on eBay, but performing a service in a field that you’re experienced in is the best way to make extra money here and now.
Any great resources you recommend for freelancers to try out?
For more, check out 25 online resources for freelancers and small businesses.
Erik Folgate is a freelancer & small business owner (social media consulting) as well as a lead editor for the Money Crashers personal finance money blog. Money Crashers has a wealth of information focused around saving money, investing, career & freelancing, banking, and more.
Photo by lumaxart