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Tools I Use in Freelance Writing (And They're Free)

The word “freelance” was first used to describe mercenary soldiers. And soldiers seldom go to battle without their weapons.


The same is true with freelance writers like us. We need writing tools that will not only make our work more efficient but also will allow us to get the job done and deliver.


There are thousands of work management apps available online. But which of these apps are really for freelance writers?


I have listed here several tools that I’ve been using which I believe will help you, too.


If you have been freelancing or working online for some time now, you might be familiar with some of these apps. But if you’re just starting, consider this as a guide for an organized, productive, and efficient work from home life.


Hardware


Computer

When I started freelancing in 2012, I used to have a desktop computer sitting beside a 3-in-1 printer on a desk. I had to invest in these pieces of hardware plus a stable Internet connection to start working at home.


As time went by, mobility became a necessity. Thus, in 2015, I shifted from a desktop computer to a laptop. Until now, I still use a laptop 100% of the time.


But that doesn’t mean you must have the trendiest computers out there. If you could afford to buy a new, state-of-the-art computer, why not? But if you’re just starting out, have something basic that can perform the tasks you need to do.


Most clients require a minimum of 4GB of random access memory (RAM) in their computer and at least 10Mbps of internet speed. If you’re not sure of what to get for yourself, ask a reliable and trusted computer technician.


Printer

As mentioned earlier, I have a 3-in-1 printer which can print, scan, and copy. This helps a lot when it comes to printing letters, scanning images, and most importantly, photocopying.


However, since most of my clients prefer email and link to Google Drive rather than the physical copy, my printer is seldom used.


Again, if you’re starting out, you don’t need to have a printer beside you. It’s good to have one but in the meantime, you can just go out and have it printed in a copy shop near you.


Modem for internet connection

Working from home and online requires a stable internet connection. With several Internet service providers (ISP) available, you can choose one that suits your needs and budget.


Since my husband and I have been working online since 2012, we decided to have two internet service providers just in case one of them goes on an outage. Also, we have a pocket WiFi in case we need to travel.


But not all freelancers can afford to have two internet connections. One ISP can do it. And if ever there’s an outage, have a pocket WiFi handy or enough data on your smartphone (yes, your phone can act as a modem).


Smartphone

And speaking of smartphones, I only use it for texting and calling. I never send emails or write notes using my smartphone because I prefer using my laptop for those. Seldom will I use my phone for social media browsing and gaming, too. This way, I can put my phone away from me while working. I recommend that you do this, too.


Headset with microphone

Having been in the BPO industry has made a headset with a microphone not just a computer accessory, but a necessity for making calls or attending webinars. Invest in something that has noise reduction and mute button.


Software for Freelancing Business

Most of the freelance writing tools are software or apps. And most of the apps I’ll mention here are freemium, meaning you have the option to upgrade the free plan in order to use the full range of features.


Document Makers

As we all know, having a Microsoft Windows operating system comes with an MS Office suite. Same with having a Linux operating system with LibreOffice. Both include a document writer (like MS Word), a spreadsheet (like MS Excel), and a slide presentation maker (like MS PowerPoint). Unlike the Microsoft products which are proprietary software, the Linux products are free and open-source software (FOSS). What’s good about LibreOffice is you can save documents in .docx, .xls, and .pptx by default so that it would be compatible with the others who use the MS Office suite.


However, I usually use Google Docs, Google Sheet, and Google Slides as I always do things online. Sharing is easy and can be downloaded into .docx, .xls, and .pptx formats respectively when needed.


Internet Browser

Of course, to access the Internet, you need to use a net browser. The most common and popular among the browsers is Google Chrome. There are other net browsers available out there such as Firefox and Brave.


I’m using both Google Chrome and Brave but I prefer using Brave most of the time because of its privacy features.


Start.me

If Chrome is my default browser, Start.me is my default home page. It is basically a bookmark management site where I classify often-used websites and apps into groups, icons, and links.


Back in the day, I used to have MyYahoo and iGoogle as my start pages until Yahoo! and Google took them down respectively to protect their search engine business. Come to think of it, it makes sense for them to do away with bookmarking because it will make us type on their search bar more instead.


But I prefer having a customized start page and I have Start.me’s free plan. Upgrade starts at $20.00 a year or a one-time fee of $60.00 for a Pro version. There are available rates for team and enterprise use, too.


A Start.me page can be customized by using different background themes and widgets. Once I open my Chrome browser, I have in front of me all the often-used links plus the weather and quote of the day.


Search Engines

Most common search engines are Google and Yahoo! But I use Goodsearch instead. I learned of this in 2012 when I first joined NaNoWriMo and used it ever since. It allows me to search for information and at the same time, for every unique search I type in, they will give a penny ($0.01 USD) to my chosen charity (which is NaNoWriMo). Goodsearch is powered by Yahoo! Today, its main URL is Goodshop (which I don’t use) and it used to have Goodgames (I miss this one!). Check out the charities they support and if you found one that suits you, why not try Goodsearch?


Email Service Provider

Isn’t it nice to have all your email accounts in one place? I used to have GMX to do that. Its email collection feature is so awesome that I can read all my emails from different accounts. I can manage my contacts and calendar, too.


However, when they disabled other providers’ email addresses in the “From:” field, I switched back to GMail. Anyway, both email services have quick access to other apps like Contacts, Tasks, Calendar, and Drive.


Cloud Storage

Speaking of Google Drive, I use this to create, organize, and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online. Sending a file to my clients is easy just by sharing it with a link, no need to attach it by email. But there are times when I need to upload a document from my hard drive and share them on the cloud. Uploading and downloading files on Google Drive is easy.


Other clients use DropBox as their cloud storage of choice.


Timekeeping Tool

I've been using OfficeMA since 2013. This is my freelance business management tool and it has a timer. This app allows me to handle multiple clients with different rates. Thus, when I start the timer, it can automatically compute for my work charged by the hour even though I have other clients whom I charged a fixed rate. However, the free version only allows ten tasks. If you exceed, you need to delete the task or disable the client to accommodate the new task you have to add.


The paid plan (Professional) costs £1.20 GBP per person per month and allows you to list down many tasks and lets you issue invoices to clients.


I have used different timer/monitoring tools, too, like Time Doctor, Worksnaps, HubStaff, ActivTrak etc. because some clients do require me to install a monitoring tool. Whenever they don't, I use my OfficeMA and send them a report once a task, assignment, or project is done.


Online Payment System

Ever since I started working from home in 2012, I have used PayPal as my payment management tool. Setting up an account was easy back then, I didn't have any problems with linking it to my bank account. Most of my clients pay me via PayPal in their own currencies. I can also issue invoices using the app when I need to. But most of the time, my clients don't need invoices. I also don’t have issues with transferring money from my PayPal account to my bank account.


There is also Xoom, a subsidiary of PayPal, which allows clients to send payment directly to your bank account.


Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP)

Calling long distance is costly. But thanks to the marvels of the Internet, we now have Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). One of the early apps on communication is Skype with its desktop version. Now, I’m using the web-based Skype. This version is convenient for me. Aside from making a call, I can do a video call, chat, and even share files.


I also use Messenger on my computer and on my phone. There are clients who prefer Messenger over Skype.


Other clients prefer Zoom, Viber, Webex, Google Meet, and chat tools like Slack, HipChat, RocketChat, etc.


Project Management/Organization Tool

Trello is my project management/collaboration/organization tool. It applies the Kanban method by using boards, lists, and cards. It is also a freemium app and I’ve been using it since 2015. Upgrade starts at $5.00 USD per user per month billed annually.


I have used Basecamp, Highrise, Taiga, Taskade, Asana, etc. because my clients use one or two of these. But I still prefer using Trello.


Software for Freelance Writing

The following apps are what I usually use in writing.


Online Notebook/Journal

Remember those Trapper Keeper binders during the '90s? Those big binders can hold more than one notebook. Evernote is literally my online notebook binder. It allows me to create virtual notebooks and organize my notes. It is also a freemium app and the upgrade starts at Php 130.00 a month. I used to have this app on my cell phone but I found the size too large for my phone’s memory so I have been using the web version since then.


However, not all my notes are on the cloud. I still prefer the Bullet Journal for planning and taking down notes.


I also use Penzu, an online journal which I use as my personal diary or for my freewrite exercises.


Dictionary and Thesaurus

We use a dictionary to look up the meaning of words, while we use a thesaurus to look up for its synonyms. Using both helps us capture subtle differences in the connotation of words. I often use the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and thesaurus for this function.


Bibliography

As a freelance writer, I often get assignments that require footnotes, bibliographies, or a specific format (like APA, OSCOLA, etc.). That is why I have MyBib, a free online tool that organizes my sources. Creating folders and bibliography entries are easy. Also, it allows you to copy those entries and in-text citations for Google Docs, MS Word, or other document formats.


Hemingway Editor

For writers like me, the Hemingway Editor helps make my writing readable and lean. Inspired by Hemingway's "rule" in writing (less adverbs, the better), this app will show which sentences are too long or wordy with its color-coded highlighting. The desktop app costs a one-time payment of $19.99.


AI-driven Writing Tool

These days, the concept of artificial intelligence (A.I.) exists even in writing. AI-driven writing tools like Jasper and Copy.ai are now being employed especially in creating content.


Most clients use Jasper, which costs a minimum $49.00 a month for their starter plan. Copy.ai costs $49.00 a month, too, but their annual plan offers free three months which lowers it to $36.00 a month.


I seldom use these AI-driven writing tools. I only use them when I need to generate a catchy title or a small ad copy. However, there are clients that require writers to be familiar with these tools as they demand fast content production these days.


Plagiarism Checker

Dupli Checker is a web-based plagiarism tool that I’ve been using since 2012. After writing, I copy and paste the document (up to 1,000 words only per check) on the site and it will detect plagiarism for free. Upgrade starts at $10.00 a month for their Basic II plan and they have more plans to offer.


I had clients who use Copyscape and Turnitin as plagiarism checkers.


Website Content Management System

I have websites that use WordPress and Wix for a Content Management System (CMS). I’ve been using WordPress since 2012 and Wix since 2021.


Being familiar with these two made me more confident in creating websites and writing web content.


Other Apps

There are apps that I'll also mention here because they're worth using especially when working from home as a freelance writer. These are the apps which I use only when needed.


Graphic Design

I am not an illustrator or graphic designer so I use Canva to create images not only for my website and social media accounts but also for clients. It is also a freemium and upgrade starts at Php 2,490.00 billed annually.


Social Media Management

Hootsuite is a social media management tool which I started using in 2013. This is also a freemium app. The free version used to allow me five different social media profiles but now, it was reduced to two. Back then, I could schedule many posts across all five social media platforms, but now the free version only allows 5 scheduled posts.


Upgrade starts at $49.00 a month for a professional plan. The upgraded version can also connect with your Facebook Ads account for wider reach.


However, Facebook has its own Business Suite which allows you to schedule your social media posts. That's one of the reasons why I seldom use Hootsuite nowadays.


Email Marketing

Mailchimp is an easy-to-use email marketing tool which can organize my mailing list, subscribers, newsletters, and marketing campaigns. The free version allows me to have a limited number of subscribers, but once I exceed, I have to pay a monthly fee. Therefore the pay increases as my mailing list grows. Sometime in 2020, I switched to MailChimp’s TinyLetter (a much simpler free version).


However, my own Wix account has an email marketing tool which can do the job. Thus, I don't use Mailchimp or TinyLetter anymore.


Press Release Distribution

I used to have an account with Free Press Release for creating and distributing press releases. However, I've checked the URL and it's no longer available. Instead, I found PRFree, another free press release distribution site. It has been years since I've written a press release so I was unaware of this change. This is also a freemium PR distribution service and upgrade starts at $19.00 USD per PR.


Video Editor

There will be a time that you will need to transform those slide presentations into a video. Thus, you need video editing apps that could do the job.


Shotcut is a a free, open source, cross-platform video editor that runs on Windows. I haven’t done videos lately, so I haven’t experienced the other features.


Final Thoughts

There you have it, the apps I currently use in freelance writing. It may be a lot, but these tools are helpful.


Tell me what you think and let me know if I have missed anything, I’d appreciate your feedback. And if you like to read more about freelance writing, productivity, or creative writing, please do subscribe to my quarterly newsletter and join the tribe.