Whether you’re a writer, developer, designer, animator or freelancer in any creative field – if you want to grow your freelance business, you need the right tools.
In this post I'll do three things:
- Introduce my new Tools & Resources page.
- Explain how I categorize the tools.
- Share my philosophy about purchasing tools in each category.
(In a separate post I share all the tools I use for my business).
What Tools do Creative Freelancers Need?
I divide the type of tools freelancers need into three main categories:
- Essential work tools.
- Productivity tools.
- Business growth tools.
Essential work tools.
Essentials include tools you must have to get your work done.
In my case, that includes the Adobe tools (After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop & Premiere) that I use on a daily basis.
This section also includes freelance ‘must-haves' like accounting software (Freshbooks), finance/payment tools (Paypal) and communication tools.
Productivity work tools.
Productivity includes tools that you don't have to have, but having them boosts your efficiency, speeds up your workflow and makes your freelance life easier. All in all, it makes you a better freelancer.
This can include things like collaboration tools (Dropbox, Google Docs), extensions added to your essential tools (Add-on for Chrome), project management tools (Asana, Slack), note taking apps (Evernote, Google Keep) and more.
Certain tools serve a dual purpose between the productivity & essential aspect, and could potentially appear in both categories (Slack, Dropbox).
Business growth tools.
Business growth includes tools that help you grow your overall business revenue, and resources that help improve certain aspects of your freelance career.
This can include a wide spectrum of tools – from platforms that help you find freelance work, to running a blog, selling digital products, taking online courses, using email marketing tools and more.
What tools should you buy?
The way I approach this question is different for each category.
- Essential tool – get it.
- Productivity tool – think twice.
- Business growth tool – wait for the right time.
Let me explain…
1. Essential freelance tools
The essential tools are the core of your freelance business.
Without them, you can't get your work done, and you will never get paid.
So the way I see it – if you can’t get your work done without a certain tool, you need to get that tool.
Example: If I didn’t have Adobe After Effects, I wouldn't be able to create explainer videos for my clients. So I got it.
Now, I realize this is more complicated than just a “Need? Yes? Get” formula, but that’s my general mindset about the essential tools.
And trust me, I know tools can get expensive – especially when you're just starting your freelance career.
So how do you decide? Here's an example:
When I started my freelance business back in 2010, I needed to get a powerful computer and professional software for editing and animating videos. In total, the purchase would set me back a few thousand dollars, so it wasn't cheap by any means.
But I figured that since I'm in this for the long run, I need to take a leap of faith – both in myself and in the increasing demand for the skill set I provide. So I went for it.
And looking back, that was one of the best decisions of my career. In fact, it was a crucial step towards my transition from being an employee to being a freelancer.
But every situation and scenario is different. And yes, every tool comes with a cost and a certain amount of risk.
So whether you’re just starting out, or you've been in the game for a while, money is money, and the core set of questions remains:
- Is this tool really essential for doing my work?
- Is there a similar, less expensive tool, that will do the job?
- Will I get a return on the investment (ROI) of the purchase? How long will it take?
- Does my current financial situation allow me to make the purchase?
After doing your research, if you come to a conclusion that you do need the tool for your work, and you believe that you will be able to get a return on the investment within a reasonable time (according to your standards and current financial situation), then get it.
Bottom line: You can’t grow your business if you don’t have the right tools. If you're in this for the long run, you need to get your essential toolkit.
2. Productivity tools
Productivity tools help you be a better freelancer by increasing your efficiency and speeding up your workflow. These tools help you get your work done faster, which results in getting paid faster and gaining extra time for new projects.
This category includes things like add-ons for existing software, project management tools, cloud file sharing and collaboration services, background sounds for improving focus, a second monitor and more.
But productivity tools aren't essential for getting your work done.
So how do you decide if a productivity tool is worth your money?
Answer these two questions:
- How much will this tool speed up your workflow?
- Is that increase in speed worth the cost of the tool?
If a tool will significantly boost your efficiency and add time to your day, it's an easy call.
If the answer is debatable, then think twice before getting it.
Example: Up until recently I used Google docs to collect feedback from clients on video animation work. It's free, it works really well, and clients loved working this way. So where's the problem? It was very time consuming for me. Nowadays, I use a tool called Frame. It makes feedback collection a breeze and is a HUGE time saver. Worth my money? Absolutely.
Bottom line: Productivity tools are secondary in importance to your essential tools. They are only worth your money if they truly increase your efficiency and help you get work done faster.
3. Business growth tools
The business growth category includes a mixture of tools, platforms, and resources that help you increase your revenue by either:
- Improving, or creating new, business ventures.
- Increasing your value by improving your professional skillset and charging more for your work.
This can include things like selling digital products, using marketing tools, blogging in your niche, participating in online courses and more.
When it comes to business growth tools, the purchase decision may be easy to make, or really hard to call.
Easy call example – if you're a writer, investing $10 – $50 in setting up a professional blog where you can share your writing and potentially attract new clients is a no-brainer.
Tough call example – you may be thinking about taking a specific online course that promises to teach you a certain skill. Problem is, the course isn't cheap and would set you back $499. Is it worth your money? Will taking the course improve your skillset? Will having that skill in your arsenal increase your value and allow you to charge more for your work?
When thinking about business growth tools I tend to refer to the origins of the word growth; the process of developing and growing.
But you can't develop and grow if you don't have foundations in place, just like a tree doesn't grow branches before it has a trunk and strong roots.
So if you're just starting out, first define your values, goals and long-term visions.
Next, focus on getting work, building a portfolio, improving your current skillset and just being great at what you do.
Finally, once the foundations are in place, consider expanding and growing your skills and business versatility.
This can mean starting a blog, optimizing your website, building a mailing list, learning new skills, selling products, outsourcing work and more.
Bottom line: building strong foundations is step #1, expanding your business versatility is step #2.
Nowadays, many digital stores offer a freemium or Trial version of their product. So if there's a tool you're considering, check for a free or trial version of the product first.
Freemium vs. Trial
A freemium tool means you get to use the tool 100% free, but it either:
- Contains ads / or a “powered by link.”
- Lacks power features of the paid version / you can use specific features a limited amount of times.
Mobile apps are a good example of this. You get to use them for free, but if you want to remove ads or get additional features you need to pay.
And it's also true for free online tools we all use like Google Search, Gmail, and YouTube which are all free but contain ads.
A trial version usually allows you to use a fully functional version of the tool for a limited time and then charges you money if you choose to continue using the tool past the trial period.
Either way, the plus side of getting to use a tool before having to make a purchase decision is 9 times out of 10 it will help you make a decision about the premium version of the tool.
In some cases, you'll find that the free version meets all your needs, and you don't even need to upgrade to the premium or paid plan.
Bottom line: Before making a purchase, use the free or trial version of the product. If you see that it's helping you get your work done faster, it may well be worth the investment.
Tools are important, but…
- Tools alone are just tools. They are technical pieces of equipment (physical or digital) that help display your inner creativity. A painter needs paint and a canvas, a voice over talent needs a microphone.
- You don't always need the best. While the right tools are necessary for getting work done, you don’t always need the most expensive, most powerful tool in the market. You can be an amazing photographer with a medium ranged camera.
- You are the X factor. If you and three other people have the exact same tool, the only variable that changes is the person using the tool. In other words, you (your qualities, experience, passion) are much more important than the tools you use.
Building your business on the right foundation (established values, hard work ethic, strong passion for what you do) is much more important than any tool you can ever buy.
What tools do I use?
I get asked this question quite often, so I created a Tools & Resources page where I share all the tools I use in my business.
I'll update the list each time I start using a new tool, or stop using a specific tool for any given reason, so feel free to check check in once in a while.
You can also join the flow newsletter to get updates each time I make significant changes or upload new posts.