The Freelance Life

Top Tools of the Part-Time Trade

In the workshop by Les Chatfield

I'm a part-time freelancer. Some of us work hard to hide this fact, but I think honesty only helps me in my daily trip down the freelance road. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm not an eccentric millionaire, so I have an 8-to-5 that keeps me rolling in $20s and living in the lap of lattes.

There's no shame in being a working stiff. Like so many writers, the quality of my prose is not affected by the punch of the time clock. One of my favorite comics by Grant Snider so brilliantly illustrates how many of the world's greatest poetic minds held day jobs to support their creative habits.

Whether you dream of becoming a full-time scribe or you're content to maintain two revenue streams, there are tools absolutely necessary to get the job done. Since most of us aren't blessed with a trust fund, wading into freelance waters part-time may be the best economic (and least psychologically jarring) option for our lives.

So what's a newbie or a cost-conscious freelance writer gather in their tool box to help them move from novice to professional artistic expression? Do you have to have every gadget on the market to create great copy?

Of course not.

Let's assume you have a computer -- desktop, laptop, netbook, whatever workhorse you choose. Now, what else do you need to start on your path?

Here are my Top Tools of the Part-Time Trade:

1. My Google Arsenal (Free)

Gmail, Google Voice, Drive, Calendar and the official search engine are indispensable for my everyday freelance needs. From emailing to contact clients and prospective customers to scheduling time to focus on my writing in the face of looming deadlines, Google's web-based business applications keep me organized and calm while projecting a professional image.

2. Feedly (Free)

Freelancers (whether part-time or full-time) are a community and we support each other in ways most day job employees do not. We offer advice on how to succeed, share horror stories on what to avoid, and lend a shoulder to cry on when things go pear-shaped. One of the ways I stay connected to this beautiful community when individual social media accounts feel too much like a distraction is with the free RSS service Feedly.

3. Hootsuite (Free version)

Speaking of social media distractions, another great way to not only curb your procrastination, but also mass market your blog updates, published pieces and upcoming giveaways/events is with Hootsuite. I use it to send scheduled tweets and updates to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Warning: This is not a replacement for real time social media engagement. It's merely a way to free you from the stress of marketing your wares around your strange energy fluctuations, sleep patterns and that 9am staff meeting.

My desk and filing system
4. Paper filing system (Not-so-free: file folders, paper, labels, printer and ink)

I know. I know. I'm a dinosaur for keeping paper copies for my research notes, contracts, invoices and final drafts. But to me, a paper filing system -- complete with multicolored file folders and labels -- is a lovely way to maintain organization and peace of mind. Sure, I use electronic files and I backup my Mac to Crashplan, but just as homes catch fire or flood, so do computers crash and the Genius Bar is unhelpful. A paper filing system is a great low-cost way to ensure I have two means to access info should disaster strike.

5. Smartphone (approx. $100-$300)

As I mentioned, I'm a working stiff. But I recognize when new technology will make my life and my job(s) easier. I won't say you can't start a successful part-time freelance career without a smartphone, but it will make your life easier. My advice? Ignore the commercials. Ignore the one-upmanship. Ignore the high-pressure sales. Try to find a smartphone that suits your needs and your wallet. My phone provides instant email access, digital photos and videos, and an app-based mobile office that keeps my business moving when I'm away from my home.

6. Call Recorder App (Free version)

As you may have guessed, I prefer a mix of old school techniques with new school technology. So when I conduct interviews, I'm usually ready with pen and paper in hand, but a digital recorder is what keeps the panic at bay. So when I stumbled across the Call Recorder mobile app that helped me grab the perfect quote for that second paragraph, I rejoiced. I admit it's not perfect. The best sound quality is captured through the speakerphone, which can be less than ideal when you have a cat meowing in the background. But it works in a pinch.

7. Dropbox App (Free)

I've used Dropbox to share documents across computers for a while now, but I use the mobile app a bit differently. With the help of a Sprint rep, I have a shortcut set up to automatically send my cameraphone's pictures to my Dropbox account via the Dropbox app as soon as I am in contact with a stable Wifi connection. This is perfect for adding my photos online effortlessly, keeping my phone's microSD card from getting cluttered while I busy myself with other items on my to do list. And since I've recently made a point to use more original photos on my blog, this app has been getting a lot of use lately.

Neil Gaiman quote
8. WordPress App (Free)

Admittedly, I prefer to work in WP on a desktop. But if I'm out and about, the WordPress app allows me to respond to comments and fix typos without having to sit behind a desk. If I'm on the run for an extended period of time, I can write, edit and publish at will. I also like to use it to capture new blog post ideas in draft-form because you never know when you'll find le mot juste for your latest rant inspirational piece.

9. Library Card (Free with local residence)

Here I go again with my mix of old school and new school. How do I describe the value of a library card? I think it's a must-have for researchers, writers and nerds of all shapes and sizes, but perhaps Neil Gaiman said it best: "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one." Couldn't have said it better myself.

Are there any tools of the trade you would add to the list? What do you think is a must-have for an entrepreneur venturing into the part-time world of freelancing?

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