16 proven tools / software apps for running a freelance design business

Best Software for Running a Freelance Design BusinessWe all have our pet apps and pieces of software that we use to run our creative businesses, but today I thought I would share some of the software apps for freelance designers / writers that have proved their worth time and again in helping me be more productive. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, so I encourage you to add your favorite apps in the comments.

1. Planning Pod
So why would you want your tasks/to-dos, project details, checklists, calendars, legal contracts, proposals, invoices, finances, time tracking and file sharing spread across a dozen or so apps? Wouldn’t you prefer for all this data to be in one convenient place and integrated together for easy access?

Well, this is why we built and why I use PlanningPod … it puts the important tools I need to run my creative business at my fingertips, on a Web-based app (and a mobile one, too) , in one place. Simple as that.

2. Dropbox
Don’t tell me you’re still storing all your files on your hard drive or external drives? What if your office burns down? What if it’s all stolen by an evil gremlin of a thief? Perish the thought, I know, but this is the main reason why you need some sort of cloud-based storage solution.

Dropbox is still the best cloud-based file sharing app out there for design freelancers. It puts a copy on your computer and in the cloud, lets you share folders and even lets you send files (by allowing you to send a file-specific URL to a client). The $20/month fee I pay is a drop in the bucket (compared to having to replace all my files and explain the loss to my clients).

3. PayPal
A good way to collect payment from clients without having to set up a separate merchant account (and they offer reasonable rates, too). If you do more retail-type work, Square is also a good option and has good rates.

4. Emma
Excellent email marketing tool with an easy to use interface. Very, very designer friendly, and it also has accounts specific to design firms and ad agencies so you can private label the service for your clients. They’re not the cheapest, so try MailChimp if you want a reasonably good service for less.

5. Delicious
Still the most straightforward app for bookmarking on the Web. A trusted friend.

6. Lynda.com
If you haven’t used Lynda.com yet, where have you been??? This site is the leader in video tutorials for all things graphic and Web design as well as for a multitude of topics in marketing. Lately I’ve used it to brush up on the latest version of Dreamweaver and Facebook marketing.

7. SEO for Firefox
You may not be an SEO expert or provide these services for clients, but if you work on Web sites at all (or even own a blog) this set of browser-based tools gives you a great statistical snapshot of the sites you visit. Also, Aaron Wall, the founder of SEOBook.com (the maker of this app), has a great take on running a service-based business, and I highly recommend his blog and his candid observations.

8. TextWrangler
Killer text editor, with and added bonus of Web authoring and software development tools. I use it to write every blog post as well as my HTML code and text.

9. UserTesting.com
So you’ve designed something but have no idea how useful it is or what people think of it? Go to UserTesting, where you can set up a quick test for your target audience and get screen videos of users actually using your site and commenting on it as they proceed. Great for instant feedback on anything you’re creating for the Web.

10. Rapportive
Very cool plugin for Gmail that pulls social-media-rich data for each person with whom you are exchanging emails. Gives you a wealth of data on people so you can script more personalized responses and hook up with them via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., more easily. Great tool for prospecting.

11. Dribbble
Cool new site where you can both show off your new designs and get inspiration from other design professionals. Not quite business software for freelance design professionals, but a cool and useful site nonetheless.

12. Elance and oDesk
These are the big marketplaces where people look to hire freelance graphic and Web designers. Yes, you can find work here. However, a note of caution … most people have no idea what high-quality design work should cost, so you are going to get lots of lowball offers in these venues as well as lots of low-priced competition from India, China, etc. Tread carefully and make sure you get paid what you’re worth.

13. iStockPhoto
Still the largest royalty-free marketplace around, and you simply can’t beat the prices here for those jobs where the client doesn’t have much to spend on photography. However, make sure the images you want to use aren’t being used by another company in your client’s industry (very embarrassing if you create an ad that has the same photography as a the ad of a client’s competitor … take it from me, as it happened at an agency I once worked at).

So what tools and software for running a graphic design business / Web design business do you use and recommend?
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