I run my own website development and creative marketing services business. The perks of being self-employed are many: I set my own schedule, I rarely deal with rush hour traffic, I can be asleep or awake whenever I want, I rarely have to work with people I don’t like, I can work in my pyjamas and I can do whatever I want on the Internet without restrictions. Best of all, I’m my own boss, which is great because I don’t like it when other people tell me what to do and when to do it.
But with the freedom of being self-employed also comes certain responsibilities that those who have an employer usually don’t have to worry about. I have to keep my own books, issue my own invoices, track my own income and expenses for tax purposes, prioritize my own work, manage my own time and I’m the only one responsible for meeting deadlines and keeping promises to clients. So if I screw up, there’s no one else around to take any of the blame.
Over the last 2 years, I discovered 3 apps that proved indispensable in helping me manage my business responsibly. Best of all, they are cheap or free, so they are perfect for those who are just starting out in freelancing. Whether you have one client or a hundred, these apps can help you stay organized so you’re not pulling your hair out when tax time comes, or drowning in a sea of haphazard to-do lists written down in notebooks or spread across your e-mail inbox.
FreshBooks is a cloud accounting and time-tracking service for small businesses and self-employed professionals, tailored to the needs of those who bill clients for services. FreshBooks takes the guesswork and headaches out of invoicing clients, tracking hours, logging expenses and recording payments. It allows for paperless record keeping, so you can upload photos of your expense receipts and toss out the paper copies. FreshBooks will also generate dozens of useful reports for you to evaluate how your business is doing and use the numbers when tax time comes.
FreshBooks is accessible through the web and a mobile app available for iPhone, iPad and Android. The app itself is free, and if you have 3 clients or less, you can use FreshBooks free for life. If you have more than 3 clients, their paid subscription packages start at $20 per month — the cost of 2 lunches out or 4 coffees from Starbucks. There are still a few features of FreshBooks that you can only use through the website, but I expect that future versions of the app will continue to add features.
Trello is a project management service that is ideal for freelancers who have multiple projects and clients on the go at all times. Trello allows you to organize your projects into “boards,” where you can create cards for each task associated with the project. As you work on tasks, you can make notes on them, and then move the cards from your “to do” list to your “doing” or “done” lists as the tasks are completed. Trello also allows you to share specific boards with friends, partners, contractors or colleagues so everyone involved in a project can stay on top of its status and manage workloads. You can also create multiple organizations or categories to help manage your boards and the different projects you’re working on at any given time, and you can post files for other team members to download.
Trello is accessible through the web and through a mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Mobile. Trello is completely free to use and has no restrictions on how many organizations, categories, boards, tasks or members you create.
As a self-employed professional, it is important to track business usage of your vehicle. All of your vehicle expenses from lease payments and insurance premiums to gas, oil changes and mechanic’s bills are tax-deductible based on what percentage of your overall total mileage you use to earn income. I have tried about 4 or 5 different mileage tracking apps now and this one is by far my favourite. Pocket Mileage allows you to input your business mileage based on entering odometer readings at the start and end of trips, or to enter in your mileage manually at a later time. It also allows you to keep track of driving-related expenses. You can save common locations that you travel to or from frequently, and you can colour-code different categories of mileage based on the purpose of your trips. It allows for multiple vehicles and multiple drivers. You can also output expense reports.
Pocket Mileage is available for iPhone and iPad. The free version will track up to 10 trips. The full version is $4.99, and allows for unlimited use. For the price of two cups of coffee, you can easily keep detailed records of your business driving forever.
If you have other suggestions for cheap or free apps that have helped you manage your business, feel free to post them in the comments!