Six free tools for getting stuff done
Some things are worth splurging on like a starter DSLR, a solid computer, and good recording equipment. But when you’re just getting started, you need all the free help you can get.
Over time, I’ve found a handful of tools that help me get stuff done, keep track of my time and be more efficient. Here are five of my favorites:
Pixlr: It’s a free, online photo editor that I began using when I interned at NBC Chicago. It’s not as in-depth as Photoshop. But until you’re ready to shell out $9.99 to $79.99 per month Adobe products this is a good alternative. It lets you edit your photos online and save them to your computer. You can also sign up for an account, but I haven’t needed to do so in order to access the features I need, which is nice.
Toggl: I’m actually using the Toggl app as I type this to keep track of how much time I spend on blogging. Toggl, a free time tracker, allows you to create clients and projects and keep tabs on how much time you spend on them. It also creates reports showing you how much you’ve worked on a project. If you’re a writer that bills by the hour, Toggl could be better than using something like Google Sheets or Excel to accurately track your hours. I don’t use it for billing hourly, but I like knowing how much time I spend on which clients. You can upgrade for more features, but I find the free version useful enough for what I need.
Grammarly: In lieu of having an actual editor, I have to rely on my own eyes to make sure these blog posts are free of grammatical errors. Without Grammarly, I probably would have made many more mistakes by now. This free service offers a browser plugin that detects spelling and grammatical errors that other word processors miss. Be careful, though. If you’re adhering to Associate Press or Chicago Manual style, make sure you consult your stylebook before making any changes.
iScanner: I have an okay printer at home. At some point, I’ll find the time to buy another with a good scanner. In the meantime, whenever I find myself needing to scan and email printed photos and documents, I use iScanner to send materials quickly. You can pay to upgrade for more features, but the free version will allow you to send what you need.
Wave: This free online accounting software connects to your business bank account, tracks and categorizes your expenses, generates reports, sends out invoices to clients, accepts credit card payments and other business services. It’s helpful for keeping track of all of those invoices and their due dates. The only unfortunate thing about the invoicing service is that it only allows you to use one invoice number once. For example, if Client Y is a new client and you’re sending your first invoice, you’d have to use No. 001 instead of 01, because Client X already received an invoice with No. 01. Other than that, I’ve found the software to be very helpful with keeping track of my billing, expenses, and revenue. Another popular software for this is Quickbooks, but that’ll cost you between $5 to $40 per month. The cost of the software can be written off as a business expense come tax time, but this is a good alternative for cutting costs and streamlining your invoicing process. You’ll just have to put up with some ads on the side of the website.
WeTransfer: Managing photos and story drafts vary from client to client. One of my clients allows me to file my stories on its CMS using my own login, while other clients require me to send the Word file and photos via email, which is sometimes a pain. If you ever need to send a large batch of photos to a client without taking up space in your Dropbox or Google Drive accounts, use WeTransfer. It lets you send large photos or other large files to the recipient’s email address so that he or she can download them. You don’t need an account for this service except if you want to have more storage and longer storage time. The free version lets you store the files for up to seven days, which is fine as long as your client downloads them quickly.
I encourage you to shop around for the apps and services that will fit your needs, but the above five tools are those that I use personally. (And no, I wasn’t paid to write this, just to be clear.) Now that you’re your own boss, don’t let boring business stuff slow you down. The fewer tedious tasks you have to do, the more time you have to focus on your next big story.