My favourite tools to make self-employed life less panicky.

I bloody love technology. Anything that makes life easier and removes a chunk of anxiety. I’m here for it.

I’ve tried lots of tools. Developed technology procrastination and played for too long on things I didn’t need. Tried to save money on free tools when I know there’s something way better for a few quid.

Now I’m two years into my freelancing world, I’ve settled on what I’m calling my toolbelt. Staple software and tools that make my business life less panicky and more productive.

These magnificent tools earned their place on my favourites list by making the biggest difference to my world, brain and stress.

Hopefully, this’ll help you make some decisions if you’re umming and ahhing over which apps to use.

Productivity & planning

1. Timely

The best time tracker out there. It integrates with loads of apps and tracks everything for you in time blocks while you work. Without having to start or stop a timer. At the end of the day, you just need to spend 5 minutes assigning your time blocks (or memories) to projects and Bob’s your uncle. It tracks time, budget spent, budget remaining. And it’s easy to see project reports for invoicing.

Top tip: If you integrate your to-do list app (I hook mine up to Todoist), every time you finish working on a client or project, create a task and check it off. This makes it even easier to assign time blocks to projects if (like me) you jump between tasks and forget what you’ve done.

Timely time tracking dashboard with time entries displayed in coloured blocks on the right and tasks displayed by time spent on the right.
Timely time tracking dashboard

How much? From $8 per month.

Visit Timely

(None of these are affiliate links.)

2. Todoist

Satisfyingly simple and efficient to-do list app. You could use it for managing projects, but it might get messy. I use it for my daily and weekly tasks. And for recording quick notes and ideas. I also use it for life admin. It has funky shortcuts that make it quick to add categories and schedule tasks without having to click a ton of buttons. And you get karma points for completing tasks. Delightful.

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? Yep. From £3 per month for more than 5 projects.

Visit Todoist

3. Trello

Trello is where I do all my big planning for clients, projects, content and business. It’s also where I keep notes from discovery meetings with new clients. You can create boards for each project, with lists for each category and cards for each task or note.

If you’re a chronic tinkerer like me, it can get cluttered and overwhelming if you don’t keep it under control. Now I’ve been using it for years and I’ve found a rhythm that works for me, it’s the only project management app I’ve managed to stick with. Things like Notion look incredible, but I’m pretty sure all the bells and whistles will mean I’ll lose weeks of my life messing with stuff I don’t need.

Trello helps me keep it simple. You can share boards with clients as well so they can see project updates and contribute to tasks. Or sign-off content if you manage their social accounts.

Trello content planning board with columns and headings that read 'how to use this board' and 'pop your ideas here' with space to add content themes. Each column includes cards with instructions for how to use the board.
Example Trello board for planning content ideas

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? You don’t need to upgrade unless you want fancy new features. You can do more than enough on the free version.

Visit Trello

4. WeTransfer

Great for sending large files that are too big to email.

How much? Free.

Visit WeTransfer

5. Microsoft 365 (previously Office 365)

Their subscriptions are a good value way to get emails and Office programs like Word and Excel. And it comes with OneDrive and Teams. And a butt-load of other stuff if you fancy exploring.

How much? From £3.80 per month.

Worth upgrading? Yep. To Business Standard for £9.40 per month to get desktop and mobile versions of the Office applications.

Visit Microsoft 365

6. OneDrive

I store all my files in OneDrive. Everything. It means everything’s backed up and I can access my stuff from anywhere. If I’m on my laptop, another desktop or my mobile. And it’s easy to share links to files or share folders with clients.

How much? Free with Microsoft 365.

Visit OneDrive

7. Zoom

You likely know what Zoom is so I won’t go into detail. Essentially, it’s a video calling and conferencing app. You can chat, share screens, take control, present, record, share files. Alternatives are Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. For me, Zoom is the most reliable and easiest to use.

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? Upgrade from £9.99 per month if you’ll host group meetings longer than 40 minutes.

Visit Zoom

Content & creativity

8. Grammarly

Grammarly made me a better writer. I use the Grammarly browser extension to run EVERYTHING I write through it. And check it’s reading well and coming across the way I want it to.

I tend to WAY overthink how my writing will come across. Grammarly’s tone detector is a godsend for this. It analyses the words and phrases you use and tells you the tone your reader is likely to pick up on. So, if it reads as friendly, confident, optimistic, joyful, formal, frustrated. Bloody brilliant for making sure your readers feel the way you want them to.

Grammarly's tone detector widget with a snippet of blog copy on the left and a panel on the right that reads 'your text may sound friendly, optimistic and confident'.
Grammarly's tone detector widget

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? The free version gives you more than enough, so only upgrade if you’ll find the premium features worth it.

Visit Grammarly

9. Hemingway

I use this with Grammarly to help structure sentences for better readability. They’re similar, but Hemingway is great if you want to go a level deeper for even better writing.

How much? Free.

Visit Hemingway

10. Canva

Canva’s pretty well known, but if you haven’t come across it it’s a design tool for non-designers. You can create SO MUCH STUFF with it. Images for social, presentations, banners, proposals, guides.

They have tons of lovely templates to choose from which you can customise or start from scratch. I also use it for basic image editing. It comes with a library of stock photos, icons and graphics. Everything you need in one place to create gorgeous graphics.

Now, I bloody love Canva. But, if you’re creating something important that’ll be a big part of your business for a long time, like a project scope presentation or digital product. And you have the budget to pay a designer, I’d always recommend doing that instead. Designers can do magical things and create something completely bespoke to you. Canva is brilliant if you don’t have the budget or want to nice quick graphics.

Canva's Brand Kit with red, blue and white Lauren Taylor logos at the top, a selection of brand colours on the left and brand fonts and styles on the right.
Canva's Brand Kit with quick access to logos, colours and fonts.

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? It’s worth upgrading to pro for £8.33 per month. You get access to loads more useful features and funky graphics. The Brand Kit is brilliant for quickly customising colours, fonts and logos. Without having to furtle round for your hex codes.

Visit Canva

11. Lightroom

Before posting photos on social or using them on my website, I run them through a filter in the Lightroom photo editing app on my phone. You can apply a preset filter (or edit the settings manually) and it immediately makes your photo look a million times better, brighter and more professional. I use a preset by the delightfully cheery Adam Lowndes. He’s a photographer, so he knows his shiz.

How much? Free.

Visit the Lightroom app

Download Adam's preset

Visit Adam's glorious photography website

12. Kapwing

Kapwing is like Canva for videos. You can quickly add captions, graphics or audio and edit videos. It’s extremely user-friendly and saves time faffing in complicated video editing software. Great for basic editing for social or YouTube videos. It can get a bit slow if you’re editing long videos, but it’s fine with anything up to 10-20 minutes. They also have a ton of extra tools for editing images and creating memes.

Kapwing video editor with a still of Lauren smiling in a yellow jumper and glasses with the caption 'And why it's important to follow the path you want to follow. With text formatting options underneath and subtitles on the right.
Adding subtitles to Kapwing's video editor

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? You can do a lot with the free version. Upgrading for $17 per month is useful if you want to edit videos longer than 7 minutes or edit content after 2 days.

Visit Kapwing

13. Typeform

Create beautiful forms to collect info from clients, sign-up new leads or run surveys. You can use it for all sorts. It’s useful for gathering info when you bring on a new client or start a new project. They have templates or you can build a form from scratch.

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? You can create 3 forms on the free plan and have access to enough features to make a nice-looking form. If you need more or want more elaborate questions, you can upgrade from £21 per month.

Visit Typeform

14. Facebook Creator Studio & Later

For scheduling social posts I use Later for Instagram photos. And Facebook Creator Studio for multi-photo Instagram posts and stories. Which you can’t do on the free version of Later). Facebook and Twitter have built-in scheduling tools. But if you like everything in one place, Later was my favourite after trying Buffer, Publer, Hootsuite and Planable. I found it the least fussy with the most features on the free version.

Facebook Creator Studio:

How much? Free.

Visit Facebook Creator Studio

Later:

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? The free version is enough to manage 30 posts for 1 set of accounts. You can upgrade from $12.50 per month if you need more or add extra social profiles if you manage client accounts.

Visit Later

15. ShareX

For quick screenshots and screen recordings.

How much? Free.

Visit ShareX

16. Si.gnatu.re

Lovely little app to create nice-looking customised email signatures for free. I like it because it’s easy to use and you can do a lot with it without the options being overwhelming.

How much? Free.

Visit Si.gnatu.re

17. Rev

Great for transcribing videos or podcasts. Turning your audio into text for captions, a blog or to cut into social posts. It’s very accurate if your audio is nice and clear. I sometimes mutter, so it misses the odd inaudible word. If you want a rough draft it’s 25¢ per minute and I find it’s accurate enough to only need slight tweaking. You can pay a little extra for it to be transcribed by a human for 99% accuracy.

How much? From 25¢ per minute.

Visit Rev

18. iCloud (or Google Drive)

This is handy for accessing photos and videos on your PC. So, if you take a photo on your phone and need it on your PC to upload to social or share with someone, you can log in to iCloud and download the original version. No more emailing or messaging photos to yourself, which reduces the size and quality.

Visit iCloud

19. Windows key + full stop

OK, so this isn’t an app. But I use it so often it had to be on the list. Pressing the windows key and . (full stop) on a PC brings up an emoji keyboard. Super-useful when writing social posts. It’s command + Control + Space on a Mac.

Finance & admin

20. GoCardless

Takes recurring and one-off payments. New clients set up a direct debit as part of signing their contract and it collects payments for you. A massive weight off having to chase invoices. And your clients don’t have to faff around making payments. If you use Xero or another accounting app that integrates, it’ll even automatically send invoices. Which means less invoicing guilt and payments on time. Hooray!

How much? 1% per transaction + 20p (£4 maximum).

Visit GoCardless

21. 1Password

Saves having to remember, write down, forget, then reset passwords. No more password spreadsheets. Particularly useful if you have access to lots of client accounts.

How much? From $2.99 per month.

Visit 1Password

22. Privnote

A handy little app for sending secure or sensitive notes or passwords that self-destruct after a set time.

How much? Free.

Visit Privnote

23. Starling Bank

Completely free business banking. And you can set up spaces to separate your income into profit, tax, expenses, learning and spending on fun stuff.

How much? Free.

Visit Starling Bank

24. Xero

A good, solid accounting app. It integrates with bank accounts and credit cards to make it quick and easy to track transactions. Accounting apps will be pretty similar, just with some different bells and whistles. I’ve heard good things about FreeAgent, too.

How much? From £10 per month.

Worth upgrading? You’ll likely need the £24 per month plan. Starter is limited to 5 bills.

Visit Xero

25. Dext (previously Receiptbank)

Scans receipts and connects with loads of apps to automatically collect invoices. Makes expenses super-quick.

How much? From £10 per month.

Visit Dext

26. MileIQ

Download the app to your phone and it tracks your mileage for your accounts. You don’t have to remember to open the app or write down your mileage (which I ALWAYS forget). Then spend a few minutes a week or month telling it which trips were business or personal. And you can connect it to your accounts software and it’ll log the expenses for you.

How much? Free.

Worth upgrading? You get 40 drives per month on the free plan. If you need more you can upgrade from $4.99 per month for unlimited drives.

Visit MileIQ

Things to bear in mind:

  • Keep your software simple.
  • Stick to what’ll make the big difference to your day-to-day. Then if you grow or earn a little more you can add more to your toolbelt.
  • Costs can mount up quickly, so make sure you’ve got enough reserve cash to cover your costs during quiet months.
  • It’s tempting to try and find free software. Particularly when you’re starting out. And there’s a lot of brilliant free stuff out there. But, don’t overlook something with a small fee if it’s perfect for what you need. It’ll save you way more time and stress in the long run.
  • Lots of paid apps offer discounts for annual subscriptions. Try monthly for a bit first to make sure it does what you expected. Then if you’re happy with it you can go upgrade to annual.

Go forth. Try stuff. Play with stuff. See how it fits the way you work.

The worst that happens is you spend a bit of time exploring something that could help you. Or you spend a few quid testing if something’s right for you. That still means you made a decision and can cross it off your list and move forward.

The best that could happen? You’re no longer stuck in an endless research spiral. And you fall in love with an app that makes your world a little easier.

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