| March 22, 2016

These are the tools every freelancer needs

Forget standing – it's all about the fallen tree desk.

Work Free

Ah, the freelance life – you can work in your underwear and be your own boss. But with great freedom comes great anxiety. You’ll be your own underwear-clad boss, sure, but you’ll also be your own HR department, benefits administrator, executive assistant, and accounts manager.

Freelancers “earn money irregularly and they don’t get paid if they goof off,” Laura Shin, a freelance financial journalist, told us. “They earn more the more efficiently they work, whereas efficiency matters less in a full-time job since the same amount of money rolls in anyway (disregarding bonuses),” she said. That means the time you spend on invoices, taxes, and other dull administrative tasks can add up.

Shin recently started Ideas Words Empires, a site where she pens advice for freelance writers, but many of the tips and information pertain to all independent workers.

It’s hard to get a freelancing career off the ground, but the benefits are worth it for Shin. “I freelance because I like being able to challenge myself in new ways whenever and however I want,” she said. “I don’t do well if I have to do the same thing over and over.”

The approximately 54 million freelancers in America agree with Shin (at least the 60% of those people who are freelancing by choice agree). Thankfully plenty of startups have cropped up to help workers figure out how to make this career path a viable one.

Get Booked
When doing your job requires clients booking your services, you want to make the process as seamless as possible for everyone involved. YouCanBook.Me gives users an embeddable booking page, sends an email confirmation once an appointment is made, and sends text reminders to users and clients.

Although Coach is currently catering to coaches, tutors, and educators – some of the most underserved independent professionals out there, according to the company’s founders – they’re looking to expand the platform to help all freelance workers. Coach helps users create a website, permits students (and eventually clients) to book time, assists in invoicing and payment, and allows users to sell supplemental materials like study guides and video classes.

Take Control of Your Taxes
It sounds so simple – freelancers should put aside about 25% of their non-taxed income for taxes. But that discipline gets tricky when you’re working with an irregular income and regular bills. Painless1099 sets up an account for users based on “a pretty robust algorithm that takes several personal tax stats into consideration for each of our users and withholds the appropriate amount,” Ace Callwood, CEO of Painless1099, told us. Users are alerted to pay come tax time (whether quarterly or annually), and the company’s upcoming release will go further by sending taxes directly to the IRS. Currently Painless1099 is free for users in beta with a waitlist. It will be opening up to the public soon with the possibility of priced access.

Visualize Your Freelance Life
Every day is full of surprises when you’re an independent worker, which is wonderful until the day you find yourself taken off guard by overwhelming projects and late invoices. Cushion’s “aim is to provide better insight and awareness, so the roller coaster ride of freelancing feels smoother,” according to the company’s website. The app helps by measuring users’ month-to-month income and alerting them if they’re not hitting financial goals. The high-design, color-coded app also gives users a sweeping view of the year, month, and week, so you can discover overbooking or prepare to hustle for more work. Cushion learns from past experiences, so if a particular client’s projects often take longer than estimated, the app allows extra time for those projects in users’ schedule. Cushion also calculates the actual net, or when clients really pay, not when they say they’re going to pay, so users can plan accordingly. The app is $8 per month.

Refunds and Receipts
Come tax season do you empty out a shoebox of receipts for business expenses and hope for the best? Aptly named app Shoeboxed, gives users the option to take a photo of receipts with a cellphone or send a stack of receipts to the company in a pre-paid envelope to be scanned. Either way, the company digitizes and archives receipts and makes them searchable. Shoeboxed also has the ability to use your phone’s GPS to track mileage traveled for work. Some won’t consider the app cheap – it’s $9.95 per month – but that all depends on how annoying those scraps of paper are to you.

If car travel is your main deduction come tax season, MileIQ might better suit your needs. The app works with your smart phone to auto detect car travel. Post drive, users swipe right or left to quickly classify the trip as personal or business. At the end of the year, users have a complete history of their mileage ready to write off. For users who make 40 trips or less a year, the service is free. Unlimited drives will cost you $5.99 a month.

Invoice Like a Boss
Invoicing and actually getting those invoices paid is possibly the worst part of freelancing. 71% of freelancers have had trouble getting paid, according to a Freelancers Union survey (PDF). In New York City, the City Council recently proposed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which would require a contract for any work valued at over $200 and give employers 30 days to pay. “If a freelancer takes an employer to court and wins, the employer would be responsible for attorney fees and double damages,” according to Gothamist.

Unfortunately, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act is a ways off for New York and the rest of the country. In the meantime, freelancers can protect themselves by creating contracts and invoices with tools like Bonsai, which is integrated with Stripe, PayPal, and Coinbase. The tool also sends reminders out to clients when invoices are past due. Cofounder Matt Brown told TechCrunch “Bonsai’s users get paid around two weeks faster than they had in the past, and experience three times fewer late payments than they had before using the tool.”

It’s time to find the freelancing tech that works for you.

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