Getting started as a freelance copywriter is easy peasy. You just need a laptop and an internet connection, right?
Well, technically yes. But that’s a gross oversimplification.
Obviously, you need word processing software and research tools (duh). Tools to communicate with clients and stay on top of your projects. And tools to create invoices when a project’s done (cause at the end of the day, don’t we all want to get paid?).
There are a ton of apps out there. And if you’re not careful, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and rack up hundreds of pounds in app subscriptions. But, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing about this business is that your overhead is as low as you want it to be.
Put simply, there are lots of free apps, or apps with free tiers, that are just as good – if not better – than paid ones.
Here are 15 of my favourites. I use these every day in my business and, frankly I’d be lost without them. If you’re just starting out, these will set you up to impress your clients without even going near your (probably tight) startup budget.
And if you’re a seasoned pro who feels they may be spending too much on apps… well, why not take these out for a spin?
Since I wrote this post, Instapaper has become a GDPR casualty. It’s no longer available in Europe, at least temporarily.
I’ve switched to Pocket with great results (though I still prefer Instapaper’s much cleaner interface, dammit).
For research, learning and ideas
It’s safe to say I’m addicted to Flipboard. It’s where I get the news, where I read articles about shit that interests me and where I curate most of the copywriting and business-related content I share on social media.
What I like most about Flipboard is that you can create magazines based on your interests. So, for instance, I can create a magazine called “copywriting” and Flipboard will gather relevant content for me in one place which I can flip through at my leisure.
This means I don’t get my content only from the obvious sources. I often discover new ones which I may not have known about.
But you don’t have to depend on the content Flipboard finds for you. You can also add your favourite RSS feeds manually as magazines.
Instapaper is my go-to swipe file. It’s where I save articles to read later, snippets of copy I find interesting or inspiring and articles which I think might come in handy when researching and writing blog posts for clients.
To be honest, its web clipper isn’t as intuitive as Evernote’s. It doesn’t automatically categorise new articles based on your previous behaviour (Evernote’s web clipper does). But this isn’t that big of a deal, because it only takes seconds to categorise the article manually.
Even if it were, I think it’s a small price to pay, because the overall user experience is miles ahead compared to Evernote.
The articles are much easier to read in the app than they are on Evernote. You can customise stuff like background colour and font size. And, best of all, it’s very easy to get the source link, which is handy if you’re referring to the article and want to link to it. In contrast, getting the source link out of Evernote is a pain in the ass.
If you’re after a feature-rich app, Simplenote isn’t for you. It only does one thing — text-based note-taking — which is a far cry from what apps like Evernote, Google Keep and their ilk can do.
But, personally, that’s what I love about it. It’s lean, clean and minimal. No fancy — and incredibly distracting — bells and whistles.
Ideas are fleeting things, and I’m a forgetful guy to begin with. So Simplenote’s ease of use is a lifesaver. I can go in, jot down what I want and be done with it in a few minutes. And I can also go back and add to a note quickly, without having to hunt through notebooks and all that other jazz.
For nailing your writing brief
When I started out, I used Microsoft Word. But once I switched to Google Docs (just a few months in) I never looked back. These days, I write everything on Google Docs, even if I have to submit it in a different format when I’m done.
What I love about it:
- You can access it from any device as long as you’re signed in to your Google account. This was especially handy when I accidentally almost murdered my laptop and had to temporarily work on another one. But it’s also great if, like me, you edit on a different device (a technique I highly recommend, by the way).
- You can export documents in several formats, including Word, Open Office and PDF. So, if a client specifically asks for a particular format, you won’t have to spend time getting used to a new app you aren’t familiar with (and putting spokes in your creativity’s wheels). Just do the work on Google Docs and export it when you’re done.
- I find it much easier to track amends and client comments
- It’s great when you’re brainstorming or collaborating as a team, especially if most of this happens remotely
- You can share the document instead of sending it via email as an attachment
- It’s automatically saved to Google Drive. Again, really handy when I almost killed my laptop.
CoSchedule Headline Analyser
Disclaimer: you do have to input your details before you can use CoSchedule. But it’s worth it. (And nothing stops you from giving a fake name and email if you’re not partial to being on their mailing list).
I usually aim for 70 and up. But don’t take the headline analyser’s results as gospel. Use your judgement. If a headline scores 68 but you think it works better than one which scores 75, I say go with your gut.
That said, using a tool like this encourages you to put more thought into your headlines and to think outside the box. And since good headlines are crucial, this can’t hurt.
Readability Test Tool
I’m not a fan of letting readability apps drive the editing process. After all, you’re the writer and you should trust your instincts. That’s what you’re paid to do.
But as long as you use your judgement, I think readability tools do have a part to play. They can help you identify issues you might have overlooked. And they can force you to consider phrasing alternatives you may not have realised were possible.
Both of these things can improve your writing. So it’s worth putting your copy through a readability tool before sending your work off to the client. It only takes a few minutes.
My go-to tool for this is Readability Test Tool. Why? Three reasons:
- It has different inputting options — you can input the URL or paste your copy into their text box
- It’s completely free, which means you can check an unlimited number of times in a single session
- It tends to score lower than other tools I’ve tried, which means I can feel unreasonably pleased with myself when I get a high Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease score (and have an excuse to swear when it’s low. Yeah, I like the simple pleasures).
For project management and client communications
I use Google Drive to store all my work in the cloud. Every client has their own shared folder, in which they can access the work I’ve done for them any time they please and also upload background information and other relevant stuff themselves if necessary.
There are tons of cloud storage apps out there, and all are valid choices. I’ve decided to go with Google Drive for three reasons:
- Most people already have a Google account, which means my clients don’t usually have to sign up and get one just because of me.
- It’s got a ton of storage, for free
- Google Docs is my go-to writing app, so it makes sense to use Drive for storage.
Many people I know jump through hoops to use Gmail, but I’ve found Spark to be way better.
For starters, you don’t need to have a Google-based email account for it to work. It works with all sorts of emails, including IMAP accounts (hint: if you have a email@example.com email, it’s probably an IMAP account).
More to the point, Spark has some great features I’ve come to depend on.
You can schedule emails so they’re sent later (which you can only do in Gmail via a paid add-on). And you can snooze emails. In other words, you can make them disappear from your inbox for a set period of time. This is great if, like me, you can’t resist checking your inbox after hours and on weekends.
There are only two catches: you can’t set up an out of office reply (which I can do through my hosting provider) and it only works on Apple devices.
MeisterTask is similar to Trello. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s much simpler, a lot more intuitive and way more good-looking.
I use it to keep track of projects and deadlines — both client-side and my own. And I’ll also paste in briefs as comments so I can access them quickly. It helps me see my workload at a glance and stay on top of everything.
If you’re starting out, you might think using a project management app is overkill.
But trust me, once your business starts growing and you have to keep track of multiple clients and projects, you’ll be glad you took the time to set it up and make it a part of your process early on.
Different clients tend to use different ways to communicate. Some are on Slack. Some are on Fleep or Google Hangouts. And some use some other messaging app entirely. This used to mean I had to download a ton of different apps, so I was spread really thin. Then I discovered Rambox.
Rambox gathers all your different messaging services in one place. So, for example, I can access thee Slack accounts, my Google Hangouts account and my Fleep account all from one app, which makes my life way easier.
The best thing about it, though, is that it integrates with virtually anything. As things stand, it has native support for 96 different services. But if you don’t see an app you use, you can simply add it as a custom service and it’ll work anyway.
For your finances
I rarely charge by the hour for my work, but I still let Toggl run in the background. This tells me lots of useful stuff like:
- How much time I’ve spent on a project
- Which kinds of work take up most of my time (and which take up the least)
- How much time I spend procrastinating
Knowing this info has helped me identify patterns and improve my productivity. And, more importantly, it has helped me get a better sense of how much time it actually takes me to get a job done, which means I can quote much more accurately.
Of course, if you charge by the hour, Toggle is great for creating timesheets and reports for clients.
I honestly don’t understand why people would pay for accounting software.
Wave Accounting has everything you could possibly want: invoicing, bookkeeping, bank account reconciliation, receipt cloud storage. Hell, it even creates really useful reports like your income by customer and expense by vendor. And, you can add your accountant as a contributor. Which means you don’t have to spend a ton of time collecting paperwork come tax time.
Of course, you may be wondering, how can such an awesome product be safe and legit if it’s free?
And the answer is, because it makes money from add-ons. For example, you can set it up to accept credit card payments, for which it charges a small markup (incidentally, the markup is way cheaper than what PayPal charges).
Bottom line, I’ve been using this for years, and I’ve never found fault with it.
For your social media marketing efforts
Hootsuite’s free tier is probably more feature-rich than Buffer’s. But I personally find Buffer easier and a lot more enjoyable to use. I felt like I was making the most of Buffer from day one, without much effort. In comparison, Hootsuite makes my head spin.
Buffer does have its downsides.
The main one, for me, is that you can only schedule up to ten posts on the free tier. That’s probably not nearly enough for Twitter, which works best if you post multiple times a day. On the bright side, it’s two weeks’ worth of LinkedIn posts for me (though I’ve recently discovered you can’t tag others through it, which is also a bummer).
Like MeetEdgar, Recurpost allows you to schedule posts so that they’re shared to your social media accounts until further notice. I use this mainly to share my blog posts and, lately, to share a series of bite-sized copywriting tips I’ve created for Twitter.
I do feel they could improve, mainly because you don’t get as much control over the days and times you can schedule the posts
That said, its free tier is way more generous than Meet Edgar’s and it gets the job done. So I can’t really complain, can I?
This is absolutely my favourite social media tool of all. I love it so much that I’ve ponied up the cash for a year-long subscription (which, at £29.99 for a year is very reasonably priced).
The great thing about Crowdfire (that’s a referral link by the way) is that it has a whole bunch of tools in one place. You can use it to monitor competitors’ accounts and relevant hashtags, find content to share and schedule it for the best time, learn who followed you and unfollowed you and more all in one place. There’s also a bot that gives you daily tips on growing your audience.
But despite all its functionality, it never feels cluttered or tough to use. I was up and running in minutes, with virtually no learning curve.
To be honest, the free tier is quite limited. You can only schedule up to 10 social media posts. There are also daily limits to how many people you can follow or unfollow via the app and limits to how many RSS feeds you can add (on my plan, I can only add up to 5 of them). That said, it should be enough to give you a sense of the app and whether it’s right for you.
If you do like it, I’d recommend getting on a paid plan. I’ve been using it for about three weeks. And, in that period, I’ve been gaining 10 to 20 new Twitter followers a day. Not bad for someone who’s started warming up to Twitter quite recently.
What tools do you use in your copywriting business? Anything I’ve missed? Or anything on this list you’ve tried and disliked?
Let me know in the comments.