8 Great Tools for Successful Freelance Writers & Bloggers

Behind the scenes of every successful freelance writer, there are tools that make their business more effective and time-efficient. Tools for finding leads, keeping their writer website running smoothly, and tracking queries, expenses and payments.

I’m often asked what tools I use, so here is a look at what is working behind the curtain to keep the gears turning in my freelance business. These are all tools I recommend, so many of these are affiliate links. If you need to up your game and acquire some better tools to build your business, I appreciate your purchasing them through me.

  1. The Writer’s Market – This remains the essential and most complete guide to where to get published. I’m a big fan of the online edition, where you can easily sort the data by pay level, type of publication, or key word. Here are my tips for getting the most out of the Writer’s Market. Really beats leafing through the enormous doorstop print version. We all know things are changing fast in publishing these days — which is why you want to check your dashboard regularly for Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s updates column and the members-only lists of which markets have recently updated their listings. I consider both great opportunities to pitch new editors. When I’m in the mood to add a new publication to my stable, this is where I browse. I always think everybody knows this book, but I still get asked what it is now and then…so there you have it.
  2. Dreamhost – If you’ve hung around this blog long, you know you need a sharp writer website to be competitive and look professional in today’s freelance world. You also need to get off that freebie Blogger or WordPress platform and spring for paid hosting, or your site looks sort of amateur-hour. There are lots of paid hosts out there — and I’ve heard some negative things about many of them. I’ve been with Dreamhost since 2006, and I find their staff responsive and helpful — and you know I need a lot of tech support. I also like that they’re a socially responsible, green company.
  3. Carbonite — Here’s a nightmare: You’re right in the middle of a big project and your hard drive dies. It’s toast. What now? Hopefully, you’ve got backup that’s off your hard drive, and ideally outside your house (what if there’s a fire?). Carbonite runs in the background, constantly backing up what you do back at the Carbonite server farms. Its shortcoming is it’s hard to pull out just one document — it’s better for when you need a complete restore of your drive. (I would love to affiliate-sell Carbonite, but they won’t let me, and I don’t know why. C’mon, Carbonite, play nice!)
  4. Time Machine – To retrieve from the ashes that one, key file you accidentally deleted, there’s Time Machine. It is freakin’ awesome, and also free. You set up a backup external hard drive, and then Time Machine periodically backs everything up. Realize you killed something important a week ago? Enter the Time Machine, and flip back through the daily pages  until you find the day when the file was still on your hard drive. Copy it back to your current hard drive, and presto! Only bad news here: It’s just for Macs (included in your OS). If there’s a similar PC tool, I don’t know it. Maybe someone will suggest a similar tool in the comments for PCs.
  5. Freshbooks — Can you find out instantly who your biggest client is? Know what your profit margin was this month? Know whose payment is overdue? I didn’t know these things either — until this year, when I started using Freshbooks. Now, I feel like an idiot that I waited so long to start using real accounting software. One of the things I love about Freshbooks is it’s free for the first few clients, so you can try it out and see if you like it. Then, when you’re business grows, you can go pro with it. I was always intimidated by the Quickbooks products, and I find Freshbooks very user-friendly and I think it’s a bit cheaper, too. The Freshbooks support people are great, too…and you just know I’ve got questions. I’m sort of embarrassed to think how much time I wasted hand-adding figures to analyze my numbers in the past. Well, better late than never.
  6. MarsEdit — Here’s another nightmare: You write four blog posts for a client on their cloud-based system, and turn them in. Then the client tells you the posts were eaten by the Amazon server failure — could you supply your backup copies? And you’re like, “What backup copies???” And then they ask you to write the posts all over again. This actually happened to me. Thankfully they found the posts eventually, or I would have gotten to eat hours of writing time recreating posts. Second problem: You’re writing on the Internet and your Internet is moving s-l-o-w-l-y. You’re wasting lots of time looking at beachballs, and those delays are cutting into your writing flow and making you less creative, too. Solution to both: MarsEdit, the handy little blog-posting program that sits on your desktop and saves copies of your work. You compose in MarsEdit complete with links, and then just zip it onto its final home at the end. It’s been a major time- and aggravation-saver for me. Bad news: This one is also only for Macs…maybe someone knows the PC equivalent? I know people who compose in Word docs, but that adds a lot of undesirable code you have to hunt and destroy later.
  7. e-junkie – Creating your own eBooks or courses is a great way to add another income stream to your freelance business. When you do, you need a shopping cart. For selling products, I love e-junkie — I’ve seen other writers’ tools for this and they seem a lot clunkier and less flexible. In e-junkie, I can easily set and change prices, create bundles of past products out of existing items, create discount codes that expire when I want…it’s just superb. Their support people also rock. It works with your PayPal account and sends you money there automagically. Having just been compelled to use PayPal to set up Freelance Writers Den buttons because it’s required by one of the other pieces of Den software, I can tell you e-junkie is nicer.
  8. WordPress — New bloggers often ask me if it’s cool to keep using Blogger, Movable Type, TypePad, Drupal, Yola, or whatever else they’re blogging on. My answer is no. Many of those platforms are outdated or look amateurish, or compel you to use a goofy template. Especially if you want to blog for pay for clients, you need to learn WordPress. It is by far the dominant platform being used in business. Second-biggest is companies writing their own custom platforms, which are all designed to be a lot like…you guessed it: WordPress. Companies want to know you already understand this platform — I think it gives you a major edge right now in getting hired. Your blog (with paid hosting) shows prospects you have experience with WordPress and know its features.

Were you expecting me to cite a tool I use for tracking query letters I send? My secret there: I don’t. I send, and move on. I feel if they’re interested, they’ll call. Instead of expending time asking if they got it, I send more queries.

What tools do you love for your freelance writing business? Leave a comment and let us know.

  1. I use E-junkie as well, and I’m getting ready to transition my blog to WordPress. One of my copywriting gigs often involves typing foreign characters, so I use Typeit.org for when I need a German or Spanish keyboard. Also use Picnik.com for basic photo editing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh heck yeah! I should have mentioned Picnik too…GREAT photo-editing site that’s super-easy to use.

      That’s funny to hear you’re making the Blogger-Wordpress transition — I think of you as the one successful blogger I know who’s still on Blogger! I bet you will take it to a whole ‘nother level on WordPress.

      Also…I know many people are contemplating this…so this allows me to give folks a sneak preview that I’m going to have a special event in August for Freelance Writers Den members only — we’re going to do an hour on how to set up your WordPress blog AND how to transition a blog from Blogger to WordPress. Have a couple of great experts lined up for that — can’t wait!

  2. Hi Carol – I’m confused: did you say yes or no to WordPress? I’m in the midst of having a fancy-pants new website designed, and am wondering what do do with my blog.

    • Joanne,

      Carol is talking about WordPress.com the hosted version of WordPress, which requires you to have wordpress.com as part of your address. The hosted verison doesn’t have all the features, nor the templates, that WordPress.org offers.

      Carol, I’d add Google Analytics to your list. It gives you a lot more information than many of traffic and stats programs your website host has. I have awstats through Network Solutions, but Google Analytics gives me much better information.
      M. Sharon Baker recently posted..9 Things I learned at Marketing Prof U’s Marketing Writing Bootcamp

      • Carol Tice says:

        Sharon’s right — otherwise you have the same URL problem where .wordpress is in your URL. But at least you’re learning the dominant platform!

        If you’re paying big for a “fancy pants” website…all I can say is…stop.

        Freelance writers don’t need expensive sites, just clean, simple ones with lots of clips and strongly written content that explains what type of writing they do. Also, I find many designers don’t understand conversion — you pay a lot for design that doesn’t even work to achieve your site’s goal, which is to get clients to pick up the phone or email and hire you. They understand neato designs and flashy, rotating graphics, and colors, but not necessarily how to drive conversion.

        I’m getting hired by the Fortune 500 off my site and you can see it’s pretty basic.

        One advantage of WordPress is it’s easy to do the whole SITE in WordPress, including your static pages. That makes them easy to update yourself, which is the key element of a good writer site. If you have to ask your developer every time you need a change, you really end up spending a fortune.

        I should add that we spend a whole week on website and blog issues like this, both design and platform, in the Blast-Off group coaching course, which is now registering for early August classes.

        • Joseph says:

          I agree with this comment. A lot of people think that they need a fancy, custom site, when really they just need a simple, professional website that provides a credible presence online. This can be accomplished with WordPress, a premium template, and some simple customization.

          Full-fledged websites that are built from the ground up often end up being difficult for users to navigate and impossible to maintain. WordPress is definitely the way to go, especially to get a simple but professional writer’s site that is easy to use.
          Joseph recently posted..Why Your Blog Won’t Survive Without Providing Value

          • Carol Tice says:

            Right on, Joseph –

            I’ve reviewed quite a few writer sites where big money was spent…and they’re useless. They don’t get the job done of connecting prospects quickly to information about what type of writing that writer does, and how to contact them…and even worse, they’re in HTML and the writer is at the mercy of a developer every time they want to make a single change. Then that developer moves on, and they have a site that rapidly goes out of date and gets broken, and they’re stuck.

            I know because I had a hard-coded site. I recently paid to put it into WordPress and it is like heaven now! I am in complete control of how it looks and what is on there and can add new articles the day they publish.

  3. Is there any easy way to convert a blogger blog into a wordpress blog? And can I use my writer site URL as my wordpress blog? Several of the tools you mention are Mac specific. I know Mac vs PC is like talking politics, but I find Macs very writer friendly.

    • Carol Tice says:

      See above, Wade — training on that very thing is coming to the Den very shortly! I know you’ll be there.

    • Susan says:

      Wade, if you use WordPress, there is a simple Blogger Import feature! (Found under Manage -> Import). It will let you import anything you have on your Blogger site over to your new WordPress site.
      And, you can use your writer site URL as your WordPress URL, if you are paying for hosting. If you are using free WordPress hosting, you will have to use the wordpress.net part with your website name. Your hosting service should be able to help you name your website, if you’re paying for one.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Hi Susan — thanks for bringing this up! Speaking of WP vs Blogger…I have to tell everyone I’ve just nailed down an AWESOME first official Den Meeting in the Freelance Writers Den that’s coming 8/10 — it’s going to be a tutorial on how to set up a WordPress site, AND how to transfer your Blogger site over.

        Bringing in two cool experts — if you’ve been wanting to do either of these tasks you will NOT want to miss this event! Will have lots of Q&A time too to ask about how it’s done.

  4. That time machine is something i need to add to my list of tools.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”
    TrafficColeman recently posted..How Do I Make Money Online – I’m Broke

  5. Crystal says:

    Great tips! Another awesome back-up tool that I use is Dropbox. You just keep a folder on your computer and save files to that folder. The folder automatically uploads to the Dropbox website. It’s really great for individual files that you might be worried about losing in the event of a crash.

    And I can’t say I have experience with using this, but Time Traveler is supposedly similar to Time Machine and it’s available for PC. Their website: http://www.bearsontheloose.com/

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Crystal –

      I can see I was really snoozing when I wrote this — of course I use DropBox as well. It does seem to be the best large-file sender, though some don’t like that you have to install something on your computer. But it’s been a real help to me when people want my podcasts as a download.

      Thanks for the lead on a Time Machine-like tool for PCs!
      Carol Tice recently posted..Writers: Should You Nag That Editor About Your Query?

  6. Ronald Sieber says:

    Carol:

    Would you comment about your MarsEdit rec? I was confused about your comment: “I know people who compose in Word docs, but that adds a lot of undesirable code you have to hunt and destroy later.”

    Thanks,
    =rds

    • Carol Tice says:

      Some people compose their blog posts in Word, so that they’re off the cloud and have a hard copy elsewhere…but it adds a bunch of junk that WordPress doesn’t like. They’re not easily compatible, is what I’m trying to say. MarsEdit is TOTALLY compatible and you can even set it up to automatically post the item to your blog when you’re ready.

  7. Hi Carol,

    Thank you. These are great suggestions, especially since I’m contemplating updating my website and switching hosts. Now if I could just figure out how to clone myself and thus have time for all the stuff I need to do right now…

    Christy

  8. k.t. says:

    Hi, Carol!

    This was a fantastic, amazing post!
    What about Mozy for online backup?? Just wondering whether you or anyone else has tried . .

    Thanks again for all your über-informative emails! (And, by the way, I’ve updated my site w/your input in mind!)

    Karen

    http://www.glutenfreesafari.com/
    k.t. recently posted..It\’s a gluten free character on the silver screen!

  9. I love e-junkie as well! I’ve used it to setup shopping carts for several clients. While my personal blog is currently on blogger, when I launch my writing business I do intend on setting a business blog up via WordPress–I completely agree with you on that note! The tools at your disposal via WordPress are mindblowing. I’ve worked on both, and while WordPress takes longer to get used to in terms of backend tools, it is very much worth the time it takes.
    Krissy Brady, Writer recently posted..Writing News for July 17, 2011

  10. Hi Carol,

    Thanks for sharing a great post- with so many tools that would make blogging so much easier. I would surely need to have a look at some of them!
    Harleena Singh recently posted..Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates

  11. Carol, thanks for these recommendations. Ejunkie is my fav :) I’ll check out the other ones. Thanks again.

    Jane.
    Jane | Find All Answers recently posted..Simplistic Approach Is Your Best Time Saver Ever

  12. LPogue says:

    Hi,

    You mentioned that writing in Word adds lots of extra undesirable code. You can do this and use all Word’s capabilities, but then you need to copy the entire document, paste it into NotePad (comes free with Windows), and save it as a .txt file. This removes all Word’s extra code. Unfortunately, it will remove all formatting, too, but it does make it possible, if somewhat longer, to write in Word for online posts. You can also save the file as a .txt file from within Word in the SaveAs command, so that all the coding is removed.

    As far as a PC version backup, almost any external hard drive can be set up using Windows 7 backup utilities to make backups of all the files you save. The only downside is that if you make changes to a file, the changes are written over the backup file. Still, for hard drive failures, it is a blessing to have it.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it.
    LPogue recently posted..5 Ways To Drive Visitors Away From Your Website

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