Whether you’ve been a freelance writer working from home forever, or you’ve been ordered to stay home in the past month, productivity is important. You want writing tools that help you earn well — tools that impress and build strong bonds with clients.
Over the years, the list of tools and shortcuts I use in my own freelance writing biz has grown. Given that remote work is what nearly everyone is doing as we seek to slow the spread of Covid-19, I thought it’d be a good time to create a fresh list for you.
Many of these tools or sites are free, some cost a bit. All have made it a heck of a lot easier to connect with clients, quickly do my work, send invoices, and more. Most of all, knowing some of the popular tech tools out there helps you impress clients that you’re ready to go.
Note: Because this is a list of writing tools I use and can personally recommend (except for three I mention in the P.S.), some paid tools carry my affiliate link.
If you’re the type of freelancer who loves finding tech help that makes your life easier, dig in and enjoy. I’ve divided them into categories, so you can quickly scan to the type of tools you want most.
Given that a ton of my paid freelance-writing work over the years has taken the form of blog posts, it’s no shock that I’ve learned to use some great blogging tools. Here’s a blog-tool lineup that will give you a serious edge with clients:
If you blog for a living, you soon become obsessed with writing standout headlines. This free tool from marketing-software purveyor Coschedule helps you improve your headline by showing whether it ranks strong on several factors, including emotional engagement. In fact, it’s the reason the word ‘spectacular’ is in the headline of this post. Fascinating and helpful!
One of the things pro writers do before handing in a headline pitch or blog post to our clients is to check to see if the proposed post headline is too long, and apt to get cut off in Google results. Show you’re a pro: before you file, confirm your headline is a snappy length by popping it into the simple, free checker-box from the search geniuses at Moz.
This free plugin creates a groovy calendar layout on which to plot your (or your client’s) posts. Really helps you envision how the month will go. For instance, here’s a sample from a recent month here on Make a Living Writing:
Social media & SEO
Increasingly, freelance writers need to write not just for humans to read, but for search engines to understand, and with an eye to how our content will play on social media. If you’re doing social or finding keywords for your blog clients, these tools will help:
If you do social posts for clients, you’ve gotta have a scheduler, so you can work in batches. Otherwise, social will drive you insane.
I like Hootsuite for this. Besides easily writing and scheduling posts across multiple social platforms, Hootsuite lets you easily grab items to reshare from your newsfeeds (because your posts shouldn’t all be about your client, right?). Like many of the tools mentioned here that have a paid level, you can get started with a free account.
When clients say, ‘find keywords for your content,’ I turn to this handy tool, part of a suite of SEO helpers from the good folks at Mangools. There are a million free keyword tools out there — but KW tells you not just how popular a search is, but who’s topping that search, how hard it might be to rank well for it yourself, and what similar terms might offer better opportunity.
For instance, here’s a look at results for the phrase ‘writing tools,’ which I’m looking to rank for with this post.
If your client’s blog isn’t getting much traction, here’s a great tool to recommend — it automatically spins up 9 pieces of content it’ll share out over the course of a year. Missinglettr makes sure your content doesn’t vanish after day one, getting you more results and making clients want to keep you on.
I use this tool to spy on clients’ competitors — see how their traffic is trending, what keywords they rank for, and more. But this platform has a whole suite of tools, especially at the paid level. If clients aren’t using, suggest it! (Got a special offer on this one – grab a 14-day free trial with that link.)
8. Yoast SEO
Here’s a tool to recommend to clients for their WordPress blog, if they’re not already using. Yoast makes useful keyword-usage suggestions inside WordPress, to help you optimize your post. It’s got a simple red-yellow-green stoplight approach to show you how well you’re doing.
Writer website and portfolio
There are many platforms that compile thousands of freelancer portfolios all in a single spot — and want to say, that’s not ideal. Ideally, you want your portfolio
9. FolioSetup Considering hiring a pricey designer to do your website? If you have no plan for how to keep your site from breaking as software updates, consider this simple, drag-and-drop, WordPress-based solution with ongoing support. I begged my own designer to create this due to my dissatisfaction with available platforms, which are too pricey, don’t understand our biz, or both. Her proven template follows all the best-practices she taught my Den community in our bootcamp, Build a Writer Website That Works. Sneak peek:
NOTE: I’m no longer partnering with this service.
10. Wayback Machine
Also known as the Internet Archive, Wayback is an amazing, free place where you can reclaim ancient, lost clips from defunct sites. If you know the URL it used to live at, it’s likely Wayback took a picture back when, and can dig it up for you to screenshot. I recently reclaimed a 100-page annual report I’d written that vanished off the client’s site (whew!). Make a donation if you use this valuable resource, so this miracle miracle worker keeps rolling.
Connect with prospective clients
One of my coaching students recently introduced me to this robust lead-finding tool — here’s an example of how detailed searches can be here:
The pro way to schedule a first client meeting is with a calendar program (as opposed to 17 different emails back and forth asking ‘What’s a good time?’). I use it for clients, I use it for my coaching — it sends reminder notes to you and your interview subject, and provides an easy way to reschedule.
This Google tool, combined with an email permutator, can help you quickly verify if an email address you posit may be right for a contact has in fact been used to set up one of their social-media accounts. That’s right, it doesn’t tell you there’s a chance maybe that’s the right email — it will conclusively prove or disprove that the email has been used to set up one of your target’s social accounts.
This was my all-time favorite email hunter for years (sorry, Hunter and RocketReach)…but full disclosure, I haven’t used it since it became app-based. If you love your writing tools on your phone instead of your computer, give this a whirl. More info on their free and paid plans here.
Most online job boards take listings from any old scammer, or are seen by millions, or both. This makes them mostly a waste of time. FlexJobs is the exception, ignoring the junk ads and turning up good opportunities on arcane sites you’d never check.
That’s why I’ve been proud to partner with them to feature the best of FlexJobs’ freelance-writer listings on my own Junk-Free Job Board (exclusively for members of my Freelance Writers Den learning & support community). A FlexJobs subscription could be a worthwhile investment, as you prospect for writing jobs in hard times.
If you use just one social channel, make it LinkedIn. Action was exploding on here before we all had to avoid in-person networking — betting now, it’s hotter than ever. And no surprise, since it’s the only place you can ask for referrals and career help without getting blocked.
Here’s a crash course in creating a profile that attracts leads. You can go pretty far on a free account, but a month of Premium would help you locate and InMail more leads. Many of my best clients through the years have come through getting found on here, including three Fortune 500 companies (believe great companies use LinkedIn’s search engine to find freelancers these days, not Google). Build a big network (mine is now 5,600+), and your stats start looking like this:
Connecting with clients on video calls has always been great for building closer relationships. In our current age of isolation, it’s nothing short of essential. Skype makes 1:1 calling around the world easy. Free and paid levels. Need to record your Skype call? For that, there’s an add-on tool: Skype Call Recorder.
If you have a bigger-than-25 person client team you need to meet with, graduate from Skype to Zoom for calling. I switched over several years back. I find Zoom easier to use — seems the best solution for international calling, it has a built-in recording tool, and it can handle up to 100 people at a time or more, depending on the paid level chosen. Free level gets you unlimited meetings with up to 3 guests for up to 40 minutes.
Set pay rates
If you don’t know this handy resource, let me introduce you. Great, free database of crowdsourced pay information about publications and websites. Dig in!
Wondering about a company’s reputation, and whether they treat workers right? The company reviews on Glassdoor are a goldmine of info that can help you avoid scams and low payers. Their full-time job listings also give you a sense of their pay levels for similar freelance roles .
20. An accountability buddy
OK, it’s not software, but it’s the single best tool for your success — a person you can call once a week who’ll hold you accountable on your writing goals. Finding an accountability buddy is easy inside my Freelance Writers Den learning & support community — we have a forum just for matching you up.
Tired of paying PayPal’s fees? Sign up to invoice through Harvest and access their PayPal Business Payments plan, where you pay just $.50 per transaction of any size. I’ve saved thousands on this scheme over the years. And Harvest has time-tracking and other useful features, too.
A clogged email inbox is the enemy of writing productivity. Why suffer, when this handy tool lets you roll up all your newsletters into a single email? I went from about 200 emails a day down to roughly 20, by continually adding new addresses to my rollup.
Did I mention you don’t want to have to check email 10 times a day, in case a client wants something from you? Instead, turn your interaction into Asana tasks and check your dashboard. Simple tool with deadlines, room for comments, you can assign an item to other team members — my own team at the Den loves it.
Have you tired of trying to send large files via email, only to find them stuck in limbo? You need DropBox. Pop your file in there, share a link out to your client, and you’re good. Create folders for different projects and keep things organized, too. I have several tools for sharing large files at this point, but this one’s my fave.
If you need a place where you can chat with clients without getting sucked down the email drain, I prefer Slack. It allows you to create topic channels — each participant can subscribe to their relevant topics and ignore the rest. Far superior to getting 50 ‘reply all’ emails in an email chat conversation. Love using it with clients, and I use it with my team that works behind the scenes in the Den, too — here’s a sneak-peek at us collaborating on a previous blog-post graphic:
Name your best writing tools
Obviously, there are a million writing tools, apps, and platforms out there that freelancers use. These are mine. My big tip: Don’t spend hours and hours mulling which tool to use. Pick one, and if it works for you, use it! And get back to writing and marketing to find clients.
You may notice I didn’t list a few of the most obvious writing-craft tools, such as the Hemingway app, ProWritingAid, Grammarly or the like above. That’s because this post is about tools I personally use. (But I’m linking them here, because I just knew you were gonna ask about ’em.)
I had grammar and word usage drilled into me by an awesome high school English teacher, so I’ve never used these. All three have certainly been mentioned to me often, and I’ve only heard raves, so giving you links above just in case you need.
Final note: If I can learn to use tech solutions, so can you. I’m a very non-technical person. I refuse to be defeated by new tech, and slowly but surely, over the years, I’ve learned how to use dozens of useful writing tools that help me work with freelance clients. You can do this.
What’s your top freelance writing tool? Leave a comment and tell us why you love it.