When you compare the tools I used when I first started freelancing about a decade ago, to what I use now, it’s like night and day. Starting out, I operated lean. It was lower cost and more manual labour, but it worked while I was finding my feet and get a feel for the workflows I would be developing over time to streamline my processes.
I had vim for my editor, spreadsheets for my bookkeeping, and PayPal for my invoicing. For time-tracking, I used the Flash version of Dave Seah’s Emergent Task Timer. I kept my client notes in various note taking apps that were hot, and then very much not, and eventually settled into Evernote. Great for starting out.
Over the years I’ve tinkered with different combinations of software to optimise how I get things done, and have settled on the following:
This is a great bit of time tracking and invoicing software. You can create estimates, deposit invoices, track time spent on quoted tasks or packages of work on a per client basis.
Invoices can be customised, and can be configured to comply with requirements for invoicing whether you are registered for GST or not.
At tax time, I can also print out a report for my accountant of what was invoiced and paid.
I used to use the desktop only version and was reluctant to move to the cloud-based subscription model until our house was broken into and my laptop stolen. Then I really appreciated and understood the value of having this stuff available online.
I still use PayPal for payments from international clients. With smaller parcels of work, the fees are tolerable, but for contract work it’s still cheaper to arrange international bank transfers with your SWIFT details. Otherwise, with services like Payoneer starting to gain traction, this may become a more cost effective method if most of the countries you service are available. Haven’t really looked into that yet but may do so in future.
In order to keep my books consistent I do need to copy the invoice details that I’d have in Billings to create a PayPal invoice, but that’s not a terrible thing.
For writing up work contracts, requirements, statements of work and documentation for clients. Exported as PDFs for portability.
Nothing much to say here, but I am thinking of moving these over to Google Drive so that I can have cloud backups and better versioning.
I have a lot of credentials to store for all my clients. LastPass helps me to keep track of all of them, and also allows them to share credentials with me without them having to actually give them to me.
This is helpful not just for logins, but for any other bits of info that may need to be secured.
Great for sharing assets between the clients or their designers. I managed to accumulate a decent amount of free quota when they used to give it away, but it’s definitely worth paying for to be able to share and store files.
For a similar reason as Dropbox, but for one-shot sends. Very handy for transferring large files.
I use this for just about everything else that needs to be documented. Calls, meeting notes, current and future work. It’s not really a CRM but I haven’t found a decent CRM suitable for what I need it for. Most end up being about sales funnels and the like.
If you’re in this line of work this probably was redundant to add. But you need to back your client work up somewhere.
One of my contract employers had PHPStorm as part of their SOE. I now use it for all of my development. It’s such a fantastic IDE and just makes everything so much more efficient. I still use PHPStorm, and they have framework/language specific applications, but I use PHPStorm for everything and haven’t had issues yet.
I still use vim, but JetBrains is fantastic.
Back your stuff up. Local SAN/NAS are great, and you might run a lot of your stuff off cloud services, but I feel you really need a remote backup solution for proper disaster recovery.
 All of my work at the time was international, and it was the most convenient way of getting paid by overseas clients.
 I longed for OneNote which I loved when I was working in a Windows environment. Don’t be a hater, as a Computer Science grad I was indoctrinated against Microsoft, but OneNote was amazing.
 Apart from PayPal transaction fees.