Tools I use to manage my freelance copywriting business in 2021

Let’s be honest, I didn’t start freelancing with a plan.

If anything, it was an anti-plan.

I was dragged into freelancing begrudgingly. Some fabulous people in my network saw my career break as the perfect time to pull me into some projects they were struggling with. Within two weeks, I’d had to reinstate my ABN and was officially in business, full-time.

That meant I had to learn fast.

My first go-round with freelancing 10 years earlier was taking on the odd job in addition to my 9-5. All I needed in those days was a computer, an email address and Microsoft Word. I did everything on Word, including invoices. It was simple and free.

But now, I have multiple projects with multiple clients and multiple deadlines. It’s my full-time gig so I have a lot more going on than I did the first time I freelanced. I need far more than Word and an email address can provide, so I’ve had to find tools to support me.

I’ve tried a lot of different systems. I’ve spent a lot of money on subscriptions for programs that didn’t end up working for me the way I needed them to. I’m sure that’s going to continue from time to time as my business grows and evolves. In those early days, though, there was a ridiculous amount of test and fail, test and fail, test and oh maybe… going on.

My biggest mistake was wanting too much.

There are dozens of tools out there that do largely the same thing. And I wanted something that’d do everything, all for a reasonable price.

That sounds like a big dream, but you’d be surprised. There are heaps of amazing systems that do everything from project management to client management, invoicing & payments, wikis, file sharing and a whole heap more for a reasonable price.

But the problem with these super-robust and fully customisable systems is you need to have the time and patience to set them up exactly as you need them to be. And you need to do some serious forward-thinking and planning to make it all work, or else spend your life continuously fiddling with the settings as you realise things don’t quite work the way you actually need them to.

And I didn’t have that time. And in those early stages of my business, I didn’t have a clue how long I’d stay in the freelancing life.

The exact tools I use for my freelance copywriting business

Where I’m at and the systems I use now aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough for now. These may not right for you. And you might not need them all. But I thought you might like a look into what I use and see if there’s something there that might help you too.

I do use more tools for Coffee. Content. Repeat. which I won’t cover here. We can go into those at another time.

My website

My copywriting client-facing website is built on WordPress with Elementor as my page builder. It means that most of my content can be updated on the fly, and I can see the impact a few extra words, or whole new content blocks, will make to the overall design as I go.

For some elements, I do still need to hop into WordPress for, but for the most part, Elementor makes it easy.

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Project management

For project management, I use ClickUp. ClickUp is much more robust than I need for project management, but the others I tried weren’t robust enough.

I have one overall workspace with folders by client. Each client folder has lists for projects, or for purchase order or months for clients I’m working with long-term.

I can give access to clients, but I don’t. I just keep it as a place to track what I need to do, when by, and how much time I spend on each thing.

I share access at the list level with subcontractors I work with (like other writers, translators and my VA) so I can stay across their workload and timelines, and make sure we stay within budget. That means they can see and update the status of the project they’re working on with me, but don’t have access to anything else.

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Invoicing

I’m now using Xero for my invoicing. I’m not loving it yet (it’s a bit ugly and complicated), but I’m sure I will in time when it starts serving me up some useful reports.

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I love Rounded, a bookkeeping system that specifically serves freelancers and the self-employed. They have a user-focused interface and you can customise your invoices so they actually look nice.

Unfortunately, my fabulous accountant’s bookkeeping team doesn’t support Rounded and that was one task I really needed to get off my plate. ☹ If you still have time to manage your expenses, definitely give Rounded a try.

Cloud storage

My document management is all on G Suite. To be honest, I’d prefer Microsoft 365 but I’m all set up now and moving across sounds like more hassle than it’s worth.

The good thing about G Suite is all the “Log in with Google” buttons across the web. If I can cut out a password or two, believe me I’m going to do it. It talks well with most tools I’m using so I can’t complain too much.

Documents

I default to Microsoft Office for Word, Excel and Powerpoint because I have more control in layout and functionality than Google Docs and Sheets provides. I’ve also been using Word since the mid-90s, so my fingers are all over the shortcuts they don’t tell you about anymore.

That said, when I’m collaborating with someone in real-time, I use Google’s versions. They can see my changes as I make them without a video call.

Keywords and SEO reviews

I don’t take projects requiring keyword research often. Many of my clients already have an SEO agency on tap, so they can send me what I need to know in an instant. But when I do need to check out what’s what, I use Ubersuggest.

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Ubersuggest does what I need it to, without all the fancy frills of the big names in SEO. Those fancy frills make my head spin and waste my time with possibilities I just don’t need or want. Ubersuggest keeps it simple, doing just what it says on the box. And it’s reasonably priced, too, with something almost unheard of today: a subscription-free option. A buy-it-once, lifetime price. Can you say “hell yeah”? Hell yeah!

Site crawling

A lot of the SEO tools include site crawling/spiders in their services, and Ubersuggest has a small version of this too. But even the most costly of them don’t include all the info I want.

So when I’m doing a content audit, I use Screaming Frog.

Their spider has a free version for up to 500 pages and so long as I’m careful about my instructions on what to crawl, it’s all I need.

It brings up the details I’m looking for, including multiple H1 and H2 tags from the pages, and last updated information (when it’s available). Plus, it’s a desktop app, not a browser one. Call me old-school but I like that.

Feedback

Detailed feedback without a call goes through Loom. It’s fast and easy to create a screen-share video and talk through your feedback, and just send the link. They can comment directly or reply by video too.

When this one’s up for subscription, I may look at changing over to Vimeo who now also have screen recording functionality. I use Vimeo for my video hosting (for Coffee. Content. Repeat.) so if its recordings are as good as Loom’s, it just makes sense.

Meetings

For meetings, I use Zoom. My clients use Blue Jeans, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, but I just find Zoom wins for stability hands-down.

To let my clients book in meetings when they need to, without all the “hey – are you free 2pm Thursday?” “No, how’s 10am Tuesday?” back and forth, I use Calendly but I’m about to make the switch to YouCanBook.Me.

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Calendly is great. It looks good on your site, you can choose which meeting types can be public (e.g. “Pay me for my time”) and which are private (e.g. “You’ve already paid for my time”), and you can charge people to set up meetings too (aka “Pay me for my time”). The calendar and Zoom integration and reminders are all seamless… but it’s fiddly and time-consuming to make a small change to a meeting type and I couldn’t work out how to give my VA access to do it for me.

I don’t know how I’ll find YouCanBook.Me yet, but I’m looking forward to someone else handling the details!

Contracts and signatures

I use Adobe Acrobat DC to handle contract signing and storage as it’s included within my Creative Cloud plan. If I didn’t have Creative Cloud, I might use something else, but I need to refer to the apps when working on projects for Adobe, so it’s a requirement for me.

Acrobat DC quick, easy and efficient, and clients and subcontractors can sign on their mobile if they’re out and about so you keep things moving along. And, you can store the signed contracts on Adobe’s Creative Cloud, so you don’t have to worry about your filing systems. (I’m crap at keeping up to date with my filing.)

Plagiarism checks

Grammarly is useful for checking your spelling and grammar across devices. If you’re happy to invest more in it, you can also set up voice and terminology guidelines too (but I think it’s only one voice so that might be too limiting if you have more than one client, like I do).

I’m generally happy with the spelling and grammar checks in Word, but what I love about Grammarly is its plagiarism checks.

Before you ask, no, I’m not in the habit of taking something already published then tweaking it to make it my own. But I work with my clients ongoing, I know their products, services and positioning inside out, and when you’re writing for the same audiences about the same things on a regular basis, it’s super easy to write something the same way as you did before.

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On a small scale, that’s not a problem. On a larger or repetitive scale, it can impact Google rankings of individual pages and bore their customers. So when it’s been a little while between projects, I use Grammarly to make sure I’m not plagiarising myself.

And the fun little things…

When I need to spice up some copy with a GIF, GIPHY is my friend. It has a huge existing library, and you can create your own too.

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For emojis, I use Get Emoji. It’s painful and slow, but it’s free and I haven’t researched another option yet. If you have something better, please please please let me know!

It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?

But don’t worry – you don’t need all these tools when you’re first getting started. Start with the basics, and experiment with different tools only when you need more automation or flexibility. But do make a plan to invest the time to find the right tools for you. Randomly picking one that looks like it might work is not going to work out for you.

Before you get started, define what you plan to use a new tool for, do some top-level research then outline your minimum requirements. Then go back and do some more detailed research before signing up.

Look for free trials where they’re available, but don’t invest too much effort into setting things up when you’re on a free trial. If it’s not the right tool for you, you’ll lose all that work when the trial expires.

Most importantly, don’t fret if it takes some time or money to find the right tools and systems for you and your copywriting business. Each failure is a step towards your success.

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