All writers need a workflow process to manage contacts, proposals, projects, and billing. You can do this any way you want, but some methods will be more chaotic than others.
You would think finding software to automate this administrative workflow would be easy. Nope. I spent months testing software and integrations for my freelance writing business. Here's what I found out:
Your must-have app is the one piece of software is most critical to your business.
I invoice clients online and need full-featured accounting, so Quickbooks Online is my must-have app. I use it because it is the gold standard for accounting programs, tax categories are provided so I can easily do my taxes, integrations are decent, and no contract is required.
To invoice and get paid online, you will need a merchant account to handle payment processing. Quickbooks has built-in payment processing for credit cards (including AmEx), ApplePay and bank transfers. The cost is 2.9% + 25 cents per online credit card payment if you bill less than $7.500 per month. Bank transfers are free.
Quickbooks doesn't handle foreign currencies. For that, I use Stripe because it is easy to set up and can integrate with Quickbooks. It costs 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction,
Quickbooks Simple Start: $20 mo. + 2.9% and 25 cents per e-invoice.
Quickbooks offers a built-in estimating feature, but it isn't very powerful. It has native integration with Quotient, which can produce basic quotes that would be appropriate for a caterer or lawn service (but not complex projects like branding).
Proposify integrates with Quickbooks online. It has reduced its pricing, making it more competitive with alternatives. However, if you want custom fields and variables, standard integrations, real-time chat, and a custom domain, the cost is $49 per user (payable per quarter). Proposify integrates with Stripe, so a prospect can approve the proposal and make a payment within the app.
PandaDocs also costs $49 per user per month. It does not offer more than Proposify (IMO) and the interface is less attractive because it does not separate content sections.
I have used NiftyQuoter for several years. It has many of the same features as Proposify but costs $19 mo. ($29 mo. with a custom domain). Prospects can leave comments (none do) and say why they rejected a proposal (none do), but the content library is chaotic compared to Proposify and the lack of real-time chat is a disadvantage. It integrates well with Quickbooks Online.
I prefer to invoice from Quickbooks, not the proposal software. This allows me to track accounts receivable within my accounting program.
NiftyQuoter: $19 per mo.
If you are a sole proprietor, project management software may not be worth the effort. I decided I was better off just using my calendars and reminder list to manage myself.... until I came across Airtable. Airtable is not just about managing teams who in turn produce work. It is about managing project elements. It's free, so yeah, I'll give it a go.
Airtable Essential: $0
Organizations with remote workers often use Slack as a collaborative tool. It offers a single platform that can organize messages and files for various communication threads. For a sole proprietor like myself, it is overkill. But I need to know how to use it because many of my clients do.
File sharing is another necessity. Documents files can usually be sent by email, but image files often require a file sharing service. For this, I turn to the free version of Dropbox, Google Drive or Apple iCloud.
My favorite is WeTransfer, which is free.
Google Drive: $0
Apple iCloud: $0
I use a variety of meeting tools. Skype (available from Microsoft) is the simplest and its free. I also buy a Skype phone number to use on my website so my real mobile number is not spammed to death. If you travel for work, a local Skype number can enable you to avoid roaming charges. Grasshopper is another good service for phone numbers.
I'm also a fan of Zoom. A basic meeting space is free and is ideal for one-to-one remote meetings.
Grasshopper: $29 + $10 taxes per year
Skype phone numberL $53 year
Microsoft Office is a necessity simply because everyone uses it. The suite comes with two other important tools, PowerPoint and Excel.
LivePlan is invaluable for creating readable, engaging business plans. Unlike a Word document, sections can be edited and moved around easily. Projections automatically update when numbers are changed. Comments can be added quickly. And LivePlan acts as a living document because it can be integrated with Quickbooks, so you can see whether you are meeting your benchmarks.
I also have Grammarly installed on Chrome. It's free and it just might catch a spelling error . So it can't hurt.
Balsamiq isn't really a writing tool. It is a content planning tool for websites. It allows you to map out the wireframes and content using simple, intuitive software. I am including it under writing tools because it is the best place to start when writing web content from scratch. I bought the standalone app last year for $89.
Acrobat Pro DC is useful for editing PDFs and creating forms. I use it to compile portfolio samples and e-books. It is $24.99 mo. without a contract.
Microsoft 365 Home and Office: $100 year
LivePlan: $20 mo. or $140 year
Balsamiq: $49 mo. o4 $89 for downloaded app
Acrobat Pro DC: $24.99 mo.
Airstory is a browser-based tool that allows you to clip and store research sources. It integrates with Office 365, WordPress, Medium, MailChimp, Proposify and a bunch of social media platforms. It started out as a writing platform, but Google Docs could do what it did. So now it is just a convenient way to source and store citations.
Research studies generally cost $2500 and up. I can't afford that for most projects. So I rely on Statista instead. It summarizes research from a broad range of studies. It is a strong general research database.
Data Hero creates beautiful tables and charts from raw data such as Excel sheets.
Statista: $49 mo. billed annually ($588)
Data Hero: $49 mo. billed annually ($588)
I need stock photos and illustrations for my website and occasionally for client sites. I subscribe to BigstockPhoto and sometimes buy individual photos from Shutterstock. I also use free sources like Pixabay, Unsplash, and Picjumbo for images.
I'm not a graphic designer so I don't know how to create mockups. That's okay, because I've discovered Placeit Mockups.
The Internet Archive is a repository of free books, movies, and music. I use it when I need a music loop for an animation. I also buy music from MelodyLoops. If I need a voiceover, I go to Voices.
For animations, I use Vyond, formerly GoAnimate. It is animation software designed for business people, not artists. The unbranded version (so you can use your own logo) is great but costly; I go the cheap route.
BigstockPhoto: $79 mo.
Placeit Mockups: $29 mo.
Vyond Personal (branded) is $49 mo and Premium (unbranded) is $89 mo.
I switched from Flywheel to WPEngine. It runs a little faster and the customer service is slightly better. The downside is that the interface is more complicated. I have one site with them, which costs around $45 mo..
I used WordPress and Oxygen builder. Oxygen builder is a great way to build sites without using a template. It cost $99 "on sale" and I can use it forever on as many sites as I like.
I host my domains at Hover. They run about $30 a year. Plus I buy email through them for one site. I use Google Apps for another email. I may switch and use Google Apps for both because the calendar integration is better and I like having access to the apps. Plus, it's easier to manage my Analytics account under a Google sign-in account.
Like most sites, BrandStampede uses a lot of images. Images can really slow down a site, which is deadly for SEO and the user experience. I size them in Pixelmator and I compress them using a paid version of Imagify.
I use Typeform to create lead capture forms. Because I use logic jumps and integrate with MailChimp, I have upgraded from the free version to the Pro version.
MailChimp is used to send out emails. I have not set up my email marketing but at some point I will. I will use their free plan which allows up to 2000 contacts.
WPEngine: $45 mo.
Hover Domains and Email: $30 year and $16 year
Google Apps Email: $12 mo.
Typeform Pro: $35 mo.
You gotta have the basics, namely WiFi and a smartphone. Plus a computer. I also use the free version of Dropbox to share large files. I use Apple iCloud to store documents; I also back them up using Time Machine.
Spectrum Internet: $60 mo.
TMobile: $70 mo.
iCloud Drive: $120 year
State Filing as LLC: $155 year
Essentials Total: $437.50 mo. /$5250 year