If you're a freelancer and you work from home or on your own in an office, you'll know only too well how challenging it is to run a business by yourself. There are times when you'll feel like you're struggling and banging your head against a brick wall. But don't let freelancing become a headache!
Because whether you're established or just starting out, there is a huge amount of support out there thanks to the Internet. As a freelancer, the web is your best friend. It offers so much information and help, including everything from business tools and learning resources to whole communities where you can talk to other freelancers and share advice.
Here are my own top 43 useful websites for creative industry freelancers, split into useful sections. These are just my own personal preference... you might have your own suggestions, so please just comment below for anything I've missed.
Learning & Inspiration
The 99 Percent - A fantastic online resource courtesy of the Behance network. The 99% is Behance’s 'research arm and think tank'. It includes a daily web magazine, an annual conference, and best-selling book “Making Ideas Happen.” Through articles, tips, videos, and events, they aim to share best practices that help creative professionals move beyond idea generation into idea execution. It also includes a really helpful online community and forum.
TED - TED is a small nonprofit devoted to 'Ideas Worth Spreading'. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. These days, it's broadened its scope. Visit this website to watch inspiring talks from industry leaders.
Smashing Magazine - An online magazine for web designers and developers that includes a vast array of helpful tips and advice articles as well as free downloads.
Hacker News - A social news website where the community votes for the best submissions of content. Very techy at most but it does offer some decent articles that are more general and for everyone. A daily favourite of mine.
Lynda.com - Want to brush up on some skills or learn new ones? In business, it's crucial you're always one step ahead, especially when it comes to technology. Lynda.com is a really friendly and easy to use online learning resource, offering decent learning videos and tutorials on software, digital and all things to do with the web.
Project Management Tools
Google Docs - A free web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application in one. Google Docs allows you to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Perfect for any freelancer or small business and a real lifesaver for my own company.
Basecamp - A very helpful online project collaboration tool, brought to you by the people behind 37Signals. Different prices and plans available but with a handy 30 day trial.
Project2Manage - Project2Manage is an online project management application that helps you stay up-to-date, on task and connected with your team. Take a tour or sign up for a range of different pricing plans.
Time Management Tools
Freckle - A really user-friendly, simple yet effective time tracking online service with different price plans to suit your business needs and a free 30 day trial. A great way to keep track of your working hours and invoice accordingly at the end of every month.
Paymo - Time tracking and invoicing brought to you by Paymo. Very simple to use and even better - they're support freelancers by offering their time tracking tool for free. Forever. As a freelancer you can benefit from the full suite of the site's features. They'll even give you three invoices/month for free and the ability to track an extra team member. If you find their invoicing tool useful you can get their unlimited invoices add-on module for just $9.99/month. Not bad huh?
Toggl - Another decent time tracking service to help you keep on top of your invoicing. There's lots of price plans but there's also a free option and you can access the site on your iPhone.
Make Some Time - A very simple application that helps you keep track of your time and invoices like a professional. Not a bad little resource.
Harvest - Very slick and powerful time tracking software offering access from everywhere; seamless invoice integration; one click time entry and powerful reporting. Not the cheapest option but there is a free trial, so you can try it out first.
Ta-Da List - Brought to you by the people at 37Signals, this is a free tool to help manage your daily tasks. Not as good as other apps out there, but I'm not complaining - it's free and it's online, so I can access my 'lists' anywhere.
Things - A really handy task management tool for Macs and iPhones. I actually prefer this to anything else. It allows you to schedule future tasks quickly and easily. So if you've recently switched from Microsoft to Apple and you're keen to find something as good as Outlook's Tasks, then Things is for you.
Dropbox - I'm not sure I can remember life before Dropbox as it's made my working life so much easier. As it states on the site 'Dropbox is the easiest way to store, sync, and, share files online. There's no complicated interface to learn. Dropbox works seamlessly with your operating system and automatically makes sure your files are up-to-date. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.' An especially helpful tool if you work with other businesses and need to share files.
Writeboard - A free online tool where you can write ideas down, share them, edit them and collaborate with others across the web. Another 37Signals offering.
Campfire - Campfire is a web-based group chat tool that lets you set up password-protected chat rooms in just seconds. Invite a client, colleague, or vendor to chat, collaborate, and make decisions. Link to a room on your intranet for internal communications. Pretty darn good.
Voxtopia - Voxtopia provides smart virtual phone numbers in over 60 countries basically allowing you to control where your calls are sent to and who your calls are coming from. You can also get cheap international calls, send voicemails & faxes to email and a bunch of other cool features.
MailChimp - A user-friendly communication tool that makes it easy to email newsletters to your customers, manage your subscriber lists, and track campaign performance. One of my favourites and it's initially free to use.
Skype - A real winner and increasingly popular bit of software that's been around since 2003. Millions of individuals and businesses use Skype to make free video and voice calls, send instant messages and share files with other Skype users. An excellent resource for voice or video conference calls as well.
Creative Commons - A nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. They provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof. Particularly helpful if you're in the visual arts.
Myows - A universal copyright management and protection app for smart creatives, Myows stands for "MY Original Works". It’s an easy-to-use app dedicated to providing a full suite of copyright solutions, from registration and protection to management. Ideal resource for designers, photographers, bloggers, writers, musicians and anyone who creates copyrightable work. All in one place, online and even better, it's free!
CreativePublic - Offering graphic designers and web designers a one-stop resource and information site to help designers be more successful in business. It includes contracts and helpful templates.
PCG - PCG is a not-for-profit association that claims to be 'the voice of freelancing... that represents, supports and promotes freelancers, consultants and contractors in the UK'. From startups to experienced freelancers, membership provides a hub for knowledge and community and a dedicated voice for the freelance workforce, ensuring you can get on with what you do best - keeping your clients happy. It's almost like a trade union and is there to help.
Freelance Advisor - A UK based blog for freelancers, offering all sorts of tips and advice articles to help those of you just starting out. It includes a helpful 'legal advice' section.
Blogs to follow
Skelliewag - An interesting blog written and managed by Skellie who says “If you want to make a living from your passion, not AdSense, this is written for you.”
Freelance Folder - This is a pretty decent blog for freelancers just starting out. Packed with freelancing tips and advice, forums and a jobs board.
43 Folders - Launched by writer Merlin Mann in 2004, 43 Folders is a must-read blog for freelancers, as it explores ways to help you do your best creative work yet.
Frog Themes Blog - Brought to you by the lovely people at Frogthemes.com - a Wordpress themes resource - this blog includes some interesting advice pieces on web design and Wordpress web development as well as general topics to help freelancers.
Guerrilla Freelancing - Described as 'freelance tips and advice from the trenches', this freelance blog has some pretty decent articles to help you out.
Men with Pens - Men with Pens is an established and reputed web design and copywriting agency based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Its blog is well known as a leading resource for creative professionals, freelancers and entrepreneurs, classed within the top 15k sites in the United States and top 50k sites worldwide. Check it out!
Freelance Switch - A pretty darn good website with lots of helpful advice articles, a decent 'Resources' directory, podcasts and a forum. With the 'find a freelancer' feature it's also worth getting yourself listed.
Creative Freelancing - A helpful blog where you can learn everything about freelancing, freelance careers and freelance employment.
Creative Agency Freelancing - A blog designed to provide ideas and tips to help professionals who work freelance at design, advertising and marketing agencies. It covers everything from how to get started as a freelancer, to how to find work and then how to take it to another level by making a long term success of it. Great read.
Krop - Predominantly American but there are some UK jobs on there for freelancers, mainly in the creative industry fields.
Freelancer - Freelancer calls itself 'the world's largest outsourcing marketplace' and includes a huge range of freelance opportunities, available for you to browse. All helpfully categorised and you can quickly see project briefs and budgets.
FreelanceUK - Job opportunities posted on this popular UK freelance website. Be sure to check out their 'Running a Business' section for additional tips and advice.
PeoplePerHour - An established site that has been around for a while now, allowing you to register to people can find you and you may also 'bid' for job opportunities with potential clients.
Behance Jobs - A jobs board for creative professionals, offering opportunities from across the globe. This is part of Behance's online portfolio directory and it's always worth a look.
Smashing Jobs - Smashing Magazine's own Jobs Board where you can search for web design and development opportunities, sometimes featuring ones in the UK.
Sensational Jobs - Another freelance jobs board for web professionals. Includes job opportunities from the UK.
CreativesRus.com - A UK leading freelance database, connecting creative industry with independent professionals. Launched in mid-2010, it's about time we saw more of these, so will be keeping an eye on how this develops in 2011.