33 Free or Cheap Tools for Freelancers That I Actually Like

Austin L. Church
October 2, 2015
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Creating a product is hard. The word sounds innocuous enough, but these days, "product" suggests many moving parts: research, design, workflow, project management, marketing, sales, and fulfillment.Depending on the product, you might use 100 products, tools, and services just to push it out the door. I've limited this post to 33 tools for product creation.I need to get back to work on "Better Credit in 30 Days: The Cheatsheet for Aspiring Travel hackers." Those of us participating in Gumroad’s Small Product Lab must strike a balance between working hard with the tools we already know and working smart with new tools that increase speed and efficiency. When you’re trying to create something out of nothing in ten days, smart quickly becomes stupid.[caption id="attachment_803" align="aligncenter" width="569"]

tools for product creation

Credit: Sergei Zolkin (via Unsplash)[/caption]You spend two hours researching the best, shiniest word processor with the slickest interface. If you had instead spent two hours writing with a Google Doc, you’d be that much closer to finishing your product. Your search for the “right” or “best” tool was simply inertia.Yeah, balance.

Perfect is the enemy of done.Perfectionism is paralysis.Shiny tools are distractions. They help you miss deadlines, not meet them.

Remember that money in the bank will make your product’s flaws seem less deadly. You can suck out the poison in v1.1.So I caution everyone against changing workflow mid-project. Stick with the boring tools you’ve got, even their edges are dull and notched. But if—and that’s a big IF—one or more of my favorite products, services, and tools below represents a sharpener, then by all means help yourself. Focus. Finish. Make at least $1.

Freelancer Tools for Research and Education

Disclaimer: Doing research is an awful lot like questing for the perfect tool. You have the impression of forward momentum, but you’re really stuck. You really don’t need to know more before you get started unless of course, you haven’t validated your product idea yet. If you’re still trying to identify a product that people will buy, then start with customer conversations, effective research, and smart pricing.

  1. Rob Fitzpatrick – Buy and read The Mom Test, and find gold in customer conversations. Learn from people’s behavior, not their opinions. Avoid wasting tons of time on doomed products. Don't use that “hindsight is 20-20” and “fail forward” malarkey to justify avoidable mistakes and unnecessary failures. Pick the right stuff to create from the get-go.
  2. Amy Hoy – Do a Google search for “sales safari research” and learn from the often profane, ever delightful Belle of Bootstrapping. She’ll make you laugh out loud while divesting you of your excuses, doubts, and delays. She has launched too many unsuccessful products to be eager to do it again.
  3. Nathan Barry – Try this tiered approach to pricing. For years people have been telling me I should be friends with this guy. After reading his book Authority and a handful of blog posts, I'm inclined to agree with them. Nathan is honest, down to earth, and noticeably lacking in infomarketer b*s* department. He has a family to support, so he has no interest in shortcuts.

Design, Product Wireframing, Photo Editing, and Prototyping Tools

  1. Sketch – When I don’t have the time to hire a professional designer, I use this simplified, easy-to-learn design software for quick design projects. I learned from this tutorial series. Also, check out this Medium story about using Sketch for print design.
  2. Canva.com – Non-designers like myself can create designs from scratch in a couple of minutes. This design tool offers thousands of free design templates for any of your design-creation needs.
  3. Coolors – Choose a color you like, then use this app to generate a palette of colors to go along with it.
  4. Invision – Create interactive prototypes that people can access and respond to online.
  5. Keynote – The Mac equivalent of PowerPoint is still my go-to for presentations and UI/UX mockups of mobile apps.
  6. SubtlePatterns.com – Nathan Barry turned me on to this curated collection of understated backgrounds and textures for ebook cover designs, website banners, and landing pages
  7. The Noun Project – Pick from a massive, high-quality collection of icons for everything you can imagine.
  8. Unsplash – Need a beautiful, atmospheric image for some piece of your project? Look no further. Or rather, see the image above.
  9. Creative Commons Image Search – Need a nice picture of a spicy tuna roll? Or a dingbat tourist at the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Or some other free, license-free, royalty-free image for a blog post? Look no further.
  10. Coverr – Put a free, pretty looped video in the background somewhere.

Workflow & Project Management Tools

  1. Slack – Whether or not you’ve heard of it, you’ll love it. Slack serves as a central hub for your internal communications. I’ve found it to be more effective for collaboration than text messaging, email, and Skype. You can even route all of your Trello notifications into Slack.
  2. Trello – Think of Trello as a digital white board. Each card is a single task on a sticky note. Each droplane is a column of related tasks for finishing a deliverable. Check out my short screencast video about using Trello for Small Product Lab.
  3. Miro - Think of Miro as a digital whiteboard. You can brainstorm new ideas using digital sticky notes or plan and manage agile workflows in real-time with team members, no matter where they are.
  4. Evernote – My catch-all storage tank for all things web enables me to start a blog post on my MacBook Air and finish it on my phone.
  5. Dropbox – My digital locker stores and backs up all my files. I can share anything easily with other folks.
  6. Upwork.com – I paid a virtual assistant about $50 total to do twenty hours of internet research. Check out this blog post on how to hire freelancers on Upwork.
  7. Google Drive – Collaborate on documents and spreadsheets. Store stuff. For free.
  8. ScreenFlow – Record and edit screencasts for product bonuses, blog posts, and simply to teach friends and colleagues how to do something
  9. Harvest – A fantastic tool that I use daily for time tracking, invoicing, and accepting online payments
  10. Preview – This Mac app comes pre-loaded on every Macbook and makes adding pages to and deleting them from PDFs easy. I believe these tricks for OS X Yosemite still hold true for OS X El Capitan.
  11. Scrivener – This is the robust word processing and project organization tool that I used to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
  12. Google Calendar – Duh.
  13. Calendly – This app secs with your Google Calendar. Set your availability, create different types of appointments that people can book, and cut down on the back-and-forth. Just send people your Calendly link.
  14. Snowball – For less than $100, you can give your listeners better audio and a better overall experience.
  15. ecamm Call Recorder – Use this nifty little Skype plug-in to record both screens in a video interview.
  16. Skype – I use Skype video chat, ecamm Call Recorder, and ScreenFlow to record and edit interviews.

Marketing Tools

  1. ConvertKit – Email marketing for serious bloggers with embeddable sign-up forms, landing pages, regular ol’ email marketing, and myriad other snazzy features; awesome support powered by a team of smart, passionate human beings.
  2. WordPress – Free content management system with thousands of helpful plug-ins, including my favorite Yoast SEO. My favorite sites for inexpensive themes are Elegant Themes, Woo Themes, and Theme Forest.

Tools for Sales, Fulfillment & Followup

  1. Gumroad – I love the easy setup, beautiful shopping cart, and fair pricing.
  2. Typeform – I prefer Typeform’s UI/UX for customer surveys. A paid account unlocks Stripe integration, which means that you can accept payment at the end of a form. Awesome.
  3. Stripe – I use this online payment processing platform with Harvest and Typeform.
  4. Zendesk – If your product requires any kind of customer support, then move everything over to Zendesk as soon as possible.

Bonus Round

Product Hunt – Still need a tool for a specific application and can’t find one? Try Product Hunt. If a quick search doesn’t turn up anything, the tool doesn’t exist. And maybe you just stumbled across the idea for your next product.Hope this helps! If you want to read more of this kind of content, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter. I write about business and freelancing on a regular basis.