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Freelancing on any budget, for any industry

As a freelancer, you are always restricted when it comes to your budget. It doesn’t matter if it’s software costs, hardware costs, service costs or delivery costs, you have to make your money go much further than if you were with a huge agency. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

I’ve been freelancing in website design and development for some time now – since around 2007 – and I’m still learning new things. It doesn’t matter how far I get, I’ll always find something I’ve missed, and one of the biggest areas where I find myself lacking isn’t with the development of my websites, it’s with the development of my admin. Which is weird, since I spent five years working in Admin and had to develop and manage these kinds of systems as a job. I hope that isn’t a reflection of my abilities.

So, to help you out, I thought I’d share a list of the tools I use to help me run my freelancing activities that should fit into (almost) any budget.


Some of these links are referral links for external providers, and I may earn a commission or referral fee for each person who signs up to them. I will make it clear for each service what I earn, if anything.

Email (on a budget)

This is a big one. Most communication these days is done over email, so your email system must be in order. The problem is, having an email address or can look very unprofessional, especially if you are trying to assert yourself as a freelancer of quality and good repute.

Email is an important communication method, especially as a freelancer.
Email is an important communication method, especially as a freelancer. Photo by Burst on

But getting a well-established email service on your domain for little to no money can be difficult, if not impossible. Google and Microsoft have a well-known and well-established service, but to get it tied to your domain would cost anything from £4 to £15 per user. It can’t be possible to get it cheaper than that, right?

Actually, no. Not right at all.

My entire email suite for my business domain is provided by Zoho Office. When I originally signed up, they offered 25 free accounts on your domain (it is now just 5 for free), but given that it is just me that’s working under that brand, 25 accounts is more than enough. Even having 5 accounts is enough for my needs if I am honest. Each mailbox is 5GB in size with a 25MB attachment limit, but there are also 30 distribution lists, which is great if you want to have addresses for “sales” or “support” or a central catch-all address without taking away from your mailbox limit. It includes an integrated office suite that’s fully Microsoft compatible and even comes with an online business suite with bookkeeping, online support, customer relationship manager, and several other tools that are great for a business that’s starting.

All of which is great for you to look that much more professional, keeping everything under one roof, and all of this is for the low, low price of free, meaning it should fit into any freelancer’s budget.

But I like using Gmail/Outlook …

If you don’t want to transfer your email service out to another provider, or you like using a service like Gmail or Outlook as your provider of choice, that’s fine. With a little bit of bodging and piecing together, you can still use Gmail and Outlook to power email on your domain without the price tags they usually charge.

If you have a hosting subscription for your website, you will likely have an email service included. Most providers will limit the number of mailboxes you have access to but will have a larger – or even unlimited – number of email redirects included in your subscription. In that case, create a separate Gmail or Outlook account for your business emails (always good practice to do that anyway) and create a forwarding address from your domain to send emails to that account. It’s also a good idea to set your email account to send emails from that address too, which thankfully Gmail and Outlook can do.

Professional telephone, freelancer prices

Having email is great, but sometimes it helps to talk to someone on the phone. You likely won’t want to give your personal number out to people, and you also won’t want to publish it online for everyone to see, especially with the kinds of people who could get your number. You could get a different phone number with a new SIM card, but there’s just something about just having a mobile number as your primary contact that looks … odd? Unprofessional?

The most important tool for a freelancer - their phone
A freelancer’s most essential tool is their phone.

One tool that I’ve been using is Sonetel. They offer virtual phone numbers from a variety of countries, which you can choose to redirect to your personal number or answer through a mobile app (currently in beta). You can choose a local number, or you can do as I have and choose a non-geographic number in your country. Numbers are pretty cheap, starting from a few euros a month, depending on whether or not you want added minutes to your package. (Prices are in euros, US dollars, or Swedish krona, but service is global,) If your budget is really strapped though, you may want to opt for their free service. This allows you to get a virtual number for free, but you need to add a chat widget to your site (you can see how it looks on this page, in the bottom right-hand corner), and all calls will start with “This call is powered by Sonetel” before they connect to you. The app is in beta, a consequence of which means it has to be active at all times to receive calls. The alternative is to have calls redirected to your number, which will cost a few pence per minute.

If you’re looking for free credit to get you started, you can use my Sonetel referral link and install the chat widget, and you will get $10 of additional credit absolutely free. You can also make a payment of $10 or more and you will get the $10 of additional credit. (Full disclosure: I get free credit too when you install the chat widget or make a payment. You can find out more on the Sonetel website.)

Managing customers, essential for freelancing

No matter how long you have been a freelancer, you still need a way to manage your clients. Tracking and maintaining leads, creating and following tickets, following up with queries, and just getting a general overview of who you are working for can end up with a clusterfudge of services working and competing with one another.

Man and woman near table
Photo by fauxels on Pexels

One of my biggest surprises and most loved services that I’ve adopted has been HubSpot, especially with their free CRM tool. With their provision, you can collect leads directly from your website – even WordPress websites (hello, HubSpot plugin). You can also manage meeting requests and sync them to your Google calendar, and you can reply to support requests all from their online service. It comes with a mobile app that you can use, which comes with quite a few awesome features. One of my favourite features is logging phone calls and emails directly from your device. This is great to manage your communication and see what you have talked about in the past. Even better, if you call a client from the mobile app, HubSpot will automatically log the call for you so you can add notes, mark the call as “Answered” or “Busy”, and even if you need to make a follow-up task for it.

They also have an add-in for Outlook, which lets you view customer profiles alongside emails that you send and receive. Unlike other products in this list, HubSpot is pretty much wholly free. They have premium, sales and marketing-specific services you can access as part of their wider service portfolio, and they may try to upsell them to you, but you can still use their entire CRM service without any additional charge and too many limits. You can integrate it with your email service so any tracking emails come from your domain, and email requests can be received if sent to the right address. It almost doesn’t matter what your budget is, HubSpot has a service that works for all.

Gaze into the future ...

I am planning a full HubSpot CRM breakdown, which will explain a few features such as support tickets by email, meeting requests, landing pages, and integrating with your website. Stay tuned for more.

There is one issue that you may experience: one of their lead collection tools is a live chat facility, which integrates with Facebook Messenger. However, if you are using Sonetel to provide your phone services, the two will not integrate and you will need to choose between them.

You can also use Zoho CRM – which you get free with your Zoho Office account – or another alternative to HubSpot is Bitrix24 if you’re looking for an option specifically within the EU. Both are free of charge and work well, so I recommend having a look at them.

Getting freelancing contracts signed

So, you’ve got your leads, you’ve got your customer ready to go, and you’ve set up your project, but now you need to get your contract signed. You can print it and send it to them by post – which adds time and costs – or you can use an online platform to get a signature. Most come with a free tier, but they’re very limited.

Sign pen business document
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

I found Contractbook about a year ago, and I am very impressed with it. It allows me to get an unlimited number of signatures on contracts, as well as track whether they have been seen and read, all for free. Signatures can be sent either by electronic signature, SMS verification, or you can sign with a click. There are other methods of signing contracts that seem to only apply to Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden), but these are the three that would apply to all of your clients.

They are based in Denmark but have a second office in New York. Their Danish base means they are well-versed in GDPR compliance and ensure their service is fully compliant with the EU regulations. Quite a few features are locked down, but the most important ones – writing, editing, sending, and signing contracts, saving PDFs of contracts, and tracking contracts – are all included in their free tier.

Budget bookkeeping

The scourge of any person in business – especially freelancers – is accounting and bookkeeping. Nobody likes it, but it’s important. It helps you to understand how your business is functioning financially and whether you’re making your required revenue, as well as preparing your income for tax purposes.

Black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

The tool that I go to most often is Pandle. It’s simple enough for a basic ledger to track income and expenditure, and comes with the capacity to manage invoices, customer details, and payments to suppliers. If you are in the UK, then Pandle is already integrated with HMRC’s “Making Tax Digital” programme, which means Pandle will automatically send information about your VAT Returns to HMRC as standard.

Zoho Books also has a free tier and integrates nicely with your Zoho Office suite of applications. They too are integrated with the “Making Tax Digital” programme, which means Zoho will automatically send information about your VAT Returns to HMRC as standard.

Invoicing for a freelancer

While accounting and bookkeeping may be hated by freelancers everywhere, getting paid is definitely worth it. There are enough horror stories about clients that don’t pay their invoices or try to short-change freelancers that it can be offputting to even the hardiest of us.

Working macbook computer keyboard
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels

There are several invoicing tools available, including some that can be connected to your website, but the one that I’ve turned to has been Square. These sort of platforms will offer their services ostensibly “for free”, in that there are no upfront costs or monthly subscription costs that you need to pay. When choosing their service, I looked at PayPal, Zettle (also by PayPal), SumUp, and Stripe, and found that Square gave me a lot of features I wanted – recording partial payments, automatic recurring invoices, and creating estimates, all of which I couldn’t find on other payment processors. Stripe also requires a third-party service to create invoices, so if you have a payment tool you prefer, you may find it integrates with Stripe well.

Both Pandle and Zoho Books also allow for the creation of invoices, and payments will integrate with their bookkeeping tools. They integrate with some popular payment providers, including Stripe, which will allow you to take payments online.

Is this all you need?

Probably not. Let’s be honest, no set of tools will fit every business. These are just the tools that I use and I recommend them because they work well for me. If they work for you, I’ve done my job. If they don’t, then hopefully they will give you some food for thought as to what you want from the tool.

What do you think? Do you have any tools you like to use? Have you used these tools yourself? Are there other tools you want to use but aren’t sure of? Have I missed something from the list? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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