I’ve had a lot of people interested in starting their own business ask questions about what tools to use. The most frequent questions are about what works best, what’s low cost, what makes my day easier. Here’s a quick look at the tools that help me run the business, and why I made these choices.
The number one question is always ‘How do you find these projects?’ It’s hard for anyone starting out without existing clients, testimonials, or a big project portfolio to lean on. I tried some other freelance sites (Freelancer, Upwork… the list is long) but there were several reasons that made me settle on Guru. Sites like Upwork make their clients apply to be listed on the site and the approval isn’t a transparent process. I setup a profile, built a portfolio and applied a few times but was rejected even though I did the same ERP and BI Development at work every day! The community thinks that rejection is based on having too many people applying for the same types of projects, but the unfortunate issue is that without a clear answer on why I wasn’t eligible I couldn’t make it through the screening process. Jumping through hoops for a company that is going to take a cut of my work didn’t make sense, so I decided to look elsewhere.
So why did I pick Guru? Guru doesn’t put walls in front of freelancers to make it more difficult to get setup and start bidding. The free tier of Guru’s site let me bid on several projects a month and starting building my online reputation without risk of paying a monthly fee for no return. Most importantly, Guru only takes an 8.95 to 4.95% commission on projects done compared to other sites charging 20% or more at the free tiers.
At the end of the day, there’s no harm in making profiles on a few different sites and seeing where the projects you want to tackle pop up. Your experience might be different than mine and the projects you are looking for might attract clients to other sites such as Fiverr. You’ll need to apply for a lot of projects when you don’t have a big portfolio of past work but don’t get discouraged – once you get a few small projects under your belt you can work with larger clients who can see your successful record and feel confident in your work.
Personal/professional contacts and client referrals are always my preferred way to do business. People who know you and know the value you can bring to a company will always be your best advocates. It doesn’t hurt to ask if anyone has projects they could use help with!
I run WordPress on Amazon Lightsail for my personal and professional sites. My goal was to keep things easy to setup and as low maintenance as possible. I should be spending time on my client’s websites, not my own! I considered free hosting options but decided on Lightsail because it would be easy to scale my website up if traffic became an issue and it was low-maintenance to run and make backups. WordPress was an easy choice because of it’s popularity and the ability to use plugins to add pretty much any capability to the site quickly and at little or no cost.
I have a small database where I keep track of anything that doesn’t fit in the other services. Using Amazon RDS I don’t have to worry about managing a server, the backups are automatic and I have it scheduled to run only from 8am-8pm on Saturdays or turn on manually if I need it during the week. Having a part-time database makes sense because I only handle my data entry on weekends, and running in this manner lets me reduce the monthly cost by 90%.
Contracts, Expenses, Invoices, Time Tracking and more…
And.Co is an incredible service. It used to be a paid platform but was acquired by Fiverr to use as a way to draw more freelancers to their platform. As part of the acquisition Fiverr decided to making the service completely free, permanently, for any and all freelancers who need it. The time tracking is simple, the invoicing and expense entry is quick, I keep lists of tasks all on the main dashboard and they have a top-of-the-line proposal and contract generator that was designed with a team of lawyers specifically for freelance work. I couldn’t find a more robust set of tools in one place for free and I’ve seen a significant drop in the amount of time I spend on admin tasks in my business.
I wanted an reliable storage service that worked well with Lightsail and RDS, so Amazon S3 was the clear choice. I like to stay within the AWS ecosystem when possible as it reduces the complexity of getting my services online. Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are all good alternatives and the right choice here will depend on what services you use to fit your needs.
Client Satisfaction Questionnaire
SurveyMonkey was my choice for surveys and questionnaires as I wanted a simple, free service that could be sent by email or used as links on my website. There are lots of services that could fit this requirement and different tools might be right based on your needs.
Dashboarding and Reports
Microsoft’s Power BI is an incredibly powerful tool for visualising and interacting with data. It’s one of my top services with my clients and I find it helps to pickup key insights when filtering and exploring your data. It has a free tier that can be used with a mobile app for keeping an eye on your business on-the-go and can be connected to a wide range of data sources. It’s not a good tool for printing reports but if you’re willing to view everything online I believe it’s the best of it’s kind.
I hope this overview helps answer some of your questions and point you towards tools that will make your life easier. If you want to talk more about my experience getting my business started reach out to me through the Contact page and we can talk further. I’m sure I will revise this page a few times as my needs change over time.
Thanks for reading!