The following is a list of very helpful software, services, and tools that I personally use. Consider everything here a personal recommendation — these are the tools I use every day.
I try to keep my costs down wherever possible, so many of these tools are free or low cost. I may link to some tools through an affiliate link, but if you really want you can strip out my code so that I don’t get referral credit (jerk!). However, in ALL cases I’m only suggesting these products — free or otherwise — because I genuinely love them. Use them or don’t, it’s totally up to you.
Also, I’ll be including a list of books which I consider to be “required reading.” There’s a lot of business and self improvement style books out there, and if we’re being honest, 99% of them are absolute garbage. The books that I suggest you pick up are the ones I’ve read multiple times and have a permanent place on my bookshelf.
Table of Contents
Word Processing & Note Taking
Scrivener is by far the best word processing software I have ever had the privilege to use in my life.
If you’re still doing everything in Word or OpenOffice Writer, I urge you to give it a try. There’s a tiny learning curve in order to get used to things, but after a couple of hours you’ll get the hang of it — and immediately realize that outlining and writing your content has never been easier or more focused.
The software has a bunch of really cool features. These are my favorites:
- Cork-board organization for all of your documents/projects, like virtual note cards. It’s a great way to see everything at-a-glance.
- AMAZING full screen “distraction free” writing mode.
- Easy exporting to a variety of filetypes.
While Scrivener is not free ($35 USD at the time of this writing), it does have a 30 day free trial. The trial offers full functionality, so if it isn’t your cup of tea there aren’t any shenanigans to worry about — just export your work and go back to your old word processor.
I use it to sort ideas and pre-post drafts for The Free Creative Society, quickly save interesting articles, and keep a to-do list. My favorite features include:
- The Evernote Web Clipper. It’s a Chrome addon that allows you to quickly save a webpage for later review. Excellent for toilet reading with your tablet or smartphone.
- Speaking of mobile devices, Evernote allows you to quickly sync and share your notes between multiple devices. At the time of this writing, you can have two devices with the free version — this was more than enough for me for months.
- The biggest selling point here is that the free version of Evernote provides you with a lot of functionality. You don’t really need.
I’ve tried some of the alternatives (proprietary as well as open source) and, sadly, they’re just not as good. Full disclosure, if a viable Evernote alternative ever surfaces, I’ll happily make the switch.
Hosting & Domains
StableHost offers dirt cheap and stupidly reliable shared hosting.
If you’re not ready for a VPS or dedicated server, you really can’t go wrong with these guys.
Avoid GoDaddy like the plague.
Reasonably priced domain registration, intuitive backend, great customer service, and monthly discounts.
I’ve registered all of my domains with Namecheap for many years.
Again, avoid GoDaddy like the plague.
Ok, I get it. Not everyone is a web developer. If working with WordPress freaks you out and you just need to get a site up quickly (e.g., your freelancing portfolio), this is a great option.
Weebly is a “website builder” service. They make everything from top to bottom dead simple for non-techies and allow you to design your own site with a drag and drop interface. Very affordable too, I believe the basic package — which includes domain registration — runs about eight bucks a month.
Other notable mentions include Squarespace or Wix, but as someone that’s had a chance to fiddle around with the backend of each, I personally prefer Weebly.
Invoicing & Payment Processing
Oh, FreshBooks. How much easier have you made my life as a freelance writer?
While FreshBooks bills itself (heh) as an accounting platform that offers much more functionality than most freelancers would need, where I’ve gotten the most use out of it is as a super-simple, great looking way to send invoices to my clients.
The backend takes a little getting used to — you should be cruising around in about thirty minutes or so — and offers completely customizable invoices, customer/client profiles, and a great “overview” page so that you can see who’s paid you (and who hasn’t).
It integrates seamlessly with PayPal, Stripe, and others.
Stripe is a payment processor that caters to developers, but I love it for the simple fact that it integrates perfectly with FreshBooks. Your clients can choose to pay you via PayPal or with their credit card, which goes through Stripe and then to your bank account.
Processing fees through Stripe are 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction — it’s tough to do better than this (it’s the exact same that PayPal charges).
Used them for years, love ’em.
Productivity & Time Management
Want a cross platform calendar, task management, and reminder app?
Want it for free?
Producteev is highly underrated and free for individuals.
Don’t you love it when something just works?
Tomighty is the cutest little program.
It’s also one of the first things I install whenever I get a new computer.
If you’re a fan of the Pomodoro Technique (work 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break), you should install Tomighty immediately. It’s a free program that does exactly what it should. It sits in your taskbar and reminds you when to stop working and take a break.
It’s ridiculously easy to use and fully customizable — for example, sometimes when I’m working on something a bit more difficult, I’ll set Tomighty to 20 minute working stretches and 10 minute breaks.
If you already do Pomodoros, get Tomighty. If you’re just starting out, get Tomighty.
The War of Art
This is my all time favorite non-fiction book.
I highly recommend it for anyone attempting to make a living in a creative field, but it is required reading for writers.
I usually recoil from “self help” type books, because let’s face it — 99% are junk.
The War of Art changed my life. I’ve read it… what, a dozen times? I’ve lost count. It’s one of those books where after you read it, you want to buy multiple copies to give out to your family and friends (and I did exactly that).
Steven Pressfield wrote the book The Legend of Bagger Vance. Yes, the one that became a movie with Will Smith and Charlize Theron. If this is the first time you’ve heard of this book, I know it sounds a little weird to read a productivity book by the guy behind that movie. Trust me, it isn’t.
The book is broken up into little vignettes. They’re sometimes entertaining, sometimes funny, occasionally sad, but they all give you powerful ideas about how to self-motivate and get whatever you’re working on done.
If you were to get one single thing that I’ve recommended on this page, it should be this book. It’s that good.
The Paradox of Choice
Not only one of the best marketing books I’ve ever read, but also one of the best “life perspective” books I’ve ever read. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz discusses how having a multitude of choices in a given situation — as might be the case with, say, purchasing a pair of jeans — actually makes us less happy and indeed less likely to make a decision.
It’s a little bit like this:
In the book, the author tells a story that’s always stuck with me.
It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but in a nutshell he discusses an experiment conducted by a grocery store. The grocery store decides to set up a table where they’ll display jam (or jelly or something) that’s on sale. In one scenario, the table has fifteen different varieties of jam to choose from. In the second scenario, only two or three flavors are on display.
The second experiment resulted in a significantly larger number of sales for the grocery store.
I know the subject matter of this book seems a little dry, but it’s actually a very well written, entertaining read. I highly recommend picking it up whether you’re planning to market something or not.