19 Things That Make My Life Easier As A Freelancer

Below is a list of the stuff that I use that genuinely makes my life easier as a freelancer. This is for anyone wanting to become a freelancer who wants an idea of what’s involved in terms of stuff you need when you write, edit or design in Australia. The first half is software, the second is stationery and electronic equipment. I may add to this as I go on, please let me know if it’s helpful or not. I will update this post with links soon.

  1. WordPress I use WordPress to run the weblog and the website and I like having more control over the look because I am using the standalone version.
  2. NVU I use NVU to code some website related things for me. I rarely create a finished site using NVU entirely but in terms of generating code so I can look at it and go “Aha! That’s how I do that!” it works. It is also free and much better than Dreamweaver which apparently a lot of people on web development forums seem to hate with a passion. Frontpage & Word don’t work for me in terms of web design.
  3. Notepad Now this may seem strange to you but honestly, Notepad is awesome. I write CSS and HTML from scratch in it which helps me ensure that my website work is compliant with the current standards (strict XHTML with CSS if you need to know). And bizarrely, it works so much better than MS Word for writing my shorter pieces such as book reviews, articles/columns, poetry, music reviews and such. Takes up less space as well.
  4. Microsoft Word 2007 Another odd but neccessary one. Technically this is sort of free since it comes bundled with your computer. MS Word 2007 is better than the XP one because it has a different method of compressing files when it saves them. It also allows you to save files in .doc (XP) format which is good because when you have to send stuff out to people, quite often they are running the XP version. Also , I need MS Word to be able to edit most of what people send me electronically. So write in 2007 and save a copy in .doc format. It also works a lot better in terms of set styles, allowing you to customize and it letting you develop your own templates and macros. I use MS Word for all my much longer writing – the much abhored thesis, the novel, the amalgamation of personal scenes and fiction I write and any documents I create for my societies/clients. I often write poetry in Notepad and cut and paste into a collection in Word.
  5. Lotus Organizer When I first came across this in 1996, it was part of the Lotus SmartSuite package. Now if I had a copy of the Lotus SmartSuite package I would use that almost exclusively instead of the Office 2007 collection. As much as I went on about the benefits of Word in the prior point, Lotus WordPro wins hands down for the best wordprocessing software for creative writing. I wrote my first book on that. Ideally I’d have both. Back to Organizer. Organizer is awesome but it costs $68.50 USD to download from IBM. If you need an electronic organizer, Lotus Organizer is the best one to use, being very user friendly and looks like an actual organizer on screen. If I ever get my old laptop up and running again, the entire SmartSuite collection is what I would pry off it.
  6. Mozilla Firefox It works. You can run the Adblocker on it and remain safe. Internet Explorer does not display code right half the time and has too many security holes and seems to need to be updated too many times. The updates don’t stop the viruses and they take up space on my computer.
  7. Adobe Photoshop 7 Yes, I know, it isn’t the latest version but hey I don’t need the latest version as yet. Photoshop last I checked cost something like $400 USD to buy, my copy got gifted to me (thank you). GIMP is an awesome alternative if you know how to use it. I use Photoshop for any design stuff I want to do, any random messing around and editing and resizing photos. Often with web layouts, I lay them out in Photoshop with the grid turned on and then start coding the CSS.
  8. Adobe ImageReady I don’t actually use it that much at the moment but if I need to do a very basic layout of a site – such as a couple of pages, I’ll design it in Photoshop and slice it in ImageReady. Some tell me Fireworks is now a better bet for slicing but I have yet to test that since I don’t have it on my computer but I do have access to it via the university.
  9. Microsoft Excel Now when I was a teenager, I preferred Access to Excel. The gears have switched in my head though because I find Excel much easier to understand and use now than I do Access. I need to use Excel when I do membership related stuff for a society and because my business accounts are in an Excel file. Of course if I had Lotus SmartSuite I’d try out Lotus 1-2-3 but somehow I believe Excel would be easier to use in that case.
  10. Microsoft OneNote I like this because it allows me to have folders so instead of collecting my stuff in a Word file, I could collect it into a OneNote folder. I tend to use this to keep copies of all my online and electronic bills and receipts. I don’t have to print them and they all end up organised in one place. The way I do this is by hitting Print on the browser and choosing “Send to OneNote” from the Printers list.
  11. PDF Creator and/or PDF 995 There is free software that you can use to create PDFs so that you don’t have to run around trying to get your hands on Adobe Acrobat. Photoshop will let you export files to multi page PDFs. I used to create a newsletter this way – saving each page as a PDF and then using a program to combine them into one file.
  12. Gmail I am a board member for a society that has a mailing list that quite often sparks a lot of discussion and debate. Unfortunately, a lot of the members tend to hit ‘Reply All’ and the board (and I) get tons of complaints about how people don’t want every single email turning up in their inbox and so on. At these times, I thank my stars that I have a Gmail account – every single email gets grouped into the relevant conversation much like threads on a forum. It means every single email about a particular topic is grouped together in just one email. I love this – it makes me more efficient in dealing with both the committee and the general members and it means I rarely lose an email which is important as I am web admin, membership officer and Writing WA liasion for this society. Gmail is always open when I am online (most of the work I get paid to do requires me to respond to emails anyway) and a quick glance at the tab heading tells me if I have new email coming in – I don’t need to open up the tab. My Google Alerts come into Gmail (I really don’t like the Google Reader) and I use my Gmail account for my Analytics set up. Gmail makes my life easier so I wish more people would use it.Or Thunderbird. Outlook works well if you know how to use it and don’t get overwhelmed.
  13. Moleskine Journals I love Moleskine but that’s a personal preference. I have a mini red daily organizer and a mini black daily organizer that lists the hours per day. The black along with two highlighters helps me see when, where and for how long I did a particular amount of work for and this helps me with my invoicing since I charge by the hour usually unless I am writing something. The red one at a glance gives me all my appointments and deadlines for the day (sometimes I don’t have room in the black one after making notes about the hourly work). Both are mini sized because I want to have them with me all the time in the laptop bag or a handbag or in a pocket. I also carry around either a little note pad or normal sized black thin Moleskine journal to write in. I jot down bits and pieces for the column and poetry.
  14. A cash receipt book Not really that strange, I take this, along with a quotation and an invoice book whenever I have a client meeting just in case. I usually use the receipt book only since I really prefer sending them a quote/invoice that I created in a word document. Students when I edit their work pay me in cash usually so I have to give them a paper receipt on the spot.
  15. USB drive I can get documents off clients and it has my CV, a cover letter and a picture stashed on it so I can just nip off and print them out if I need to or transfer them over. It also has copies of style guides, the Australian Standards of Editing Practice and the CASE policy for editing academic work because quite often I have to inform students, supervisors and other clients of what I can and can’t do ethically. It also has a CSS document on it that serves as a primer for me if I need it.
  16. The Australian Style Manual 6th Edition So far I am lucky, I don’t need to carry a dictionary or grammar book around though I do have them at home. I have so far been able to explain grammatical rules and spelling to people and have them accept and understand them. I do carry the Style Manual around so that it gets embedded in my brain and I can wave it at people when they ask me why I am formatting things differently.
  17. The Writer’s Marketplace Gives me ideas, gives me contact details for publications, publishers and so on and it gives me info on competitions.
  18. An Ipod First off, all my music is on this damned thing now and it makes a difference to not be able to hear the highpitched squeals and giggles of the teenage girls on the bus and train. Second, I burn my music to the Ipod when I review a CD so I can listen to it and scribble notes while I am travelling etc. Third, the music helps when the inevitable panic of freelancing pops up.
  19. My laptop Personally if you were going to be a freelancer, it would be upto you whether you had a desktop or laptop. I would love to build my own desktop computer one day. I would also love a desktop Mac. But I wanted a laptop because technically I usually divide my lifestyle between two countries (not as fun as you think) and when I am in Australia, my laptop needs to go to Sydney, Perth and anywhere inbetween. So it has wireless capability and a killer processor. It has all the above mentioned programs on it. It has a webcam and mike. It has all my games and my emulators work with it. And it isn’t too big or heavy (though the bag I have to carry it in weighs a ton surprisingly). I can work in bed, at DOME, in the university library or in my office.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

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