When I started working as a freelancer I noticed a change in the landscape of available tools and web apps. Having to now manage an unpredictable income, I have decided to cut out unnecessary expenses. On the other hand, I am always exploring ways to optimize my working methods with the latest tools available. As many companies adopt Saas (Software-as-a-Service) models, does their pricing have a place in the freelance budget? Below, I have listed out the web apps that optimize my workflow while keeping expenses in check.
After doing some some research on kicking off the freelance life, one great piece of advice is to slim down, on everything. Eat out less, take your coffee at home, get books from the library instead of Amazon, etc. As a freelancer, your income can vary from month-to-month. Whether it’s because your taking time off, or having trouble finding projects, having too many expenses can take a chunk out of your income and savings. Cut-the-fat and focus on what you need.
Cut-the-fat and focus on what you need.
Working as a designer requires you to have an understanding of, you guessed it, Adobe CC, including Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign. If you haven’t heard, Adobe has switched its software over to subscription pricing model known as Creative Cloud. This model seems to work well with studios and freelancers who roll in the big bucks, but for those with regular incomes, dishing out $50/month could seem unreasonable. After working with Adobe CC apps for a few months, I found that the benefits were of little value to my current work flow, and that Creative Cloud Sync and Behance integration were sloppy at best. However, Adobe tools are definitely something that you cannot work without. I decided to downgrade back to CS6 versions that I had installed (which was not an easy task), and saved $600 of subscription costs a year.
Two essential apps I AM willing to work with are Harvest($12/month) and Basecamp($20/month). These two web apps have proven there value in making managing my day-to-day easier than ever. They possibly save tens-of-hours a month in project management effort. In my opinion, Basecamp is also the easiest client-side project management app out there. Clients who barely know how to use a computer are able to work with Basecamp because of its simplicity. Dropbox($100/year) is also on this list as a replacement for Creative Cloud Sync. These pretty much cover my entire monthly expense on services, but the cost is worth the value they bring.
Education is your best investment. So I would like to include some of the services I use to keep my skills sharp. Lynda and Skillshare are both great places to learn new programs and techniques. While Lynda.com($25/month) is a great way to learn the depths of a specific program, Skillshare.com(priced per class) gets you working on real-life projects that put those skills to the test.
Harvest – $12/mo
Basecamp – $20/mo
Dropbox – $100/yr
Lynda – $25/mo
Skillshare – $250/yr – 10 classes
Essentials Total = $1034/yr
The unessentials list is not meant to shoot down the usefulness of these apps. In fact, I think they are amazing and wish I could add them all to my toolset. But the freelance boat gets weighed down easily, so you need to pick and choose what gets to stay.
Typekit – $25/year
Typekit gives you access to a great library of fonts to use on the web. But working with these fonts without Adobe CC is difficult. Google Fonts has a large selection of free web fonts, though sifting through the bad ones sometimes adds time to your search.
Typecast – $29/monthly
If there is one web app I would think twice about throwing overboard, it would be Typecast. I would love to get my type perfectly set on the page for different screen sizes. But at $29/month, I am going to stick with my own methods for setting type on the web.
BidSketch – $29/month
Bidsketch is an app to create quick proposals for projects. It allows you to generate proposals from resusable templates and also up-sell additional items(very cool). But at a steep $29/month (really!), this is just not an web app aimed at the freelance market.
Layer Vault – $39/designer/month
Okay, kudos to Layer Vault for introducing the world to flat design. Already having Dropbox, which has very similar functionality, Layer Vault just didn’t seem to fit in and is quite expensive. Although I did try it out, it definitely seemed built for a team environment.
DivShot – $30/monthly
Designing in-browser is definitely the way of the future. I have been on the prowl for apps that would integrate code in a seamless way, since my Illustrator workflow is starting to reach its limits. DivShot seems promising, but I think it will be bit of time before this becomes the standard. Often, clients are not open to the somewhat experimental approach of designing in browser. Until they are, this is on the waitlist.
Typekit – $25/yr
Typecast – $29/mo
Bidsketch – $29/mo
Layer Vault – $39/mo/designer
DivShot – $30/yr
Unessentials Total = $1549/yr
Everyone has a different workflow, now it’s your turn to take a look at your toolset and see what web apps have not quite been adding up to the cost of the service. Ask yourself, is this app saving me time and energy? Is this improving my workflow and keeping me more organized? Is this making more money or improving client relations? As you can see with the totals, these things can really add up and take a chunk out of your hard-earned freelance income. With 40% of the American workforce being freelance by 2020, are these companies missing a key market with their current pricing models?