3 Free Tools Every Freelancer Should Know About

It’s back to school time, and all the little kiddos are filling up their backpacks and messenger bags with the tools of the trade: pencils, notebooks, graphing calculators, etc.

Which got me to thinking: what tools should freelancers have in their arsenal to make it easier to attract new clients and run their business like a business?

After a little poking around I found these completely free, online tools that can help you get better results from what you’re already doing in an organized fashion:

1. FreelanceSwitch Hourly Rate Calculator: We’ve talked a lot about raising your rates, and sticking to your guns when overly-thrifty clients challenge them. But how exactly do you decide on an hourly rate that will truly help cover your expenses now and in the future? Well the clever folks over at FreelanceSwitch created just the tool to help you do that: In just 5-20 minutes, you’ll have a guideline for the necessary hourly rate based on your costs, number of billable hours and desired profit.

2. BranchOut: There are dozens of referral sites, professional directories, and networking communities available online. At this point, however, most of the people you know or want to know are already using Facebook, so why start from scratch? BranchOut is an application that effortlessly unlocks massive amounts of career data about your friends and friends of friends that was just impossible to get to before.

3. SimplifyThis.com – Tired of entering appointments into Google calendar, calculating billable hours in a spreadsheet, and then issuing invoices with a third tool? SimplifyThis (what a great name, huh?) is both an appointment book for keeping track of your meetings, and any of those that might be billable, as well as a full invoicing service with payment gateway integrations.

Share your favorite free tools for staying organized (and sane) in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr –  L. Marie

Attention Freelancer: It’s Time To Raise Your Rates

Happy Monday! Ready to have your mind blown?

A recent study by Newsweek found that American freelancers were willing to work for far less than their counterparts in developing countries (y’ know, the ones we always complain about because they undercut our prices?)

To find out what pay U.S. workers will really accept for an hour’s work, and how that stacks up against other countries, NEWSWEEK turned to Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for freelance work operated by Amazon.com. In a weeks-long experiment, we posted simple, hourlong jobs (listening to audio recordings and counting instances of a specific keyword) and continually lowered our offer until we found the absolute bottom price that multiple people would accept, and then complete the task.

The results: some Americans settled for a shockingly low 25 cents an hour—while counterparts in nations like India and the Philippines expected multiples more.

The moral of this story? It’s time to raise your rates.

Determining what to charge for their services is one of the most difficult tasks for someone just starting out as an independent professional. While employed by a company, we had no trouble demanding hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the products we sold, so why are we accepting slave-labor wages now that we have the ability to determine our own value?

As FreelanceFolder tells us, our fees are important for many reasons besides meeting our target income.

“For one thing, prospects judge us by our fees. It’s like shopping for shoes. When you see a pair that looks nice but is incredibly cheap, you wonder, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ On the other hand, when you see a pair that’s $200 or more, you think, ‘Wow, this designer shoe must be made of some hard-to-find leather to cost this much!'”

Your fees also affect how well you service your clients. If you charge low fees, you’ll need to have more clients to earn a given income. This means your time and attention will be divided among more clients. You’re going to be spread more thinly. You’ll also use up more resources to find and manage all these clients.”

Charging a price that reflects your true value will make you a better freelancer and allow you to do better work. If you’re worried about how to tell your clients that your rates are going up, try these tips:

1. Increase in small increments over time.

2. Increase your rate for each new client.

3. Increase your rate for each new project with an existing.

4. Formulate a platinum package.

Read more tips for raising your rates here.

Have you ever raised your rates? How/why did you do it? Share your experience in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – DaveFayram

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