Freelancer Survival Guide, Part 3: Tools of the Trade

If you followed the job hunting advice in our previous blog and managed to land yourself a gig, congratulations!

Now comes the hard part: doing the actual work. But that requires resources, which debt-ridden graduates like you can’t afford. A computer, cellphone and internet connection don’t really count (they’re basic necessities in today’s world), so what can you do?

Fortunately, we’ve compiled a helpful catalogue of free tools, a virtual treasure trove of apps and websites to make your job easier. Image editors, word processors, developer kits oh my! There’s something here for everyone.


The write stuff

Have a degree in history, literature or the social sciences? Then you’ve probably secured a writing/editing gig. Check out some of these indispensable resources to do a better job:

  • Microsoft Office Online: includes such staples as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. While not as powerful as its desktop cousin, Office Online is completely free and can also be used on your smartphone, tablet or Apple device. All you need is a free account.
  • Google Docs: a web-based productivity suite like Office Online, Google Docs has its own version of Word (Docs), Excel (Sheets) and PowerPoint (Slides). Best of all, you can convert files to and from Microsoft formats.
  • Open Office: if you’re looking for something more powerful (yet still free), Open Office is a nice alternative. It features its own take on Microsoft apps, including Writer, Calc, Impress and Draw. It also works across multiple operating systems, converts files to Word, and supports user-generated templates. The downside: it’s completely desktop-based.
  • Grammarly: free, web-ready and desktop-capable, what sets Grammarly apart is its convenient browser extension which spots language errors as you type them online. This is incredibly useful for composing emails, Tweets, and updating your social media content. The desktop app, while very basic, does a great job of finding mistakes and even offers substitute word choices.


Designer Products

If you’re a graduate of design then you’re well aware of the cost of such programs as PhotoShop and CorelDRAW. Here are some free alternatives to help you finish that logo or poster you’ve been hired to make:

  • Vectr: available in both browser and desktop form, Vectr is a powerful design tool for creating logos, illustrations and websites. Perhaps its greatest feature is real-time collaboration, which allows others to see what you’re creating and offer live feedback (very useful if you want your client’s opinion).
  • Pixlr: a powerful photo editing tool with tons of effects, overlays, and filters, Pixlr can be used in-browser or downloaded to your desktop or mobile phone. Uploading files to social media is easy, and while the app is free, the paid version boasts a more robust set of features and costs only $1.99 a month (compared to $9.99 for Photoshop).
  • GIMP: free, open-source and incredibly versatile, GIMP boasts similar functionality to Photoshop and can be used to illustrate or retouch icons, mock-ups and photos. Because it’s open-source, GIMP has plenty of 3rd party plugins which make your job easier. Plus it’s compatible with most major file formats.
  • not just for designers, is a free web-based infographic creator that’s perfect for anyone who needs to present data visually. Users get access to dozens of templates, styles and fonts, allowing for endless customisation.


Cheat Codes

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about all you web development graduates. Till your dream job comes along, freelancing is a great way to earn some extra cash and build experience.

These resources will help you do just that:

  • Bitbucket: keep track of changes to your app with Bitbucket’s distributed version control system. It allows free collaboration for up to 5 users, with unlimited public and private repositories!
  • Aptana Studio: free, open-source web development tool that supports the latest programming languages, including HTML5, CSS3, Javascript and Python. Users can develop and test apps in a single environment and also have access to tons of community-built plugins.
  • Crashlytics: a fast, powerful and lightweight crash reporting service for Android and iOS app development. Programmers can use it find bugs and create better products. While the company used to charge for its services, it now offers them pro bono, even enterprise features!

Getting that first gig is hard enough. With these free resources, hopefully freelancers such as yourself can do a better job and earn some real money.


Heenay Patel is a freelance writer specializing in the fields of business, technology, interior design and education. Check out his LinkedIn and Facebook pages or follow him on Twitter.