The Perfect Mac Setup for Freelancers (25 Apps)
Whether you’re a designer, developer, writer – whatever you do – freelancing is becoming an evermore popular choice of working style. Because you don’t necessarily have a team of people working alongside you, great software becomes incredibly important to help you get the job done.
You’ll need applications to help you manage your time, brainstorm new ideas, invoice clients and track finances. The very nature of freelancing means that you encounter a wide range of different challenges and situations every day – these 25 applications are the ones I swear by to help get the job done.
Before we get started, I want to make it clear that this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of every single Mac application related to freelancing. Such a list would go on forever. This is a hand-picked selection of the apps that I think are the best available. Your opinion may differ, and I’d love to hear any other suggestions in the comments!
Business & Finance
As this is (arguably) the most mundane aspect of a freelancing career, I thought it would be the best place to start – things get more exciting from this point on! Though not an inspiring topic, it’s vitally important to get your finances in order, or you’ll soon find yourself without a viable income.
Both of these are fine tools from Marketcircle for keeping track of clients, projects, finances, time tracking and invoices. Which you need will depend very much upon how large your business is. Billings is the best solution for freelancers, and can make your life a lot easier.
Another app we’ve reviewed previously, On The Job looks good, feels natural to use, and has a powerful invoicing system with full support for multiple currencies.
This is one of my favourite apps for keeping document management simple. My process involves a duplex scanner, and this application for maintaining a completely paper-free office. This is something that really frees me up as a freelancer, and ensures I don’t get bogged down with paper. Just make sure that everything is phenomenally well backed up!
This isn’t one particular app, rather a link to a roundup we posted summarising a number of different financial applications for the Mac. This type of software is so specific to your needs, I think it’s more useful to compare a number of different solutions and pick which is best for yourself.
Freelancing can be an isolating profession, and communicating with other people – colleagues, co-workers, clients etc – is often really important to prevent you feeling very confined. There’s no replacement for picking up the phone and giving someone a call, but these apps will help you feel connected to a web of activity throughout the day (without the distraction of someone tapping you on the shoulder every five minutes).
There’s no shortage of Twitter software for the Mac, but my personal favourite remains in the form of Tweetie. This app treads the fine line between a completely immersive Twitter dashboard (goodbye, productivity), and an overly-simple solution that doesn’t pack enough punch. Tweetie hasn’t been updated in a while, but I’m still perfectly happy with it.
What else? Skype is fast becoming a universal method of communication between computers, and does a great job of supporting text, voice, and video chat in one reliable package.
This little green duck seems to appear in quite a few of our roundups, and for good reason. Adium is a feature-packed app that connects to almost every instant messaging network under the sun. Best of all, it’s completely free.
I remain divided between these two applications. Mail is delightfully simple, and does a perfectly acceptable job of handling a number of different email accounts. Postbox, on the other hand, packs a little more punch while remaining minimal and well-designed. If only it offered a single, unified inbox.
Finally, I wanted to highlight this desktop companion for 37signals’ Campfire, a web based group chat application. Having this app available on the desktop is arguably even more useful, and this is my preferred method of doing so.
You might not work in a physical office, but you’ll still need applications designed around this genre. Software for creating files and documents, moving them around, and handling all your digital information.
Compared to Microsoft Office, iWork is an absolute delight to use. It’s faster, simpler, and so wonderfully intuitive. I use Numbers and Pages for all my spreadsheets and documents, and will never go back to Microsoft’s cash cow. I appreciate that it isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t need to work with functionality specific to Word or Excel, I urge you to give iWork a try.
This has become my go-to application for jotting down notes, quick text documents, and ideas for articles. It’s able to sync all your notes with Simplenote on the iPhone and iPad, which makes it a really invaluable central repository of information snippets.
You could do far worse than TextMate if you’re ever in need of a more full-featured text or code editor. It packs every feature imaginable, and I’d highly recommend it. Looking for something free? Try TextWrangler.
If any aspect of your job involves designing or developing websites, Code and Espresso are both great solutions. They act as an all-in-one, central system for keeping track of different web projects, and easily publishing all your content.
The latest release of Transmit certainly crowns it the king of file transfer clients. Capable of connecting to almost any type of server (and with blazing speed), Transmit is an absolute must-have app.
This word is incredibly overused, and crops up in all manner of contexts. Essentially, it boils down to managing your time well, having a clear picture of what you need to do, and avoiding distraction and clutter. That’s just what these apps will help you to achieve.
My personal task manager of choice, Things is a remarkably well-designed application. It was one of the first reviews we ever ran on AppStorm, and I swear by it on a daily basis. Cultured Code also have a version available for the iPhone and iPad. Things isn’t perfect, but I personally feel it’s a really brilliantly designed app.
Another contender is The Hit List, famed for a slightly different interface and a streamlined workflow. I know plenty of freelancers who absolutely love this app, and it’s a worthy contender to Things (albeit without an iPhone/iPad companion… yet)
If you ever find yourself needing to re-type the same piece of text over and over, TextExpander may well be able to save hours of time. After storing a database of text snippets within it, you can recall them within any document, email, or website with a simple key combination.
We all know that we shouldn’t use the same password for every website and application – but many of us still do. It’s easier to avoid this practice with 1Password, a wonderful password manager that integrates with Safari for one-click login to any website. Take the time to get acquainted with 1Password, and you’ll soon struggle to live without it.
Anxiety is a super-lightweight to-do list application for Mac OS X Leopard that synchronizes with iCal and Mail. Its aim is to provide a streamlined, easily accessible interface to add and check off your tasks, while remaining poised to melt into the background at a moments notice.
As a freelancer, your greatest asset is yourself. You need to ensure that you take your health and wellbeing seriously, and in this section we’ll take a look at a few apps that help to keep you in good shape – physically and mentally.
If you struggle with staying focused on the task at hand (and let’s face it, we all do), Concentrate can be a great solution. It lets you focus on working in certain applications at certain times, block irrelevant websites, and all manner of other great tricks. Perfect for avoiding the stressful feeling of getting nothing done, and being bombarded with information from all angles.
F.lux is a bizarre and unusual application that automatically changes the colour temperature of your screen after sunset. The notion being that when working indoors under fluorescent light, your computer screen is probably too harsh. You’d be surprised how true that is.
Finally, we’re going to investigate a handful of handy utilities for freelancers. Whether this is for syncing information, keeping your Mac running smoothly, or just generally making your computer more useful – they’re great apps to have around.
My love for Dropbox knows no bounds. If you haven’t come across it yet, the basic premise is that anything in your Dropbox folder is synced with the cloud, and any other computers connected to your Dropbox account. Simple. The real fun comes when you investigate some of the creative uses of the service. You’ll never look back.
A huge range of “launchers” are available for the Mac, some much better than others. A fairly new entrant that I’ve stuck with for a few months is Alfred. This doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of something such as Quicksilver, but is absolutely perfect for my basic requirements.
For all of you who love web apps, Fluid is an absolute life saver. I’m a big advocate for great desktop software, but some things just work better on the web. Fluid takes any website or web app, and turns it into a local application. A brilliant idea, perfectly executed.
Your MacBook’s battery life is another important thing to preserve when you’re on the road regularly, and Watts can help you to do just that. It will remind you when you need to go through a certain “battery calibration” process from time-to-time, keeping your battery in top shape.
For handling zip files, compression, or any other type of mysterious file packaging, The Unarchiver can come in really handy. It’s simple, unobtrusive, and makes it easy to open any type of file a client may throw at you.
Share Your Favourites
These are the applications that I’ve used myself, and find really invaluable on a regular basis. I’m aware that there are countless others out there, and would love to hear these suggestions frmo you.
Which applications couldn’t you live without as a freelancer? I’d love to discover a few new pieces of software for myself!
Looking for software that can work on the web, wherever you are? Web.AppStorm have a phenomenal roundup of 50 Web Apps for Freelancers!
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