Must Have Tools for Freelance Web Designers

As a professional freelance web designer, I am responsible for my own outcome (and income, for that matter), which means I need to be incredibly efficient and productive with my time. I admit, there is definitely room for me to improve in this department, however, the fact that I’ve been able to comfortably sustain myself for the past five months is probably a testament to my ability.

Over the past couple years, I’ve met some incredible people, and those incredible people have introduced me to tools that help them in their trade. I’ve since curated my own list of tools that help me manage my time and work smarter and not necessarily harder.

Without further ado, here is my toolkit:

  • 21″ iMac – Nice and simple, bought it used for $600 and sold my old 20″ iMac for $400, bringing me to a total of $200 for an awesome computer. I only use Apple computers for my work, not because I’m an Apple fanboy—there are a few things I don’t necessarily like about Apple—but because their computers simply work best for me. I only use PC computers for testing, and it’s always a disappointing experience 😉
  • Origami Folding Desk – A beautiful, simple, inexpensive minimalist workspace. It folds up completely flat, and can be packed up (or set up) in less than 1-minute, and it cost me $80 at Staples. Amazing.
  • Ballpark – An invoicing web app that literally saves my (freelancing) life. When you have 8 open estimates, 4 closed estimates, 10 open invoices, 5 overdue invoices and you’re trying to juggle all of those numbers and due dates in your head, you will actually go crazy and never get paid on time, if at all.
  • Coda 2 – I exclusively use Coda 2 for all of my coding needs. It’s great.
  • Gmail – You should know this one. It might be an obvious choice for some, but it’s simply the best choice for email.
  • Rdio – It’s basically Netflix for music. $5/month gets you unlimited streaming of millions of awesome songs. Plus it’s social, and you can see what all of your friends are listening to, discover new music, and collaborate on playlists. I’ve basically abandoned iTunes.
  • Campaign Monitor – I almost exclusively use Campaign Monitor for Email Campaigns, for both myself and my clients. It’s beautiful, very easy to use, and has some pretty outstanding features.
  • Apple Messages & Skype – Since my work is essentially location-independent, I need to be able to communicate with my clients. These services work great for everyday communication and video meetings.
  • Gridbooks – Beautiful, simple notebooks made by Sajak & Farki for general note taking, wireframing, and sketching. I use this for all of my notes, sketches, doodles, and wireframes.

A couple other things I enjoy while working:

  • A fresh, home-made latté
  • Water, water, water

Lastly, this song gets me in the zone:

Are you a freelancer yourself? What tools do you use? Do you use any of these tools yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • I use for time tracking, Brad. It’s so much more convenient than an Excel spreadsheet.

    • Thanks for sharing! I actually used Toggl for a bit — I quite liked it!

  • Ruben

    Wanna through my hat in the ring here. has been an invaluable tool for me for managing projects. It’s especially amazing if you’ve got other people on your team.

    • Thanks for chiming on on this one, Ruben! I actually use Asana with a client right now, and in my total honest opinion — I don’t like it 😛 Not because it’s a bad tool, but I think the daily digest emails they send are messy and hard to understand. Also the UI is very complicated. It could be a good tool, but it gets in the way of the most important thing — getting stuff done FAST! I know of many people (clients and colleagues) who love Asana.

      I just prefer simpler tools, like Trello or Basecamp:)

  • Joel

    Great post Brad! Really helpful stuff here. I will definitely look into getting an Origami Folding Desk and signing up for Ballpark.

    • Thanks, Joel! I’m glad to help. I love the Origami Folding Desk and Ballpark is a freelance lifesaver!

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