10 Must-Try Tools If You Love Freelance Writing (Bonus: Most Are Free!)

10 Must-Try Tools If You Love Freelance Writing (Bonus: Most Are Free!)

Freelance writers are always looking for ways to streamline the drudgery we often don’t get paid for – things like finding new gigs, doing background research and keeping tabs on pitches.

These 10 useful online tools can help you cut back on administrative work, so you can spend more time being creative.

Checkers

1. Grammarly

Grammarly is an incredibly powerful grammar checker that identifies hundreds of types of writing mistakes.

Unlike Microsoft Word, Grammarly finds correctly spelled words used in the wrong context, like “affect” vs. “effect.” It also highlights long, clunky sentences and suggests improvements.

Grammarly is available as a free extension for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. It works anywhere on the Web, so you can use it for your Gmail messages, social media posts, Web forms, and blog posts.

A premium version of Grammarly with even more tools is also available.

2. Copyscape

It’s easy for a phrase you saw elsewhere to percolate into your brain. That’s where Copyscape comes in.

Copyscape Premium lets you checks your content against what’s on the web before you submit it.

If you’re a blogger or editor, you can also use Copyscape to scan the Web for duplications of your online content, and find out how to get them removed.

3. WordCounter

While there’s a built-in counter in your word processor, WordCounter.net does so much more.

Simply paste your text into the box to see basic counts, estimated reading level, reading time, and speaking time – all for free.

It will even keep your SEO on track by summarizing keyword density.

Submission tracking

4. Sonar Database

Sonar is a submission tracking tool for Windows. You can enter details about specific works and markets, including submission dates, status, notes and editorial contacts.

Keep in mind that Sonar is very basic. There’s no reporting functionality, and it doesn’t display simultaneous submissions of the same work.

Still, it gets the job done, and unlike other submission tracking tools, it’s completely free.

Topic ideas

5. HubSpot Blog Topic Generator

Hubspot’s popular blog topic generator will come to your rescue when you’re short on post ideas.

Enter up to three keywords (preferably nouns), and HubSpot will churn out five titles.

The titles won’t always be a perfect fit, and you’ll need to revise for grammar. Think of them as a jumpstart for your brain.

Finding work

6. Writer’s Market

No list would be complete without the Writer’s Market, which lists details and writer’s guidelines for thousands of publishing outlets.

While there are a few similar databases you can use for free, the Writer’s Market is by far the most comprehensive resource for identifying newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and online publications in your field.

Going with a subscription instead of the print version means that you’ll always have the most current information.

7. UpWork

UpWork is the leading online job board for the gig economy.

While it’s true that hoards of clients offer rock-bottom rates, there are enough serious companies to make UpWork a decent place to find new projects.

Freelancers with expertise in technical writing, marketing and similar fields will have the easiest time scoring jobs that pay well. It’s also helpful to research what successful freelancers do and look at their profiles.

Productivity

8. ZonePDF

ZonePDF offers tools for splitting and combining PDFs.

You can convert JPG, PPT, Word, and Excel files to PDFs, for example, then merge them together.

It’s useful for technical writers who need to integrate various screenshots, spreadsheets, and pages extracted from existing PDFs into a report. You can also split a client’s background document and repackage a single page in a new file.  

9. Evernote

This online note-taking software is perfect for collecting and organizing your background research.

Much like your desk drawer, you can basically throw anything into Evernote, including images, PDFs, text, audio recordings and more. Just forward your emails to a personalized Evernote address to add them to your account.

All of these items are “notes,” which Evernote organizes into notebooks. You can also create new, text-based notes directly in Evernote, and upload file attachments to them. Tags and OCR search capability make it easy to find the note you need.

Try creating a notebook for your next piece, and putting everything you need in it, including:

  • Images
  • Screen captures of your web research
  • Writer’s guidelines
  • Relevant emails
  • Your to-do list for that piece
  • A recorded interview

It’s the easiest way to store many different types of information in a single, searchable location you can access from anywhere.

Evernote is also the quickest way to snag and save copies of your work as it appears on the Web. That way you’ll always have a copy for your portfolio, even if a link goes dead a year or two down the road.

Writing Platforms

10. WordPress

If you have a personal blog or website, there’s a good chance you’re using WordPress.

Originally a blogging platform, WordPress has become a full-fledged web content management system in its own right.

Countless businesses now use WordPress for their blogs and websites, so more writing gigs require familiarity with it. If you don’t know how to use WordPress, you may be losing out on jobs you’re a perfect fit for otherwise.

Freelance writers are masters of multitasking, but we put a lot of time and effort into making it happen. Spending a few minutes to explore these tools will help you minimize the mundane going forward, so you can focus on your craft.

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Filed Under: Freelancing
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19 comments

  • Grammarly and Wordcounter.net, but especially Grammarly, have been life-changing for me. It picks up on so many errors or typos I would’ve missed otherwise!

    I’ve got to try Copyscape, and I’ve been looking for something like ZonePDF for the longest time! Thank you.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  • Becca Borawski Jenkins says:

    Great recommendations here – going to try out some of these that I haven’t before. Thank you!

    One BIG word of caution though: People should be VERY careful on UpWork. Identity theft and phishing schemes run rampant there and UpWork doesn’t seem to be doing much at all about it. I know of numerous writers who have been targeted and had their email accounts infiltrated and PayPal accounts emptied (which is REALLY bad if you’ve linked your bank accounts to them). I had this happen to me and all my PayPal money was stolen, plus money from my business checking. Be super careful over there. YES there are legit jobs that pay well — and there are many many actual criminals, too.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Becca. Fortunately my experience on UpWork has been mostly positive. But true, it’s important to work through UpWork, rather than agreeing to go outside of the system with someone you don’t know well, and to be careful overall.

      • Becca Borawski Jenkins says:

        Yes, agreed – just to clarify, though, I did not work outside the UpWork system ever, and neither did any of the other writers I know who had fraudulent activity and theft happen with their bank/PayPal accounts.

  • Great list. I use a few of these already, but I’ll have to check out the rest.

  • I love posts like this one! Thanks for all the tips, Kate. I’m gonna try out a few of these tools.

  • Samson says:

    Wow..i did not know that there is a free version of Grammarly. In fact, it’s thrilling me, when writing this comment, I used it. You know that time when you learn something new, how do you feel? That’s how I feel.
    Thanks for the list Kate.

  • Maroua Haddad says:

    This is really helpful. Thank you Kate.

  • Great list! It really helps a lot….. I’ve been writing for many years and have recently published books and never knew about some of these tools. Great resources for writers. I really appreciate it! God bless you!

  • Wendy says:

    I spent 20-30 HOURS a week applying to and creating samples on oDesk (now upWork). I finally gave up after I realized that, factoring all the unpaid work I had to do just to land the gigs, I was making less than $0.50 and hour.

    • Hi Wendy, it does take some time to get everything set up in UpWork. Consider doing it over a weekend, and look at it as an investment. While it’s not a good idea to create one pitch letter and send the same one to everybody, I have 3 or 4 that I use. While I usually tweak them a bit to suit each job, it doesn’t take me long. Fold at least some of the time you spend pitching, communicating with clients into your rate. It really can be worth it if you invest some time at the beginning and don’t underprice yourself.

  • Megan Sharma says:

    This is fabulous, Kate! Thanks so much for these ideas. I am going to start checking them out…circa…NOW!

  • Shafi Khan says:

    Grammarly, CopyScape, and WordPress are the best tool any writer could ever have.

    I have personally used them over for years, and they have always proved to be a timesaver and productive for me.

    Thanks for a good read 🙂

    Shafi Khan | Internet Marketer
    http://www.mybloglift.com

  • Ella says:

    Thanks for awesome list, Kate!
    I think Grammarly is awesome proofreading and editing tool, but I prefer to use Unplag.com instead, because I think it’s more accurate and fast.
    Also you’ve mentioned my other favorite tool – Evernote, which is really helpful to organize my notes and ideas.
    With some of those tools I haven’t worked yet, but as you have written I must try them!
    Thank you again!
    Best,
    Ella

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