Apps for freelancers and startups.
by Josh Cotterill
Since starting White Sky I have always been on the lookout for online services that help
streamline our process, maximise workflow and help manage our clients’ needs. For those of you
who are currently freelancing or even setting up your own agency, I wanted to put together a short
blog post to explain which systems we use and why. Admittedly, some of or even most of these
may be really obvious ones, but if you take one or two new services from this it’ll be worthwhile!
Also, if you use anything different which really works well for you, let us know!
During my early freelance days, I remember reaching a point where I needed to scrap the wall full
of post-it notes, to-do lists on scraps of paper and relying solely on my memory for invoicing – I
needed to find structure, I needed to save time and more importantly I needed to focus on my
design work as opposed worrying about what was scribbled down in my diary. Over the years I’ve
tried out an array of different options, some of which I’ve stuck with since the start, others have
been replaced with upgrades. Although I’m still always on the lookout for options that might work
better for us, I am really happy with our current set up… For where we’re at as a company it works
well. Generally, I tend to use the free version of these applications because… money, but it also
proves the non-paid versions offer a solid solution.
So… here it goes, let’s start with an obvious one.
I know what you’re thinking…”Google Cal? Thanks for stating the obvious”. However, I wanted to
start on this one as Google Calendar is at the absolute centre of our working day. At the start of the
year, I moved from Apple iCal to Google and it proved to be a fantastic decision. Sharing weekly
schedules with the team is effortless, inviting clients to meetings is simple (and most of which
seem to use it too, so it’s easy for them to accept and add to their schedule) and once you start
using docs, mail, analytics etc, most of your vital daily info is all in one place and synced—simple!
Now Apple iCal is by no means bad and I’m sure there are some really fancy calendar apps out
there, but either way, it’s important you find one that works for you. Chances are this is the thing
you’ll refer to at the start of the day (and throughout), what you invite your team into and the one
thing you need to rely on for accuracy, ease of use and accessibility.
Now, the solution for tackling to-do lists, deadlines, assigning jobs and much more… Meet Asana.
After using Trello for a few years for our main project management/list-making tool, I was keen to
find something easier to use. Although Trello had been a huge help for a number of years, it felt
like it was lacking something. Sounds odd, but I just never really wanted to use it… the interface
didn’t do anything for me, it felt bland and hard to use.
Probably within the past year, we moved over to Asana and it’s been an absolute game changer.
First things first, it looks great and it’s so simple to use. I’m able to separate my personal tasks into
private project boards, whilst sharing all our clients’ upcoming work with the whole team. Assign
tasks to individual team members, set deadlines, receive project delivery reminders, attach
reference files to each task, comment on progress / any queries etc, so far it seems to be a simple
and effective solution to everything we need it for. Layout options are great too, choose between
boards or lists, and then view your outstanding work as a client by client list or as a monthly
calendar of delivery dates.
I want to keep this short and sweet, but I could easily go on about how good Asana is (and I’ve still
got plenty to learn about its features). We use the free version and that suffices for us, but if you
have a larger team you will certainly benefit from the paid features.
Post-it notes begone!
Moving on from Asana, next up is our time tracking tool, Toggl. Now, this might be poor advice as
we have recently been told about a time tracking app that works seamlessly with Asana—Everhour.
We’ll soon be moving over to that once we get our heads around it, so if you’re looking to track
your time I advise looking into both options before you commit to one, especially if you’re
So…Toggl. I’ve used this for a number of years now and it’s done a solid job of keeping track of
the amount of time spent on each task and produced simple and clear reports for any selected time
period. Although we don’t use it for every task, it’s proved to be a great tool when working with
retainer clients on an hourly basis. Toggl allows us to track the time we’ve spent on every task for
each client and then put together a time report at the end of the month (or any time period you
choose) to inform them where the time has gone and how long is outstanding. Not only is this great
for certain clients or general jobs that you’re charging by the hour, it’s great for self-development
and future project pricing. I recommend you track everything and look back at how long each task
took – where do you need to speed up? How long does a wireframing session typically tend to
take? Did the multiple rounds of feedback end up taking you over budget? Knowing all of these
things will help you quote your time and fees more accurately in future. Just label each task and
set up all your clients as individual ‘projects’.
Again, we use the free version for this and it’s always delivered what we needed from it. There’s a
site, desktop app and mobile app, so wherever you’re working from you’re able to update the
timer…and if not, you can just add it in later manually.
Now onto fonts and more specifically the licensing behind fonts. There are plenty of great font
websites around at the moment i.e. Lost Type, Hype for Type, The Designers Foundry, Font Fabric
etc. Some sites are free, others come with a pretty hefty price tag and all have lengthy licensing
agreements, even free fonts are often restricted to personal work and non-commercial use.
This is where Font Squirrel is a big help. A website where there are thousands of freeware fonts
available for download and they claim all of which are licensed for commercial work. Admittedly
most of which aren’t the most creative and “out there” fonts, but it is still a very strong library and if
you have a good browse there are some absolute gems available.
Not all fonts are available for all uses, but they have a quick and easy system in place to indicate
which font can be used for what by having a desktop, mobile, tablet and web icon by each font
name. By highlighting each, they confirm the font is available for commercial use on each platform.
From past experience, app and web usage are where the most restrictions and costs are, but
fortunately, Font Squirrel has plenty of options for both. I’m not actually sure how they can
confidently claim all are available for all commercial use as most license agreements can be very
specific and bespoke, but generally, you can take a font squirrel font as a thumbs up.
No sign up required, just instant downloads at the click of a button. Highly recommend
bookmarking font squirrel for future use if you haven’t already.
Speaking of licenses, next up is free image usage. Typically for all design and branding work you
either need to produce your own images or pay for the rights to use stock imagery from the likes of
Shutterstock, iStock etc. At times, stock imagery is a massive help and you can sometimes sign up
for a pretty reasonable price plan for ‘x’ amount of downloads per month. However, there are many
times where it’s either a quick task or there isn’t sufficient budget to be forking out on luxury stock
images… so what do you do? You break the law right and steal some images off Google images,
right? No! You don’t (seriously, don’t do that).
Introducing Pexels, a site of ‘the best free stock images in one place’. There are plenty of free
stock image websites, but I’ve found that Pexels do actually have most of them in one place. I
used to use Unsplash a lot and since using Pexels, it turns out that all of Unsplash’s library is
available there too.
Unfortunately, when you use a free service for stock imagery it can be a case of ‘you win some,
you lose some’. If you search for ‘smiling man holding coffee cup’ in Shutterstock, chances are
you’d be presented with hundreds of different options of a happy man with a coffee cup in hand.
So Pexels isn’t that accurate, but it’s still pretty useful. Whilst your searches can sometimes be
pretty limited, I actually find that the results are slightly more stylish and a bit more ‘real’ than
Add it to your bookmarks and make sure you check it out before spending on stock imagery in
Up next is a quick and easy large data sending service. I always assume most people know of
WeTransfer, but wanted to feature this just in case anyway as it’s so handy!
Generally, you can only send 15-20mb maximum via email (you shouldn’t really send much more
than 10MB), but when your client doesn’t have google drive or dropbox and you want something
quick and easy to transfer a large file, WeTransfer is the one!
Send up to 2GB by using their free service by uploading the file (or sign up for their paid service to
send up to 20GB and benefit from other perks), add a supporting message and send it directly to the
client. They will simply receive a link from your email and clicking it will lead to an instant
download of the deliverable. Also, a nice feature is that you receive confirmation once they have
downloaded the file.
Just when you were wondering if this post could get any more exciting, we move swiftly onto the
At the start of this year, I started using Xero and it’s absolutely fantastic. I actually think I only know
how to use about 15% of it (I’m still learning) but even that small amount is proving to save me
time time and hassle every month. I don’t just use Xero solely for working towards our end of year
accounts, I find it really beneficial on a daily basis to keep an eye on which payments are
outstanding, adding new invoices in immediately and setting reminders for when they need to be
sent out, repeating monthly bills, reconciling payments etc.
Use the website for in-depth input or the handy mobile app for quick and easy checks and even
updating your accounts on the go. I am yet to do this, but apparently ReceiptBank syncs in
perfectly with Xero, meaning you can add in receipt references to each payment as and when you
The website is full of easy to follow explainer videos and they also regularly hold Xero tutorial
events in Apple stores around the country to show you the product in person and answer any
questions. It’s a large and very complicated system, but it’s well worth learning!
Unfortunately, this one comes at a cost, but it’s so advanced and useful that it’s an expense worth
So that’s it for now, but in our next post we’ll be looking at the likes of Slack, MailChimp,
VSCO, GoCardless, Graphic Burger and other online services you can benefit from.
Thanks for reading!