Today’s guest post comes from the awesome Patrick Icasas. Please join me in giving him a big “Write Your Revolution” welcome!
UPDATED POST: New cloud tool recommendations added November 2016, at the end of the article
I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a cheapskate.
It’s a leftover habit from college, where I squeaked by every day with just enough cash in my wallet for the bus home and a cheap meal. In fact, the first day they raised the bus fare, I had to bum change from one of my fellow passengers!
I’ve improved much since then, but old habits die hard. And it’s a good thing, because this habit was excellent preparation for the feast-or-famine life of a freelancer.
As a freelancer, you have to run a tight ship and be ruthless when handling expenses. Writers tend to have fewer than most, but that’s still not the same as none at all. Fortunately, there are loads of cloud services out there that let you run your freelance business without spending a cent on software. But these services are “free” in other ways, too!
A Safer Place
My first foray into the cloud was through a little thing called Dropbox. You see, the hard drive on my then-4-now-6 year old Macbook had started doing the Click of Death, where the hard drive eventually crashes. It scared the bejeezus out of me. None of my files had backups: not my articles, not my contracts, and especially not my half-finished novel! I fixed the problem with some percussive maintenance (or “hitting it really hard”), but the fear stayed with me.
I poked around the Internet and found a nifty file storage service that would keep my stuff in the cloud while acting as a folder on my desktop. There was a fee for larger storage space, but as a writer, I didn’t take up much real estate, so my account was—and still is—free. And now I don’t have to worry about my computer dying on me and taking everything I’ve done over the past 6 years with it.
I tasted the cloud, and it was good.
A Cloud Shift
Dropbox made me realize that “access anywhere” wasn’t just a marketing spiel. Since all of my files were online, I could work on my projects during breaks at my part-time job. But constantly downloading and re-uploading them got pretty old, pretty fast, so I looked at Google Docs.
Now called Google Drive, it was a feature I had seen on my Gmail desktop but had never really used. After all, I already had Microsoft Office installed on my laptop. Why would I need another word processor? But in creating my documents online, I was skipping the time-consuming and onerous steps of uploading and downloading files. Pretty soon, I was using it all the time—even at home. The fact that it was free helped immensely.
Of course, housing files on two separate cloud services can get confusing (and as good as it is, Google Drive can’t store/do everything). So I found a cool service called Zapier that automatically sends new Google Drive documents into my Dropbox account. Again, there’s a basic membership that you can use for free.
At this point, I’d been doing most of my work on the cloud—even phone conversations, courtesy of Google Voice. The only thing I was still doing offline was invoicing and accounts, which were generated in Word and tracked through Excel spreadsheets. But my venerable computer was showing its age, and Excel would take a full minute to load on a good day.
So I thought—why not? I’ve got everything else up in the cloud. So off I went in search of online accounting software, and the Internet did not disappoint. I discovered Wave Accounting, a 100% free accounting platform that isn’t limited by number of invoices or trial periods. Not only did it automatically generate invoices for me, but it also has reports that gave me new insights into how I was running my business.
Freelancers worried about the security of their information can rest easy. Many of these sites have their privacy policies out in the open for your review. Most such policies forbid them from selling your information to third parties, and only display the personal data that you put on your profile.
As for your files, most services (especially Dropbox) encrypt your stuff as a standard feature, and financial cloud services like Wave Accounting and Freshbooks use firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems to safeguard user data.
Although no security system is 100% foolproof, the cloud services I’ve mentioned are pretty thorough. If you’re interested in other cloud services, make sure you do your research before signing up.
But as much as I love the cloud, it still has its problems. I’m very reliant on the Internet. When the connection is slow, typos start creeping into my text because of the lag. And when it’s spotty, it’s nearly impossible to work. A good Internet service plan solves that, but it’s always a risk when I work in other locations. It scares me enough that I keep my copy of MS Word around just in case (and my desktop Dropbox folder is available to me even when offline, which is awesome).
Still, the cloud is a marvel of modern technology. All the services I mentioned above are free, and definitely worth a look for that alone. But “free” also means “liberating”, and that’s exactly what the cloud did for me. As I write on this aged laptop, listening to the hard drive click and cluck and whirr, I don’t have to worry if the screen goes black. I’m fully confident that when I turn on my new computer, I’ll be able to get back to work without missing a beat.
2016 Update from Sarah
Since Patrick published this post, cloud computing has continued to evolve, and with these changes come new offerings that can substantially improve the efficiency and effectivenss of your freelance writing business. Here are a few favorites I use every day:
- Slack, for internal team chats with freelancers around the world
- Asana and Trello, for project management (both internal and external)
- Google Apps, for email management and document storage
- Quickbooks Online and Freshbooks, for accounting and recordkeeping
- Bench.co, for bookkeeping help
- Gusto, for employee and contractor payments (and other HR needs)
- Toodledo, for task management (I’ve tried pretty much every tool out there; Toodledo’s app wins for me because of its task scheduling feature that tells you what to do when you have a set length of free time available)
- Focus@Will, for productive deep work blocks.
Give them all a look, based on your professional needs. Or, if you have another cloud app you’d like to recommend, leave me a comment with it below:
Patrick Icasas is a freelance writer and blogger, marketing professional, and aspiring author.