Freelancing Tools & Services

I was just reading a blog post about a two-person startup using 28 various tools and services, and the costs associated with those. It made me wonder what I am using that’s a product or service of others and what I’m spending on it. Let’s start a list and see.

Installable software

This first batch of services and software deals with replacements for the typical workflow tools I used at a full time agency. I’m no longer on a Mac, but rather on Ubuntu, so the software choices have changed quite a bit. Thankfully I’ve been able to find free replacements in most cases.

  • Master PDF Editor (v5, one-time $49.97) - This lets me do all the fancy Adobe Acrobat stuff
  • Sky ($50/year) - This was intended to be my Lync / Skype for Business replacement. I don’t actually use the chat, but it was supposed to let me connect to the conference calls. It has rarely worked and I will not be renewing it.
  • LibreOffice (free) - Microsoft Office replacement
  • OpenShot (free) - Premiere replacement, cross-platform. I also have kdenlive (free)
  • Audacity (free) - Adobe Audition replacement, cross-platform
  • Scribus (free) - InDesign / Page Layout replacement. It won’t open INDD files, though, which is frustrating.
  • vim (free) - everything text, code, notes, invoicing, etc
  • There’s a lot more software I use, but thanks to the free open source software movement it is all free. I can’t imagine how I could be profitable in this line of work if every tool I used cost even $5.

Online software & services

Beyond the locally installed software, my business involves a lot of web services. Some are software replacements and others tools for developing client work, hosting, or communicating.

  • EmailOnAcid ($528.00/year) - Email testing suite. I’ve had a lot of email work this year and this service is invaluable in checking the rendering across devices. I was previously using Litmus, but the pricing model is easier with EmailOnAcid.
  • Photopea ($40/year) - This is my Photoshop & Sketch replacement app. While the site does offer unlimited free use (with a small banner), I get such regular professional use from it that I am happy to pay.
  • GitHub ($84/year) - Version control / source management. I’m not using much here that warrants the paid plan, and I may discontinue it in the future.
  • Vultr ($324/year) - Virtual Private Server hosting for all my personal and business web properties. This includes hobby projects which aren’t really part of my business expenses, but the hosting crosses boundaries, so I’ve included it all.
  • Namesilo.com ($166.74/year)- DNS provider for most of my domains.
  • ISNIC ($100/year) - Icelandic (.is) domains.
  • Harmonizely ($120/year) - Meeting scheduling and calendar integration.
  • Fastmail ($76/year) - This is the best overall mail service I use, and the only one I pay for. It handles professional and personal mail via custom domains, offers me all the security I need, and integrates with everything. I also use Tutanota, Protonmail, Lavabit, RiseUp, and I have a G-Apps account for a specific engagement as well.
  • Skype ($43.08/year) - Paid service for calling US numbers. This is redundant with my Flowroute subscription, but has more reliable connectivity.
  • Flowroute ($16.92/year) - I converted my US-based cellphone number to a SIP line via this service. I access it with Zoiper on my computer and can receive and make US calls. I also have wired up a web service to handle SMS messages and forward them to my email. The quality is good, but occasionally I get drop-offs or have audio issues on long calls. As a result, I still have Skype as well.
  • Pagekite ($36/year) - localhost tunneling service. I use this wonderful project for tossing up staging environments of my in-progress work for client reviews.
  • LastPass ($48/year) - I use the family plan which gives my wife and I shared folders for important things, like financial logins. I also deeply integrate LastPass into my workflows. My SSH keyphrases, for instance, are pulled from LastPass via a helper program I wrote.
  • ExpressVPN ($99.95/year) - A VPN service is invaluable to development. It gives me end-arounds for country restrictions, lets me test locales, gives me an easy way to escape the safety of the pi-hole running at home, and so on. ExpressVPN is definitely not the cheapest solution, but it’s fantastic. It has great clients on all devices, a bazillion choices of relays, and really, really fast speeds.
  • Tarsnap ($35/year) - This is one backup solution I’ve been using for the past year. Compared to things like Backblaze it gives a number of advantages for those with programming skills, but based on the little I’m using it for I don’t know that I’ll continue. I also have free options that handle most of the same thing: Dropbox, SpiderOak, Syncthing, git repositories, duplicative hard drives, and so on.
  • Vectr (free) - Vector art, Illustrator replacement
  • Jitsi (free) - Video conferencing and phone bridge lines.
  • Mailgun (free) - Transactional & API driven emails.
  • Draw.io (free) - flow charts and diagrams
  • Many, many more free services (Unsplash, n8n, Google drive, Firefox Send, Honeybadger, tinypng, etc)

2019 Total: $1717.66

I expect to shave around $100-200 off that in 2020. I’d love to be able to cancel EmailOnAcid, but as long as the marketing email builds keep coming in, it pays for itself quickly.

Home expenses

Since I work from home, you could legitimately consider my utility bills a part of that budget. Rent aside, I have gigabit internet service and unlimited cellphone data for a pittance. Our electricity costs are almost zero and there’s no other measurable utility costs.

I had a vague sense of these costs before but I don’t think I realized just how much it adds up to. This is a good thing to keep in mind for the future. Maybe I’ll hold off on buying needless domains in 2020 (fat chance).

How about you? What sort of spending do you do on this stuff?