If you’re a freelancer, a contractor or an agency owner, you’ve no doubt noticed the proliferation of tools available to you in order to “make life easier” or streamline some aspect of your job.
It’s super-cool to see what the right combination of tools can do for your productivity and efficiency, and you’d think everyone’s now doing better than ever before, right?
One of the most common pains of people out there is a feeling of tool overload. There are so many options available, how do you know if you are using the right one? Or conversely, you say, “ooo look! Another new app! Must sign up now and have the latest tool out” without realizing it may not be the best tool for your operations.
If you end up in a Shiny Object Syndrome scenario where you’re continuously jumping on the latest sparkly tool, it can actually lead to a decrease in your productivity and completely defeat the purpose of using these tools in the first place.
So what can you do to cut down “tool overload” and get yourself the essentials for a productive work life?
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#1. Assess Your Needs
Assessing your needs is an important first step. It’s easy to find yourself signing up for anything and everything if you’re unclear on what it is that you really need. Articles such as, “50 Essential Tools For Freelancers” are common and can actually add to your confusion.
Do you really need 50 tools? No! Of course not, which is all the more reason to be clear on what functions you do need so you’re able to cut a clear path through the B.S.
What are your worst pain points and what are your basic requirements? For most freelancers, those basic needs (not including any specialist tools for your field) look something like this:
- Marketing and lead generation
- Accounting and finance (possibly including time tracking)
- Project management
Just remember when you’re looking at your business needs, if you have any underlying problems going on, that shiny tool is not going to be a silver bullet. For example, if you’re struggling to find clients, lead generation software is not going to magically make them appear.
You need to look at your processes holistically and figure out how a tool can help you get to the end goal of that process in a more efficient way. If you’re not networking, promoting yourself online or getting out there in other ways, software is not going to fix the problem.
Once you’ve looked at the whole process, make yourself a list of features that are essential for each function. This helps narrow down tools so that you do not fall for something because it seems to be loaded with features, only to find it doesn’t check everything off your list.
Consider these points:
- Do you need software to integrate with something you already use? (For example, Rindle allows you to stream workflows from various tools and manage them from one place.)
- Do you need to be able to customize something the tool produces?
- Do you need the tool to produce something compatible with something else you use? For example, with financial software reports, some bank integrations only accept them in certain formats making a tool that outputs the specific format vital.
#2. Do Some Research
Pretty simple really, have a look around to see what’s available that meets the criteria on your list. Ask colleagues or friends what they use and take a look online.
You could spend a lot of time reading review sites and blog posts on tools, or you could go to a website that is specifically set up to make software and app comparisons…
This is a platform that is open for everyone to use and update. Anyone can add a tool or app that isn’t already covered there, which means you can find a huge range, from brand new startups to established players.
Anyone is free to rate and review tools as well. The comment section is a great feature that allows you to ask questions on any post.
You can begin your search by choosing your operating system to ensure compatibility, or by typing in the name of an app.
Top Alternatives is different in that this site curates the software and apps it features, with the aim of only showcasing those that are the best in the each category. This means that there is less variety than on AlternativeTo, but the upside is that it is simpler to sort through the tools and you know it’s been extensively reviewed.
Software and apps that make the grade for Top Alternatives have a proven track record and are likely to be around for the long haul. This is good to know if it bothers you when you sign up to use a new software only to have them pull the plug!
To search for tools you can either use the “Tools By Category” tab, which allows you to narrow down your options. You can also use the "Search" function if you have a keyword or tool already in mind.
#3. Use The Free Trials
Any SaaS will tell you that a large number of people sign up for free trials but never activate them. If you’ve narrowed down your list to seriously be on the market for software solutions, make sure you make use of the trial period to explore the tool properly.
Does it have all the features you need? How easy or intuitive is it to use? If you don’t use those free trials, you just won’t know.
Sometimes it’s about developing a new habit to use something, so you may need to schedule reminders for yourself to test out your new tool before the trial expires.
#4. Choose Reliable Tools
Obviously if you’re going to choose a tool to implement an efficient system, make sure it’s going to be reliable for you. Here are some considerations when it comes to reliability:
- Look for established developers who are more likely to have a tool stick around for a long time.
- Explore its ease of use.
- Beware of freeware - it tends to be the first thing to go when a company is watching its bottom line.
- Look for good support and commitment to regular updates. Consider the paid app, which has great support, over the free one that doesn’t.
#5. Assess As You Go
If you’re the person who downloads every new app the second it is released, you’re probably creating more work for yourself.
Assess as you go for any pain points or bottlenecks that you may still need to take care of, but avoid those shiny objects, stick to the script. If you have a select few tools that are working for you and taking care of all your “must haves," make the saying, “If it isn't broke, don't fix it" apply.
In the end, these things are just tools, they only work as well you make them!
It’s easy to get caught giving into Shiny Object Syndrome when you consider all the possible options of software, tools and apps available to you.
Tools are meant to help you be more productive or more efficient, yet it is important to remember that too many tools can just put you in a tangle making more work for you in the end!
Figure out what the essential features needed and do your research based on satisfying those needs. Look for other conveniences, such as integrating with other tools you currently use.
Finally, assess as you go along. While there may be new developments that give you a good reason to change what you use, go through the checklist before deciding anything!