The best apps for freelancers

Invoicing, time-tracking, even legal help are all available on mobile apps geared to the self-employed or extremely small businesses.

The whole freelance, be-your-own-boss thing sounds liberating--until you realize you're also your own business manager. You need to track your time and expenses. You need to make sure you get paid. Luckily, there are several apps that can make the business end of freelancing a whole lot easier.

Invoice by Wave

Wave Accounting is a full-featured accounting solution for independent contractors and very small businesses that doesn't cost a cent. And neither does its iOS app, Invoice by Wave, which lets you create professional-looking invoices from your mobile device.

You don't even need to have the full Wave Accounting tool to enjoy the benefits of the Invoice Wave app. It lets you create, send, and track your invoices from your phone. It also lets you accept payment via credit card.

Invoice by Wave wasn't perfect: It crashed a few times when I first started using it. But once I rebooted my iPhone, those problems disappeared. Even after that point, Wave was occasionally slow. But it remains drop-dead simple to use--a nice alternative to accounting and invoicing apps that are all too often cumbersome and confusing.

Invoicing can be incredibly tedious and annoying. Invoice by Wave took the pain out of getting paid.  

Timely

Looking for a time tracking app that also helps you plan your day, week, or month? Consider Timely. This app (available online and through iOS devices) lets you schedule your hours and then logs them as the time is completed. You also can use it to track your hours as you work, and it integrates with your existing calendar, so that meetings and appointments can be tracked automatically.

The mobile app and Web version both feature an attractive design, and I especially like how easy it is to color-code projects. This lets you quickly gauge your progress at a glance.

Timely is free for one user tracking three projects. Paid versions start at $14 per month.

Toggl

When you're working for an hourly rate, you have to keep close track of your time. This sounds like a simple task until you  actually have to do it, day after day.

Toggl can help. This app (web-based, or Android/iOS) lets you create projects and tracks the time you spend on them with the click of a button.  

There's not much to the minimal interface, but that's part of Toggl's beauty. Just fire up the app, click start and Toggl begins tracking your time.

Don't forget to hit the stop button when you're done, though: I forgot, and Toggl thought I spent 23 straight hours on an editing assignment. I couldn't find an easy way to edit that time error, which would be a useful tool.

Basic time tracking is free. Upgrading to a multiuser account ($5 per user, per month) adds more sophisticated features, such as the ability to export data to Excel and add a company logo to reports.

Shake

Freelancers often find themselves in need of some legal help, specifically when it comes to creating contracts to define their working roles--and how and when they'll be paid.

Your choices used to be bleak: You could hire a lawyer you can't afford, or you could consider dusting off an old contract that may or may not still be useful.

Now, you can turn to Shake. This iOS app (versions for Android and the Web are in the works) lets you create legally binding agreements quickly and easily by answering a few simple questions.

Shake includes options for creating agreements for freelance work (both for the freelancer and the client), confidentiality, buying and selling, renting and lending, loaning money, and more.

The resulting agreements not only look professional, they're also incredibly detailed. If you're loaning money, for example, Shake asks you for the loan term and interest rate and automatically calculates the monthly payments for you. Shake can save you time and money, and may prove very useful when it comes to  protecting your reputation.

Shoeboxed

Organizing receipts, tracking mileage, reporting expenses. An accountant's dream--and, often, a freelancer's nightmare.

All of these tasks can be made easier with Shoeboxed, an incredibly useful app for the Web, Android, and iOS. It allows you to photograph receipts or business cards with your phone, and adds them to your document library.

Need to track mileage? Simply tap a button in the app when you begin driving. And if you have stacks of paper receipts that you can't deal with, just drop them in a prepaid envelope and put them in the mail: Shoeboxed will handle them for you.

Gmail users will also appreciate the Gmail scanning feature, which automatically locates e-receipts in your account. Be warned, though: this Gmail scanning feature may prove overzealous if you make a lot of online purchases. Everything you buy will be saved to Shoeboxed, whether you want it there or not!

Shoeboxed pricing starts at $9.95 per month for the Lite version, which is a small price to pay for such easy expense tracking.

This story, "The best apps for freelancers" was originally published by PCWorld.

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