Computer Software for Freelancers
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Most of what you need to online freelance can be accomplished with the two items at the start of the list in the preceding subsection: a Web browser and email client. The browser lets you access and use freelance marketplaces, and the email client enables communication with those sites, as well as clients who prefer that method of interaction. If you use Web-based email, you may not need even the email client!
Instant messaging (chat) systems such as Skype can also be very helpful to online freelancers. There are some customers who really prefer using Skype and will ask to contact you that way. Again here, Skype is free for chat use; just download and install it. There are other options as well, such as Yahoo! Messenger and so forth.
Software beyond the basics is only required if your actual trade demands specialty applications. Examples include a proper word processor for writers and editors; a graphic editor for photographers and designers; development environment packages for programmers; and so forth. Exactly what you need will depend on what you’re doing, so I can’t really guide you on that. But I can give you one basic general tip: buy whatever software you need to do your work well.
Most people have a bias towards spending money on software, because unlike a computer or computer part that you can pick up and feel, programs are intangible. But as I said at the start of this topic, software is really what a computer is about: hardware is just the means to the end. If you need a particular program to do your work, you should buy it: this is not a smart place to economize.
Be especially cognizant of situations where industry-standard programs are used, and try to follow those standards. One obvious example: if you’re a photo editor or graphic artist, and you decide to save a few bucks by not buying Photoshop, you’re going to put yourself at a disadvantage, because nearly all clients use Photoshop files, and you won’t be able to work with them. Similarly, it’s fine to decide you don’t want to buy Microsoft Office, but make sure whatever alternative you use is compatible with Office file formats.
Finally, many freelancers will encounter programs that aren’t strictly necessary for most of their work, but can be worth the cost in two situations. One is if they help you get your work done faster: divide the cost of the program by your typical hourly rate, and that’s the number of hours of savings it will take to pay back the cost. You’ll probably be amazed in many cases by how small that number is. For example, when I was doing a lot of photo editing, I purchased a $150 Photoshop add-on designed specifically for background removal: separating a foreground object from its background. This saved me countless hours of work on several projects; it literally paid for itself the first day I used it.
Another situation is where buying a particular program allows you to do a specific project or opens up a new field of work for you. I once had a client who needed something done that required me to purchase a $30 software tool. I did so, won the project, and then was able to use that tool for similar work in the future.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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