32 essential tools I use to run my copywriting business

March 4, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Writing Tools 

business writing toolsI had this idea to write a short little post on tools I use to run my freelance copywriting business. I figured it would be easy.

But when I started looking at all the software and online tools I actually use, I had one of those “sheesh” moments. I had no idea just how many tools I rely on. I could have made a list of 101 tools.

But it’s a busy week, so I’ll cut it down to just 32 I use a lot. This includes some design tools since I offer design services to my clients as well as copywriting.

Oh, and keep in mind that I’m on a PC Windows system, so there aren’t any Mac tools here.

Writing and Design

OpenOffice – After using Word for years, I finally got fed up with how big and clunky it had become (like most Microsoft products). A friend suggested OpenOffice and I haven’t looked back. It’s basically a free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. You can read my post on OfficeOffice here. I use the writing application to write copy and the speadsheet to track projects and income.

Notepad – If you use Windows, you have Notepad. It’s a handy, no-frills text tool that’s fast and simple. I use it to record project notes and to-do lists. The files are tiny and, as far as I know, universal, so you can open them in nearly any writing program.

Adobe Acrobat – In the good old days, you had to create physical mockups to show clients. Acrobat lets you print any electronic design to a pdf format and email it. It’s also the business world’s choice for sharing pdf documents of any kind. You can get the free Acrobat Reader, but you can only use it to read documents. I use Acrobat Pro since it offers more features for design.

Adobe InDesign – Quark once dominated the market for layout programs. But I bailed when it started getting quirky and stopped working well with Adobe products. InDesign is now the layout program of choice for just about everyone, and it integrates perfectly with all the other Adobe products.

Adobe Photoshop – Even if you don’t do design, you should at least get an old copy of Photoshop. It’s a big, complex program, but it gives you nearly every imaginable tool to manipulate and process photos.

Adobe Illustrator – I admit that I don’t know much about Illustrator. I have it because it comes with the Adobe design collection and it’s useful for dealing with logos and illustrations.

sendspace – If you’ve ever tried to send large documents by email, you know that sometimes they don’t go through. That’s because some email providers limit the size of attachments. sendspace is a free tool that lets you upload files up to 300MB, then send a link others can use to download them. It’s an incredibly handy tool.

Communications

Thunderbird – I loved Eudora for email, but it stopped offering updates. So I switched to Thunderbird. It’s fast, easy, and offers plenty of features for managing email, including a good file system and search capability.

RKS Fax – Some people claim to use a fax all the time. But I get maybe 3 faxes a year, so I dropped my fax line and tossed the fax machine. Now on the rare occasions I have to send or receive a fax, I can use RKS Fax and run the fax through my computer and phone line.

Yahoo Mail – Some claim that Gmail is a better option, and it may be. But I couldn’t get the text message confirmation to work, so I went to Yahoo. This is simply for throwaway email addresses for situations where I don’t want to provide someone with my primary address.

Business

ACT! – At this point in my career, I have thousands of contacts, including clients, prospects, colleagues, designers, fellow copywriters, business resources, and so on. ACT! is a contact manager primarily for sales people, and it’s a bit too complex for my needs, but I haven’t found anything as useful. It has a great calendar that is tied into contact information, so you can track everything you do with clients and potential clients.

TaxCut – If you make money, you have to pay taxes. I suppose I could hire someone to do this for me, but there are two problems. One, I’m a control freak, so I like to do this myself. Two, you really don’t save much time by hiring someone, because you have to organize and annotate records for them anyway. TurboTax (one of my clients) is just as good and maybe a little simpler.

Carbonite – The single best business tool I have. It’s an online backup service. Pay the $55 for a year’s subscription (a bargain), install a tiny program, and it automatically backs up your documents. Set it and forget it. Some people like Mozy, which does the same thing.

DropBox – James at Men With Pens turned me onto DropBox when I wrote about creating a computer recovery plan. This is a cool little application where you can drop any file and have it instantly backup online. It’s a great way to sync multiple computers or access files if you’re on the road. I use it to access files on my wireless laptop. If you get the paid version, you could keep all your files in it for an easy backup.

Norton Internet Security – I’ve had several virus incidents, one that killed my computer. So I’m fastidious about computer security. Norton is one of the better antivirus solutions and is priced reasonably.

PayPal – If you want to accept payments over the Internet, you need PayPal. It’s free and simple. Some clients pay me this way and all advertisers and affiliates pay this way.

Online

Firefox – I abandoned the Explorer web browser for the same reasons I abandoned Word. I don’t like most Microsoft products. Firefox is free, simple, and secure. And there are a zillion plugins and tools. Firefox also remembers my passwords for online services and tools, which saves a little time.

Bloglines – If you subscribe to RSS feeds, you need  way to read them. There are endless ways to do that, but I started using Bloglines a few years ago and have not had any reason to change. It’s free and does a nice job of organizing lots of feeds in one place.

Google Analytics – For blogs and websites, Google Analytics gives you a set of robust statistics and reports on visitors, keywords, traffic sources, and tons more.

GoDaddy – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they offer lots of services for email, site hosting, URL registration, and more. Apart from putting this blog on a slow server, they’ve given me good service for years. And it’s hard to beat their prices. One nice freebie is the automatic installation of WordPress with any hosted site.

Alexa – If you want to see how your site ranks compared to others, this is a quick way to find out. Just enter your URL and click. The results are questionable, but it’s close enough for most people.

Compete – This is similar to Alexa, but gives you a wider set of information. The free version is limited, though. If you want the works, you have to pony up a subscription.

Publishing

WordPress – You know what this is. It’s the preferred blog platform for just about everyone. It’s free, easy to use, and there are endless themes and plugins to give you whatever features you want. As I said above, if you host your site on GoDaddy, they’ll install it automatically.

CoffeeCup HTML Editor – If you do any HTML code editing, you’ll appreciate this little tool. It automates many of the repetitive tasks of coding, such as endlessly typing tags. CoffeeCup is a neat little organization and offers plenty of other tools. Even if you don’t want to do coding, check them out.

FeedBurner – If you have a blog, you publish a feed. And if you publish a feed, you need a way to manage it. Feedburner does that. Google acquired them some time ago, so to use it, you need to have a Google account. Google will take over the planet someday with all their free tools, so you might as well submit now and get an account.

Filezilla – This is a free ftp program. If you don’t know what ftp is, you don’t need Filezilla. If you do know what it is, you may already be using Filezilla. If not, try it. Basically, it’s a way to upload and download files on the Internet, such as when you’re adding photos to your website or blog.

Constant Contact – If you publish a newsletter or do basic email marketing, you have several choices, including MailChimp, iContact, and AWeber. I settled on Constant Contact and like it. I use it to publish a couple newsletters (one of which is growing at up to 1,400 subscribers a day).

Social Marketing

Twitter – I had my doubts about tweeting, but it’s proving to be an easy way to share information and drive traffic to my blogs. I’m not an expert, but I’m learning fast. If you’re new to social marketing, Twitter is a great way to start. It’s easy. You can follow my tweets here.

Facebook – You’re probably already on Facebook, so I don’t need to describe it. But I would advise that you be careful about how you manage your account. It may not be wise to invite clients to your private page. I suggest setting up a fan page, which you can manage from your account but which will remain separate.

LinkedIn – This is probably the best business networking tool right now. It works a little like Facebook, but it’s geared for business. You can connect with people, publish updates on your activities, post a full resume, import your blog posts, join discussion groups, and send private messages to contacts. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.

HootSuite – I just wrote about how to use HootSuite on my other blog. It’s the easiest way I’ve yet found to manage multiple social networks. I use it to schedule tweets and updates on 5 networks.

bit.ly – Web addresses can get pretty long, which causes a problem with Twitter particularly. bit.ly is a fast way to short URLs. If you use HootSuite, it has a built-in link shortener.

Do you have an essential tool you use frequently?

Related posts:

  1. 5 essential smartphone apps for the organized freelancer

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Smart Comments

14 Comments on 32 essential tools I use to run my copywriting business

  1. James Chartrand - Men with Pens on Mar 4th, 2010 9:45 am
  2. That’s a fine list you’ve got there, Dean. Let’s see how it compares to mine, as an agency-style copywriting business:

    Firefox – browser
    WordPress – blogging
    Liquid Planner – project management on crack
    The Google Empire: Reader, Gmail, Apps, Analytics, Feedburner, Adsense
    Word – writing
    Facebook – social media
    TweetDeck – social media
    LinkedIn – social media
    Quickbooks – accounting
    Dropbox – file storage
    Lastpass – password central
    Diigo – bookmarks
    Netfirms – domain name purchase for Canada
    In Motion Hosting – web host
    Aweber – newsletter

    …there’s probably more. Damn, we use a lot of stuff, don’t we!
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog … How to Succeed in Freelancing: Say No to Fast Work =-.

  3. Tom "The Practical Nerd" on Mar 4th, 2010 10:11 am
  4. Great list, however, paying for antivirus software is a waste. Free alternatives like AVG, Avira, Avast, or my favorite, Panda Cloud Antivirus, do exactly the same thing as Norton and don’t cost a dime.
    .-= Tom “The Practical Nerd”‘s last blog … The Practical Nerd Podcast: Episode 8 – “I Can’t Live Without My _____” =-.

  5. Dean Rieck on Mar 4th, 2010 10:21 am
  6. James:
    Well, I could throw in all the Mac stuff my designers use and we’d have a crazy list. If I added what my radio production people have, it would be an insane list.

  7. Dean Rieck on Mar 4th, 2010 10:29 am
  8. Tom:
    If all you want is basic antivirus, then some of the tools you mention offer free entry level products. But if you want something a little more robust, it costs you. Just depends on what you’re comfortable with.

  9. Patricia on Mar 4th, 2010 12:20 pm
  10. Great lists! Here are a few more tools that have not yet been listed:

    -Firewall: ZoneAlarm
    -Utility: ATF cleaner
    -Time managment: TimeStamp, to keep track of time spent on projects
    -Chicago Manual of Style (online and CD)
    -Skype
    -Huddle (collaboration platform)

  11. Dean Rieck on Mar 4th, 2010 12:29 pm
  12. Patricia:
    Good stuff. I used to use ZoneAlarm, but dropped it when I upgraded my Norton account. It includes a similar function.

  13. Paul Strikwerda on Mar 4th, 2010 2:30 pm
  14. Thanks for this great list.

    RKS has the following message on their site:

    “With the closing of RKS Software in December of 2008, RKS Fax will continue to be supported until the end of 2009, but will no longer be updated.”

  15. Dean Rieck on Mar 4th, 2010 2:57 pm
  16. Paul:
    Thanks for the update on RKS Fax. The software still works, but it looks like I’ll have to find a replacement someday.

  17. Bradley on Mar 4th, 2010 4:10 pm
  18. Browser- Firefox (although I have been messing around with Google Chrome lately.. it is fast!)

    Office Suite – Open Office

    Feed Reader- feedly (works with Firefox and Chrome)

    Email – Google

    Image editing- The Gimp. Although, I really want to learn Illustrator.

    PDF – CutePDF (they have a free writer that often works better than Acrobat Pro and a low cost solution for pdf editing.)

    Virus – Avast although I am thinking of switching to MS Security Essentials

    Text – Notepad++. Better than Notepad for coding.

    Blog – WordPress

    Social Media – Hootsuite and bit.ly. Tried Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and a host of others. Hootsuite was the best for me.

  19. Dean Rieck on Mar 4th, 2010 4:22 pm
  20. Bradley:
    Yeah, you have to love HootSuite. They really got it right. I’ll have to check out Chrome.

  21. Andrew B. on Mar 5th, 2010 2:39 pm
  22. Great list! I’m coming up on 20 years in the business, and I’m still blown away by how quickly things change.

    Isn’t it amazing what would have made the list 20 years ago? Mine would have been…

    Word for DOS
    Dot-matrix printer
    Fax machine
    AOL
    Rolodex
    Beer

    Today, one of those items still remains.

  23. Dean Rieck on Mar 5th, 2010 2:56 pm
  24. Andrew:
    Oh, wow. Now there’s some nostalgia. I worked on the original IBM PC with the green screen. And before the dot matrix printer, I had what I thought was a high-tech typewriter that hooked up to my computer. I could print a page (tap tap tap tap tap) in a blazing 1 minute. No AOL, though. I used CompuServe. And I was on the CompuServe marketing team who introduced the idea of mailing a “start up disk” before AOL even thought of it.

    [...] via Pro Copy Tips [...]

  25. Jayant Upadhyay on Apr 10th, 2011 2:18 pm
  26. Hi All!..have a look at Contrich.com
    It is an issue tracker for marketing content writers with features like inline content editing, content review, content verification and many more built into it and can prove to be an effective content collaboration tool for the teams in a web project.