With freelance work slated to outpace full-time jobs by 2020, and with more than 53m Americans working on a freelance basis as of 2014, the opportunity is ripe for those interested in paving their own way.

More companies are outsourcing their tasks to qualified freelance professionals then ever before, but if you want to scale your freelance business into a full consultancy (in digital marketing or otherwise), you the need the tools and infrastructure to handle a larger client load.

Here are five objectives with required tools that will help you do just that.

1. Tools for growing the business

While there is certainly demand for outsourced work, it can be a challenge for freelance professionals to know where to find the right jobs.

There are many marketplaces to choose from, aimed at freelancers working in all industries from writing and web design, to programming, audio/video work, and more. Options include the following…

  • Unomy: designed as a B2B prospecting tool, this cloud-based browser-extension can help you build a list of targeted prospect companies. The platform lets you filter businesses according to geographic location, industry, size, funding, and more. 
  • UpWork: this is an international collection of freelancers working in a number of industries. As a freelancer, you can create a profile that acts as a portfolio of sorts, and then find project listings to bid on. Hourly work requires freelancers to install a program that tracks screenshots and keystrokes.
  • SumoMe: SumoMe’s suite of list-building tools let you turn any webpage into a conversion funnel. If you own a website (which means everyone), SumoMe is a no-brainer for turning site visitors into business leads.
  • Fiverr: a bit different from the traditional freelance marketplace, this website allows freelancers to create a one-off task they’re willing to do for $5, with extras for additional money. Tips are also an option, so even if the base tasks start at $5, earning rates can be much higher.

2. Keep good track of projects and finances

Freelancers now wear multiple hats over the course of a day, often managing all aspects of the business. To save time, and perhaps a bit of sanity too, it’s a good idea to invest in workflow management applications.

  • WorkflowMax: This cloud-based platform handles several aspects of running the  business all in one platform. It includes quotes, job costing, timesheets, invoices, and project management. Using an integrated project management platform saves time because you don’t need to switch from platform to platform to handle tasks, time tracking, and invoicing/billing. It works well for solo workers and teams. Being cloud-based, it can be accessed anywhere there’s an Internet connection, making it easy for those who work on-the-go.
  • Due: Another time-tracking and invoicing application, Due supports over 100 countries and tax systems, heaven-sent for freelancers who must learn to manage their own finances and tax liabilities. The application also supports integration with third-party solutions like Quickbooks, Basecamp and PayPal, reducing the effort needed to manage invoices, tasks and timelines.

3. Collaborate wisely

Working from home doesn’t have to be isolating. There will no doubt be times over the course of projects when you will need to collaborate with others. Thanks to the available tools, distance is not an issue.

  • Skype for Business works wonders when you need basic teleconferencing. It enables voice and/or video chat, with the option to share screens. Add-ons make it easy to record the calls for review later. Even the free Skype version should be capable for simple chats, voice and video calls.
  • ClickMeeting is an ideal solution for remote online training, particularly for one-to-many discussions. This is a great option for businesses that need to train the freelancers they hire. However, it also works for freelancers who want to outsource some of their day-to-day business tasks to other freelancers.

4. Automate tasks

Automation helps keep the business running smoothly while focusing one’s efforts on more important tasks. Business often consult with freelance developers and IT professionals in managing platforms like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.

Automating the patching, updating and upgrading process for these enterprise applications with a tool like Panaya will ensure that consultants and the IT department will have more time to attend to core activities rather than tedious tasks.

  • Social media: a B2B social media management platform, Oktopost lets freelancers and marketers automate and measure the success of their social campaigns. While it’s not always a good idea to completely run social media channels on autopilot, Oktopost provides a means to schedule and queue content far in advance. Be sure to check in a few minutes a day to participate in live discussions.
  • Storage: tools like Dropbox, OneDrive and Box provide a means to store files online. Even better, these platforms allow freelancers to sync certain files and folders, enabling easy collaboration with clients. Pro editions have versioning support, which means you can keep track of files as they change.
  • Customer service: freelancers who regularly interact with customers and need a simple tool for managing interactions with end-users. A customer service solution platform like ZenDesk can automate support tickets, generate a knowledge-base, and manage FAQs.

5. Watch for trends

More businesses are continuing to look for ways to outsource tasks to freelancers and consultants. Hot industries for consultants include: eco-friendly, small business expertise, and IT security. It’s not only small businesses that are looking to outsource work to freelancers.

Even bigger enterprises are starting to rely on freelance professionals and consultants to get work done. We can expect the marketplace to become even more data-driven, as with other aspects of business.

  • Google Trends is a great place to keep tabs on trending topics. While the search parameters are fairly limited, you can keep tabs on business-specific trends or view performance over time for keywords.
  • Freelancing publications like The Freelancer and digital marketing blogs like this one right here are also a great source for monitoring trends and understanding what is happening outside of your particular sphere.

Conclusion

As cloud-based tools continue to flood the market, freelancers will have their choice of options to ensure their consultancy runs like a well-oiled machine. These tools allow freelancers to operate their businesses much the same way a big enterprise would, but without requiring significant, upfront investment.