Monthly Archives: March 2016

An Epic List (100+!) of The Best Free & Paid Web Tools for Freelancers & Contractors

A list to end all lists. All images via BOSSFIGHT.

Organized by Category for Your Viewing Pleasure

If you’re like me then you’ve probably experimented with both full-time employment as well as freelance and contract work — both have been very satisfying ways of earning income and I’ve been thankful that both models exist for me and my family.

Right now I’m doing the “full-time” thing but that’s only because I’m in the process of building a new company, TOMO and a small micro-app to help contractors and businesses send & receive IRS W-9 Forms — this is partly why I put this list together so I can do a bit more research into what our growing 1099 / gig-economy demographic needs to do their jobs well.

You should give it a spin — we’d love that!

It’s been great and I’ve loved sharing the journey through our blog.

In any case, I have a ton of freelance buddies, friends, and colleagues who are always asking me for advice on how to get started, what tools to use, and the like, and it’s not that I have the absolute best advice to give but I’ve certainly been around for a while.

And, as a consequence of just being around for some time I’ve amassed a pretty large collection of tools that I’ve used or experimented with in the past — I thought I’d share those publicly to help others.

Feel free to comment and add a tool that you think should be on the list — and if this post is helpful please share it and give it a HEART!

Get in those hours.

Time Tracking, Invoicing

We all need to track time, especially if we’re getting paid by the hour.

The numbers matter.

Taxes, Expenses, and Accounting

This one is critical and you need to make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job — this one could mess you up badly if you don’t have your junk together! So, do it!

You never do email in bed… right?

Email and Project Management

Now, email is our lifeblood (we all know that) but the better you can manage it the more sane your life becomes.

Calendaring on all platforms.

Calendars, To-Do, and Scheduling

Closely aligned with email is making sure you show up at the right time for the job — don’t be too late or too early!

Type. Type. Type.

Blogging, Publishing, and Writing

I love blogging and it’s a huge part of my own story and how I build companies — I think that the freelancers and contractors who write have a serious leg-up on the game.

Starting to make it real.


Getting your concepts and designs into prototypes is huge. These should get you started and on the right track.

Every bit counts.

Fonts and Styles

Content, words, and images are all important but making that content stand out is all part of design.

Design. Design. Design.

Design Products, Apps

These are the things that make it go “pop” — or, if you don’t like that word, use something else (yes, I know… I know…!). :P

Colors, Styles.

Colors, Styles

Give it a little bit of life, will yah?

Getting things organized.

File Management

These are some of my favorite apps!

Icons everywhere.

Icons and Iconography

These things give text a little bit of something extra.

Hopefully a little more than just a few pennies.

Getting Work, Jobs, and Getting Paid

Here are a few websites to find jobs and gigs.

Images, cameras, and more.

Images, Stock Free Photography, and Photos

Make it pretty.

I’m taking notes.

Have a Resource to Add? Comment Below!

I’m listening and will keep this list updated, which is much more easy than other systems of note — I can just edit this post and add them at will. And, if you have any other suggestions on how to best curate and even organize them, that would be helpful too.

(Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination.)

So, feel free to contribute an additional resource via the comments! Thanks so much for helping out. Keep ’em coming!

Oh, and don’t forget to do this:

At TOMO we’re building simple tools to help part-time, full-time, and contractors get their work done (as well as the businesses that hire and employ them). Follow our journey via our blog here, via Twitter, and subscribe to our kick-booty email newsletter.

Daring to be Human

There’s a post that’s been circulating heavily from Lars Dalgaard around building “weatherproof” companies and it is amazing and entirely worth a read (it’s a 21-minute read but well worth it).

But it’s not the best thing that I’ve heard from Lars – there was a post from NYTimes that interviewed him about some of the other things that made great leaders and it’s this one quote that won me over (he does reference in his latest Medium Post):

Continue reading

A/B Testing Our Way Toward Product Success

A/B Testing helps you see all things more clearly.

Or How I Got Over Myself and Started A/B Testing Our Landing Page Immediately After Our Product Launch

As an entrepreneur, engineer, and full stack founder I’ve been doing all that I can to push the very limits of our what our team can produce every single day, including myself. It’s fun yet entirely exhausting.

You see, there are 1,000 things that need to get done and only a small amount of hours to do them — good leadership understands how to manage these two disparate points of data and how to define what is truly “critical path” and what is wholly extraneous, even (and especially) when those things do not feel that way.

Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of working some amazing leaders in the past and their seemingly-innate ability to make tough calls amid a storm of options is precious and instructive; how does one really find the strength and have the self-awareness required to swallow their pride to do the things that do not seem to make the most sense, especially when you’re the leader?

It’s magical to behold when modeled well and over the past few years I’ve been training myself to become better at this. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to get any easier (imagine that).

That “featured” image though…

When we launched our IRS W-9 Form app exclusively on Product Hunt just 10 days ago we had some internal goals that we had wanted to hit and we managed to cross most of them off our list (as we shared in our Product Hunt Retrospective).

We felt good about our launch and it was a good, real-time flight test of what we felt was the smallest functional product, a true “Version Zero Dot Zero” as we’ve called it.

But it gets better — not only have we had great usage and sign-ups for our small tool we hit 2 internal milestones that we’re pretty stoked about:

  1. We had not one, not two, but three Fortune 500 companies sign up to create organizations and request IRS W-9 Forms for their contractors.
  2. We had one business break the double-digit request ceiling this past weekend. In other words, one organization has requested more than 10 W-9 Forms for their contractors making us their go-to tool. Amaze!

So good. So yummy.

In the latter case we were so excited that we sent them a tower of Ghirardelli Chocolate with a small note thanking them for using our new service.

I mean, it’s a big-stinking deal to become the defacto tool for an organization and for them to trust us with incredibly-sensitive data (but we’ve got our encryption on “lock” —yes, yes… pun intended).

So, we have much to be thankful and grateful for — and hell, we’re just getting started!

But that wasn’t enough for our team — we wanted to make sure that we could not only optimize the product for our growing customer base but also to optimize how we converted new visitors into real users.

A real A/B Test is what the doctor ordered.

Let’s get it open, let’s get it done.

In our launch post we happened to share our core technology stack and we’re continuing to expand that list as we introduce new technology into our product and engineering. We feel good about this for two reasons:

  1. We lose nothing by sharing our process and our technology. Our real advantage as a startup in the early stage is shipping, quickly and with a shit-ton of conviction. Full stop.
  2. We feel indebted to the amazing resources and material that we’ve used and have learned from in the past as we’ve grown as technology professionals — giving back is part of keeping that “open source” and virtuous circle alive and well.

And in this post we’re going to share some of our additional efforts in building a real business (not just an app) and how we work towards finding real product-market fit.

Now, in the past, I’ve opted to wait much longer before starting any real A/B testing but it just made a ton of sense to start immediately. And, if I’m to be honest, one of my cofounders felt really strong about it as early as possible, so, I felt really good about implementation.

It does the job.

To do this we used a simple gem called Split which you can find here.

As the description covers, it’s a light-weight, customizable A/B testing framework for Rails, Sinatra, and other rack-based apps.

Hacker-friendly, you can extend it and customize it to your heart’s content.

With statistical validity, weighting options, and the ability to run multiple experiments at the same time with a simple UI dashboard to aggregate results real-time, it was the clear technology winner for what we needed to do (and we could implement it quickly).

The result? We came up with two landing page designs, the first having a simple white background and interface:

Design One (or “White”)

The second included a different color set as well as an extended description of the app and product as a whole:

Design Two (or “Purple”)

You see the expanded overviews below the action at the top of the page, below, which included text and images:

For both the “Contractor” and “Employer”

If you visit our IRS W-9 Form app you will see either one — give it a spin or share it with someone who’s a contractor or a business who hires and works with contractors! Appreciate that, a lot!

Although the results are still young and inconclusive, it’s already destroyed my confident guess as to which one would ultimately fare better and become our default and standard.

Did I mention that building a startup is humbling? Yeah…

Decision-making in a startup is like trying to see the sand below the surface.

So, about that — when you start a company and begin building a product to solve the problem that you believe is worth solving you hold a number of wide-sweeping assumptions about the market, the market’s need and ability to bear the weight / demand, as well as your own and your team’s ability to build something that the world really needs and wants.

The honest-to-god truth is this: You simply have no idea if what you’re building is actually going to work and if the world really will give two shits about it. If you can’t be this intellectually honest with yourself and with your team then it’s probably best to go do something else with your time than to start a company — I mean, it’s just too hard to deceive yourself for that long and not go absolutely insane.

But the best startup leaders validate, all-day every-day. They look for ways to make their so-called “hunch” into something real, something tangible. Sure, they dream big but they also, at the same time, find creative ways to qualify their moonshot dreams into something quantitative.

In other words, they seek validation through data, through real-life metrics, instead of hoping and praying that things just magically work (they almost never do, by the way).

We call our A/B Testing Dashboard “Cosmo”… #culture … :P

And that’s what I’m trying to do for our very exciting little project — find the points of validation and the avenues to receive validation as quickly as humanly possible.

If that’s through survey data, then great. If that’s through growth-hacking the hell out of niche industries through Google Search, then go do that.

And, if it’s A/B Testing just a few days post-launch despite the increasing pressure of building additional features in the existing while serving brand new customers then you should do it.

Yes, yes… it doesn’t feel like the most optimal use of engineering bandwidth but that’s the point — strategic founders will tactically ignore their feelings for discrete opportunities for validation more often than not.

But it still doesn’t feel very good at the moment (and that’s okay). I mean, none of us signed up for this because it was going to feel good, right? No, we started building our companies because we felt morally obligated to build them, like an invisible force that compelled us to start, to begin.

Don’t stop, keep going.

We’re building something so strangely obvious (at least to us) with TOMO that most days it feels like an embarrassment, but that’s okay. This is our story of how we built something that people wanted. Follow our story via this blog, on Twitter, and our email newsletter.

The Full Stack Founder

The startup founder is, above all else, a hustler.

How An Entrepreneur Can See Rightly Their Role and Responsibilities as a Business & Company Builder

Via The Full Stack Employee:

The conventional seams between disciplines are fraying, and the set of skills necessary to succeed are broader and more nebulous than they’ve been before. These days, you’ve gotta be a real polymath to get ahead; you’ve got to be a full-stack employee.

When I first encountered @chrismessina description of what he called a “full stack employee” it resonated with me a bit.

I thought it was, at the very least, and interesting way of borrowing a term that had been originally applied to a technical employee (e.g. full stack developer) and it got me thinking critically about not just who I hire when starting a new company but how I think about hiring the right people.

Let’s be clear: Chris’ thesis isn’t perfect by any stretch and my biggest problem with the piece was that it could be interpreted as attempt to describe (and prescribe) the model employee for an organization, what the “best” looks like and should be in today’s modern economy — I don’t agree with this possible sentiment but I’ll expand on this in a bit.

But, that doesn’t diminish the value that the post created: It was important at the time (and even now) because it gave folks an opportunity to discuss an important topic: Hiring.

Everyone has “gear” — it depends on how you use it.

And that’s good because there’s a ton of room for improvement in that area of doing business; all of us business owners, myself included, can learn a thing or two about how to better hire for their organizations! And, we should always be looking to level-up in this area as things change and as our own companies evolve and grow.

The reality, though, is this: There is a significant amount of need for all types of employees, the specialist, the generalist, and everything in between. We need all types for fully functioning organizations and we should celebrate that. There is no “one type fits all” employee nor is there a “best” type of employee, at least from my perspective, just as there is not a “one type fits all” business or company.

So, the question and issue isn’t about whether you are the right type of employee — the question is whether you are the right person for that job at that company at that specific time. It’s about context, timing, and relevancy.

To be more specific, early-stage startups need employees who can apply skills broadly in and over a wide set of disciplines simply because there is too much work to go around and not enough hands to literally do the work.

This is, for the uninformed, simply based on economics — early stage companies do not have the financing (if any) to pay for more employees to specialize and attack the more separate and discrete business areas.

So what does that mean for founders? What that mean for the future of company builders? I think it provides a bit of a framework for thinking that has, at the very least, helped me think through what it takes to start a company (since I’m kind of in that mode right now with TOMO).

The Full Stack Founder gets shit done.

The Full-Stack Founder

After spending time with a great bunch of students at WashU this past week and chatting for a few days about entrepreneurship it dawned on me that many (most?) students are generally unprepared to be a business founder, and, closely tied to that, an entrepreneur.

Most of this is simply because they have yet to experience it, which is fine, and this is not necessarily any fault of their own. Although, I would argue very heavily that those who want to be an entrepreneur should be doing entrepreneurial things which means building and shipping things, learning to work with others well (i.e. building and managing teams), and just “entreprenur-ing” if that word can be used.

There’s no reason that these things can be practiced extensively, daily, in every environment and it’s been proven time and time again that college students can create world-changing companies and businesses.

Unfortunately, many students have only been given a partial story about what it really takes to start a company and then to be a company-builder and sustainer / maintainer of that company.

You see, many people (not just college students) have fallen in love with all of the upside of entrepreneurship (i.e. the rewards) but have not yet encountered or been told as fully about the downside: The hardships, the fears, the anxieties, the loneliness, and how scared shitless you are all the time under a crushing weight of responsibilities.

The darkest times of my life have been while trying to build companies. I have never felt more alone when launching a startup, even with great cofounders. Sadly, these things cannot be expressed or told or taught to others — you must learn through experience these things for oneself.

Things move quickly (and if they don’t you’re in trouble).

And, there is a significant difference between being an entrepreneur (and a person who builds companies) compared to one who is just building an app. Those are not the same thing. Just because you can program or build something does not mean you know what it’s like to build a company.

Building a company means that you’re the first person on the team. Being an entrepreneur and founder means that you have to not only engineer a product (i.e. build an app) but also know about finance and accounting, marketing, sales, customer support, product development / product management, research and development, and any / all administrative tasks.

Take note that I didn’t say you had to be an “expert” at all of these things nor do you have to be overwhelmingly good. Rather, in a somewhat poor and limited metaphor, it’s like being an excellent basketball player (and as a consequence, an athlete) and also being comfortable playing soccer, throwing a football, and jumping into the pool to play water polo recreationally with your friends.

In other words, you’re not an expert at everything but you have the awareness to grasp the fundamentals and apply them immediately, as best as you can. And you’re motivated to execute because your friends invited you to a local pickup game and you had the interest to do it. You wanted to perform, to help the team win, to have a good game.

The same thing can be said of a founder, a business builder. They may be an expert in one area (or may not be, it really is fairly fluid) but they have the situational awareness and resolve because they have to get shit done. They have to make this thing work.

So, back to my WashU experience this week… I, again, was reminded of how uninformed many of the students were about the difference between building an app (or being a “hobbyist” programmer) and building a company, and during a painful “Open Office Hours” section of my schedule yesterday I met a talented and driven young man who had just spent the last year building an app but confused that with building a company.

I, in the nicest way possible, shared with him that if he was building a real company then he also must spend time learning the other facets of what a business requires, not just engineering a great product.

This was a painful encounter (for him and for me) but an important one. Building an app is not the same thing as building a company. They can be related but do not necessarily have to be.

For instance (and semantics aside), I have built many apps, some that have been successful (like this one) and many more that have done terribly. But even for the ones happened to achieve a modicum of success were never real companies, they were never a real startup venture. They were just personal projects, and I’m comfortable with calling them for what they are.

Finally, for what it’s worth, neither is wrong or better or worse; you can be a “hobbyist” programmer or you can be a programmer who builds a company. Both are great and you should do what is right for you.

“Full Stack!”

So what does this mean, then, for a student (or anyone else) to become a really great founder? I think it means that you should become more of a “polymath,” a person who begins to acquire a number of skills besides becoming exceptionally good at one or two.

And, if I were to honor the original meaning and intent of what polymaths have been throughout history, one would become a student of the entire lifestyle required to not just acquire those skills but to live them out in all areas of life.

Robert Heinlein is well-known for his thoughts on this type of person:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

There’s a lot of good sense here, by the way, logical. As a founder you have the blessed opportunity to do anything and everything to get the company off the ground. Literally everything — you have to. This is a consequence of being the only person on the team when you start. And even if you have cofounder (which you should) everyone does everything all the time.

Therefore, if one was to try to prepare to be a great founder of a company (and to increase one’s odds of success as a company builder) then becoming more equipped in the many areas of business building would be sound advice and counsel.

Remember, the goal isn’t deep-level expertise in all areas of the business — the goal is to know enough to be equipped and dangerous and open and humble enough to do the work necessary to get a company off the ground.

I find the athlete example a helpful one.

If we can return to the somewhat-poor metaphor of an athlete who professionally plays one sport but can recreationally engage in others, this may be a good and helpful example and metaphor.

Or, put another way, as a founder, there is no task that is too below you, no task too small for you to do it. You do not (should not) outsource much when you start (if anything).

You do it all and that’s important. You are the engineer, the designer, the marketer, the salesman, the product manager, the first-line of customer support, and the gal who puts together the shitty IKEA furniture that you got second-hand via Craigslist, all at the same time. You do it all.

Why? Because you are a full-stack founder. You understand that to survive you must be willing and able to do all of it, even when you’re not an expert. Why? Because there is no one else to do it. And your partners, co-founders, are right there with you, building, doing the heavy lifting, and also putting together those shitty IKEA chairs.

SIDEBAR: This is a good “smoke test” for whether that person will be a great cofounder with you: Is that person willing and able and interested and hungry enough to make this venture succeed that they will do any and all of the tasks necessary for success which includes the more menial and mind-numbing tasks ? Are they humble enough to come in on a Saturday morning to build IKEA furniture?

If not, perhaps you’re working with the wrong person. Oh, and this is also self-reflective too — if you are not ready, willing, and able to do the small things because you’re too good or too self-important then you’re probably not ready to start a company, entrepreneurship is probably not the right career and profession.

Well, at least right now.

“Preparedness” is not a requirement for a full stack founder.

In summary, the full stack founder is more about one’s interest and openness in doing the tough work necessary to start a company and less about their innate skill set or natural expertise. A full stack founder is relentlessly resourceful, a polymath when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done.

I want to work with those types of people. I want to hire those types of people. I want to be that type of person. No job is ever too small.

If you want to read more thoughts on how to hire right for a startup I’ve got a few thoughts here (and a bunch of links at the bottom as well). At TOMO we’re building tools that automate paperwork, starting with things like the IRS W-9 Form. This is just the beginning — make sure to follow our journey.