Freelancers: get the tech you actually need

By: Simon Wicks

Date: 1 September 2011

Simon WicksIt's easy to get carried away with technology when you're a new freelancer. A trip to the Apple Store or PC World can leave you laden with boxes and your credit card labouring under the weight of new debts.

But do you really need heaps of new gear when you're just starting out? We asked Simon Wicks, a newly-freelance editor, copywriter and journalist who used to work on our sister site, Marketing Donut.

Has going freelance changed how you see technology?
"Not particularly. The key things are cost and functionality: does it let me do the things I need to do, and can I do it for next to nothing?"

"I'm using a netbook and laptop, both of which I had before I went freelance. I have invested in a new phone, because I think that's essential to pick up emails and stay in touch. I'm keen to learn more about smartphone apps that can help me, too."

Has email replaced your mobile, or is it the other way round?
"It doesn't work like that. A smartphone is simply another device that allows you to access email, social networks and the web. What is interesting, though, is the sheer number of messaging platforms and the different ways to use them."

"You can move between them almost seamlessly. An exchange on Twitter becomes a text message or an email, then shifts back to Twitter again. But I think it's important to settle on three or four platforms that work for you. For me, it's Twitter, LinkedIn, text messages and email."

Are you tempted by an iPad, or is it just a toy?
"I simply can't justify an investment like that. I can see it might be useful for certain people – like designers, who need a good tool to illustrate their work. But for now my laptop, netbook and smartphone are fine."

We've recommended cloud computing tools for freelancers before. Do you use any?
"Absolutely – cloud computing is essential, because I need to access files from multiple locations. I use Dropbox and I'm looking into cloud accounting services too."

Working as a freelancer from home, you don't benefit from the economies of scale that a bigger business can offer. How do you manage your costs?
"The key is to keep your IT usage to a minimum, log your expenditure each month and to make sure you claim everything you reasonably can when you fill out your self assessment. That means calculating roughly how much of your IT use is for work purposes and how much is personal use – that's one reason to have a separate phone for work, for example."

"I'd also say don't invest in anything you don't actually need – you'll use it once and never again. My essentials are: notebook, pen, laptop, phone and an internet connection. With these, I can do my job from anywhere. Add a desk, storage for files and somewhere to plug in my laptop and phone, and that's everything I need."

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