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Here’s a list of 15 free or inexpensive programs / online services for freelancers.

The list is broken down into 5 main categories:

  1. Backup and Syncing
  2. Finances and Invoicing
  3. Communication and Project Management
  4. Programs and Working With Filetypes
  5. Graphics Programs

Backup and Syncing

Freelancers many times need to be able to work in different locations and have access to their files wherever they are. Having a good backup and syncing plan can help.

1. Mozy (Online and Off-Site Backups)

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Mozy is a great service that, through an application for Windows and Mac OSX, automatically backs up your files and uploads them to their secure site.

In the case of an emergency, you can simply log into your account and download the files. You can also request a DVD(s) be mailed to you with all your files.

The MozyHome version lets you backup 2GB for free. Use our special link to get an extra 256MB of storage free. You can also get unlimited storage for about $5/month.

You can read more about Mozy in our previous post.

2. Dropbox (Online Backup and File Syncing)

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Drop your files into a folder in your My Documents folder (or equivalent for your OS) and all the files will be updated and synced to any computers linked to your free account.

The great thing about Dropbox is that it works on all major operating systems–Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Sync your files between your home, work, laptop and other computers and as soon as they are saved, the files are uploaded for all your computers–whether they’re turned on currently or not.

Dropbox gives you 2GB of free storage. Get an extra 256MB free.

3. Xmarks (Bookmark backup and syncing service/plugin for Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer)

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This plugin and free service synchronizes your bookmarks (and site passwords if you want) between your browsers and computers. Xmarks (formerly FoxMarks) has plugins for Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer.

You can even set it to only sync certain bookmarks to certain computers.

Finances and Invoicing

One of the least exciting and most dreaded parts of being a freelancer is managing finances. These next 2 services help you spend the least amount of time dealing with billing, invoicing and general finances.

4. CurdBee (Online billing and invoicing)

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We already have written about CurdBee before, but it’s such a great service, it deserves another mention.

CurdBee is an online service that lets you create and manage invoices and accept payments via PayPal, GoogleCheckout and 2CO (paid version).

When invoices are created, your clients get to choose which payment gateway to go through to pay your invoice.

Simply click Send and a link to the invoice is emailed to you and your client.

CurdBee is free (no limits on clients or how many invoices you can send).

With the CurdBee Pro version ($5/month), you get extra features like recurring billing, PDF invoices, accept 2CO payments and some other niceties.

5. Mint.com (Manage your finances and spending)

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Mint is a free service that lets you track checking, savings and other financial accounts and assets for your business. It provides an easy way to keep track of your spending, and reports can be emailed to you weekly.

Communication and Project Management

Freelancers often need to communicate and manage projects easily and while on the go.

6. Drop.io (Project management / file and document sharing)

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Drop.io is a free service that lets you upload and share files via your browser.

With Drop.io, you can add images, documents, audio and video files for others to view (up to 100MB per drop).

Comments for each file can be added, so this works well as an easy means of working remotely with clients and getting their feedback.

Drop.io even provides special phone numbers for conference calls, voicemail and faxes. There is also a live chat option for simple chatting through the browser, and a web presentation option.

Drop.io can send alerts via RSS, email, Twitter, etc when new files and comments are added, making it great for organizing projects.

There are also several apps as well as a Firefox plugin that use the Drop.io’s API to connect and interact with your drop.

7. Zenbe (Check multiple email accounts from anywhere)

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Zenbe basically lets you check and manage emails from all your email accounts through your browser without going to several different sites.

Emails can be easily and automatically tagged so it’s simple to keep track of which messages came from which account.

Zenbe also has a collaboration tools (ZenPages/ShareFlow). You can also import existing address books, and integrates with Google Talk, Twitter and Facebook.

Though the free account option doesn’t seem to exist anymore (I got mine early on), paid accounts start at $5.99/month.

To learn more, you can read our earlier post about Zenbe.

8. Collabtive (Project management)

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Collabtive is an open source, self-hosted project management system (cloud-based groupware).

Manage projects, tasks and milestones easily with a simple web-based interface.

Collabtive provides messaging and instant messaging, file management, time-tracking, iCal syncing, can import Basecamp files and is available in over 25 languages.

Programs and Working With Filetypes

9. OpenItOnline (Open and edit files online without having the program installed)

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With OpenItOnline, you don’t have to have a bunch of proprietary programs and applications installed on the computer you’re using in order to view and edit files. No more having to have Microsoft Office installed just because a client sends you a .doc file.

Open and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations and images within your browser with OpenItOnline.

There are even extensions for Firefox, Flock and Internet Explorer.

10. PortableApps (Carry all your programs with you on your thumbdrive)

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PortableApps lets you install and run portable versions of programs from a thumbdrive—giving you access to your programs no matter what computer you’re using.

11. LOOP Apps (Online PDF creator)

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LOOP Apps is a free online tool lets you upload and convert files into PDF format, or convert a webpage into PDF. Your files can be sent to others and electronically signed.

Also worth checking is Zamzar.

Online Graphics

Whether you’re a web designer or a graphic designer or some other type of freelancer, there’s a good chance you will need to do some, at least basic, adjustments to photos and images.

12. Picnik (Basic online graphics program)

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Picnik is a simple to use web-based graphic editor. Picnik is perfect for resizing images, adjusting colors, tone, contrast and applying other effects to your images and photos.

Picnik works with Flickr, PhotoBucket, Picasa and many other image sites; letting you share your images with others, are well as save them to your computer.

Picnik is free and you don’t even have to sign up for an account to use it.

Our previous post has more details about Picnik.

13. Smush.it (Online image optimizer)

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Smush.it is a free online tools for optimizing (shrinking file sizes) your images. Simply upload or provide the URLs of the images you want shrunk and Smush.it will take care of the rest.

This can even shrink images that have already been optimized in Photoshop and Fireworks–all without noticeable hits to image quality.

14. Sumo Paint (Online graphics manipulation / Photoshop alternative)

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If you need more than just simple image resizing and color correction, Sumo Paint steps up to handle the job.

Sumo Paint 1.1 is almost like using Photoshop. The only differences: it’s free, and it runs in your web browser.

Sumo lets you import images from your computer or a URL, or you can create a whole new image from scratch.

You have all the basic tools found in Photoshop: you can create layers (with blending modes and layer effects), typography control (leading, tracking), and much, much more. In fact, if you’re familiar with Photoshop, you’ll be using Sumo like a pro in no time.

Your resulting work can be saved to your computer, emailed or saved to your Sumo account if you’ve signed up for one.

15. Pixlr (Graphics manipulation / Photoshop alternative)

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In a similar vein as Sumo, Pixlr is a good alternative to Photoshop.

There are many things you can do with and to images, just like you can with Sumo, so we won’t go into much detail here. For more details about Pixlr, take a look at our previous post about Photoshop alternatives.

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