They say the best things in life are free. Some of the best things for copywriters sure are.
One of great things about running a copywriting business is that your overhead can be incredibly low. You can work from your house, avoid commuting, dress casually, and take advantage of all the comforts of home.
And when it comes to some of the tools of the trade, some of the very best are totally free of charge.
Here are a few of my favorites:
OpenOffice - I loath Microsoft Word. It used to be a fine piece of software, and the .doc format is a standard most clients will want. But it’s become so loaded down with features, it’s a pain to use. And since millions of others feel the same way, OpenOffice is now available to replace all the core Microsoft Office products.
OpenOffice is a suite of programs, just like MS Office, with a word processor, spreadsheet, database, etc. They’re lean, with most of the features most people use. You can save your files in other formats, including .doc, so others can open them. I switched to OpenOffice a few months ago and I’m not going back.
Firefox- The Internet is a copywriter’s best friend for quick research, so a browser should be one of your primary tools. Firefox is arguably the best Web browser available. It’s favored by Web developers because it has so many handy features, but it’s a good all around browser for anyone. It’s much smaller and faster than the standard Microsoft browser. Plus it offers a variety of security tools to protect your computer as you browse, which is more improtant than ever these days.
Two cool features are Zoom and the Foxmarks add-on.
Zoom lets you literally zoom into any Web page to make it easier to see. This is different from the standard text size tool that most browsers offer, which just enlarges the font on the screen and makes everything look out of proportion. Zoom is like a magnifying glass that makes the entire page, graphics and all, appear closer. This is helpful if you’re doing research on a site that’s hard to read or you want to sit back in your chair and still browse.
Foxmarks is a time saver if you work on both a desktop and laptop, or have multiple desktops, and want your browser bookmarks to be the same on all your computers. Whenever you save or delete a bookmarked page on one computer, Foxmarks mirrors this change on your other computer automatically. This is one of those little conveniences that you won’t appreciate until you try it, then you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Thunderbird – This slim, trim e-mail program is created by Mozilla, the same organization behind Firefox. Like its cousin, it’s a small program with all the features you need and none that you don’t. It offers good security and convenient folder tools for organizing your e-mail. One feature it lacks is a stationery tool that lets you create a branded or templated e-mail for all your messages. Eudora offers this, but that prograrm has been discontinued. (It’s under the Mozilla umbrella now and will be re-released some time in the future as a souped up version of Thunderbird.)
Adobe Reader – Along with e-mail, PDF files have revolutionized the freelance business. You can send or receive documents of virtually any size to anyone. If you’re offering copywriting services, you probably just need the Adobe Reader to open documents from clients. If you do do design or want editing and other features, invest in a paid version. The PDF is an industry standard that lets you publish any kind of document and even deliver high-quality files to printers.
PayPal – Most clients will want to pay you by check. But if you want something faster, or if you work with some international clients as I do, PayPal is a Godsend. You don’t have to make trips to the bank or worry about foreign checks clearing. Set up an account and clients can send payment with an e-mail address. You just transfer money into your bank account when you want access to it.
sendspace – How many times have you tried to e-mail or recieve PowerPoint presentations, video or audio, or other big files only to have them stripped from your e-mail or returned undelivered? If you’re tech savvy, you can set up an FTP site. Or sometimes you can use a client’s FTP site. But sendspace is easier. Upload any file up to 300 MB and just e-mail a link. The recipient clicks on the link to download. I send big design files like this all the time.
eFax – I’ve evolved away from faxes. I’ll bet I don’t send or receive more than half a dozen over the course of a year. Which prompted me to toss my old fax machine and cancel the dedicated phone line for it. It saved me desk space and over $200 a year in phone bills. But some faxing is still necessary, so I handle it with the built-in fax utility in Windows and eFax, which offers a free online fax service. You sign up to get a number and can then receive faxes as an attachment in your e-mail inbox. Very handy indeed. Note: When I upgraded to Windows Vista and discovered the fax utility was gone (thanks, Mr. Gates), I bought an inexpensive utility called RKS Fax. Works like a charm.
WordPress – Want to start a blog? You have lots of options for software, but WordPress is considered the best choice by many, including me. This blog is powered by WordPress. Installing it yourself can be a little tricky. However, if you have a Web site host that offers it with your hosting package, it’s simple. I host this site on GoDaddy, and all I had to do was click a link to have WordPress automatically installed on my site. No fuss, no muss.
CoffeeCup HTML Editor – If you maintain a Web site yourself, and don’t use blog software, you’ll need to edit your HTML from time to time. Yes, you can do it with any basic text editor, but CoffeeCup makes it a lot easier. There are two versions of this popular editor, paid and free. The free one has everything you need for basic editing. You can add HTML “tags” with a single click and view the results of your work as you go. The more HTML work you do, the more time this tool can save you.
This just scratches the surface. There are zillions of free tools out there. If you have some you’d like to share, let me know. I’m always looking for ways to make work faster and easier.