A freelance content strategist’s toolkit
Our spare room is full of tools. They belong to my husband, a legacy of his lifelong love and occasional career in carpentry. It seems as if are hundreds of them: drills, planes, sanders, routers, hammers, saws, and a lot of others I can’t name or guess the purpose of, beyond being ideal for separating your fingers from your hand.
When you work in digital (and in particular when you specialise in strategy), being married to someone who works with their hands can be a bummer:
HIM: ‘I made a staircase today, what did you do?’
ME: ‘… I made a PowerPoint…It has a GIF in it.’
I love what I do, but it yields satisfaction differently; I have to wait a lot longer for a tangible outcome.
One similarity is that I have a lot of tools too. Someone I’ve been working with loves to tease me about the umpteen apps I’m using at any given time.
I’m unashamed and unrepentant. Since going freelance I’m drawn to anything that looks like it will save me time, make my life easier or help me to do a job better. So I thought I’d share a few things from my toolkit and how I’m using them.
I’ve been boring everyone about just how good this AI transcription tool is for the last few months. Upload audio or video and a few minutes later Sonix spits out a time-stamped, editable and exportable transcript. I’m impressed with the accuracy, although it struggles a little with strong regional UK accents. (Some failed ones have made me laugh a lot though. e.g. ‘I was going to volunteer at the local dog rescue boat and then also stumbled across America’. The person wasn’t a Columbus-wannabe running a Corgi coastguard.)
I’ve been using Sonix to write up detailed notes from calls, and document user and stakeholder interviews. It’s also been useful for a video content project I’m working on; I transcribed all the footage we shot, which made it so much easier to find the clips we needed for editing. It’s searchable, which is brilliant for those ‘I know someone said x, but I can’t remember who, when, or where’ moments. It’s saved me from so much time-consuming drudgery.
There’s a free trial and we both get 100 minutes free if you sign up via the link above.
Reframer is a tool for capturing observations from multiple interviews that allows you to tag them, analyse them and group them.
Many of you will already know and use Reframer’s stablemates Card Sort and Tree Jack. I’m a fan of both, but it’s Reframer I’ve found most helpful of late. I’ve used it for digesting insights from user/stakeholder research and discovery. For me, the tagging and chord diagrams help with understanding trends and seeing connections between different ideas. I’ve also found it good for homing in on and sharing digestible key insights with clients.
Reframer is free.
This is an audio recorder with a handy extra feature: you can tag, highlight and annotate the recording as you go.
I used this during filming interviews last month. I left Sonocent running in the background and hit a button to highlight when someone said something brilliant. For editing, it made it so much easier and faster to home in on the best takes and most interesting answers.
I haven’t use much of the other functionality and get the impression it might be fiddly on mobile. There’s a desktop app I’m looking forward to experimenting with however.
There’s a free trial to get started with and see if it works for you.
Buzzsumo is a tool for analysing content performance.
I use it to find the most shared content on a topic, or from a specific website. Another feature I like is that it shows you which content performs best on different social channels. There’s also a clever ‘evergreen’ metric for identifying content with a long-lasting appeal.
There’s a free version that lets you see a limited amount of data. The paid version has even more features.
This gives you insights on what questions people are asking and how they think about topics based on search data. You enter your topic, and Answer The Public will give you the most common who, what, where, when, why and vs questions people search for.
I find this helpful for creating quick empathy and user journey maps, as these question searches give you a good insight into what people think, feel and want to find out about a topic or brand.
There’s free and paid versions.
A million icons (literally) for pretty much any idea or concept you might want to convey.
I don’t know how I coped before I found this — the icons are so great for presentations, diagramming, decks etc. It’s a good companion for making empathy and customer journey maps as it covers most feelings you can imagine.
The icons are available for free on a Creative Commons license (don’t forget to credit the artist) or as a paid option.
An AI tool that recognises your doodles and turns them into drawings.
If you can’t find something on The Noun project, draw it with AutoDraw. It’s just fun just to play with too.
AutoDraw is free.
Cushion app helps freelancers plan and manage their workload.
I turned to this when I had a few different projects on at the same time and was finding it hard to get a handle on my availability. Now, as soon as I plan out a project, I put the hours in here and can see at a glance when I’m free and for how long. Cushion does a lot of other stuff too that I haven’t explored yet. I will say it can be clunky — some elements of the interface took me a while to pick up.
There’s a free trial, and after that prices start from about $8 a month.
FreeAgent is online accounting software that helps you with invoices, expenses, time tracking, tax returns and more.
This falls in the ‘boring but necessary’ category. I’ve been using this for anything and everything money-related and it’s made me feel a lot more organised and under control. I also have to give them a lot of credit for their ‘Support’ section — I’ve found the answers to any question I’ve had in there.
I get FreeAgent for free via my bank, but subscriptions are £10–30 a month.
A grammar, spelling and style checker.
Working solo I rely on this pretty heavily in lieu of having people around to proof things for me. And as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I make a *lot* of mistakes. I disagree on some stylistic points, but it does help me to improve my writing and I crave a 100% score. The Google Docs add-on could be great, but it’s very slow.
There’s a free trial and after that a license is $50 a year.
Hemingway is a text editor that helps you improve your writing by highlighting long or complex sentences, words you don’t need and uses of the passive voice.
Before I bought Pro Writing Aid I used this daily. It’s free.
Gather Content is a tool that helps you produce content in a more consistent, structured, timely way.
I recommend Gather to all my clients, and I’m doubling down on this after a recent experience of using Word for a content production project. Feedback got lost, the number of documents floating around was dizzying, and keeping track of the workflow was tough. None of this happens with Gather — templates keep your content consistent, all the feedback is one place, the workflow and sign off process is clear for all to see.
There’s a free trial and prices start from $99 a month.
This lets you turn your mobile phone into a remote control and presenter screen for Google Slides.
I use this when I speak at events — Remote means I’m not glued to the podium and have notes and a timer at hand if I need them. And because it’s familiar, it avoids the chance of an unfamiliar clicker disaster. (I hate accidentally advancing too far, it ruins the flow.)