12 Free Tools I Use Every Day to Create Standout Content

A Woman Writing in a Notebook with a Cup of Coffee in a Cafe

Here are two important facts about me. One, I’m a freelance writer, editor, and content marketing consultant. Two, I love a good bargain. Because writing is my livelihood, I’m always on the hunt for tools that help me perform better…without an exorbitant price tag.

Since I’ve been doing this for (eep!) over fifteen years now, I’ve curated a great list of free resources and tools I regularly use as I write, edit, and provide strategic content consultations for clients.

1. Canva

Someone Looking at a Mobile Phone Displaying an Image of Canva, a Graphic Design Platform

If I ever need to do any design work, Canva is my absolute go-to. It’s user friendly, and there are templates for just about anything. This is great for beginners and those of us who aren’t naturally design inclined.

Note: if you’re a graphic designer or you just want to unlock tons more features, Canva does offer a paid version.

For what I need (creating blog images, logos, infographics, presentations, client proposals, etc.), the free version has always impressed me with its functionality and breadth.

2. Pexels, Pixabay, Nappy, Unsplash

A Man Sitting at a Typewriter with a Speech Bubble That Says “Blah, Blah, Blah”

OK. I hear you, savvy reader! These are actually four different tools. But they all give you access to the same thing: copyright-free images, music, or even videos.

What’s great about this?

· All images are free to download.

· Attribution is not always required (unless you want to).

· The images can be manipulated, edited, or changed however you see fit. (See above.)

· The images can be used in any context, even commercial use.

There is some overlap in available content between the platforms, but generally speaking, each one has a unique stockpile of content. They all use a simple search engine search feature, and the databases are growing in quantity and quality all the time.

3. Hubstaff

An Antique-Style Stopwatch

Hubstaff is a simple but robust time tracking software. (Full disclosure: this link is an affiliate link, but I do honestly love this solution!) I use Hubstaff every single day. (Seriously. Every. Single. Day.)

This tool lets me…

· Easily log my time.

· Switch timers between clients, when necessary.

· Stop and start my timer whenever I need to change my toddler’s diaper, throw together a PB&J sandwich for him, or grab (another) cup of tea.

· Have verifiable proof (including screenshots) of every billable minute.

· Run intuitive reports that show how much I worked, when, and for which client.

4. Audacity

A Woman Wearing Headphones and Speaking into a Microphone

This open-source software is great for basic audio editing and recording. Whether you’re recording a podcast or narration over a video, this tool can get the job done. It’s a little clunky to use, but once you know your way around, it’s actually pretty powerful.

Full disclosure, there very well could be a sleeker, more streamlined audio editor out there. I simply don’t do this kind of work often enough to track down something better!

5. Google Docs

A Tablet with a Google Tab Open

I love Google Docs! It’s crazy intuitive. There’s a detailed change log, and you can see exactly who made what edits when. And…best of all…no more hunting through your email inbox trying to track down version number seven of that blog.

It even auto-saves every few seconds, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting the dreaded red X before you were ready. (Who else has legit stress dreams about losing a document mid-project? Anybody? Just me?)

6. Merriam-Webster

A Page in the Dictionary Showing the Definition of “Dictionary”

This is a bit of a holdover from the days when I did a lot (a lot!) of manuscript editing, but I still consistently use Merriam-Webster as my definitive spelling resource.

The Unabridged version is a yearly subscription, but ever since moving away from contract editing to launch my business and consultancy, the standard free version has worked just fine for me.

Always using the same spelling resource helps me ensure consistency across my own work or a client’s work.

Probably nobody else in the world notices — or cares — but I can’t stand when one paragraph uses “mind-set” and the next uses “mindset.” This is very likely why I’m an editor. And super fun at parties.

7. RiteTag

A Cell Phone Screen with the Twitter Logo

If you’re looking to get data on Twitter hashtag usage, RiteTag is the answer. (This is another affiliate link, but again, I only suggest tools I really use.) Just type in a word or phrase, and it’ll populate the tweets, retweets, and exposure per hour for that phrase. It’ll also give you an auto-populated list of related words and phrases and the analytics on them.

It even breaks it down into hashtags that are great to be seen right now and those that should help you get exposure over time.

It’s not an exact science, but it does give you a great idea of which hashtags are too limited for exposure or too large to make an impression.

Whether you’re creating your own content or developing social posts for a client, this is a handy little tool for anyone working in Twitter.

8. Instagram

A Cell Phone with Instagram Graphics above It

If you’re looking to get insight into IG hashtags, the platform itself has actually made it incredibly easy. Just go straight to Instagram, and type in “#” and the word or phrase. A dropdown list will populate showing exactly how many times that hashtag has been used.

It’ll also offer a bunch of auto-complete suggestions based on what you type in.

If you’re struggling to come up with effective Insta hashtags, this feature can be a big help.

9. LinkedIn Hashtag Analytics Plug-In

A Tablet with LinkedIn Open

Looking to get organic search results from your LinkedIn content? Use the LinkedIn Hashtag Analytics plug-in for the Chrome browser.

Just type in your word or phrase, and you’ll get the number of followers for that hashtag, as well as the max comments and likes on a post using it.

10. SEMRush

A Laptop Showing a Page Filled with Data, Graphs, and Analytics

As a paid service, this platform has oodles of functionality. (This is, you guessed it, an affiliate link.) Even with the free version, though, you can still run some interesting reports and get some great insight into a website’s basic analytics.

If you’re doing any kind of high-level keyword research or SEO strategy, this can be a really helpful tool. (Just remember, if you need more of a deep dive, you’ll likely need to pay.)

11. Google Keyword Planner

Three Scrabble Tiles Spelling Out “SEO”

Looking for keyword search volume? Want to know which terms to go after in your content? Keyword Planner can help.

It doesn’t give you search volume down to the number, but you do get a range, which is still really helpful. (It’s good to know if you’re working with something under a hundred monthly searches or something closer to ten thousand.)

It also gives you an approximation of competition level and price for a top-of-page bid, if you wanted to go the paid ad route.

12. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams

A Woman Writing in a Journal and Video Conferencing on Her Computer

Whenever I book a meeting with a client, I use some version of video conferencing software. Certain clients love Zoom; others won’t use anything but Teams. So, I’m flexible and accommodate all.

The one thing they all have in common? I only use the free version.

Sure, there’s some limited functionality. Zoom, for example, has a forty-minute cap for meetings with three or more people, but the one-to-one calls can last twenty-four hours. (Real talk. The client who keeps me on a Zoom call for a full day will not be a client for long!)

These are amazing tools for connecting with clients, especially during the onboarding process when you’re both new to each other.

I also love you can choose to have your camera on or off…for those days the dog got me up at 3:00 a.m. and the kid thought my shirt was a canvas for his breakfast!

In Conclusion…

I love my job. A lot. I love the flexibility. The autonomy. The challenges. All of it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s still a job, though, and I’m always cognizant of keeping my overhead costs low.

Luckily, with a little bit of research and trial and error, I’ve found you can create engaging, effective content using a hodgepodge of free and readily available tools.

So, what are you waiting for? Go create something amazing!

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Liz Heflin

Liz Heflin

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I love (in no particular order): Tea. Reading. Travel. My family. My dog. Tea. Helping clients harness the power of words. Tea.