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7 Tools to Better Manage Freelancers and Contractors

Cabe Atwell

Make your team of freelancers efficient and productive with these tech tools.

Freelance and contract work is growing at an incredible pace, with no signs of slowing down. According to a survey from Edelman Intelligence, a staggering 50.9 percent of the U.S. population will fall under one of those categories if growth in those sectors continues. That's a majority of the population, and since 36 percent of (or 57.3 million) workers freelanced this year alone, it seems quite plausible the numbers will continue to grow and reach that percentage without issue.

With that in mind, as more companies move to a mobile and/or temporary workforce, it can be a challenge for managers to adapt to the dynamics of regularly changing teams. Freelancers and contractors can work for many clients, adding to that dynamic.

To make it easier for both employers and freelancers, many companies have developed tools to manage and collaborate no matter the locations of team members. While dozens of apps can accomplish those criteria, we've narrowed down the list for you.

1. Asana

Price: Free; $9.99 per month for Premium; contact for Enterprise quote

Asana is one of the easier apps to use for managing freelancers and contractors, touted as "teamwork without email." In essence, Asana is a combination of project management and collaboration designed to streamline complex workflows and even the largest teams. Users can create, categorize, assign and schedule projects with the integrated calendar. You can also prioritize daily tasks and due dates, track projects to completion, and concentrate easily using the app's Focus Mode, which allows you to maintain focus on a single task without feeling overwhelmed.

Users can communicate with each other and employers through a messaging platform and generate detailed progress reports in real time if required. The same platform allows users to attach files in nearly any format and share project-related documents. It provides email notifications for users who have signed out of the app to keep them up to date on project developments. Admins can set parameters for all employees, including project tasks, team assignments, and security and organization settings.

2. Trello

Price: Free; $9.99 per month for Business Class; $20.83 per month for Enterprise

Trello is mainly a visual project management tool that lets you collaborate in an easy, organized fashion, utilizing a calendar-like layout. This layout makes it easy to separate projects into tasks and track them with individual contributions and progress easily and efficiently. Users can add comments, upload attachments and assign due dates in each project category, which can be assigned to individuals and groups.

Projects are separated into lists, providing an easy layout for navigation, and items within those lists (known as cards) can be dragged and dropped into others or reordered in the original. Those cards can contain checklists, due dates, images, discussion notes from team members and other attachments, making it easy to keep all relevant data in one area. Think of them like sticky notes you can arrange on a board that is searchable and shareable and can contain group discussions for collaboration efficiency. You can even integrate other collaborative tools with Trello for increased functionality, including Slack, Google Drive and Evernote.

3. Kalo

Price: Free; contact for Premium quote 

Kalo (formerly Lystable) is designed to give managers an easy way to keep tabs on their growing lists of freelancers and contractors with an online platform for managing projects and streamlining payments. Businesses can create and assign tasks with timelines, work descriptions and going rates, which lets workers know what's expected of them and allows them to agree to specified terms based on the project.

Managers can use Kalo to set weekly or monthly budgets and monitor spending in real time without the need for spreadsheets. You can leave comments, share ratings, and group contractors into categories based on individual talents and expertise using one to five stars. The app also makes it easy to pay contractors in as little as five days, in more than 120 countries, through an intuitive invoice platform that keeps track of project assignments and pricing.

4. OneSpace

Price: Contact for quote (Starter, Builder and Enterprise versions)

OneSpace is like a full-on HR management platform in one convenient online application. The app allows businesses to build a private talent network of freelancers and contractors from an online talent pool. This allows you to scale your workforce based on the work needed and to build a virtual workspace. The workspace functions like most collaborative platforms, with the ability to send messages, upload files and collaborate in real time. Employers can drag and drop assignments for individuals or groups, making it easy to keep track of projects and due dates.

OneSpace also allows you to monitor the performance of your workforce via real-time dashboards to ensure project schedules are met. It even allows for incentives for those who meet those demands. The app also produces automated workflows, creates data-based reports, and offers freelance or contractor payment options through PayPal. Businesses can even integrate OneSpace with their existing process platforms via data transfer through your data exporter of choice or OneSpace's API, which automates the process.

5. Slack

Price: Free; $6.67 for Standard; $12.50 for Plus

Slack is a premier collaborative management tool that allows teams to work with one another on projects through Channels where they can message and share files and folders, images, spreadsheets, and other documents by simply dragging and dropping them into their assigned Channel. You can also sync those files with other apps, including Google Drive, Dropbox and Box, using a paste-and-link option within Slack for increased functionality. All data uploaded to a Channel is immediately searchable, allowing those in that Channel to search and access any of that data without the need to gain access.

Alerts (both sending and receiving) can be automated for nearly anything in Slack – a new milestone you reached, project additions and completions, meeting times, or even the end of the workday. Slack is also highly customizable, with the ability to change platform themes, Channel settings and notifications depending on user needs. Businesses can assign projects to those in Channels and track progress in real time through Channel monitoring, allowing them to keep track of project milestones and due dates with greater efficiency.

6. Wave

Price: Free; pay as you go   

Wave is a management tool for all things accounting, invoicing and payments, primarily designed for small businesses with dozens of workers (including freelancers and contractors), but larger companies could benefit from it as well. The cloud-based platform features several apps that include Accounting, which tracks income and expenses and allows users to link their bank accounts, PayPal, and other sources for real-time transaction records and monitoring.

It also features Invoicing, which users can use to generate pricing invoices and collect money, including credit card payments, through the banking institution of their preference. Invoices can be sent via email, and the platform's payment processing allows users to collect those funds without issue. Wave also generates self-service paystubs and W-2s for all employees, and it can even generate automatic filings during tax time, meaning you can automatically file and pay both federal and state taxes through the app (for New York, Texas and Florida only, but coming to more states soon).

7. Wrike

Price: Free; $9.80 per user for Professional; $24.80 per user for Business; $34.60 per user for Marketers; contact for Enterprise pricing

Wrike is a project management app similar to Slack and Microsoft Teams, enabling businesses to assign and track projects along with deadlines, schedules and other workflow processes using a minimalistic, intuitive interface. The app features two primary functions, the first being Project Management, which allows managers to track due dates and dependencies associated with projects, manage assignments and resources, and track time.

The second feature is the Collaboration platform, which provides the usual features such as messaging, file uploads and notifications, but goes beyond with the Live co-editor feature that allows real-time editing on the fly. Collaboration also features the ability to track progress and changes to projects and provides alerts when changes are made through messaging, as well as dashboards with real-time updates. Wrike supports app integration for further functionality, including Adobe, Box and Google Drive, and even includes an API for those who want to develop their own integrated apps.

These are just a handful of the tools designed to manage freelancers and contractors that don't have a steep learning curve. What's more, they are generally very affordable and, in most cases, available as a free service that retains the app's core functions. As more people transition over to freelance work, the apps to help manage them will continue to grow in functionality and ease of use. If the freelance and contractor base continues to grow as speculation suggests, then these apps will certainly become invaluable tools to mitigate those rising numbers, both now and in the near future.

Image Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Cabe Atwell Contributing Writer
A graduate Electrical Engineer actively plying his expertise in the industry and at his company, Gunhead. When not designing/building, he creates a steady torrent of projects and content in the media world.