10 Totally Free Educational (and Other) Resources for Freelancers

The world is full of freebies- if you know where to look. And that also includes the online world; nowadays, there is more free stuff online and on the Web than ever before. Part of the reason has to do with simple supply-and-demand economics- having more people online also means more competition for traffic and page views.

Internet marketers and subscription sites are more willing to give away educational and other resources for free. Likewise, by giving away some free stuff, these businesses hope to entice you into eventually purchasing the full package deal. For freelancers just starting out in the freelance world, having access to free online courses, ebooks, magazines, etc. can be a real help.  Here is a list of 10 totally free resources for freelance workers:

1. Online courses from top universities

If you think you can’t afford a Stanford or Harvard education, think again. Sites like Coursera and Udacity offer various courses from different state and private schools as well as through leading industrial experts. Khan Academy is well known for offering free online educational courses to some of the most remote geographic locations around the globe.

MIT offers a huge selection of courses on its MITOpenCourseWare website, where you can learn about topics as diverse as cognitive robotics and game theory. Of course, as a freelancer, you might just be looking to enhance your web design or editing skills or pick up some medical terminology for a white paper you’re writing. Not to worry- these websites offer basic undergraduate-level classes as well.

2. Legal documents

Whether you’re a freelance business consultant, web designer, writer or something else entirely, you are well advised to create and sign certain legal documents before undertaking or paying for any work. With Docracy, you can access a wide selection of free legal documents such as contracts, work agreements, employment offers, etc.

Docracy also allows you to e-sign the document and then generate a .pdf version to send to your client or employee. For freelancers and business start-ups, having documented proof of a business transaction is imperative if you wish to ever take legal action against client non-payment, intellectual property theft, etc.

3. Magazine editor information

For freelance writers trying to write for or even become employed by magazines, finding editor information can be tricky. At Mastheads, you can quickly browse through a plethora of magazines such as Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Guns and Ammo to find out who is editing what. Mediabistro offers informational posts on how to pitch writing ideas, which magazine is looking for new blood, and how much certain publications pay per word.

The site also has a job board; however, most of the jobs, even those listed as freelance, are location-specific (i.e., not work-at-home). Finally, if you want to know the scoop on which editor has been hired or fired, what jobs may soon be opening up at XYZ magazine (via the trademarked WhisperJobs site), and the probable contact email formats of major magazines, check out Ed2010.

4. Photos and images

You can obtain completely free photos and other images at Pexels. When using this free content, be sure to comply with the originating site’s rules and regulations.

5. Work timers

There are many work timers out there, helping you keep track of your billable hours and better stay away from time sucks such as Facebook and Angry Birds. One of the simplest and free time trackers out there is SlimTimer, which allows you and other members of your project team to input tasks and maintain timers on all of them.

All work data can be backed up and imported into an invoice. Another free time tracker is Tick; the no-cost subscription option comes with one project tracking, project reporting and exporting (including RSS). Tick projects can logged into and used by an unlimited number of users.

6. Audio recording and editing software

At Audacity, you can create, convert and edit audio files from the comfort of your own home office without needing to purchase any software (although you may wish to invest in a microphone if you’re creating podcasts). This is because Audacity offers open source audio software that is completely free to download and use.

7. Photo and image editing software

Love PhotoShop but can’t afford its price tag? GIMP is an open source PhotoShop-like software program that you can download and use for free.

Just like PhotoShop, GIMP allows users to upload and edit images, changing such features as exposure, contrast and color saturation. Users can also utilize the advanced scripting functions (via Basic Scheme) of GIMP to add in images or create new effects.

8. Web development tools

While you can view the source code of almost any web page by simply going to its “View” tab and clicking on “Source”, you cannot perform very much editing or debugging work unless you really know the code. Plus, most web pages are such a mess, script-wise, that it’s a headache trying to get anything done with them.

With Firebug, you can more easily see and edit a site’s code, whether that code be in CSS, HTML or Java. Furthermore, Firebug will even point out certain scripting errors to you, streamlining your editing. The free open source software will also monitor your network, reporting where sluggishness is occurring and why.

9. Keyword tools

Sure, there’s always the free Google keywords tool to help you figure out which keywords are the most commonly searched. However, the Google keywords tool was developed with PPC advertisers in mind, not folks trying to create searchable content for blogs or business websites. Likewise, the tool doesn’t report on keywords that your competitors are using to become #1 on the SERP (search engine results page).

To this end, sites like KeywordSpy are much more apropos. Although accessing all the site’s features requires a paid subscription, you can gain many of the tool’s benefits by signing up for a free subscription and plugging in some candidate keywords. WordTracker is another useful keyword tool that you can use for free (although for a very limited time) to check on your competition.

10. Magazines

For several years now I’ve been receiving an absolutely free subscription of Website Magazine. This publication offers timely e-commerce news and advice that has served me well with my online (and even offline) clients.

I also receive a bunch of other free (or really cheap) magazines like Money, Forbes, The Economist, Martha Stewart Living, etc. through ValueMags and Mercury Magazines, both of which periodically offer free trial subscriptions of 6 months to a year to some very well-known publications. These free magazines are a veritable font of writing inspiration as well as information for me. And they sure give my mail carrier a workout!

Bonus freebies!

Go to any well-known website and you will invariably be “encouraged” to sign up for its email newsletter by being offered a rather chunky educational product (e.g., e-course, e-book). These products were likely sold at-profit some time in the past but are now available for free.

Sites that offer some rather hefty sign-up products include Marketo, Smart Passive Income, Make A Living Writing, The Extra Money Blog, etc. They are great instructional products and packed with useful information.

How to Build Your Own Revenue Share Site

Do you currently generate content for revenue share sites such as HubPages, Examiner, Infobarrel, Helium or Yahoo! Voices? Do you envy the money that these sites make and how little of that cash goes to you (via page views)? If you’ve dreamed about collecting all the revenue that a site like Yahoo! Voices makes or even selling such a site one day (Yahoo! paid $100 million for Associated Content), then read on. Here are the steps that you will need to take to build your own revenue share site:

1. Buy a domain name and web hosting.

Obviously, you need to have your own website before you can generate any income from it. Fortunately, the cost of doing this is rather minimal with sites like HostGator and GoDaddy charging you roughly $10/year for a domain name and another 10-$15/month for web hosting expenses.

2. Create a Google AdSense account.

Google AdSense is probably the most ubiquitous adshare program around, offering instant platforms through which publishers can generate income via posted content including articles, blog posts, photos, videos, etc. Google AdSense also offers a range of useful tools to track page views and ad clicks and generate ad campaigns. For the purposes of a revenue share site, Google AdSense offers a software tool called the AdSense Host API; this tool offers the opportunity for a pool of publishers to each earn his/her own separate income from one publishing site.

3. Install Google AdSense on your website.

Before you can install the AdSense Host API, you should first install Google AdSense on your website. AdSense will report how many visitors your website is getting, where these visitors are coming from (both geographically and online), what keywords are being used to locate your site, etc. Having such information is critical for increasing your site traffic and recruiting other publishers. It’s also imperative because, as step 3 notes, you won’t be able to implement the AdSense Host API without a certain level of traffic.

4. Install or build your revenue share infrastructure.

Google releases the AdSense Host API only to those websites that generate at least 100,000 page views a day. Yes, Google’s page view requirement does make things difficult for publishers who are just starting out with a revenue share site. If your site is hovering a just a few 100 page views/day, you may want to take these alternative approaches to AdSense revenue share:

a. Create your own revenue share infrastructure. If you have any programming knowledge, you can generate code that will allow you to incorporate different Adsense codes and payment percentages into a single revenue share site.

b. Hire a programmer. With sites like oDesk and eLance, your outsourced programming costs could be rather minimal; i.e., a few hundred dollars should have you set up with your own personalized AdSense revenue share site.

c. Find and install a clone script. Sites like HotScripts offer scripts that can be used to implement a revenue share model onto your website. Likewise, you can look up and copy the coding of revenue share sites like HubPages, then make some edits to that code and use it on your own site. However, unless you’re familiar with coding programs and what they are capable of, your best bet is to go with option b and work with a programmer.

5. Decide how you will pay your publishers.

Now that you have your revenue share model up and running, decide how you will compensate your fellow publishers via Google AdSense earnings. Some sites initially give publishers 100% of their generated earnings in order to inspire more and better content. However, if you are concerned about covering your investment costs, you could set up a 60/40 earning model where publishers receive 60% of all earnings and you receive the remaining 40%. You might even wish to pay certain publishers up-front for selected pieces of content that you request. Such up-front payment could go a long way towards promoting your site and attracting a higher caliber of publishers.

6. Promote your site.

The hardest part of owning a revenue share site is driving traffic to it. Traffic is the lifeblood of your business because it generates AdSense income, thus keeping you and your publishers happy. Traffic can also lead to lucrative ad offers from outside advertisers, lessening your reliance on just Google for your income. Finally, traffic works through a positive feedback loop: more traffic equals more publishers signing up to your site, which equals more content, which equals more traffic and more publishers producing more content, ad infinitum. Of course, once your traffic levels reach 100,000 page views/day, you can implement the AdSense Host API and receive account help and information from Google itself. How can you best promote your site? Here are some time-tested methods:

a. Create a referral program. Provide your current publishers with a strong incentive for bringing other publishers on board. Those incentives can include a share of the new publisher’s earnings, a referral bonus or a prize.

b. Use social media. Use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to talk about your revenue share site and what it offers to publishers. Encourage content submission by posting a contest or some other buzzworthy event.

c. Go local. Consider setting up a booth at your city’s or town’s next career fair and advertising your website. Place an ad in your local paper. Put up flyers on college campuses and in town (with permission, of course). Don’t forget to talk about your revenue share site with everyone you meet; oftentimes, you might recruit publishers simply by the fact that they know you.

7. Create incentives for star publishers.

How do you motivate your current publishers to stay with your revenue share site and keep publishing good content? By providing them with various incentives. For example, you could create publisher levels based on a certain number of page views; with each page view level surpassed, that publisher earns a higher AdSense income. Alternately, you could target certain assignments and payments to a select group of “emeritus” publishers.

What else can you do with your revenue share site once it’s generating page views and money? In some cases, you may receive a buyout offer from a major online player such as Yahoo! or even Google itself and thus ensure a very comfortable retirement for yourself. You might also team up with another revenue share website or two and create an online network such as Demand Media has done. In short, the sky is the limit and you will definitely be surprised by where your revenue share experiment takes you.