As a working freelancer, exchanging documents and files with clients is a big part of the job.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably dealt with plain text documents, Rich Text Format (RTF) files, Google Documents, Microsoft Word files, and PDFs; if you’re a graphic designer, you’re familiar with PDFs too, as well as JPGs, TIFs, PNGs, Photoshop Documents (PSDs), and Adobe Illustrator files—among others.
But what do you do if somebody sends you an unusual file type, something in a format you’ve never seen before—or worse, can’t even open?
What to Do With Old or Uncommon File Formats
First, here’s some good news: You don’t need to panic.
While it can be stressful to receive a client file you’re momentarily unable to open—believe me, I’ve been there—no matter how foreign or downright alien the file type is, there’s always a way to read or convert it.
For instance, Microsoft Word is able to open a whole slew of other file types. Not only can the 2013 version of Word open .doc and .docx files, but it can also read HTML, OpenDocument Text, PDFs, Rich Text Format documents, WPSs (the default file format of Microsoft Works), and XPS documents, among others.
Microsoft Word can also open and edit older files using feature called “compatibility mode.” This is a software mechanism in which a software either emulates an older or outdated version of itself, or mimics another operating system in order to allow incompatible files or software to run or be read.
Essentially, compatibility mode allows Word to reconfigure into an older version of itself to allow older Word files to run and display properly.
Do-It-Yourself File Conversion
Sometimes, though, Word will stumble. When that happens, there are other ways to get access to the information locked away inside that mystery file type!
Programs like Windows Explorer on PC or Finder on Mac can also convert certain file types using the Save As function. Simply open My Documents in a new window, open the file you wish to convert, click Save As, and choose a new file type from the dropdown list that appears beneath the text box where the file name appears.
In the freelance business, it’s not uncommon to receive WordPerfect files from certain clients. Though online converters will do the same thing, the DIY method above of changing the file extension to, say, .doc should suffice to convert files of this type into a format you can work with.
Another “common” unusual file type to receive from clients involves documents from the program OpenOffice, designated as ODTs. If you have an older version of Microsoft Word, you won’t be able to open or edit ODTs in the program—nor will the Save As trick convert them to a form you can edit.
Luckily, there’s a different, sneakier method for converting ODTs. First, right-click the OpenOffice document you’d like to convert and select Open With > WordPad. If the option to open the file with WordPad does not appear on the list, you can still select it from the “Choose Default Program” menu.
When the file has been opened in WordPad, you will then be able to save the file in any format you choose. Click File, then Save As, then select Office Open XML Document. Once you hit Save, the file should appear as a .docx file, easily opened and edited in Microsoft Word.
Online File Converters
However, some more unusual files won’t succumb even to these tactics.
It’s time to break out the big guns: there are a slew of online file converters out there, many of which are up to the task of converting even the most uncommon file types to something you can work with. There are probably hundreds of converter sites out there on the web, but these are a few of our favorites:
- Zamzar: Simply select the file or URL you want to convert, pick what file type you want to convert it to from the options in the dropdown menu, enter an email address so Zamzar can send you your converted files, and hit Convert!
- Online-Convert: Works similarly to Zamzar, but has designated hubs for audio, video, ebook, image, and document files. Online-Convert also has a tech support option, so if you can’t find the conversion you want, you can get help from somebody who can.
- Convertio: Not as user-friendly as Zamzar or Online-Convert, but offers a slightly broader menu of conversion options, including converting to vector and presentation files.
Being a freelance professional is hard enough: you shouldn’t have to buy and download new software every time a client sends you a file type you’re not immediately equipped to handle.
With this guide, you should have the tools and knowhow to wrangle any uncommon file type your work throws at you—and get back to the work you love ASAP.
And for more useful info for you freelancers out there, we’ve got the right stuff:
- Freelance Business Tips: How to Start Your Year Right
- How to Set Your Freelancing Rates: A Guide to Pay for Freelancers
- The Ballad of the Blue-Collar Writer: How to Make a Living Doing Unsexy Writing
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.