Relevant for: Freelancers, Project Managers, Digital Workers
First off, I’m not going to be talking about your industries tools. You’ll know whether you need Microsoft Word, or Quark Express, or don’t have a website but what often kills small business creators is how to manage all the other essential parts of making their own income. Here’s a list of some great core tools, both web and Mac for the state of business as it is now.
This article will focus on essential tools for managing income producing endeavors in 2010 that take little to no learning curve to use and will simplify how to do business. It also covers why doing them on Mac is a great choice.
If you’re already running a business or are interested in starting one, it has never been more possible, and the tools have never been more accessible at little or no cost.This article is part 3 of a 3 part series including resources and tools for freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners. See part 2 for online entrepreneurs and part 1 for the more traditional offline small business owner.
Wait, Wait. Business applications on Mac?
The notion that business can’t be run on a Mac is something I’ve heard over and over. Fact is, for small businesses and freelancers, that’s just plain silly. When you look at reality, most of the management tools are actually online now a days, and the ones that aren’t, have Mac and Windows equivalents. Large corporations might be sluggishly behind on updating their infrastructure or use proprietary custom software, but there’s no reason you can’t benefit from the added security, reliability (that’s the kicker!) and ease of use the Apple platform offers. From invoicing to backup, to productivity, these tools are solid wins for your ideas.
What makes using a Mac a Good Business Solution Then?
Apple operating system (OS X) un-sexy truths
- Reliability is big as the system runs on code called UNIX that creates an incredibly reliable and secure platform for the rest of everything to run on. This is what those commercials mean when they say things just “work.”
- Continuity is also something non-sexy about the system but makes everything that much better. All the programs “talk” to each other. Your photo program talks to your e-mail, so a click is all it takes to format and send pictures, your chat program talks to your address book, that new accounting program you just downloading can load pictures, music, or contacts because everything in the system shares. It something I’ve particularly noticed that’s missing from the Windows systems.
- Maintenance is NOT required, virus protection isn’t necessary. Arguments abound, but using a Mac doesn’t require weekly or daily or monthly virus sweeps, spyware scans or anything like that. Creating strong passwords is the most important part of security on a Mac. 10+ years of experience on a Mac, still not one virus. I know it can happen, but I’m saying it doesn’t.
- Yes, it runs Microsoft Office, people still think you can’t open or create a Word document on a Mac, I’ll keep saying it until I stop getting questions about it.
- Backup is built in to the Apple operating system in the form of popularized application “Time Machine.” The ease of use is the key point here. There are hundred of backup solutions for online or system specific set-ups. It takesÂ literally a few clicks (4min how to) to back everything up using Time Machine on a Mac after plugging in an external hard drive. I’ll be releasing something special on the topic of backup in the near future.
Those points above are the big hitters, surfing the web and saving files is just about the same on any system, but with these foundations in place the experience as a whole is much better and thats just part of the reason so many Mac fans are avid about the system. It’s not one thing or the other, but the collective experience that is just as pretty as the machines themselves.
The Freelancer’s Toolbox
You most likely won’t be using a point of sale application, and accounting is only a side thought, but sending out invoices will be something you need to do.
- Freshbooks.com – Offers an all in one invoicing, time tracking, and expenses. Invoicing is easy but integrating the rest of the tools will take some learning. Monthly cost varies.
- BillingBoss.com – FREE and easy to use web invoicing tool. I use this because it costs me nothing, still allows clients to pay via paypal or an online payment gateway, or simply print and mail me a check. It’s not hard to understand or hard to use. You have to enter your clients in manually or through an Excel spreadsheet, which isn’t pretty but as long as your not managing dozens of clients, this isn’t a big deal.
- Billable – Service tracking and Invoicing built into a simple application. This app is a little generic, I’ve used to keep a general view of my current client projects before I moved to tracking everything in an online Google Document.
- Mint.com – As a freelancer you probably don’t have a business credit card, but would like to manage costs or income you produce with your business, mint.com is the most intuitive, simple to use and easy to understand application out there.
As a freelancer, you potentially bill by the hour, or waste time by the hour trying to get something done.
- Rescuetime – This is more of a productivity application. A Free sign up includes tracking of what websites, and what applications you use the most. There’s a small application to download and a web interface that will graphically show you where you spend your time. It’s a powerful thing to see.
- Billings – This app is rather cheap at $40 and does a superb job of time tracking and invoicing. Very little “process flow” to learn before you have it down. Slick invoices, and Address Book integration stand out here.
- Calendar – I stick to a modified GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology that relies heavily on a simple calendar. I schedule things, create reminders and then stop stressing about them. I use Apple’s built inÂ iCal software to this.
Multiple clients means multiple projects. The details need to live somewhere.
- Google Docs – An online, color coded, formatted document is simple and often times all you need.
- ActionMethod.com – An online task management suite, free package available. Very intuitive.
- Calendar – If your projects are fairly straightforward and don’t include a large amount of details, don’t get more complicated than a calendar. Stick to KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid.
- iProcrastinate – A free and flexible project and task organizer. It’s tailored toward school “subjects” but easily applies to anything. I think this is a bit of a gem as it’s not widely known, but the Â ability for multiple levels of breakdown, and attaching links to open files or web links make this a great find.
- Basecamp.com – I’d say this is the most popular web application available. Some learning involved, it starts at $24. Overkill if you just want to manage some tasks, the collaboration is very well done.
- Evernote – A free, online syncing desktop application for easy thought collection and management. Task documents are easy to create and manage, along with pulling in screen shots or e-mailing out content. A simple but great all around tool.
Marketing and Media Involvement
- Tweetdeck – A desktop application for managing all the social network information. It links up with Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace and then provides scrolling columns for each website. It’s much more manageable when you just want to read what’s up and post a few items. It’s more about hearing responses and posts than sending information out.
- Su.pr – This tool is vital for pushing out content quickly, tracking it, and engaging audiences. You link this site up with your Facebook and Twitter accounts and then post through this tool to multiple accounts at once. Any links included will be shortened and then tracked. Tracking includes how many times someone clicked on your link, if it was re-tweeted and how popular it was overtime. You’re also linked in to the host company’s social website surfing community “StumbleUpon” just by using the shortening links they build into the service.
- Facebook Page – A page created on Facebook separate from a profile page. Easy to invite people to look at and gain “fans” that populate throughout the network if your publishing great content, coupons, and links to.
- Word of Mouth – Often times as a freelancer, despite social media involvement, word of mouth is going to get you the most clients, so keep talking to them.
Online Presence (assuming you have some semblance of this)
- WordPress is the go to platform for content websites, and portfolio themes abound on it.Â You probably don’t need a sales site, and not even a blog, but every freelancer needs a portfolio. The power of WordPress lies in it’s customizability and ease of use. Once it’s set up, there’s almost no learning curve. Check out this portfolio theme one my friends and new online and copy writerÂ Aaron Socci found. WordPress is the tool, but setting up an online presence is more of a project.
You can easily overkill managing clients as a freelancer. Stick to something simple, 9 times out of 10, you only need an e-mail, phone number or address.
- Address Book – Use the built inÂ Apple program or Google Contacts online.
- E-mail – Organizing e-mail is essential. Apple’sÂ Mail program does a great job and syncs well with all devices, but this year I switched to Google because it provides everything I need, is always accessible online and offline, and more importantly has built in template responses and stupid simple filters for common account type alerts or automated e-mails. I won’t go into detail about all the features, but knowing that you can useÂ Google Apps with your domain, meaning “[email protected]” is really valuable, and still free. You’ll probably need to hire someone to set it up for you, but it’s a once and done thing. I’d do this ad-hoc type of work for $50 a set up. It’s also easy to manage multiple e-mail accounts from one Google e-mail interface.