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I actually ran the bulk of this post last April, so while some of ya may be experiencing dejavu with it, know that (a) I only included the products I’m still in love with and (b) I updated it to include the things I’ve falled in love with since then! Oh, and some of the links are affiliate ones, but for serious, I wouldn’t put the hooplah around it unless I’ve used it for myself and wanna marry it. Don’t tell my husband.
For CRM (Customer Relations Management): Batchblue
I’ve used SalesForce in my Corporate America life, and hated the unprettiness/ clutteredness/ textbasedness of it all (although it looks like they’ve updated it since). Thankfully, I found BatchBlue early in the game and used their basic plan ($9.95/month) for over a year before adding my Virtual Assistant to my mix and throwing ‘em an extra $10/month, happily. The most amazeballs thing about Batchblue is their super-sophisticated social media integrations. If you have a name and an email address, you can click the Search Social Network button and have Batchblue find their Twitter account, Facebook profile, Flickr username and LinkedIn profile, which you can then add to that contact’s Social Media tag. You can also add RSS feeds for, well, anything (I set ones up for blogs, Etsy and Pinterest) – so that person’s latest tweets and posts and pins and pics are all within their entry. It’s also really easy to attach files, create To Dos and Events (that sync with your calendar), run reports for whatever you find important (i.e. I have one that tells me how many consultation calls end up signing on as clients), create web forms that then sync with the contact’s info, and keep track of Deals. And seriously, the company is generally awesome. They not only send me goodies all the time, but the donated to my boob cancer walk!
For newsletters: Mailchimp
If every company aspired to be like Mailchimp, we’d all be in a much happier place. Not only do they keep upping the amount of their free accounts (it used to be 500 subscribers, then 1000, and now 2000), but they keep things so user-friendly and pretty and easy – from creating your first newsletter to reading the data of who opened your last email – that it’s pretty much a pleasure to send an update to your fans. And when I do run into trouble – and I did recently – they have real people at the other end of the IM system that not only help you, but have personalities and might send you a ninja sticker postcard(!!!) after talking to them. And yes, I have said ninja sticker postcard. It’s amazeballs.
For social media management: Hootsuite
I’m a cheapskate. With all the free platforms out there, something’s gotta be really super good for me to pay for it. I think this proves how much I love me some Hootsuite, as I didn’t bat an eye when they switched to a paying platform, and I happily give ‘em my $5.99 each month for all they do. Yeah, I know people like TweetDeck and I think it’s still free, but I was super annoyed by the desktop pop-up I’d get every time my home feed was updated. Whether on my desktop, laptop, or iPhone, HootSuite is the one-stop-shop for me to update my twitter account, my Facebook profile, my Facebook fan page, my LinkedIn profile, and my FourSquare account (you can also add your ping.fm account, mixi (whatever that is), WordPress and MySpace). So, no need to go anywhere else to update all your statuses, schedule updates/tweets in advance, shorten links, and create private and public lists (no more homefeed overwhelm!).
For clipping, organizing, and To Do-ing: SpringPad
When I discovered SpringPad, I immediately unsubscribed from BaseCamp and stopped updating Delicious and Evernote. I’m kinda afraid to explain it because there’s so much and it’s so varied, I might (a) write for pages and pages and put you to sleep (b) make everything super convoluted, so head over to their info page and get the scoop. Then, know that you can keep all your bookmarks, all the products you want and recommend (whether you’re surfing online or out in the world), all your take-out menus and fave spots, and all your notes/To Dos and put ‘em in one place – or in multiple notebooks in the same place. There’s even a Bulletin Board option for each notebook, so you can pull out images and satiate the visual piece of your notes you’re yearning for. The only downfall I’ve experienced with Springpad is that it won’t mark a To Do as done until the To Do date passes, so if you have reminders set-up for something, it’ll keep reminding you to do it even if it’s been done (if that makes sense). Pretty annoying. Springpad, please fix this! I love you!
For email: Gmail
I’ve been using Gmail for my personal account for years, but it was a no-brainer to keep on using it when I became a Woman of the World (aka entrepreneur). I love me their folders, their filters, their forwarding, their starring system, their themes (the Bus Stop one changes with the weather!), their Priority Inbox, the amount of space I get, and their stacked conversation view. If you’re curious, I did sign up for a free trial of Google Apps, but couldn’t find the benefit, so never took the time to install/use it. If you use it and love it, please leave a comment – I’d love to hear!
For calendering: Google Calendar
I’ve been toying with the idea of switching to iCal, but I’m on so many different machines that I love the web-basedness of Google Calendar, as well as the ability to create multiple calendars for different categories (and color-code ‘em!). It also seems to Sync with every application possible, so I have my Batchblue To Dos there and can see ‘em every day in that view. I don’t love that it doesn’t live on my phone (I have to log-in to a web page to view it), but I do have the benefit of knowing it’s always updated no matter where I am.
For time tracking: Freckle
While I don’t bill my clients based on my time, I’ve found Freckle enormously helpful (and easy! and pretty! and visual!) in tracking my time, taking stock of what I’m actually spending my time on. This has lead me to some valuable info for my business: what takes up most of my time, what I need to spending more/less time on, what’s worth delegating, if I’m charging enough based on the non-session time I don’t bill clients for, etc. Even if this isn’t something you’re interested in in the long-term, the free 30-day trial (and they email you a week before it’s up so you won’t get billed “accidentally”!) is an eye-opening exercise in time management. And having that timer on for each task has definitely keep me more focused and more unitasking!
For legal signing: EchoSign
I use EchoSign so my new clients can sign their agreements quickly/easily, agreeing I’m not the boss of ‘em and that they won’t sue me and whatnot. I was nervous that just typing their name into a Word document wouldn’t hold up in court, and scanning the document back and forth ended up being more complicated than I originally figured it would be. With EchoSign, I was able to upload my agreements, add the name/initial/date/signature fields I need, and keep ‘em on file until I send ‘em to my new client. Once the client “signs” it (by typing), it gets sent to me to countersign (again, by typing), and then we both get PDFs of the agreement for our files. Everything’s time stamped and saved in the EchoSign files, so there’s a real detailed record there should I need it later on. The only complaints I’ve had is in the shady wording EchoSign used when I first signed up – which they’ve since updated – and reflected in their pricing (they charge more for a month-to-month account than what they advertise – the price there is if you prepay for a year, but they don’t say that). But the actual product’s pretty great and gives me peace of mind, so I put up with it. They also recently got bought by Adobe, which I hope would have ‘em get their act together on the back-end, but, uh, not so much (let’s just say I prepaid for a year recently & they kept emailing my monthly invoices – for 3 months straight! – even though I would correct ‘em each and every time). Still worthwhile to me, though.
For fancy schmancy online scheduling: Skedge.me
When I first knew I wanted a fancy schmancy online scheduler, I did my research. It was a few years ago so I don’t quite remember the others I looked at, but lots of them seemed salon- and gym- based. I found TimeTrade back then (2008 or so, I think), and have stuck with ‘em until this month, when my yearly account expired. Yes, Skedge.me is 11x the amount of TimeTrade (which is still tough for me to swallow), but the truth of the matter is that back then I needed something uber-basic and uber-cheap, and now I need something, um, more complicated – and with that comes a higher price range. When I knew TimeTrade was coming up, I pounded the pavement big-time, and I swear I signed up for a dozen free accounts. My non-negotiables? Being able for my clients to go to my next available appointment right away (instead of looking at 6+ wks of unavailable time), having an easy time zone converter, being able to add multiple services, not needing to have a physical location, and having my clients (or me!) be able to easily reschedule/cancel appointments. Skedge.me is the only platform that’s given me all this, and while I wish they (a) had a buffer between appointments that I can load, so there’s no danger of peeps booking back-to-back (b) they had room to put a description of each service, I’m giving them a whirl.
For blogging/websiting: WordPress
I’m a bit spoiled here as I know this is tough to set-up/design and my man did it all for me, so I can’t speak to that. What I can speak to is that I’m fairly developer-illiterate, and it didn’t take me too long to figure out WordPress so I could add pics, links, movies, yada yada yada to my posts. And all the plug-ins it offers rock.
For conference calls: FreeConferencePro
I’ve been using FreeConferencePro since I started coaching in 2007, and love it for (a) giving me my own number (b) allowing me to customize the greeting (aka make a sexy lady voice say the word “amazeballs”) (c) having a recording feature so I can email the link to my clients after each session, which they can then download or listen to online. I can count the amount of times the line has been down on one hand, and while it’s soooooo not fun when it happens (and the customer service team doesn’t really care), it’s happened so infrequently it wasn’t enough for me to change providers.
For file sharing: Dropbox
Whether you’re sharing files between computers, with other people privately, or with the world at large, Dropbox is the coolest. There’s tons of storage involved with a free account (I have a crapload of files on it and have only used half of my available storage), and the app is great for when I need to read files on the road. Simple explanation, simple to use, super amazeballs product.
For virtual meetings/workshops/presentations: MeetingBurner
When I hosted my very first virtual workshop last month, I was scared to death of the software I’d have to use. I know that WebEx is the pain of all pains and that my beloved Vokle didn’t have a way to make a live event private (“hidden”, yes – private, no). I’m not sure how I came across MeetingBurner, but I’m glad I did! With just about an hour of testing, my reliable Virtual Wizard and I learned the ins and outs of the system & felt confident that the live workshop would go off with minimal hitches (which it did! Yes, there was 1 hitch, but somehow we fixed it). Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the free account gives ya 15 attendees, while the accounts that charge ya give ya 50-1000+ attendees in the presentation with ya. Somehow I signed up before they upped the pricing (the free account used to give ya 50 attendees) and they’ve kept me at the Pro account for free for life, but still…I’d pay for this to have the 50 attendees on any months I need a service like this.
For team projects: Trello
I have Michelle Nickolaisen to blame for this. Yes, I watched her video on Trello when she submitted it for my blog, and now I’m hooked. I find, though, that I just use Trello for projects I’m working on within a team – so, for example, writing The Declaration of You book with Jess or launching An Effective Escape with Arwyn (she’s that Virtual Wizard I mentioned earlier). Trello is great to eliminate the back-and-forth and make sure everything’s out of your head, being worked on, or gonna be worked on. Amen and hallelujah!
For pretending I’m a designer: Picnik
I’m tempted to not even put a link in here because it’s closing in less than a month and that makes me cry, I really embraced Picnik this year to make buttons and jpeg stuff for my site. The Clubhouse images (minus the treehouse at the top – Arwyn did that ’cause there’s nothing that Wizard can’t do!)? Mine! The Effective Escape payment button, the “My Story/Safety Net/Plan B/Breathe Easy Number” and “An Effective Escape includes” images (yup – Arwyn did the rest!)? Mine! I really enjoyed (for the most part) stretching this creative muscle, and Picnik made it easy for me to create amazeballs images without much technical knowledge. I’m definitely not interested in design enough to dive into Photoshop, so I’ll be checking out iPiccy next (unless you tell me of another Picnik-like platform to try!).
For super easy money management: Outright
Man, there’s just something about the fact that Outright separates your PayPal fees automatically and sends you a weekly profit report (I can see the money that’s come in/gone out the week before without doing anything at all!) that just gets me right in the heart-center. Sure, ya need to take some time loading in your accounts and categorizing things. Yes, I go in each month to categorize unknown sales/expenses and double-check the data between my PayPal report and my receipts. But man oh man, the upkeep seems minimal, and spending less than 2 hours a month on my money stuff makes this right-brainer uber-happy with her Outright Plus account.
For online sales/affiliates/yada yada yada: ejunkie
I don’t know why ejunkie wasn’t included in the original round-up…probably because it’s forgettable. I mean, it’s good at what it does (having affiliates, allowing you to sell something that’s an automatic download, etc) but I soooooo want it to be prettier and more user-friendly that I don’t really talk it up much. If anyone knows of a platform that does what ejunkie does and does it like Mailchimp/Batchbook/Hootsuite (aka purdy & easy) and doesn’t come with a $55/mo mark-up like 1ShoppingCart, I wanna know about it (or want you to invent it).
For large file sending: YouSendIt
I’ve used a whole bunch of sites to try to send large files, and I always come back to YouSendIt. You have free unlimited sends as long as what you’re sending is under 50MB and you’re not sending multiple files at once. That’s about all there is to say about it. It’s there, it’s free, it works. Good enough for me when it comes to this stuff.
Whew! Hope that didn’t send ya down the rabbit hole too much, but allowed ya to find some swoon-worthy products/platforms of your own. Happy favoriting, and remember – being a solopreneur is *not* about doing it all on your own!
———Happy Hooplah, Michelle's Memoirs, Powerful Productivity