Tools I use, recommend, and vouch for.
I’m a Freelance Web designer/Graphic designer/Marketing guy, which means I spend my days visiting clients in their offices, sitting at coffee shops typing away, or working at home while my kids sneak around and shoot nerf darts at me. Here are some of the tools I use and recommend. Some of them are affiliate links, but trust me, I’m only recommending stuff on this page that I truly recommend. Affiliate links are here because if you’re going to try something, I might as well make some change to buy some coffee from it if the company is willing to give it to me.
My typical approach to trying a product is to find the most popular one out there and then check out their competitors. Harvest is one of those that I picked through that process. Harvest integrates with Twitter and has an iPhone app so I can keep track of time in a minimal number of clicks. Another nice thing for me with Harvest is that it’s forced me into some structure. Before Harvest I was keeping time using Minutuer and a Google Docs file. That was nuts. Now I can only log time if I’ve created a project for that time. If I haven’t created a project for it, then I don’t have a client to put with it, and honestly, I SHOULDN’T BE DOING IT!
Minuteur is one of those apps that I’ve used for years and finally paid for simply to say thanks to the developer! It’s a versatile timekeeper, stopwatch, and countdown timer. I use it to tell me to take a break every 25 minutes, to loosely log time (non-billable, non-work stuff, like my kids’ reading time, etc.)
Task Management / Project Management
I struggled finding a sub-heading for Evernote. It is sort of that ubiquitous app that runs and shows up in all of my work. Time cards get archived there; I bcc all of my quotes from Harvest to Evernote; notes I take with clients go in there; and bookmarks and websites I want to read later get saved there.
Nozbe if you follow me on twitter, you may already know that I went through quite a search for a good project management app. Nozbe won. It integrates with Twitter, Evernote, and Dropbox which makes a lot of things easy for me.
I’ll give you an example.
I met with a client and took notes on his project in Evernote. I tagged the note with my name for the project and created that project in Nozbe. In a few minutes, the notes from the meeting showed up in the bottom of the project in Nozbe. From there I broke the project into my tasks and then SHARED that list with the client. Now the client can see what the exact action items are for this project AND he can view my progress as they are checked off. This makes a finish line for us to cross (and then invoice!) so that we won’t get into scope creep. A simpler way to do this is with Tadalist but Nozbe lets me integrate it into my system better.
What about Dropbox? Well if I name a folder in my Dropbox with the name of the project, whatever is in that folder shows up in Nozbe at the bottom of the project. Now when I need logos, copy, or whatever, I can share that folder with the client and they can give it to me. We can both see that it is there at the bottom of the project and we don’t have to scan through 11,749,023 emails to find it. It’s right where it should be with the project.
You should really check out the features of Nozbe for yourself. I’ll warn you, it’s not a simple task list. It’s geared toward the GTD workflow. You’ll actually get better at the GTD stuff by working within the Nozbe structure which is a good thing.
I send all of my web clients to Hostgator. I offer them a coupon for 25% off (“sullysentme” is the coupon code, you can use it too) and everyone has been pleased with them. They offer great support through a live chat and even through Twitter.
One of my clients said “Are you telling me I get everything I need for just over $10 a month?!” and needed me to clarify that YES he was getting everything he needed for such a good price. Check them out, you won’t be sorry.
File Backup and Archival
Ok, so you’re going to make me make that face. It’s 2011, there is no excuse at this point to not have your stuff backed up. Dropbox is the easiest way I’ve found to do this. You pick a folder on your machine and whatever you save there gets synced in the background to your account in the cloud. All of my in-progress client work lives in a Dropbox folder so that it is instantly and continuously backed up.
I have a little ritual every Friday at 4:55. I make sure some David Crowder or Third Day is playing on my playlist and I launch JungleDisk. Everything that matters on my hard drive gets backed up with JungleDisk.
Whenever I get a check from a client, I first go into Harvest and mark it paid, and then I remove it from my Dropbox and put it in an archive folder to be sent to JungleDisk. That keeps my active DropBox folder and my MacBook hard drive light but I still have access to it in a few months when they want changes or updates.
Social Media Tools
Hootsuite is my de-facto Twitter tool. I use it to schedule tweets from @iamstpaul (my ongoing project on the Apostle Paul’s life via twitter) and for link tracking and shortening among other things. These guys were in the game early and have played it well and fun. They have a bunch of team/group tools but I only talk to myself via Hootsuite since I’m a team of one.
Web Design Tools
Elegant Themes saves me about 8 hours of work every week. At first I balked at the idea of designing websites for people and using templates but then I folded. By picking out a theme as a starting point I get about a day’s jump on designing a site. Once I switch out the logo, customize the CSS, add some of my own flair to the code, the site looks good and doesn’t look like it was mass produced. I feel sorry for people that buy some of those themes that aren’t developers or coders, because every site I’ve done so far involved some exquisite photoshop, CSS, php, and html work to make things just the way we wanted them.
They are still great right off the rack, featuring plenty of support on the forums and a ton of options through their control panel.