Before the festive season kicked in, we wrote a two-part post about how to make your start-up life as easy and hassle-free as possible. Here’s part 3, where we open the big velvet curtains with a loud fanfare to reveal the top twelve tools that made our start-up life wonderfully simple when we first took the plunge. We hope you find them equally helpful.
1. Freshbooks for ridiculously straightforward accounting
We do all our invoicing on Freshbooks. With its help, we create invoices in no time. Our clients can pay online; it sends out automatic reminders and it’s easy to track the hours spent with each client, auto-generating an email at the end of the project. Clients automatically receive receipts and payment notifications, too. Freshbooks has, in effect, kept us in business when an offline system would have been too slow and cumbersome to have a positive impact on cashflow. It has saved our bacon on more than one occasion, and we’d hate to live without it.
2. Skype – free and crazily easy to use
It’s an obvious one. But we do conduct an enormous amount of work through Skype, having efficient virtual meetings with freelancers and clients for no money at all. We couldn’t operate the way we do without it. After all, why pay for phone calls if you don’t need to?
3. Brilliant instant messaging from Slack
An instant messaging service designed for teams, Slack lets every team member use the system and makes communicating remarkably quick and easy. So much so that we’ve ditched in-house emails in its favour. But the best bit is the search facility, through which you can find specific messages and transferred files in no time – invaluable weeks later when it isn’t fresh in your head any more and requires effort… therefore time. Because searching Skype just isn’t possible, I’d recommend Slack to anyone with a decent-sized team.
4. Trello for intelligent project management
Whether you run projects for clients or just have a lot of in-house projects, Trello lets you manage them all easily. The simple, searchable to do lists can be assigned to different members of the team so everyone knows where they’re at with everyone else. As such it sits at the heart of almost every web project.
5. Google Apps does it all…
Whether it’s Gmail for emails, Google Drive for cloud storage or Google Calendars to keep your diary in shape, Google Apps does it all. It works on every device, sets up in an instant and if you ever get stuck, the might of Google is there to get you back on track.
We spent years running custom systems for the business and our clients. But it wasn’t until two years ago, when we shifted to Google Apps, that we realised how much time we’d been wasting. These days we recommend and set up Google App accounts for virtually every start-up or consultancy job we work on. And it grows with us, with Google adding different new functionality and features all the time.
6. Themeforest – Purest eye candy!
Designing a new website from scratch is rarely the most cost effective or suitable solution. There are thousands of wonderful premium WordPress themes on Themeforest, designed so companies of all sizes can quickly achieve incredibly professional results. Outcomes that simply weren’t possible without huge budgets 2 or 3 years ago. In the right hands, they can be customised to suit any business and any brand. Themeforest is the gold standard marketplace. It’s big business and many of the planet’s best-in-breed WordPress developers commit thousands of hours to create stunning, flexible themes. We highly recommend you check Themeforest out, even if it’s only for inspiration, before deciding to spend a fortune on a 100% bespoke website solution.
7. Simple screenshots from Annotate
This may seem like a silly one. But this simple screenshot app lets you annotate points on your screen quickly and easily, then upload screenshots to the cloud and send someone a link to an image. Honestly, this saves me about two hours a day faffing and fannying around. If you need to explain anything to more or less anyone, it only costs a few quid and pays for itself time and time again.
8. Control social media channels with Hootsuite
Ever felt overwhelmed by social media? You’re not alone. Even one account is sometimes difficult to keep up with. More than one and it gets very time consuming and confusing indeed, and it’s horribly easy to miss things. Hootsuite lets you monitor, manage and update multiple social media channels in one place, making having to check multiple social media platforms a thing of the past. In our experience less is more where social networking is concerned, simply because there are only so many hours in the social media marketing day and some networks suit some businesses better than others. If, like us, you feel neglected social media looks far worse than no social media at all, it’s ideal.
9. Proposify gets your T&C ball rolling
Don’t forget those terms and conditions. If something goes dog-shaped they could save your business life. We use an automated system called Proposify, which lets clients sign our contracts electronically and keeps a record of all your paperwork in one place. No more paper, paperwork!
10. Bidsketch for faster-than-lightning proposals
Ever had to get proposal out before lunch but it ended up taking all day? We’ve all been there. It’s not so bad when you start out but once you get busy, you’ll sink. Bidsketch lets you send template proposals, changing the details quickly to suit the client. The proposals it generates are extremely professional and clients can check them online or print them in no time.
11. Lynda for learning on the hoof
Want online learning at your fingertips? If you suddenly need to learn a new skill – a common occurrence in today’s fast-paced online world, you can learn from Lynda in no time with a vast array of online courses covering everything you can imagine. And it’s seriously cost effective.
12 Pixeden design resources
Want some of the best design resources in the business? Pixeden lets you bring any presentation, website or brochure to sparkling life with access to a host of brilliant resources for just $9.99 a month, about seven quid in British money. These guys produce wonderful work that’ll genuinely set you apart from the competition. You’d spend thousands getting professional designers to create just one of their design templates, and because they’re used by plenty of the big boys they’re very well respected.
Have we missed anything?
If you use a start-up resource you simply couldn’t live without, we’d love to hear from you.