Here’s some of my favorite stuff. No affiliate links, just recommendations.
The One Service Every Consultant Should Use
Internet plumbing glue as a service: Zapier – from free to $99/month. I have to start with this one because it’s the service we use to tie everything together. It listens for triggers and takes actions.
For example, when you buy an online class from me, Zapier registers you for the webinars you picked, subscribes you to your chosen email newsletters, and makes an entry in our customer relationship software. All of that without any web development work whatsoever – now, there’s still plenty of work involved, but it’s work that you can do. (Or at least, work that I can do.)
Zapier integrates with almost everything – and at this point, Zapier integration is one of my deciding factors when looking at new services. If a web site integrates with Zapier, it has a huge edge over its competitors.
Calendar bookings: Calendly – for $8/mo, you never have to worry about scheduling meetings again. Just configure Calendly with access to your Google calendar, tell it about your schedule, and hand out your Calendly link to people who want to book time with you. My sales prospects can schedule calls immediately, and they even get nice reminder emails as our meeting approaches. You can even embed Calendly into your site with an iframe like I do here, and it’s as simple as this:
Online collaboration with clients: WebEx – for around $20/person/month, up to 25 people can meet together online using Windows, Macs, Linux, iPads, iPhones, you name it. Webcam video, computer audio, international free telephone audio, recording, desktop sharing, it all kinda sorta works simultaneously – at least, better than any competitor I’ve tried. (For example, GoToMeeting is really close, but copy/paste doesn’t work, so that’s a dealbreaker for me.)
Source control: Github – for $7/person/mo, you can have private source control repositories. As you grow to multiple employees, they’ve got organizational plans too.
Email newsletters: MailChimp.com – free beautiful emails for up to 2,000 subscribers, up to 12,000 sent emails per month. Easy to integrate with your blog or web site so folks can sign up for your emails without leaving your site. Can’t recommend this highly enough – you need to build your following.
I no longer use this, but you might be interested: Map your subscribers: BatchGEO – free online maps built from lat/long data exported from Mailchimp, which tracks where your subscribers open their emails. I know, sounds creepy, and it’s not super-accurate, either, but when used in combination with Google Analytics, it’ll give you a rough idea of where you’re building up a following. I used this to help determine training class locations.
Track your competitors’ sites: Distill.io – track specific web pages (and even areas of pages.) Useful if you want to see when a company’s offerings change, if your favorite tools update their documentation, etc.
Mailbox-as-a-service: EarthClassMail.com – for around $150 per month, you get a physical mailing address. EarthClassMail opens your mail, scans it, and if there’s a check, deposits it into your bank account. This is fantastic for consultants who are often on the road but want to make sure their bills get paid.
Fax-as-a-service: HelloFax.com – for free, you get a fax number. Your received faxes come in via email. If you want to send faxes too, that’s at the $10/month tier.
Voicemail and phone coordination: Google Voice – free phone number with voicemail. You get to pick which phones ring when people call your Google Voice number. The configuration options are amazing – I’ve had a personal Google Voice number for years, and it’s all I give out. When people in my address book call me (like family), it rings my cell phone and home phone during daylight hours. Unknown callers with caller ID are asked to say their name first before Google Voice passes the call through, and that seems to totally eliminate spam. For the business line, I never actually answer it – it just goes to transcribed voicemail, and then I call people back later (or usually just email them.)
Email & calendaring & intranet: Google Apps – for $50/person/year, you get pretty reliable communication that works well on Macs, Windows, and Linux. For all-Windows shops, though, I’d do Microsoft’s Office 365.
Credit card processing: Stripe.com – incredibly, unbelievably easy way to take credit card payments from customers. When you’re just getting started as a consultant, somebody’s going to ask if you take cards. The startup process with most providers is horrendous, but you can start taking card payments with Stripe in a matter of minutes. Small shops can have customers read their card info over the phone, or fill out a simple web form.
Get contracts signed quickly: PandaDoc – put your template contract in here, and when you want to book a client, you can quickly create a new document, fill in their name & email, and send them a contract that they can sign in their browser. It’s hard to emphasize just how in love I am with PandaDoc because:
- You can put your services in there in a catalog, and quickly pick them out at contract time.
- The bottom of your contract can include an invoice, and even a payment link! After both parties sign the contract, the invoice portion is activated, and the client gets a reminder to pay. They can pay online instantly with a credit card or bank draft because PandaDoc integrates beautifully with Stripe.
- Your contracts can automatically expire in a length of time of your choosing, and you can pick the default expiration & reminder times.
- PandaDoc integrates with Zapier, so when people fill out a form on your site, you can instantly send them a contract. To see how it works, go to the bottom of my consulting page, pick a date/time for a meeting, and put in your email address. You’ll immediately get a contract. (Don’t worry about the meeting – just put “cancel this” or whatever in the meeting notes as you register, and I’ll just delete the meeting.)
Expense reporting and reimbursement: Expensify – I’m not happy about this – frankly, it’s infuriating to use in a lot of ways – but it works. For $9/mo/person, simplified expense reporting that integrates with Quickbooks, American Express, ACH, even Bitcoin. I take a picture of my receipt using the Expensify phone app, and Expensify automatically matches it up to the right AmEx bill and classifies it for me. I can just group expenses together into trips.
Misery-as-a-service: Quickbooks Online – for $40/mo, you too can be befuddled by balance sheets. Thankfully, our accountant can get behind-the-scenes access and fix stuff for us. (I’m kinda torn about mentioning QBO – it’s been kinda frustrating, and I hear there’s better competitors out there like Xero.)
WordPress hosting: WPengine.com – for $29 to $249/mo, simple WordPress management. They install it, patch it, cache it, and maintain it. You just install plugins & themes, and write content. The service has been really hit or miss for me though.
WordPress backups: Vaultpress.com – for $5-$40/mo, simple WordPress backups. In theory, WPengine is doing this for us too, but you can never be too careful, right? We’re database people.
Form submission: Gravity Forms – for $99, simple forms in WordPress that integrate with MailChimp, Stripe, Zapier, and more.
Video hosting: Vimeo.com – for $200/year, you get automatic encoding & hosting for private high definition video. We just upload our training videos here, and they take care of the delivery to end users on almost any imaginable device. (I’m stunned that we never get complaints about our training videos not playing on somebody’s tablet.)
I have a whole separate post on WordPress plugins I use to sell training classes.
File Storage and Backup Services
Shared folders and version history: I personally use Google Drive now because Dropbox has pissed me off so many times with their ever-growing user interface and complexity. (I just want shared files, man.)
Personal Mac backup: Arq and Amazon S3 – for $40 per computer, Arq automatically backs up whatever folders you want to Amazon S3. As files age, they automatically get moved down into Amazon Glacier, which gets even cheaper. I’ve even got all my photos and music backed up because I’ve got some old bootleg type stuff that’s impossible to find now. (I should back that stuff up by way of sharing it on Bittorrent, but whatever.)
Got Questions? Ask away.
I’ll be glad to help answer any questions about how these things work, work together, or don’t work.
I agree with you about Quickbooks for bookkeeping– but I’m a raving fan of Quickbooks’ Payroll product. I think small consulting companies are probably more likely to need to run payroll in multiple states, and it’s very good at supporting that.
The product is NOT flashy in any way, and it’s certainly for small businesses. (One login at a time!) But it provides checklists and supports electronic payments to a myriad of state agencies. I’ve also found their support to be top notch when it comes to odd little questions that can come up about different states. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone getting started with payroll.
That’s a great point! It’s a testament to their quality because I never hear you complain, hahaha. Works enough for us!
How does Zapier compare to IFTTT? It sounds fairly similar…
Ditto on Google Voice. Been using that for years, too.
Steven – they’re the same business model, but Zapier has *way* more service integrations. It’s staggering. IFTTT is great for individuals (and I use it for things like Craigslist monitoring) but Zapier is way better for business.
Hey Brent – a very useful list and thanks for mentioning Xero – we certainly want to be considered as strong alternative to QBO. If you or any of your readers would like to know more about Xero our website (http://xero.com) or team (email email@example.com) can help. We also have direct integrations with Expensify and Stripe 🙂
On a personal note I found myself having to send a fax for the first time in years last week and there was no fax machine in our building and the big fancy printer didn’t have fax capabilities so I made my acquaintance with HelloFax – it worked great!
Xero Community Manager
I find it hard to believe we live in a world where a Microsoft MVP can’t get a free Office 365 subscription. Even I have one, for the first year.
Oh, and with Vimeo. I get warnings that my device won’t fully support the video on my Kindle Fire HD, but then the videos work anyway.
What service do you use for the Tuesday Triage video conference?
We use GoToWebinar. We’ve tried a bunch of competing services, and they’re all around $500 per month for 1,000 simultaneous attendees. They all have drawbacks, but we ended up with GoToWebinar because it’s got the best audio, the best simultaneous webcam/screen-sharing, and an API for easy attendee registration.
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