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 fill out our webinar registration form, 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: Youcanbook.me – for $16/mo, you never have to worry about scheduling meetings again. Just configure YCBM with access to your Google calendar, tell it about your schedule, and hand out your YCBM 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.
Online collaboration with clients: WebEx – for $49/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 we’ve tried. (For example, GoToMeeting is really close, but copy/paste doesn’t work, so that’s a dealbreaker for us.)
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. As a Mac user, I hated Github initially because it was a pain in the ass to get set up correctly, but now that Jeremiah has done his magic on my laptop, it’s pretty cool.
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.
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. We use this to help determine training class locations. (I used Microsoft PowerMap for a while when it was free, but now it requires an Office365 subscription.)
Mailbox-as-a-service: EarthClassMail.com – for around $75 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 $10/mo, you get a fax number. To send faxes, upload files and pick out the cover sheet. Your received faxes come in via email.
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. We have a company phone number, and we can pass around who’s on call (or just let it go straight to voice mail.) 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, 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.
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.
Expense reporting and reimbursement: Expensify – 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 and then send them over to Jeremiah for approval. He can reimburse my personal expenses straight to my checking account, and the corporate ones go into…
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
Learning management system: Absorb LMS – it ain’t cheap, costing tens of thousands of dollars to start up and keep running for a year, but it’s the most powerful and flexible option we’ve found, and our users seem to like it. We’re even moving our 2015 in-person class ticket sales into Absorb.
File Storage and Backup Services
Shared folders and version history: Dropbox for Business – for $15/user/mo, you get unlimited storage, unlimited version history, easy file access across all your devices, and great security.
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.