The internet has an overwhelmingly large selection of applications that vary in utility, cost, usability, rate of upkeep, and compatibility, and it’s cumbersome to navigate through all the options to find what’s best for you. The sheer number of results that appear when you search for an accounting software, for example, are ridiculously mixed with few resources to show you which app is the best fit for your needs. This leads to paying for software that has a solid free counterpart, or worse using a tool that doesn’t actually meet your needs.
It is very valuable for each member of your company to use as many of the same applications as possible in order to streamline communication and avoid technical stumbling blocks. At Freshout, we tend to lean more towards Mac applications, we Firefox or Safari as our main web browsers, and as much of the Google Suite as is relevant. We use a collection of more task-specific apps as well. Here are some of the best tools we use to collaborate, communicate, and get things done:
Skitch is a free desktop app for Mac that takes screen shots, lets you easily add notes, and uploads/hosts them on random, unique urls which you can share in a snap. This is extremely helpful if you frequently need to explain something from a web page, application, or anything else you see on your screen. The introduction video is very informative and answers any questions you might have about Skitch:
We also use an app called Jing, which is a Mac and PC compatible desktop application that allows you to take up to 5 minute long screencasts very easily, and upload them to the web to share via a unique url. Once you install Jing, it subtly resides at the top center or left corner of your screen, where you can start a screencast from in a click. The tool allows you to record your voice along with a demonstration of everything you do on your desktop. This is super useful when you need to explain a multi-step process which can’t be easily summed up in an annotated screenshot or written description. Jing’s help center has a collection of instructional videos and articles to help you get started, and you can check out their promo video on their homepage which explains the feature set in more detail.
For collaborative documentation, we use Google Docs and Google Sites to keep a host of different documents organized and accessible to be viewed and/or edited by multiple people. If your company is exchanging documents back and forth, emailing notes for edits, and storing important documents on either someone’s PC or on an intranet where the files need to be downloaded in order to be viewed/edited, you’re losing a ton of valuable time and need to get on-board with Google Docs/Sites immediately. With Google Docs, you can create an unlimited number of word documents and spreadsheets which almost identically offer the same formatting tools you’re already accustomed to using with MS Word & Excel. These documents are privately stored online, however you can grant access to anyone you like and set whether they can only view the documents or have editing capabilities. Google Docs can then be easily organized into a Google Site, containing multiple docs and other information you add. Another awesome feature is that with every single edit, no matter how minute, a backup of that version is stored, and you can at any time see the full revision history of the document.
Google Docs is a great way to share documents, but a program like DropBox is a great tool to have to share any file or folder not covered by Docs (like audio, images, video). It installs a folder on your desktop that can be linked to all of your other computers/devices, and files/folders you drop into it are also updated and hosted on DropBox’s website on your user account. This is a great tool for sharing iteratively changing files across a dispersed team. For a more detailed explanation and overview of features, be sure to check out DB’s tour section (https://www.dropbox.com/tour), and you can view the demo video below. DropBox is free for storing up to two GB, and there are various price levels beyond that for a monthly subscription.
For more advanced and organized project management, we use a service called Basecamp, which is a great way to keep all of your company’s projects in one place. The main features of the system include milestone tracking, task management, centralized communication, and time and file management. The interface is highly customizable in terms of color and personalization, with no distracting frills, and the system on a whole is dead simple to use. It is not free, but there’s a 30-day trial period, and the minimal subscription fees are well worth it. You can see our full case study on the Basecamp product blog here.
Managing invoicing/accounting has the potential to be an absolute nightmare and a real time drain, and there is plenty of horrible software on the market that will only complicate things for you. We use a great web app called FreshBooks, and it’s made our lives so much easier. You can create and manage customer accounts, send invoices, track receivables, and generate reports, among a host of other highly useful features offered by FreshBooks. It also has a handy iPhone app, and can integrate with other systems like SalesForce, Basecamp, PayPal, Authorize.Net, and MailChimp. FreshBooks has a free option for managing a small number of accounts, but the paid subscription accounts are well worth it if you manage a higher number of accounts. FreshBooks’ tour (http://www.freshbooks.com/tour.php) page has in depth articles and instructional videos about every aspect of the program.
Hands-down, MailChimp is the best email marketing tool available. You can easily integrate MailChimp into your website for newsletter sign-ups, and some of the key features it offers are segmented lists, the ability to custom design html email campaigns, run A/B tests to see what’s most effective, and there are very detailed analytics that are presented in a clean, digestible interface. This short tour explains the value and features of MailChimp.