It’s time to open the tool box again, and talk about tools for solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and business owners or CEOs who are always on the go. We discussed before that a good tool kit for managing social media is essential, but your business is about more than just engaging online. If you are like me, you find yourself needing to work or manage the office on the go.
Some of the tools I use to manage my business are tools I also use to manage and monitor my social media and online life as well. You’ll see those on both the “social media toolbox” list and the “CEO on the go toolbox” list. Also, it’s notable that several of the tools on both lists have had significant upgrades in recent months that make them even more integrated, collaborative with other tools, and useful.
As a refresher, my social media toolbox post highlighted: Evernote, Shareaholic (FireFox, Safari), Ping.fm, Ubiquity/FireFox, TweetDeck, TextExpander, Quicksilver, Google stuff, my HTC Mogul PDA and my MacBook. Expect an updated post on my social media tools to drop here or elsewhere soon, as some of those have been adjusted with passing time. You’ll notice that Evernote makes an appearance on both lists, and with good reason – the company introduced some nice on-the-go integrations recently.
So how do I run my business on the fly? It’s important for me to have as much data as possible accessible from anywhere. This means that I use a lot of web based solutions. Until they make a 1TB USB Flash thumb drive (and consider this an official “would someone PLEASE make one?” request), I can’t fit all of my data into any lightweight portable form to take with me. If you are a CEO with a MacBook Air or a netbook, this is doubly true for you – you have even less storage and need computing from the cloud solutions even more.
My most essential tools are my MacBook and my HTC Mogul PDA. All of the tools I use for my business are accessible at least in basic form from both (some of the mobile sites leave something to be desired, but I find this true of many mobile sites). Along with that, I carry the chargers with me, which takes up valuable space in my League of Awesomeness laptop bag. Since power is key and cords are bulky, I am researching adding one of these to my arsenal. I also keep my iPod on me with a backup of my presentations, in case something horrible happens to the laptop – color me paranoid, but you never know.
Yes, Evernote is on both lists. It is a powerful, flexible way to annotate and track your life and business. I talked about the desktop and web plug in features in the last post. What makes it even more effective are the way it integrates these features into your mobile life. Evernote on my phone lets me keep track of anything I’m doing. I can handwrite a note using Ink Note; I can record a meeting, sing a song I’m writing, speak a poem or story idea I have or give myself a quick voice reminder using Audio Note; I can take a picture of anything and record it with the Photo Note feature; I can even send myself files and text notes. Evernote upped the game recently for this heavy Twitter user by allowing me to link my Twitter account to my Evernote account. By then following @myEV on Twitter, I can DM myself notes and reminders and links to add to my Evernote storage as well. With tagged search and other features, all of my notes are easy to find and ready for me to come back to the next time I load up the desktop app or go to the web site. I can even share the notes with people working on a project with me.
I can not say enough nice things about FreshBooks. They recently won a Webware 100 award, and with good reason. This accounting solution is lightweight, easy to learn, easy to use and flexible enough to incorporate several other on-the-go tools to make it easier to track time, expenses, calls and more. I love that I can create estimates and invoices for my clients that include action items, allowing them to link to the live estimate or invoice and make change requests, accept the terms, pay online and more. It’s very convenient on both sides. Not only that, the customer who has an ongoing project can log in and track time spent on their project, see progress reports and more. It handles staff that work for you as well as clients, and now it is going social – allowing freelancers and subcontractors to link to projects as well, creating a network of people I work and collaborate with. I use this every day, either via the web client, the time tracking widget for my MacBook, my phone (using other services to text in time tracked, expense, or calls made) and more. An ideal accounting solution for the small to medium business that integrates with applications like Xpenser, SkyDeck, etc and exports compatible file types to other accounting software as well.
This little tool let’s me send a tweet, an email, an IM or an SMS from my phone to track expenses. It tracks mileage, meals, time on a project, and more. All you have to do is link it to FreshBooks using the FreshBooks API and it sends all of these expenses to FreshBooks to be associated with a client and project. It also offers a full slate of reports and other features to make it a good stand alone solution for export to desktop accounting programs.
Another tool that integrates with FreshBooks, allowing me to sync my calls from my cell phone into my FreshBooks account and associate them with a client or project for billing time. It also has some pretty nifty other features, like being able to make a text or call right from the application, see who you call most, get reports to your email on your cell phone usage and even get nudged if you used to talk to someone and don’t call them as much anymore. There is a social aspect to SkyDeck, as it lets you connect with your friends who also use it, a nice touch.
The Magnitude Media 800 number is run through a company called Kall8. It costs very little money to run the line, and comes with some nice features. A favorite is call block per number – you can log into the web site and block a number if you get put on a fax machine auto dial list or a telemarketer gets around the National DNC list somehow. This is very handy. Since it is web based, you can forward your calls anywhere you are, receive web based faxes (and send them), get voicemail and more.
You may be thinking I spend a lot of time using call management solutions. I do. The less time I spend on the phone, the more work I get done, so I have several options for filtering calls. In addition to Kall8, I use YouMail. YouMail gives me the Caller ID of every caller, shows me when a friend is calling, but most importantly for this woman who hates to waste time checking voice mail, it transcribes my voice mail to text messages for me. Fantastic feature, and a total time saver.
This Twitter client from Google Code is wonderful. It gives you an attractive, iPhone-like Twitter experience complete with avatars and a full feature set (as well as interacting with other services, like identi.ca, etc) for your WinMo Touch phone. The fact that I can use features like favorite, retweet and more while on the go is invaluable for me, as a heavy Twitter user.
This live streaming video solution for my phone lets me grab events and interviews on the fly and share them immediately without needing a ton of expensive equipment.
Contxts give you Paperless Business Cards. Text geechee_girl to short code 50500 and you’ll see what I mean and why these are so handy.
I use Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office when traveling, as it lets me access my work from anywhere. At the home office I use iWork instead of Office, which imports and exports Google and Microsoft compatible formats.
Small Notepad and a Pen
Trust me, even with a phone and laptop on you, there will always be an occasion to use the old fashioned pen and paper when you are traveling. Your IMAP Gmail may hang up or fail, you may need to write notes larger than a business card back, your battery may run out of juice – stuff happens. Be prepared.
And there you have it, the tools that let me run two businesses, plan events like SMBNH and PodCamp NH, advise companies and write for my freelance writing clients while I’m on the go. What’s in your toolbox for business or for social media?
Disclosure: some links in this blog will be affiliate links
I adore Twitter. I spend a great of time on Twitter. I have made lasting, valuable connections on Twitter. I’m one of the biggest Twitter cheerleaders you will hear (heck, I just wrote a book about Twitter with Laura Fitton and Michael Gruen called Twitter for Dummies). So why, then, do I not automatically include it in every client strategy, or promote it as “the answer” to all business issues? Because it isn’t.
Twitter is a valuable piece in your social media puzzle, but it is only a segment of your larger plan. (You do have a larger plan, don’t you? If not, go back to the drawing board until you do.) What’s more, it is a segment that can fail on occasion, in spite of your best efforts to use it wisely and well. In fact, there are some companies out there who are using Twitter well, and in innovative ways, but still failing at their overall business model.
Today’s case in point is Comcast. The formerly beleaguered telecommunications company found that Twitter was an effective customer service channel when they started an account called @ComcastCares. People flocked to it for “real time” customer service support and the more personal feeling you get from quick response to your issues, because you knew it was manned by a real person (Frank) – it gave Comcast a human face. I adore the folks that man the various Comcast accounts (ComcastBill, ComcastGeorge, ComcastBonnie, and so on). They listen, they monitor, they respond.
In spite of all the inroads the Comcast reps have made by using Twitter as a channel to improve Comcast’s image and provide better support, in the end they are fighting against their own company’s continuing inability to provide good service offline. Customers use the phrase “it’s Comcastic” sarcastically when something isn’t working for a reason (“What happened?” “Oh, my car stopped working for no reason – it’s Comcastic!”). Comcast has an infrastructure that, in many parts of the country, is woefully inadequate and fails repeatedly. This is not the representatives’ fault, but it affects their jobs online. Too often, I’m sure, they get customers like myself who are forced to use Comcast for lack of any other option, which would be fine if it worked, but who are then faced with problem after problem, outage after outage, service call after service call.
If you are going to open your customer service channel (or any other business channel or feedback channel) to the public, your company needs to back the people manning the account(s) up. Comcast proves that if you can’t put your money where your mouth is, your work toward brand perception improvement or better customer care can still be damaged, even when people interacting with your company on that platform appreciate what you’re trying to do. There comes a time when being responded to and told it will be fixed for the umpteenth time just isn’t enough. Customers love the human contact, sure, but at the end of the day they want results, and not to have to come to your brand representative with the same problem over and over.
The moral of this anecdotal analogy is simple. Any social media campaign needs not only more than one facet online, but a strong backbone at the company level offline. Make sure your company is ready to stand tall under the strain of more attention, and ready to truly fix the underlying main issues or problems, not just what’s on the surface. If you aren’t ready to make real changes if needed, then you may want to rethink your engagement strategy until you are.
Today I talked a bit about corporate use of Twitter over on Blorge. This was following the two articles this week, one in Business Week about corporations on Twitter, and one in the Wall Street Journal about Twitter hitting the mainstream finally.