It was about a year ago that I started hearing about colleagues of mine using FreshBooks for their invoicing and time tracking needs. At the time, I wasn’t ready to move away from my tried and true practice of manual invoicing per project. Hey, I’m a creature of habit and it’s what I knew, and was comfortable with, at the time. I am an early adopter of some things…but not all. I started using FreshBooks a little over a month ago and I just can’t even begin to describe how excellent this service is and how much time it has saved me over the weeks in providing our clients with estimates, invoices, managing billing, reporting and just plain ol’ keeping track of most all of my accounting needs. Really, the only thing it does not provide me is a way to manage my Accounts Payable.. but the receivables are very well taken care of. They have a free sign-up with a free subscription, as well as premium features that cost a fee. I quite happily pay the fee because it is a service that, in a short time, I have come to love and it is well worth the low service price. Worth every single penny, in fact. (Disclaimer note: No, this is NOT a paid post.. I don’t do paid posts here. I have no relationship with FreshBooks, aside from being a happy customer. Though, I should say if you click the link in this post to the FreshBooks Sign Up page.. I do get a very small bit of relief in the monthly fees that I pay them for their services.)
For Project Management, I’ve really tried a lot of different services and applications. It was almost two years ago that I really had to move away from relying on email to manage projects – - it was getting terribly out of hand back then. The volume of emails I got on a daily basis was insane – - it was hard, most days, to separate the general inquiries from the serious orders and the ongoing maintenance requests from the “hey, I can’t pay you but if you design my site, I promise you GREAT exposure” emails. Forget the fact that emails started getting caught up in spam/junk filters and the arguments ensued over “I sent it”… “I didn’t get it” – - just the sheer time it was taking me to process email for E.Webscapes was keeping me up at night.. all night.. every night.
I moved to a pretty standard Help Desk system, with a great deal of back-end customizations. The Desk I use is the Isolsoft Support Center (that is not an affiliate link – - and I have no ties to that company except being a satisfied user of their product.). With this desk, I gained much better control over our system and it completely eliminated confusing emails. Our process is pretty simple… you visit our site to place an order on our E.Webscapes Design Request Form. Once you’ve filled it out and clicked the Submit button – - it automatically creates a new project ticket in our Client Desk where we then begin the process of communication with you on your project and once an order is confirmed, the project ticket then becomes the means of communications between you and our design team throughout the life of your entire project. And, a year from now.. after your project has been closed – - should you have additional tweaks or requests for the ongoing life of your design project, you just update the original project ticket again and it re-opens your ticket in our system to allow us to handle your new requests.
The Client Desk allows us to easily manage the projects by categorizing them, assigning tasks and projects to other team members and allows me to do various monthly reporting to track the progress of all open, and closed projects. I can provide access to an unlimited amount of team members who have access to only those areas of the Client Desk that I designate. As a designer for E.Webscapes, you would login using your own secure login and you view only those tickets and tasks that are assigned to you – - without having to weed through the miles of other projects we have going on that are assigned to other team members in order to find your own.
It’s a very organized and thoughtful way of managing our projects and I’ve been using it for just about two years.
In that time, I’ve tested out other project management apps and services and they just seem to fall short of what I need, where the Isolsoft Support Center software doesn’t. My biggest priorities in this area was tying our order form to the application. With Isolsoft, it’s just so darn easy. When a new order comes in, the ticket is created with all the pertinent details… the prospective client is sent a conformation response with a secure login to the Client Desk where they can access their ticket at anytime of the day or night and I, and Lindsey, our Assistant Project Manager, is immediately notified of the new request and we can take it from there. I have yet to find a system that fits all of our needs under one application. The only desire I would have for it now that I’m using FreshBooks would be to tie the invoicing system to it, somehow. Given FreshBook’s open API – it may just be a possibility. But that’s for another day.
For Phone Consultations, I depend on Skype. It’s a very handy tool to use for internet telephy – or VOIP. I use it for both Skype-to-Skype phone calls, as well as out calls (using Skype to call regular telephone numbers). I also use it for chatting with colleagues and clients over the internet. Over the past few months, we’ve been doing a lot of initial, pre-sales, phone consults with prospective clients. As our projects are getting bigger and more complicated, we’ve made the initial phone consults available to clients who request them and using Skype is a really nice, and cost efficient, way of managing and handling those phone calls.
So, there you have it. My list of 3 of the top tools I use to organize my business day around here. What tools are in your arsenal and why? Inquiring minds wanna know!