Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

Posted by Matt Stocker , stored in: Technology & Web  

Hello again – sorry for the rather long pause in blogging! I do have a number of excuses including a heavy work load, working on an updated website (almost ready to launch in the not too distant future) and the arrival of a rather high maintenance police sniffer puppy in training called Herbie. He has now moved to live with his new handler for his next stage of training and we have a new sniffer dog in training called Jess who’s a lot lower maintenance!  Anyway, excuses over, back to the blog!

I was musing the other day about the fact that I use rather a lot of web 2.o style applications for my business. As I find these applications so useful and have made my selections based upon fairly extensive research and comparisons between products, I thought I’d put a list together to give you a headstart if you’re looking for similar tools.

Project management with Basecamp

Basecamp is an online project management tool created by 37signals. I had looked at other project management tools but in the end, and once 37signals had introduced dates for tasks, I felt Basecamp was a good fit for various client projects. Basecamp really comes into its own when all parties use it to collaborate and use it to make notes and upload shared files. It has been well developed and remains intentionally unbloated from complex features, instead providing useful to-do list style actions and milestones – just enough to organise a collaborative project.

Awesome presentations with Prezi

Here at Matt Stocker Ltd, we’ve just finished putting together a presentation for a client in Prezi. The client’s brief was to ‘out present’ for an opportunity they had been offered and Prezi offers the wow factor that other conventional presentation tools such as PowerPoint just do not deliver.

Prezi is a fairly new tool as it was only launched in April 2009 but it is already capturing the imagination of many. Rather than using the conventional slide format, Prezi provides you with a virtual blank canvas upon which to lay out your ideas and design your presentation. Having added text and images to your canvas, you then create a storyline by adding a path that zooms in and out, focuses on key ideas and conveys the message that you want to present.

Not only that but Prezi makes collaboration and sharing particularly easy as you can invite others in your team to edit prezis with you and, to share them, you simply need to email a link to the online version of your prezi or download a version that can be played offline. Simple!

Online questionnaires with Wufoo

As I run workshops to explore, develop and define vision, values, purpose and mission, I need to obtain input from everyone prior to a workshop to get an idea of the existing level of consensus. I chose Wufoo mostly due to the formatting options it provides – many other options seem to forget that questionnaires need to look nice at the end! The interface is very easy to use and you can quickly build a good looking form with ease. Wufoo also allows you to easily review the data you’ve collected and notifies you when someone has filled out your form. Sharing a survey with somebody ready for completion is as simple as emailing them a link to the online form.

Not only that but Wufoo provides fairly extensive functionality – whilst this isn’t something that I have yet had cause to use, Wufoo can be used for a whole host of tasks including the collection of payments, donations and simple online orders.

Web copy wireframing with Jumpchart

A recent discovery of mine, Jumpchart is an interesting program that helps to wireframe web copy. Here at Matt Stocker Ltd, as part of our work in marketing we are regularly involved in helping clients to develop their websites. Copy is a key part of this and using Jumpchart really helps by taking the focus off the design and placing it onto the copy itself along with the all-important menu structure. Jumpchart is the only tool I’ve found that is effective in allowing you to simply plan a website with ease.

Email and more with Google Apps

A basic business requirement but one that I’m very happy with. Google Apps has been rock solid in terms of reliability and it has all the syncing and connectivity I need (with the small exception of calendar syncing between computers for which I use Spanning Sync). I can easily sync my email over IMAP and Exchange across all devices so I can always see what I’ve read and deleted whether I’m using my iPhone, laptop or desktop.

Whilst Google Apps obviously consists of far more than just email, I personally tend to make most use of the email, Calendar and Reader. I tried out Google Docs for a while but found issues with formatting, so for collaborative copy I’ll tend to use Basecamp’s Writeboard function instead. That said Google Apps is expanding and improving all the time and, on the whole, I’d highly recommend it – it is by far the best solution I’ve found for email.

Time tracking with Tick

I looked at a lot of options for time tracking, some of which were great products. However, the thing that swung it for Tick was their multi-platform time tracking applications for iPhone, Mac, PC and so on. Many of the other solutions relied on widgets or web pages and I was bound to forget that I’d left a timer running with these! Tick makes it easy to see how much time you have spent on a project and how your time has been spread over the past week or month, which is vital for producing invoices at the end of a month. The one thing that Tick doesn’t really offer is in depth analysis on exactly how and when your time has been spent; at present, this isn’t really something I need but if I wanted greater visibility, I would be tempted to look at an alternative product such as Freckle.

Accounting with FreeAgent Central

I love FreeAgent Central!

Whilst not the cheapest solution available, it is a pleasure to use and makes my life so much easier as it tracks and calculates everything I need for running my business – invoices (pending and overdue), PAYE, dividend vouchers, tax owed and much more. I can upload my bank statements with auto-recognition and create formatted invoices. The customer support FreeAgent provide is also second to none.

FreeAgent sign-upAs an added bonus, FreeAgent also run a great referral scheme so if you are interested in signing up with them and would like a 10% discount on your subscription, simply click on any of the links I’ve provided here or feel free to use my referral code 314yalfc.

One last word and a couple of desktop solutions to wrap up!

So, I think that’s it for online apps! Whilst using apps can work out more expensive than the traditional software purchase model, all upgrades are included and working online means that collaboration is easy, whether you’re working with clients, accountants or partners. That said, I do still use a number of desktop software programs such as Things (task management for Mac) and Daylite (contact and lead management) which also sync with my iPhone and tend to work very well.

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