Tools of the trade: How to be a successful solopreneur

I did an interview earlier today for an article in the New York Times about what services, tools, and tricks I use as a “solopreneur.” The conversation got me thinking that I should list them here on the blog, too. So without further ado (and in no particular order), these are the tools I use and why they work for me:

Highrise: A customer relationship management platform from 37signals in Chicago. In addition to functioning as an address book, Highrise allows me to list tasks, assign tasks to project colleagues, and track deals and ‘cases’ for things I am working on. But the real genius of Highrise lies in the tracking of conversations. I have an email address from the system that I bcc every time I email a client or a potential client. If the addressee is not already in Highrise’s address book, the system creates an entry. The genius part is that it then saves the content of the email, including attached files, so that I can always check on past conversations before emailing again or before making a phone call or entering a meeting. That way, clients see that I am completely on top of their business, even when I’m handling 10 projects at any given time.

FreshBooks: An online invoicing and time tracking system with the added benefit of an iPhone app. I use the app to track time spent with a client; the time is automatically updated to the system and added to that client’s invoice. The system allows me to see if the client has looked at the invoice and to create estimates that can be discussed before commencing an engagement.

Google Voice: Allows me to have one number where different callers (based on my Google address book) get different messages. Example: An established client will get a message detailing how to reach me, but a call from an unknown number is answered with a standard message asking the caller to leave a name and number. Google Voice then transcribes the message, include the phone number (which become links I can click to return the call) and email addresses that have the same functionality. It is also helpful to have a text record of what was said so I can refer back to it (or search through it) later.

Dropbox: File syncing on any computer or device (iPhone/iPad/Android) in real time. After you install the software on your computer, any file you save to the Dropbox folder is automatically backed up and synced to the cloud. I use the app on my iPhone to resend proposals or reports, and I use the system’s public capability to send clients large files that might not pass through their firewalls. You can also share folders or files individually, so multiple people can co-work and edit in real time.

TimeBridge: Instead of sending eight emails back and forth to schedule a meeting, I use TimeBridge to let meeting partners see my availability and pick a time that works for them. TimeBridge eliminates a lot of one-line emails with content like “good for me” or ” I can’t do 2pm” and improves efficiency.

Skype: The free computer-to-computer or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service that allows you to make free calls to anyone with the software installed. Skype also has chat and file-transfer features and can handle conference calls and video calls. I use the iPhone app, as well, and the Skype Out feature, which allows me to make calls from my cellphone to landlines around the world at Skype’s reduced rates. I also have a Skype number in Europe so that clients there can call me from their cell phones as a local call. Skype allows me to increase clients’ access and offer better customer service.

Tripit: Keeps track of all my travel plans and confirmation numbers and tracks the weather where I am going and who in my network might be close for a last-minute get together. With the pro account, Tripit also tracks frequent-flier programs and alerts me of flight delays (as it did Monday, when I was returning from L.A.; Tripit notified me of a two-hour delay so I could make alternate plans).

ShoeBoxed: Instead of having to enter receipts and business card information manually in FreshBooks and Highrise (see both above), I send an envelope with all my collected receipts and business cards to ShoeBoxed. The crew at ShoeBoxed then scans and verifies the information and provides me with an online record that my accounting program and contact manager can import. ShoeBoxed keeps me organized for tax season and ensures that I always have phone numbers and addresses with me when I’m running to meet a potential client.

Those are some of the tools I use. There are more, but I’ll stop here for now. What do you use and find helpful? Please share in comments. I will update this post once the NYT article is live.

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6 thoughts on “Tools of the trade: How to be a successful solopreneur

  1. Tim says:

    How about Evernote or Hashable? Hashable sounds a lot like Highrise. I think it’s still in Beta but I heard about it and it sounds very cool. I like Evernote too – it scans photos for text so you can input things like business cards, labels, street names. And everything gets dated and geo-tagged. Cool stuff.

  2. sorgenfrei says:

    Hashable I have been using for a bit – not perfect, but a good start. I use SpringBoard in addition to Evernote, there is still no perfect solution there either I think

  3. […] 37 Signals makes a series of great products for small (and large) businesses. In addition to Highrise we also use their Basecamp for project management. Tools mentioned in the article by other entrepreneurs that we also use include Shoeboxed (for receipt management), Mailchimp (email campaigns), and here is a previous blog post where I talked about other tools: Tools of the trade: How to be a successful solopreneur […]

  4. thealternativetoattorneys says:

    Sounds like Highrise is a great product. I look forward to checking some more into it. There are so many products, though, how do you know which to go with?

  5. sorgenfrei says:

    Test drives 😉 Every business is different, but I have found Highrise to work across many different businesses

  6. Tim Altman says:

    I just discovered Rapportive. Probably the best tool I have ever encountered for increasing my social reach and connecting more deeply with my address book. Not sure if it works that well if you don’t use gmail though.

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