I’ve had a number of people ask lately about the tools we use here at Actionable to keep things organized and humming in a virtual-based business, so I thought I’d share the best ones in one post, organized by theme/purpose for easy reference. (It’s a long post ~ turns out we use a lot of apps!)
For context, the Actionable team consists of 10 core team members, 39 consultants and just over 100 summary writers, spread across 4 countries and 8 time zones, so juggling calendars and responsibilities can be a bit of a challenge. Some of these will be relevant to you and your work situation, others won’t. If you feel like sharing any of your favorite apps/tools, by all means feel free to do so in the comments section at the bottom.
In no particular order, here are some of our favorite tools:
- PipeDrive: A visual representation of your sales funnel, Pipedrive is a lightweight CRM that does everything we need it to do. It also integrated into our other systems (WordPress, Mailchimp) quite nicely. Click the link for a free 2 month trial.
- Podio: This nifty tool has a ton of flexibility built into it… so much so that I don’t think I appreciated how powerful it was when we first tested it a year ago. Imagine a giant box of lego – every piece you could hope for – that’s Podio. From a client management standpoint, we use it for sharing files, calendaring events, surveying and archiving past communications.
This little baby gamifies your day. Basically, I load it up with my priorities and goals for daily workflow; less than an hour on distractions, 2 or more hours on “Composition” (writing, podcast production, etc.) and so on. The app runs in the background and then, on a weekly basis, sends you an email outlining where you spent your time, and how you did compared to your goals. I spend 10 minutes looking over the report during my weekly review, and can’t tell you how valuable I’ve already found it to be. There’s a premium (paid) version, but so far I’ve been getting everything I need from the free one.
- Momentum: You know when you open a new tab with the intention of doing something, but end up checking Facebook instead because you saw it on your “recently viewed” list? Not any more. Momentum is a Chrome plugin that keeps you distraction free. In addition to a beautiful picture (which changes daily), this app displays your Top Priority for the day, and a small ToDo list. Focus, focus, focus. In an aesthetically pleasing way.
- SaneBox: Pure gold. I don’t know how it does it, but SaneBox is the smartest email filtering tool I’ve ever come across. Your “Important/Urgent” emails make their way to your inbox, while everything else gets sorted into folders like “Sane Later” and “Sane Bulk”, which you get a daily reminder about. I’ve done the math, and this app saves me between 2-3 hours/week. Amazing. Click the link for $5 off the already incredibly reasonable pricing.
- Charlieapp.com & Refresh.io: This two apps, while similar, have separate features and return slightly different search results, so I use them in tandem. Basically, the gist is this: an hour before a meeting (or whenever ~ you set the specs), you get a neat and tidy email update with all social media, recent news and profile information on the person(s) you’re meeting with, and the company they represent. It’s like an assistant handing you a dossier before the big sales meeting. As an added plus, Charlie is hilarious.
- JIRA: Our software development team uses JIRA for everything from tracking bugs to organizing major product updates. I’ll be honest in saying I haven’t explored too much of the potential functionality, but I do like the reporting, and the little interaction I’ve had with the bug reporting is straightforward and easy to reference again later.
- Podio (yes, again): One of the reasons we use Podio for client communication (above) is because of how well it integrates into our project management work. We can share appropriate files/etc. when it makes sense to and then, behind the scenes, manage the project flow itself. It really is a versatile tool that I’m loving more every day.
- Trello (with one of our Consulting firm partners): I’ll admit I’m just getting into Trello, but so far I’m digging it. My best comparison is that it’s a visual representation of your projects and to-dos, along the same lines as what PipeDrive does for our sales process. The whole system is comprised of “Boards” (eg. Projects, Departments, Clients, etc.) “Lists” (eg. “ToDo”, “In Progress, Complete, etc.” and “Cards” (eg. specific tasks or groups of tasks). Then you invite your colleagues to the relevant Boards, Lists and Cards. It’s pretty neat.
- Google Hangouts: We use Google Apps for Business. Part of that is the integration of Google Hangouts. And we use it. A lot. All our team meetings are held through Hangouts and, if we want to record them for later, we use Hangouts On Air instead. (You can “broadcast” to one person, and mark the automatically recorded video to “private” and no one can see it but you and your team.) It’s a great feature and, since it’s already automatically uploaded to YouTube (but marked private), you can easily embed the recorded video into archived pages for later. Well played, Google. Well played.
- Chatroll: We tried all the web broadcasting platforms and the one we ended up with isn’t a platform at all. Instead it’s a Frankenstein-esque combination of Hangouts On Air, LeadPages and this little guy – Chatroll. (This is actually the same system John Lee Dumas uses as well, I believe). It works great. Chatroll itself is a piece of code you embed in any page. It then provides a basic chat functionality that people can login to using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. It’s a neat way to provide another level of interaction on any page that’s getting a steady level of traffic.
- Skype: Alright, so most people are familiar with Skype. A couple features I’ve been using lately though that go a little beyond standard usage:
- I have a Skype number. A New York, 646 area code that, when called, rings on my Skype, no matter where I am in the world. It’s around $80/year, I believe, and worth every penny when you move as much as I do.
- I have an unlimited global calling plan for around $15/month. It does have some limitations (only works for landlines in many European countries), but this along with $10 in Skype credits and I’m usually more than covered for a month.
- I also discovered that you can setup local, proxy numbers when you have a global Skype plan – for example, if I’m in Toronto and calling my colleague in Melbourne often, I can register her Melbourne number in Skype-to-go, and create a Toronto area-code number that would reroute through Skype to her local number, costing me nothing to call her. Keep in mind this is not requiring me to login to Skype – I’m simply dialing a local number from my cell phone. This stuff blows my mind.
- MailChimp: The geo-location feature of Mailchimp is awesome. When I’m on the road and land in a new city, I can login to Mailchimp and run a search of all the people that are within a 25 mile radius of where I am. Then, if I’m so inclined, I can invite them to a local meetup without disrupting the rest of the list. Pretty awesome. We also do A/B tests of our weekly digest – two different subject lines go out to 10% of the list a couple hours before the main blast is scheduled to be sent. Mailchimp will automatically select the most effective subject line from the test and use that for the masses.
- Boomerang for Gmail: One of the perks of using Google Apps for Business is how many other apps have been designed to integrate into their system. Boomerang for Gmail is one I use all the time, and have done for years. There’s two components to this app: (1) The ability to reschedule an email sitting in your inbox to leave your inbox and then come back at a pre-determined time in the future. (Boomerang – get it?) This cuts down on inbox clutter and stops you from having to read over the same list of emails over and over again. (2) There’s a second functionality that I find equally useful – the ability schedule an email to be sent later in the day. Most professional contacts raise their eyebrows at emails coming to them at 3:37am, yet with clients in all sorts of timezones, that can sometimes be the risk. Instead, boomerang let’s you write an email and then schedule it to be sent later. You set the time and click “send later”. It leaves your inbox but then hangs out in cyber space until it’s intended arrival time.
- ScheduleOnce: You know how much “fun” it is to do the back and forth on scheduling a time to connect with someone? No more. ScheduleOnce connects with your calendar, identifies when you’re available to meet with someone, and let’s that person book a time that works for their schedule. We have a paid version of the tool and use it to schedule client calls, Podcast guest interviews and ACP Applicant calls.
- WordPress: Not everyone knows that ActionableBooks.com is actually a WordPress site (in fairness, not many people actually care, either). But I’m fairly proud of it. It’s amazing how much flexibility you can get out of the platform.
- Vimeo: We have a premium account with Vimeo, one that allows us to remove the Vimeo watermark and embed videos privately ~ no one can see them except the people who have access to particular pages within Actionablebooks.com. If you’ve played with our Actionable Workshops before, I’m talking about the animated train-the-trainer videos that complement each module.
- Box.com: We actually didn’t mean to signup with Box. We used to use a service called Crocodoc for embedding PDFs into each workshop module. Box.com bought crocodoc, and here we are. We pay $50/month for Box.com to host all our leader note files, which we then embed into each Actionable Workshops page.
- Google Drive: Yup, reference to Google’s Apps for Business again. As a team, we have a half dozen active files that track everything from monthly KPIs to Annual “Big Rocks” and department specific details. They all live on Google Drive, and they’re all linked to one another for easy access. Check out this handy guide for uploading files to Google Drive, from our friends at Cloudwards.
- Dropbox: If Google Drive holds our working files, Dropbox holds everything else. For about $800/year, we have unlimited space in the cloud for all our archives, reference material and more sensitive data. For me, personally, the “Selective Sync” feature comes in handy when I’m travelling with my hard-drive-challenged MacBook Air.
- Stripe: As a credit card processing service, I don’t know how you can do much better than Stripe. Not only are their rates 10%+ cheaper than PayPal, their API (the ability to integrate into our website in a way we want it to) is fabulous. We recently integrated a service called “Stripe Connect” that allows us to automatically split a payment between multiple accounts as well, which is super slick.
Freelancing & Outsourcing
- Speechpad: When we started translating all our Workshop content to French, we needed an easy and low cost way to transcribe the training videos. Speechpad is excellent. Highly accurate, and with variable pricing based on timeline and add-ons (I get everything timecoded), I’d highly recommend this one. Super easy to use, too.
- oDesk: Of all the outsourcing platforms out there, personally I’ve had the best results with oDesk. Whether it’s project based or an ongoing relationship, I’ve found some great collaborators here. You definitely need to sift through the garbage applicants and the spammers, but I think it’s worth it. Word to the wise – be as specific and detailed as possible in the job/project description; (1) it’ll help you clarify what you’re actually looking for as an end result, and (2) it”ll help you avoid a lot of confusion and delays down the road.
So there you go; “a few” of the apps we use here at Actionable that help keep us on track. Believe it or not, this is just under half of the third party services we use. I was surprised myself at the number when I was compiling this post, so much so that I had to take a moment and ask if we really needed all of them? After all, most are only a couple bucks a month, but that does add up. But looking over the list, I think we actually do a pretty good job of trimming the fat on a regular basis. We’re leveraging products created by people who are exceptionally good at that particular thing, such that we can focus on doing our particular thing. And that’s the goal, right? Focus and leverage.
What about you? What are you using that’s working well?