Archive for the ‘Tools We Use’ Category

How to Set Up Your Email for Marketability

Email Setup: Do This, Not This

I get a lot of emails from people in our industry. And I can’t help but notice some of the things they do in their email that is costing them trust, credibility, connection and ultimately business.

Some don’t use an email address on their own domain. Or, they have an email on their own business domain, but don’t have an email signature and just sign off with their name.

Here are some recent examples of the problems that are caused by ineffective email set-up:

  1. I had someone sign up for class with a hotmail address. This was someone I didn’t already know so I emailed her hoping to get to know each other a bit. I didn’t hear from her for over two months until three or four days before the class was to begin! And even then, she didn’t even know I had emailed her because the email account she signed up with wasn’t one that she checked. Lesson: This is just one reason you want to stick with one email address and use it consistently across all channels and accounts. If you are going to use an email in any kind of business dealing, it had better be one you keep on top of if you expect anyone to do business with you.
  2. I had someone email me with only her first name (for the purposes she was emailing me, her full name was needed). Her name wasn’t in her email address. She had no email signature block. It wasn’t displayed in the from field. And she used a burner email account instead of an email on her own domain. Lesson: If I’m a potential client, I am gone. I’m not going to waste a second of my time hunting around for these details.
  3. Same issue with another email. This one at least was on her own domain, but she had no signature block and when I went to her website, she had no last name anywhere on her site! Lesson: Your clients and business associates are not mind readers. How on earth are they suppposed to figure out who you are? They won’t. Because neither I nor your prospective clients are going to waste their time. And they’re going to wonder what is wrong with you that you are being evasive about your last name in the first place. You’ve just generated ill will and mistrust in your dealings with them.

Your email is an extension of you and your business. You should be taking as much care with the details and the image you are presenting in your email as you do your website, and you should be using your business email with EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.

Your email is a marketing and networking tool and generates traffic to your website. If someone, be it colleague or client, forwards one of your messages to someone else, you want it on your own domain and with a proper set-up and signature.

Worst case scenario, when they have no other information about you, an email on your own domain can lead people to your site whereas a burner email account tells them nothing and leads them nowhere.

Think about how your email and email address appears to your recipients. Take an inventory of your email set-up and if you’re missing anything in the list below, fix it pronto.

1. Set up your primary business email in your domain’s admin panel. I’m here to tell you that if you are stuck here, it’s stopping you up in other places in your business as well. I guarantee it. So get it sorted and figured out first thing so you can move forward with the rest of your business.

2. Be sure the enter your FIRST then LAST NAME where it asks for your name in the user account info when setting up your account up in your email client (e.g., Outlook). NOT your last name first and NOT your business name. This is what your recipients will see in the from field when they receive your emails.

From Field

This is super important for many reasons. First and foremost, when you are emailing, you are dealing with people, not machines. When you introduce yourself to someone in person, you tell them “My name is Jane Doe.” You don’t say, “My name is Doe, Jane.” When your email comes across their INbox, you want it to read like a human being, not a machine. This makes makes it more personable as well as easier for people to remember you. Second, you don’t want to use your company name first for the same reason. People do business with people, not nameless, faceless organizations. Having your email display your name makes it personal and facilitates rapport. And if you’re using your business domain, they will easily be able to see what your business and website are.

3. Create an email signature block that is automatically inserted whenever you create a message in your business email account. This should include your name, your company name and your address, contact information and links to your website and/or social networking accounts. This is important. People like at-a-glance information. They don’t like to have to hunt around. So even if your contact information is on your website (which it should be), you want to always be thinking about the convenience of your recipients by putting that info right in front of them. Likewise, do not rely on a VCF card. Lots of people don’t like them or use them, and they often get your emails caught in spam filters.

4. OPTIONAL: For double points, include a headshot and/or your company logo image hosted on your own domain servers. Email signatures with an image included can really bring life to your messages. Images create visual interest, rapport and increase memorability, all of which makes your messages stand out. You don’t want an embedded image because those often get stripped from your messages at the recipient’s end or can get your email caught in spam filters. Better to link to an image hosted on your own servers so that it displays properly and your messages reach your recipients without unnecessary difficulty. If you aren’t sure how to do this, refer to this article on “how to insert an Internet image in my signature.”

5. Include a call-to-action. A call to action is not a tagline or slogan. It’s an instruction that tells people specifically what to do next. If you currently have a free report, giveaway, ezine, blog or something that people can sign up for, put that call-to-action in your signature block (e.g., “Visit {YOUR SITE] to get your copy of my free report [TITLE]“). If you don’t have any lead generation mechanisms (which is what those free offers are), then your call-to-action should be telling them to visit your website. So you could say something like “Visit [YOUR WEBSITE WITH ACTIVE LINK] to learn how you can have/get more [BENEFIT] with my administrative support.”

That should get your creative juices flowing. Can’t wait to see your improved emails!

How to Select All in Microsoft Outlook 2010

I’m really not a fan of the 2010 Microsoft product “improvements.”

There are a few significant irritations I have, one of which it that whole ribbon thing.

It was a pointless reinvention that didn’t improve anything.

What used to be simple, straightforward and all in one place that you could easily use out-of-the-box, now is needlessly convoluted and requires more time and effort to get set up. What you could get to in one, possibly two, quick clicks, has now become a Rubik’s cube of a maze with all kinds of twists and turns and clicks needed to do what you want.

It’s a pain in the ass, if you ask me.

Anyhoo, when I got a new laptop, I was forced more or less to install/upgrade to the 2010 Office Suite.

One of the things that would drive me crazy was that I couldn’t find any of my usual, frequently-used commands anymore, one of which was “Select All” (formerly under the Edit drop-down list).

And before you tell me about CTRL + A, let me just say… um, duh.

However, there are times when I don’t have a keyboard in front of me—like when I’m laying in bed and checking messages on the big screen tv with only my mouse.

After pulling my hair out for a few months, I finally figured out where Microsoft had hidden it.

If this has been driving you, too, batty, here are the steps to add it back into your command options:

  1. In the top left of Outlook is the Quick Access Toolbar. Select the little arrow icon to “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”
  2. Click on “More Commands” in the drop-down menu.
  3. From the list that appears, select “Commands Not in the Ribbon.”
  4. Scroll down until you find “Select All,” highlight it and click “Add.”
  5. Click “Okay.”
  6. You will now see a new option up in your Quick Access Toolbar to “Select All.”

Now, whenever you need to do a select all (such as selecting all the spam messages that accumulate in your email inbox so you can move them over to the junk mail folder in one fell swoop), just click on that “Select All” command button.

Hope this helps restore some mental health for someone!

Today Is a Great Day to Prep Your 2013 Calendar for Freedom and Success

One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this and now is the perfect time to get yours ready for 2013!

1. Block out all your “off” days. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day.

2. Block out holidays. Go through the year and block out any holidays you plan to be closed.

3. Block out vacations. If you know in advance of any vacations you plan to take off, block those out as well to ensure you don’t schedule anything on those days.

4. Block out your breaks and lunches. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. It’s important—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself.

5. Carry over regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure and carry-over and repeat them through 2013. Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3pm and a monthly board meeting at 1pm on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.

6. Add known events
. Are there trade shows, conferences, training or other events you plan to attend? Be sure and add them to your calendar and it will help support your intention.

7. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Add them to your calendar!

This article was originally published in our weekly ezine on December 21, 2009.

Dear Danielle: What Bookkeeping Software Do I Use?

Dear Danielle:

I would like to offer basic accounting services through my administrative business. I want to offer accounts payable/receivable, payroll, maintaining vendor and customer files, cash management, reconciling bank statements, generating financial reports, etc.  I would like to know if you think it is acceptable to gain knowledge in the above areas utilizing free software and simply offer to learn a prospective client’s accounting software since not all businesses use Quickbooks or Quicken. I really want to make my company marketable in this area, and, thus, the reason I am seeking your professional opinion. Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer me! P.S. Love your FB posts and your attitude toward life!! ~ : ) —GM

Hi, GM :)

Glad to have you with us!

Bookkeeping is an entirely different/separate profession from Administrative Consulting.

And because it is a business that comes with even more legal liabilities and pitfalls (because you’re dealing with clients’ finances and their reporting, filing, budgeting, etc., relies on your expert knowledge and accuracy in recording things properly), it’s important to direct those questions to that industry and their communities for the very best, most knowledgeable and authoritative advice.

Several years ago, I used to have a bookkeeping division to my business.

It grew too fast and wasn’t work I ever really intended to be in the business of doing anyway so I eventually got out.

I only ever got into it because I thought it would be a good additional service to provide to clients.

What I didn’t fully grasp at the time is that bookkeeping is a business in and of itself, and trying to run too many businesses at the same time is a recipe for failure and overwhelm.

When you divide your time and distract your attention amongst too many diverse things, you become effective and expert at none of them.

At some point, you have to consciously decide where your true interests lie and focus your energies in developing excellence there.

All that said, when it comes to bookkeeping, I would never, ever take shortcuts with your software. Using the right professional tools is paramount.

For a professional business providing bookkeeping services, Quickbooks Pro is an industry standard and the only option in my book.

Quicken is a shortcut tool more suited for simple, personal accounting, not providing professional bookkeeping services to clients as a business. It doesn’t have the level of capabilities you will need to provide the bookkeeping functions you mention.

Same thing pretty much with Quickbooks Simple Start.

Quickbooks Pro is full-featured, professional-standard software that provides all the capabilities to professionally provide bookkeeping services to clients with all the bells and whistles, including extensive reporting, costing, budgeting and forecasting tools.

Plus, you can’t dumb down your business for clients who insist on working in the dark ages (don’t work with them). They aren’t bookkeepers. They don’t necessarily know what the right software is to use or how to use it properly.

Your job is to work with the right clients who want you to empower their businesses to grow up, not down.

When they come to you for those services, you need tell them what software they need to be using, not changing your tools for each client to suit them.

(Think about it. We hire professionals for their expertise and to do a proper job. Is a contractor going to let clients tell him what tools to use and allow his reputation to be sullied because he used ineffective, sub-par tools that elicited shoddy workmanship? Of course not! He’s going to use the proper tools to do the best job.)

If you don’t, you’ll be dooming your business to ineffective, unproductive, unprofitable operations and forever chasing your tail and pulling your hair out.

Just my six cents. ;)

How to Properly Juice Up Your New Laptop Battery

From the “you learn something new every day” file:

Maybe you all know this, but I just learned how I should be using my laptop battery and how to charge it properly the first time.

  1. When you first get the battery, don’t charge it and don’t plug in the power cord. Instead, immediately snap it on the laptop and use it until it runs out of life completely.
  2. THEN, plug in the power cord and recharge the battery in full. As soon as it’s fully charged, unplug the power cord.

I was told that if you’re going to use your laptop, use either battery power OR electrical power, not both together. Big no-no!

When you do that (which I’ve always done in the past, bad laptop user that I am, lol), it destroys the battery cells and you won’t get as long a life of use from it.

That means, if you’re going to use electrical power, you should remove the battery whenever you have the power cord plugged in. And vice versa: If you’re going to use battery power, unplug the power cord from the laptop entirely.

With my laptop batteries being relatively pricey to replace, I’m definitely going to follow this advice from now on.

I did get a good two or three years worth of use from my last 10-hour extended life battery, though, so not too bad! But I plan to take better care of my next one.

Hope this is helpful to you!

Dear Danielle: What Contact Management Service Do You Recommend?

Dear Danielle:

I wonder if you’ve any experience or recommendations for contact management services, something that could be used online collaboratively with clients to help them manage their contacts. I’m thinking in general terms of keeping track of folks that one might meet at networking events where they exchange business cards and want a central place to access them later. Ideally, there would be a way to tag them to sort them later (i.e., potential client, supplier, colleague, etc.). I know Salesforce offers this service. I just wondered if you were aware of anything else out there. Thanks in advance! —BL

This is always a tough kind of question for me answer because I don’t keep track of that kind of thing as I don’t do that work for clients per se. Stuff like this, without reason or intention,  too often falls into the category of mindless busy work that I don’t want my business or my day bogged down with. I have to save my energies and focus for the more substantive work that I do for clients.

It’s one of those topics that is hard to answer generally because to give more useful direction, it depends on your own target market, how the information will be used, what are they storing it for (what do they want to do with it later), and whether there is truly a useful, purposeful reason to keep track of that kind of info.

The reason I say that is, just collecting business cards and contact info is not good networking. It’s also against CAN-SPAM laws (and just plain old marketing etiquette period) to harvest emails like that. If the intention is to use the information for marketing purposes, it’s really a form of cold-calling which people absolutely detest. It’s poor, ineffective methodology that creates wasteful effort.

I am aware of Saleforce and the people I hear from who use it think it’s pretty darn nifty. I do think it’s a tad more suited to sales types of businesses (hence the name, lol), but it is built for systemization and automation which is useful for all kinds of scenarios. I don’t work with sales types at all so I don’t have any personal experience with it beyond that.

If you’re just looking for a place to enter business card/miscellaneous contact info, most all of the online collaboration suites have shared contacts. I use this function in Airset to store commonly used contact info. For example, I work with attorneys, so it’s useful to enter their clients’ contact info into the shared contacts database on matters we are working on as well as the contact info of the courts, court services and vendors, opposing counsel, etc.

There are also card readers that can be purchased where the biz cards can be fed into it and it scans the info and transfers/stores it into a database that you specify. As I mentioned before, personally, I wouldn’t ever do that work for clients, and if they were intent on mindlessly storing their biz cards just for GPs, I would tell them to get one of those.

But for marketing and networking purposes, I steer clients toward using a list builder, management and dissemination service like Aweber, and get them to start building an opt-in list. The idea/methodology is that they offer their site visitors and contacts something of useful, meaningful interest and value—for free—that they can obtain by signing up with their email address.

This way, it’s voluntary and fully compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. And by them opting in, you already have an indication of their interest and consent to continue to keep in touch with them after that, which is not only better, more effective marketing etiquette, it also establishes who the client’s warm/hot prospects are so that their best efforts can be more focused.

So, I don’t really have any services I can recommend in answer to your specific question (maybe others will chime in), but I hope some of the business thinking is useful to you. All my best!

Power Productivity and Biz Management for the Administrative Consultant

Okay, gang, class is ON!

I’m holding the Power Productivity and Biz Management for the Administrative Consultant intensive clinic on August 22, 2012. This will be a one day, two hour session where I’ll share with you all my tricks and tips for effectively managing a full retained client practice for FANTABULOUS client care and greater freedom, flexibility and time for your own LIFE.

Registration is $147, but register now and you’ll pay only $97.

Check out the registration page for the full details!

Dear Danielle: How Can My Clients and I Transfer Transcription Files?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and one of my main specialties is transcription.  I have thus far been transcribing for two companies where I sign onto their secure server to obtain my digital recordings, load them onto my desktop, and then proceed to transcribe and then email the completed product back to them. Since I am setting out on my own, I am wondering what some options are for obtaining the digital recordings from other clients, if they do not have a server set up where they load their recordings.  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? —LB

I think DropBox may work quite well for this. I tell ya, I have found DropBox to just be so completley indispensible in my work with clients. It’s easy to install and simple to understand, and I find new ways to use it all the time. And, not that I’m the advocate for everything being free (quite the opposite!), but it does just happen to be free so there’s that, too, lol.

What you could do is set up a shared folder for each client and then create an IN folder for incoming transcriptions and an OUT folder for completed transcriptions.

As I’m sure you’re aware, sound files can be quite large which makes them not well-suited for email delivery. Email is not exactly secure either if you are dealing with confidential information.

Plus, if you have frequent large attachments like that going in and out on a regular basis, your ISP might get testy. Sure, you could zip them up, but that’s an extra step at both ends. And anytime you can eliminate extra steps, it sure makes things a lot more convenient.

So here again, a secure cloud storage solution like DropBox where you can transfer and share large files such as this is a perfect solution.

For other transcription tools, be sure to also check out the ACA Free Software Directory. Of particular interest, you will find ExpressScribe which is another brilliant tool that is so indispensible, it’s a wonder they don’t charge for it. But they don’t, and it’s free.

This isn’t particularly transcription related, but another tool I use extensively in my work with clients is Airset, which also happens to be free.

This service is what is known as a shared collaborative virtual office where you can set up a private/separate account for each client you work with so that you have a central location in which you both share documents, keep track of work requests and projects, share calendaring and many other features.

I only use the shared calendar feature because it has the best and most extensive reminders feature of all the shared virtual office suites I’ve used (and I’ve used just about ALL the main ones out there). For my needs, I don’t find it stable enough to make use of any of the other features, however, they do have them and perhaps they will work well for you. Check it out!

One caution about using free tools… just because something is free doesn’t make it the right solution. Often things that are free come with strings or are not the most stable or secure. These services I mention in this post are rare exceptions of excellence. If you do use free tools, be sure they have the capabilities to grow with your needs as your business and client roster grows. And remember that bumping up to the next level of features, stability, capacity or security often requires you to move to a paid plan (and rightly and fairly so). Just some things to keep in mind.

Hope that helps!

How Do We Work Together Virtually?

This is a common question from clients who are new to working with Administrative Consultants. The word “virtual” throws them for a loop and makes it sound as if it’s some mysterious new mode of operation. In reality, they’ve been working virtually all along with businesses of all kinds and just never realized it. Here’s what I mean…

When you hire an attorney, accountant, designer or any kind of professional, does that person come to your office to do their work? Do they work according to hours you set? Do they sign in and out with you whenever they begin or end working on your stuff?

Sounds silly, right?

Of course they don’t do those things. That’s the nature of working with independent businesses and professionals. They do their work from their own places of business and according to their own work schedules, processes and policies. You may or may not have ever even meet in person.

And things get done, right? When you retain someone to draft a contract or design a logo or take care of your accounts, they do what they do without needing to be physically present, right? So how does that happen?

Well, you communicate by phone and email, maybe even video chat. Files are sent by email or fax. Electronic signatures are obtained with tools like Echosign. Working documents are shared and transferred via tools like Dropbox. Shared collaborative workspaces are set up with services such as Airset to keep files and information organized in one place. Remote access or online accounts are sometimes used to get things done on your behalf.

This is the day and age of technology, baby! There is a mind-boggling array of tools and services that make working together “virtually” a breeze. Anyone who uses a computer and has ever done business with any other business or professional has already been working “virtually.”

Clients work with an Administrative Consultant exactly the same way. But people get hung up on the word “virtual.” Which is why I’ve always been an advocate for not using it whatsoever in your marketing.

A business is a business. It matters not how or where or when you work. If you’re a traveling salesperson, your vehicle is the platform by which you connect and work with clients. If you are a flower shop, it’s your brick and mortar store. Operating a professional service business is no different–it’s just that the computer happens to be your “office” and your tool for working with clients and delivering your services.

The fact that you are an online business is of no importance. The tools are incidental details–don’t focus on that or you will continue to confuse clients and make it seem much more complicated and mysterious than need be.

And for goodness sakes, stop using the analogy of the administrative assistant or secretary. All that does is confuse clients and keep them (mistakenly) thinking that you are some kind of temp or under-the-table substitute employee.

Dear Danielle: What Software Do I Need for an Administrative Support Business?

Ask Danielle!Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and would like to know what equipment and software do I need? —JD

I get some form of this question at least three or four times a month. And often it’s the (seemingly) simplest questions that are the hardest to answer.

Long, exhaustive lists really aren’t helpful. Because one person’s preferences in software are not necessarily going to be the same as the next person’s.

It also matters what kind of business you will be in. For example, someone in the administrative support business (which is what we talk about here) is definitely going to need all the usual office types of software, whereas someone who does design work and creative services, on the other hand, will have more of an emphasis on that kind of software and probably more of it. Common sense, right?

Also, you don’t have to have every kind of software in the world to start out. The kind of work you support your clients depends on what profession/industry (target market) they are in which will, thus, dictate what software and services you’ll need. For example, if you are someone who works with attorneys, you may need law practice management software. Someone who doesn’t work with attorneys will have no need for that. You see?

Beyond the basic office software, you won’t necessarily know what you need until you start researching your target market and working with clients. That’s when you start picking up additional software and tools—as you go along and determine you need them. So relax. I give you full permission to not stress over this. :)

Bottom line is, your mileage may vary and what software you need is not necessarily what the next person needs. What I can give you is a list of the software and services I use in my practice. That should give you some sense of where to start.

Basic Office Software

  • Microsoft Office Suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote. You need to work with the programs that are predominately used by your clients and the rest of the world and these are them. ;)
  • Open Office (free). This is a great backup to the Microsoft line of products. I especially love the Draw component for diagramming. But there are still enough quirks and incompatibilities that make it unsuitable to rely on entirely. For example, I have all kinds of problems in OpenOffice when I’m dealing with any kind of legal pleading. For that reason, I don’t use it at all for my work with attorneys.
  • Workflowy (free). This is a seriously AWESOME organizational tool. I use to to keep track of tasks and to-dos, outline and flesh-out thoughts and ideas for articles, blog posts, products, trainings, etc. You can set up accounts with clients to collaborate on projects and keep abreast of to-dos and completions. The more I use this fantastic tool, the more uses I find for it.

Email

  • Microsoft Outlook. This is usually part of any Microsoft Office suite you purchase, but I wanted to list it under it’s own heading. There are other email clients out there that folks will recommend, but I absolutely love the tried and true Outlook. It’s versatility and functionality is beyond compare. Most people only know of and use a fraction of what it’s capable of. I use it for everything.

Remote Access

  • LogMeIn. I seriously could not live without this. Wherever I have internet access, I can log in remotely to my main home office computer and work as if I was sitting right there. This is how I continue working with my clients and taking care of my business when we travel or go on road trips. I’ve even run my entire business and continued to seamlessly work with clients while living in Europe. People often didn’t even know I was away! I don’t have to lug around thumb drives or external hard drives that can get lost or stolen, and I never have to worry about syncing computers because I’m always working on the one main computer; I just might not be actually sitting right there. Of all the remote access services out there (and I’ve tried several), this one to me is the easiest to install and use. I even get my clients set up with their own accounts and have frequently used this to log onto their computers to install something for them or troubleshoot.

Telephony & Video Conferencing

  • Vonage. I absolutely LOVE Vonage. It’s a VoIP service, meaning it uses the Internet to deliver the phone service. Of course, that means if your cable or broadband is down or your computer is off, you won’t have service. But if you can overlook those two trade-offs, it’s truly fantastic. Not only does it give me a dedicated business line, but I can bring that line with me on my laptop anywhere I go–including Germany where we also live–and make and receive calls at no extra charge just as if I was still at my home office. There is no long distance or roaming in your service area (which is huge), and you can’t beat the fact that all the features you have to pay extra for with regular land line phone companies, come standard in Vonage. And you pay one set fee each month–you are never surprised with unexpected bills or constant nickel and dime charges. I will NEVER go with any of the big name, land line phone companies ever again.
  • RingCentral. LOVE this service. I have two separate toll free numbers and my fax line through them. And what’s even more fantastic is that I can record custom greetings for each number and set controls to play certain greetings at certain times of day (like one during the day and one for after business hours). I can also set the controls to keep those lines from ringing on days that I am closed or after business hours. Fantastic!
  • FreeConferenceCallHD (free). With an account, I get a set bridgeline with its own dedicated phone number. I use this when I do teleseminars (up to 1,000 people) or want to hold and record a conference call between two or more people. Great quality and it will store all your recordings online ready for download whenever you need them.
  • Skype (free). I use Skype for phone calls as well as videoconferencing with colleagues and clients. I have also used it to record conference calls. Great tool!
  • SuperTinTin. When I want to record split screen videos on Skype, this is the tool I use. You can learn how to use it for split screen recording on Skype here.

Browsers

  • Internet Explorer (free). I really, really dislike Internet Explorer and haven’t liked it since IE6. But I don’t like how any of the other browsers store/organize Favorites so I keep it around for that. Plus, if you do any kind of web design work, you need to test your sites on all the main browsers (of which, IE is still the leader) to make sure they render properly and are cross-browser compatible.
  • FireFox (free). This is my go-to browser. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. None of them are that great, but what are you going to do? So, this is my go-to browser.
  • Google Chrome (free). This one is okay. It’s just a good, basic browser without any frills. Let’s put it this way, I don’t hate it. My programmer says it’s best for viewing videos, but it does sometimes crash when I use it for that. Not often, just sometimes. I sort of alternate between all three of these browsers to meet various needs. Too bad there isn’t just one good one out there that does everything well.

Media Players

  • Real Player (free). This one is my favorite because it plays just about all audio and video formats.
  • Windows Media Player (free). I think this comes automatically with Microsoft systems these days. I don’t use it that much, but it’s free and it’s nice to have just in case.
  • Quicktime (free). Same thing; I keep it around for GPs. It’s sort of like browsers—each one serves a different purpose and it doesn’t hurt to have them all on hand in case you need them. Plus, I should mention, the pro version apparently has some nifty video editing tools (though I haven’t yet explored them myself).

Computer System Maintenance

  • Microsoft Essentials (free). Nimple and lightweight. Not a resource hog whatsoever (like AVG has become). Seriously, get it.
  • CCCleaner (free). Love this. I don’t use it very often, but it’s a great tool for cleaning up those old, unneeded registry files that often get left behind and sometimes gum things up.
  • Adaware (free). This gets rid of stuff that your built-in cleaners miss and that slow your system down. I couldn’t live without this. Definitely a must-have!
  • Belarc Advisor (free). This program is awesome! What it does is scan your system (when you tell it to) and it comes back with a full report of your systems and all the various software you have installed. Very handy when you are moving over to a new computer and need to make sure you re-install everything.

Virtual Office Collaboration/File Sharing/Project Management

  • DropBox (free). AWESOME program with far too many uses and capabilities to list. Just get it. Seriously.
  • Airset (free with a very nominal monthly fee if you need more space). You could use this for everything, but I only use this with my clients expressly for the calendar feature because you can set a series of reminders that will send automatic emails. I sure wish HyperOffice would do this, but it doesn’t unfortunately. Also, I haven’t been able to figure out a way to create subgroups in Airset like you can in HyperOffice. Yet another reason why HyperOffice offers the superior solution.
  • ACA Free Project Management/Virtual Office Programs List (free; various). Here is a list of other free resources you might want to look into.

Electronic Signatures

  • Echosign (free). Adobe recently purchased this company and still offers a free level for one user up to 5 contracts per month.

Bookkeeping

  • Quickbooks Pro. Hands down, this is one of the best investments you can make in your business. This does everything and keeps it all in one, integrated place: bookkeeping, billing, customer management, tracking, reporting, budgeting, projections… the list goes on. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can use any of those other piecemeal services out there for billing and stuff like that. And yes, I specifically mean the “Pro” version. That will give you the highest and most functionality and reporting capabilities.

Time Tracking

  • ACA Free Time Tracking Tools List (free; various). I don’t bill by time anymore whatsoever, but sometimes it’s useful to know how much time you did actually spend on something, if only for your own internal business analysis purposes. This is a list of all kinds of free time tracking tools you can use. Heck, even Outlook has a little timer in it.

Payment Processing

  • PayPal. I have not needed a formal merchant account in nearly 14 years of business. PayPal does everything I need. Some folks say that a true merchant account is cheaper, but the difference amounts to pennies–something I’m not concerned about in the least. To me, versatility and ease of use is the name of the game and PayPal has it in spades, on top of being trusted the world over. And really, any fees you pay are so nominal as to be laughable. They’re a business expense write-off anyway so what are all those whiners out there complaining about?
  • e-Junkie. I adore e-Junkie. It’s simple, easy to use and has great customer support. I use this service to manage sales and delivery of my info products, classes and coaching. Seriously one of the best tools when you don’t need a ton of bells and whistles. It even provides a built-in affiliate program and transaction log and integrates superbly with all the major payment processing vendors and list managers including payPal and Aweber.

PDF Tools

  • CutePDF (free).
  • PDF Converter Pro. This program is easy to use with lots of robust functionality.
  • Nitro PDF. One bad thing I have to say about PDF Converter Pro is their customer service is absolutely atrocious. Horrible. They charge for support or try to get everyone to use their users forum, which is rarely expedient or helpful, if anyone answers your question at all. When it’s next time to update/upgrade, I’m going wit this program instead.
  • Adobe Acrobat. I have this only because it came as part of a suite of software, but I really never use it. I prefer my PDF Converter Pro.
  • Adobe Reader (free). It’s free, but I prefer my Foxit Reader much better (see below).
  • Foxit Reader (free). Quick, easy and free PDF reader. I have it set as my default viewer and like it very much.

Audio Tools

  • Audacity (free). Fantastic program for editing audio tracks. For example, if you work with teleseminar recordings, you can edit out ums and ahs, you can add intro music and sound effects, you can add additional track overlays… there’s just no end to what this program can do!

Transcription

  • Express Scribe (free). Another fantastically robust program that I can’t believe is offered for free.

Web Work & Design

  • Dreamweaver. I use this for soooo many things both for my own business and in the design work I do for clients. I not only design websites with it, it also helps in writing and reading code. I also work up my email and autoresponder templates with this program.
  • CoreFTP Lite (free). I use this to upload files and pages up to the various websites I work with or design, both mine and my clients’. There are lots of different ways to do that and lots of different programs out there that do it, both paid and free, but I’ve used this one for years and never really had a need to explore others. I’m used to it, it does the job, has an intuitive interface, and it’s just been a very trusty sidekick.
  • FileZilla (free). My programmer prefers I use this one so I have it installed on my computer as well.
  • EditPad Lite (free). This is a handy little program for stripping hidden code from text, working with plain text, and also when working with basic HTML and other coding.

Design/Creative Work

  • Photoshop. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and that comes in their Creative Suite packages) that I use to work with photos and graphics.
  • Illustrator. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and is another part of their Creative Suite packages) that I use to design and work with vector-based graphics.
  • Pixie Color Picker (free). This is a way nifty tool that allows you to “pick” colors from samples using a virtual eyedropper. Seriously, I could not live without this tool.
  • The Font Thing. This is a tool that allows me to easily scroll through all the fonts on my computer system. I use it when I’m doing design work and trying to find the best font for a particular project.
  • SnagIt. This is a fantastic screen capture program that does oh-so-much-more. Yet another must-have!
  • Screenhunter (free). This is a little freebie screenhunter that does a great job for grabbing those quick and easy screenshots. The pro version (which is what I use) has even more great features and capabilities.
  • ACA Free Graphics Programs List.

Screen Recording

Video Editing

  • Camtasia. Once I get some other things out of the way, I will be doing more video work. In the meantime, I purchased Camtasia and have gotten pretty fluent with it. It is so much easier and intuitive to use than some of the other professional video editing software out there, and less costly as well. LOVE this program!
  • Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD. This one is a lot more complex with a much steeper learning curve. However, it is more industry standard movie editing software as opposed to Camtasia which is more of a screen capturing tool. Does far more than Camtasia. That said, unless you need to get into more advanced video editing, you probably don’t need this software.
  • Windows Movie Maker (free).
  • Handbrake (free). This is an extremely handy tool that I use frequently for converting videos from one format to another. For example, Camtasia doe not handle some video formats natively such as .mov or .mpeg. Therefore, I have to convert them into a compatible format (I generally use .mp4) in order to upload and edit them in Camtasia.

Video Streaming & Hosting

  • YouTube (free). I opened accounts with many of the different services out there, but in the end am now sticking with YouTube. It’s established, widely used and great for SEO. I also like how you can customize the theme and display of your channel.
  • Ustream (free). I don’t actually use this yet, but if I was wanting to do some live streaming video classes, this would be the service I would use.
  • Livestream (free). This is another live video streaming service that I’ve looked into. Hadn’t had a chance to use it yet and not sure how it compares to Ustream as they both do the same thing so like anything else, it probably just comes down to personal preference. For me, I’d probably be looking at the user interface, how easy/intuitive it is to use and get started, how wel it streamed, things like that, when deciding which one would be my go-to choice.
  • Amazon S3.

Audio Streaming

  • Audio Acrobat. A versatile service that will stream both audio and video. Not only is it great for your own business and marketing purposes, it’s very widely used so knowing how it works will be a benefit to your clients as well.

All-In-One List Management/Email Distribution/Autoresponder Service

  • Aweber. Honestly, why people bother with free services that don’t scale as their business grows is beyond me. All the time and work they invested in growing their list puts them back in square one when they have to move to a paid service that they should have just started with in the first place. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish! When it comes to purchasing software and services, think with a mind towards what is going to facilitate the growth and success of your business. That’s why this program is an absolute MUST-HAVE as it will help you grow, nurture and keep in touch with your audience and keep those prospective client pipelines moving and shaking.