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 needs and preferences in software aren’t 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 my blog is specifically focused on) is definitely going to need all the usual office types of software, whereas someone is in the design and creative services business will have more of an emphasis on that kind of software and probably more of it. Common sense, right?
Also, you don’t need to have every kind of software in the world to start out.
The kind of work you will support your clients with depends on what profession/industry (i.e., 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.
- 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 (Updated 3/29/15)
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.
- TeamViewer. Once LogMeIn canceled its free service back in January 2014, I moved to TeamViewer. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who goes around looking only for free solutions. I don’t fault LogMeIn for that move whatsoever (in fact, I can’t believe they didn’t do it years ago). They are a business after all, not a charity. I am not about being a cheapskate and expecting everyone else to give me everything for free. Quite the opposite. So if you are a “frugalista” (i.e., cheapskate) who does, you have not found a kindred spirit here. I still love LogMeIn. They offer a FANTASTIC product and service, and I still give it top marks for everything it does. It’s just that I actually did pay for their pro service for many years and never used any of the features that came with that service such as remote printing and transferring files (I use DropBox for that). So eventually, I went back to using the free account because that’s all I needed: just a simple way to connect with my main computer once in awhile when I was away from my office. In fact, if they ever come up with a plan priced solely for the remote access, no bells and whistles, I would go right back to it. In the meantime, I have discovered TeamViewer, which happens to be free. There are some little quirks, but it gets the job done and works relatively simply and intuitively.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (Updated 3/29/15)
- Microsoft Essentials (free). Nimple and lightweight. Not a resource hog whatsoever. 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.
- Malwarebytes (paid version). When Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 2003, which I still love and use on my main computer, I needed to find some other security services in place of Microsoft Security Essentials. My programmer recommended Malwarebytes, which is an antivirus and Internet security software service. A one year license that works on up to three computers is only $24.95. Well worth the peace of mind and has worked flawlessly so far for me.
- AVG Internet Security (paid version). I used to be a die-hard advocate of AVG. It caught things that often slipped past McAfee and Norton, which were bloated resource hogs. Then one year AVG turned into one of those bloated resource hogs and I had to say goodbye to it. But now it’s back, better than ever. Gone is the bloat that slowed my system down. I happily pay for the pro service. One license allows me to use it on all my computers and my cell phone.
Virtual Office Collaboration/File Sharing/Project Management (Updated 3/29/15)
- 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.
- KeepAndShare. My absolute favorite service, Airset, shut down in 2014 which was a darn shame. It was the best product on the market for what it did as far as I’m concerned. Their problem was that they should have made it a paid service right from the beginning. They doomed it from day one by making it completely free. So, I had to go on the hunt for another online shared calendaring service that had the same high level of automated email reminders as Airset. I ended up finding that in KeepAndShare and had all my clients move over to that. It doesn’t have the level of color-coding ability that Airset did (which we used extensively), but it’s got enough to make do. The company is always interested in user feedback and seem to respond and actually take action to that so that’s a good thing and they are always rolling over new improvements. And it’s got the rest of the tools that Airset had (e.g., address book, file sharing, task lists, etc.) so you can use it as a project management tool as well if you are so inclined. Personally, as far as project management, I have a whole simple system I devised using only your email service. You can get that in my guide, Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.
- 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 (Updated 3/29/15)
- Echosign. Adobe recently purchased this company
and still offers a free level for one user up to 5 contracts per month. I honestly never use this anymore. I’m still a fan of old-fashioned signatures which really aren’t that difficult to do remotely. Just have a client sign their portion and put their original signature page in the mail. If you need to get started working right away, you can simply have them email you a scanned copy of their signature page. Done. Once you get their original signature page in the mail, you sign your side then put a PDF of the whole signed contract up in your shared Dropbox folder with them. Easy peasy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (updated 3/29/15)
- Express Scribe (free). Another fantastically robust program that I can’t believe is offered for free.
- Transcribe (free/$20 annual license fee). Found this wonderful tool toward the end of 2014. So easy to use and perfect for transcribing those random, miscellaneous notes you record or videotape to yourself that tend to get relegated to a to-do folder and forgotten forever, lol. I transcribed a three year backlog of those kind of notes in one afternoon! There is a certain amount you can use it for free, but I loved it so much I paid the $20 annual license fee for unfettered access.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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 right back to 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.