Tools for solo entrepreneurs – and an ultimate tip for priority and time management
For more than 5 years now I have been working as a freelance consultant, mostly globally, for clients on three continents.
Of course, I have earned quite a few airline miles for projects on site. Guilty, Your Honor. But I’ve also been trying to keep myself as lean as possible from the beginning: home office, no employees, no car– just laptop, notebook and my network.
Now that we are realising in the Corvid-19 crisis that home office and remote working suddenly work in many functions and many industries, and after Corona, perhaps a completely different normality will take hold, I would like to share a few experiences and tools in the following
I am writing explicitly from the perspective of a highly specialized knowledge worker. Even in larger, longer projects, I interact with a maximum of 5-10 people: in an innovation or technology project with the CTO or Director of Technology, 5-7 specialists in the core team, an assistant and perhaps one more person from purchasing. So I expressly do not write about the organization of large teams or organizations.
1. The essential things
Of course you need a powerful laptop with the standard office programs. A tablet in a pro version is a good alternative if you travel a lot.
We have all our hard disk(s) encrypted, make regular backups, and have strong passwords for access, don’t we?
My data is still on the hard disk, which is partly due to the fact that I’m not 100% satisfied with the network coverage of Deutsche Bahn. But in the future I will probably use a cloud solution.
Google has a good offer in this respect, and if you want to get involved in this universe, docs, tables, presentations, the mail client Gmail and the cloud storage Google Drive with 15 gigabytes of storage space come together with many good and free tools. If you need more storage, or the communication tools Hangout and Meet, you’ll need to take advantage of the paid G Suite.
There are of course many other solutions: Dropbox, the iCloud, amongst others – also from European providers.
2. Project organisation
For smaller projects with not too many participants, Trello is perfectly suited to structure the tasks. There is also a free version, if this is not enough, you can upgrade from 9.00 US$.
For project communication there is Slack. Most of the tools you need for team communication are integrated here. My last project runs completely on Slack, with some video conferencing (via Google Hangouts). Meanwhile, video conferencing is also integrated in Slack. The customers were very satisfied – there were no friction points, and I didn’t have to fly to Helsinki or Sofia…
Slack and Trello can be combined perfectly with Slack-App.
Microsoft Teams is a good alternative, especially if you already work in the “Office” universe. The integration with the other applications is excellent.
In the Google universe you can alternatively use Hangouts chats as part of the G Suite.
3. Virtual meetings
Most of the above communication tools have video chat functions. Sometimes it is good to see your colleagues when you have something to discuss.
For larger group video calls and conferences I personally use Zoom. I know there are difficulties with data security at the moment – but I have tested other providers and Zoom feels most “user-friendly” to me.
If there are less than 100 participants and for meetings shorter than 40 minutes Zoom is free. This is a special feature in my eyes – I wish someone before Zoom had automatically ended all my meetings after 40 min. How much more efficiency could we have achieved?
There are standards, like screen sharing, a good chat and the “raise hand” function which should be a good practice. The meetings can be recorded and saved.
In the last few weeks I was invited to a couple of online seminars, which were held via zoom. But that is not what the software is for! Every new participant disturbed the presentation, people couldn’t find the “Micro off” function, etc. etc.
Zoom – and the other alternatives – connect us n to n. So many people among each other. Sure, there is the moderator, but in principle we should and may all talk. Then we are even displayed in a big screen. Skype, WhatsApp Video etc. connects people 1 to 1 – video chat.
But a seminar is 1 to n. One person speaks to many. There are other, better providers than Zoom.
Of course there are countless other great tools. Wiki programs to make knowledge available in a structured way. Special programs that enable virtual brainstorming. And much more.
But for me these are the essentials.
I got through my projects as a freelance consultant well with them, plus Pages, Numbers, Keynote – instead of Office.
Oh, and for all those who have only read this far because they were waiting for the ultimate tip on time management: There is no secret!
I have tried out many systems, on paper and with software. Basically, I think it’s quite simple. We all have the same number of minutes per day.
I think it is important to put in writing (!) what is important, what I really want to achieve. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil.
And then you need a calendar. Only what is written down is really done. Neither Post-It notes nor sophisticated Kanban systems care what I really do this afternoon or tomorrow morning! I do what is written in my calendar – and if something comes up, I have to reschedule, make a new entry.
Since I’ve been doing this so consistently and have thrown all the other systems overboard, I’ve really become more productive.
I hope that my tips have been useful – and of course I’m looking forward to any comments: What are your favorite tools and what is your secret to being productive?