Theory and Practice

Building a Software Foundation

As I make my move to a freelance career my mind immediately turns to what tools I will need to make my business work. And more of than not this means software. I can’t help it; finding and building ways to make software work for business is what I do. My frame of reference is slanted heavily in the direction of computer-based solutions.

I have been thinking quite a lot about what sorts of challenges and needs I’ll have and what sorts of software I need. I want to be able to communicate with clients and contacts, keep track of the time I’m spending and invoice to get paid, manage the code I write and the documents I create and keep track of the things I need to do. And that’s just a few of the things I’ll need to do. What I really want is an “virtual third hemisphere”, one whose job is to help me make this career move as successful as possible.

Web-based (or cloud-integrated) software is turning out to play a big role in building the foundation for my business. A major driver behind this turns out to be the desire to coordinate data across group of devices. I want to get the same data on my MacBook, iPhone or iPad. For that matter, I want to be able to get at my data even when I don’t have access to my own hardware. And that means relying on software that is in—or at least aware of—the Web/cloud.

Another consideration is cost. Given the nature of my business in general and the early days aspect specifically I need to do everything I can do keep cost down and maximize benefit. Web and cloud software fits the bill here. Many software-as-a-service vendors have adopted the freemium model which means that I can get access to fully functioning, if limited, versions of the platforms out there without having to crack open my wallet for each of these items.

I’ve already laid down the cornerstones of my business software foundation. I’ve cobbled together a bunch of software for various purposes. Here’s a short list of what I’ve got so far and what I’m planning to do with it.

  • Gmail. I’ve gotta have email. And while I’m not always sure about Google, having all of my mail available is great and the price is right at a big fat $0.
  • Harvest for time and expense tracking, billing and invoicing. I’ve just started using it and I love it already. I’ll probably need to go their Solo tier at $12 per month, but that’s still a steal for the feature available.
  • Dropbox for storing documents and images and sharing them with clients. This is a great way to keep everything in sync between all of my devices, too. And the first 2.5GB of storage are free (and plenty for my current needs).
  • Evernote for note taking and quick writing. I upgraded to the premium version (a mere $45 per year) since I plan to use Evernote as my primary writing tool when I’m on the iPad.
  • MobileMe for calendar and address book. I’ve been a MobileMe/ member for longer than I care to admit. Dropbox has pretty much replaced iDisk for me as a day-to-day cloud storage system, but syncing of address and calendar info are great. If I can find an alternative, I will gladly ditch the $99 per year fee.

There are some other services (LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter) and software (WordPress) that I’m using, but I’m not sure yet how I’ll integrate them into my business life.

This is a big adventure I’m heading out on, but I feel like I’m building a solid platform to stand on.