4 emerging cloud tools for freelancers (Guest Blog)

According to BestVendor, freelancers love the cloud and all 25 of their top apps and tools were hosted on the internet rather than on the desktop. Amongst the 25 most popular were apps we’re all well familiar with like Gmail, Evernote and Mailchimp, but what BestVendor also discovered was a number of emerging apps, which hadn’t quite hit the mainstream, but which were fast gaining popularity. Here we’ve put together a bit more information about four of the best which could seriously enhance your work as a freelancer. We’ll look at what they do and why they’re getting popular.

1. Capsule CRM

What is it?

The clue’s in the name; Capsule is a CRM which works in a similar way to other CRMs like Salesforce, Zoho or Sugar but is becoming increasingly popular for a reason.
In short a CRM (customer relationship management) is a platform which lets you manage numerous clients, customers and potential leads from one easy place. As Wikipedia put it “It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support”

Obviously there’s the advantage of using a cloud based solution (just like other CRMs) which, beyond the generic advantages of cloud services, allows you to access it from all kinds of devices including android, blackberry and iphone mobile devices. If you’re on the road or like to work out and about this makes a CRM ideal.

Why is it better?

Capsule is particularly cost effective at just £8 per month for the professional version (which hasn’t changed since May last year, incidentally) and a free edition which may well suit a lot of freelancers who are just starting out. The best thing about Capsule is how well designed it is. It has a very user-friendly, intuitive and attractive user interface. It’s also exceptionally easy to import clients, and it can be integrated with a whole host of other useful cloud apps like Mailchimp and Google apps. This review gives a good insight to the advantages and disadvantages it offers: http://bit.ly/WuPuMu

2. FreeAgent

What is it?

Freeagent is an easy way to take care of invoicing. It’s a great little app which allows you to view all invoices on one platform and to export your key tax payment (extremely useful when you’re a solo freelancer) and invoice dates to other calendars. In essence, it speeds up the process of filling in tax returns and checking where you are when it comes to invoicing. We all know how annoying it is when a client is slow to pay up and how long it can take chasing everything; with Freeagent it’s all in one neat place so you can easily keep track when you’re owed payment.

Why is it better?

It takes a small amount of time to get used to Freeagent, but once you do you’ll reap the benefits of a very well designed interface. You can create an estimate, convert this into a project and then convert that into a project invoice, so it’s offering a kind of project management which runs in parallel to financial management.

Like Capsule the main pull of Freeagent is how well it is designed compared to competitors. It’s easy to make detailed changes, the Freeagent severs are secured with SSL encryption so you know your bank details are safe and it runs a full database backup every four hours. Computer Active give a good overview of the software: http://www.computeractive.co.uk/ca/review/2199800/freeagent-review

3. Jing

Jing is all about sharing and cultivating ideas. It’s really simple – it allows you to quickly take and send a screen shot or a video of what you’re doing on your screen.

Why is it better?

You can already do screen shots so why bother with Jing? Jing lets you select certain areas of the screen, mark it up with text, highlight bits and basically play around with what is in front of you in much quicker way than going through the process of print screen. It takes the faffing out of print screen and speeds up communication.

The video feature is also really handy. Instead of having to describe what you’re up to, or using gotomeeting which requires both parties there in real time, you can simply record what you’re doing and send it over. It’s absolutely brilliant for a tutorial or giving a client an idea of what you might be envisioning or how a certain project could develop. You can show them various alternatives whilst visually demonstrating your thought process.

It’s also free – that’s a massive bonus.

4. Harvest

A lot of freelancers charge by the hour rather than by the final output. This means tracking time properly. The worst thing to do is waste a lot of time on tracking time. Harvest is another cloud tool that uses a well designed interface to let you track your time via various devices. It also lets you create reports and integrate invoicing.

Why is it better?

It’s a really good time tracker for project managing as it lets you put in an estimated time allotment for a project and as you log hours it automatically detracts the amount from the estimate (and highlights if you go over). This not only gives you an idea of when you need to speed up, but it also indicates when you’re consistently under-estimating (or over-estimating) how long a project takes. It also means you can keep everything on budget.

Like the other tools mentioned, harvest performs so well because the interface is designed so well. It also integrates with other cloud apps like Basecamp and Harvest’s very own Harvest Co-op which is a work flow application. Simple station gives a nice overview of exactly what’s so good about it: http://simplestation.com/locomotion/freshbooks-harvest-blinksale/

This article is written by Richard Thompson, sales director at Central Technology www.ct.co.uk. If you’re interested in the Cloud check out Central Technology’s new Cloud Drive: http://www.ct.co.uk/freecloud