Blog Post

Web Work 101: 10 Apps You Can't Do Without

So you’ve been downsized. Or you’ve bailed before being booted because you saw the writing on the wall. Or maybe you skipped the steady paycheck for a go at being a freelancer. Whatever the reason you’re out there on your own now, we’ve compiled a list of apps you’ll need to run your web-working business.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a sampling of the apps and solutions that we’ve blogged about in the past.

Here’s what the new web worker needs to get the job done well:

Backoffice

1. Invoice management

I can’t run my business without my Freshbooks, but there are many options out there for freelancers to manage invoices and track income and expenses. Some other options we’ve reviewed include:

You can also track expenses with these apps:

2. Time tracking

While Freshbooks does have time tracking, I must confess I’m remiss with tracking my time with a tracker (and yes, even with my cute Freshbooks time tracking widget for Mac OSX). I’ve been a little better lately at guesstimating my time and logging it into my project management system (see No. 7 below), but need to get better at it to understand the profitability of my work projects. Some time tracking solutions we’ve blogged about in the past include:

3. CRM

I have to admit I’m the first to ignore anything that has an acronym. But if you spell it out — Customer Relationship Management — you can see that this is an essential part of building your web working business. I’ve always maintained customer contacts and relationships in an ad-hoc sort of way; now I wish I had started out on the right foot instead of having to backtrack and re-engineer my patchwork system into something more streamlined. Here are some CRM options that are affordable when you’re just starting out. Take a look at our past reviews for:

Some useful apps to complement your CRM efforts include:

4. RSS Reader

A good RSS reader is vital to stay on top of the news, blogs and articles that you need to read to stay on top of your game as a web worker. I am currently using Google Reader and occasionally play with Snackr. Here are some WebWorkerDaily posts offering tips for managing your RSS feeds:

Here are some RSS feed readers, news filtering tools and related solutions we’ve reviewed to drink from the information firehose:

And here are some apps to save something you want to read for later:

ReadItLater, Instapaper, LaterLoop

Communications

5. Email management

Note: I’m a Gmail kinda gal. Won’t touch Outlook. However, my fellow bloggers have reviewed some Outlook add-ons and other email management solutions to wrangle your email communications into submission.

Starting with a good email organization system and the right supplementary tools to manage your email communications is important. As your web work picks up and you juggle multiple projects, you’ll be grateful you set something up early that you are in the habit of using and that keeps your communications in order and easily accessible as needed. Here are some email tips, add-ons and apps we’ve discussed:

and stay tuned for my new post about PostBox.

6. Calls, Conferencing and Instant Messaging

When it comes to video conferencing, I’m toggling between two solutions. Each one works well for me; which one I choose often depends on the other user. Skype was my free long distance call solution for aeons, but now I often turn to Google Talk with video as a quick and easy solution, because it is totally integrated into my Gmail and I don’t have to launch Skype. In fact, I only launch Skype now when I have a scheduled call, rather than running it in the background. Since my Gmail is always open, it is a perfect way for my team members to reach me quickly – usually by IM first and then by video if further discussion is needed.

Here are some voice conferencing and video and voice chat solutions we’ve reviewed:

And check out Four iPhone VoiP services worth ringing up.

Here are some Web conferencing apps worth exploring:

Here’s a helpful web conferencing roundup covering nine tools.

Work Process

7. Project management

For a long time, I was singing the praises of Basecamp, but recently my web working company has outgrown it. I’m no longer flying solo, with a few virtual team members on a couple of projects. I now have a business partner and nine independent contractors working on multiple projects, so we’ve graduated to 5pm. Before deciding on 5pm, we looked at a number of project management solutions, many of which I’ve reviewed in the past. Before you rush over and get an account with the project management system that works for me, check out my post Project Management, Collaboration and How Our Brains Work.

Then take a look at some of these reviews:

And here are some thoughts about alternatives to Basecamp.

8. Calendars and Schedules

I’m currently using doodle for scheduling but my calendaring system is a bit more complicated. Basically, I enter most of my schedule onto my Google Calendar, which is then synced to my iCal on my Mac, which syncs to my iPhone. But I also have my 30Boxes calendar in the mix, although it is beginning to seem redundant as I’ve gotten more used to Google Calendar. Regardless of the app you use, keeping track of your appointments and arranging schedules to sync with others is a major challenge, so having some good tools right away can be very handy.

Here’s a great roundup we did on simple electronic to-do lists, schedulers and reminders, and some ideas for Web-enabling your schedule.

Some calendaring solutions we’ve reviewed in the past include:

And some scheduling solutions:

9. Cloud-based collaboration/doc sharing

These days, I can’t live without my cloud-based workspaces. I’m a Google Docs addict now, and after my business partner’s computer crashed this week, I think she may be a new convert. While some project management tools have collaborative white boards or workspaces, I still haven’t found a solution straightforward and functional as Google Docs.

That said, there are many other document sharing and collaborative space solutions we’ve reviewed in the past including:

And here’s an interesting take on collaboration among dispersed teams, with input from Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield.

10. File storage/backup/sync

I haven’t played around a lot with online file storage or backup and syncing. I’ve been using Apple Time Machine and Time Capsule to take care of my backup needs. In terms of big file storage or sharing, I’ve used YouSendIt to email anything larger than 1MB, but most of my web work doesn’t involved incredibly large files, and when it does, I tend to fall use an FTP site instead.

Here are some online solutions for file storage and backup:

As you can see, there are many solutions to our daily web working challenges. Picking the right solutions for your new web working business sometimes means trying out several – particular if they are free or offer a free trial – to see which ones really work well for the way you like to work. Keep in mind that it’s important to have a scalable system so that, as you grow, you can upgrade easily without having to learn a new, more robust system.

What are some of the must-have applications you’ve found invaluable in your web work?

70 Responses to “Web Work 101: 10 Apps You Can't Do Without”

  1. lemkecreative

    Does anybody here know of a simple Billing/Invoicing app that offers an easy way to add in a late fee? It seems as though that is one major missing component to all of the invoicing apps I’ve seen. I currently use “Billable” but the fact that it lacks this feature has left me searching for an alternative. It looks as though you can *sort of* do a late fee in Billings3, but not in an easy way, i.e. not worth a switch for me. Any ideas?

  2. Deborah

    No one has mentioned Sosius, yet! (www dot sosius dot com). It’s amazing. From their site: “Sosius is an online workspace, accessible from any PC or Mac, that lets you create and collaborate. No software to buy and set up. Powerful and flexible, yet easy to use.” It’s an online workspace that has a social aspect. You make your profile and invite people to access items like files, calendars. Basically, you can create folders for clients with items only they can see and interact with via invitation. There is also a Twitter-like status bar for your contacts to see. Also you can assign tasks, send IMs and emails, do online meetings, share doodles with the whiteboard, collaborate on docs in a real-time space, make and share databases, oh, just check it out…it’s got way too much more to discuss. BTW, there is a free level if you are starting out (huge kudos here-instead of a time-related trial) and the next paid level(monthly)is very affordable. Very nice interface, too. Awesome.

  3. Meryl, thanks for the nod to QuickBooks (I work for Intuit). For anyone who just needs an super easy (and free) online invoicing tool, please check out billingmanager.com at https://billingmanager.intuit.com/ It has custom invoices, customer tracking, invoice history (even tells you if the recipient viewed the invoice you sent), reminders and much more…and makes it easy to sign up to accept credit cards so your customers can just click an emailed invoice to pay online.

  4. Thank you for this detailed, intensive list! And to think I was looking for one good address book organizer! So long, Palm Pilot!

    And yes, Google Docs app is great! I use it in collaborating with my web designer and copywriter when posting our monthly newsletter at http://www.theshowerdiva.com – it makes for a seamless publication every month!

    I really appreciate your list, thank you again!

  5. Thanks for the re-mention of TimeDriver, Aliza. I’ll write about this.

    A clarification, if I may: our company Time*Trade* makes enterprise-level, rules-based appointment systems for organizations like Petco, Sears Portrait Studios, etc (and small businesses). Time*Driver*, on the other hand, is our free (for now) *personal* appointment inviter, which ties into an individual’s calendar. Here are case studies for both.

  6. Aliza, have you seen Solve360 yet? It’s an ambitious product that recently launched.

    Integrating Project Management with CRM and some neat concepts like “project blogs” to organize work.

    Concept intro video at http://is.gd/k2XY

    In small teams most often it’s the same person handling the prospecting, sales, support and operations tasks and having an integrated system eliminates a lot of speed bumps.

  7. Consider adding Code-Roller to your list of project management tools. Code-Roller manages more than time. It also manages requirements, analysis, designs, test plans and defect tracking. The configuration management, change control, and release management features really help you communicate expectations to your clients. Code-Roller is a web application that works with all modern web browsers on Windows, Mac and Linux. Best of all Code-Roller is FREE.

  8. Jon Heller

    Good list. You didn’t mention Zoho Projects though.

    I’ve tried maybe two dozen different solutions for the “big three” (invoicing, project management, and time tracking), and nothing has worked as smoothly as Zoho Invoice and Zoho Projects. Great interfaces which are powerful but intuitive, seamless integration (mark your hours in Zoho Project and they import into Zoho Invoicing), and excellent pricing.

  9. I use QuickBooks and it does everything I need. Maybe Freshbooks is better for those who haven’t started QuickBooks (a pain to learn). Freshbooks doesn’t have all the capabilities. For example, I couldn’t pay a consultant 50% down through Freshbooks. It only let me pay all or nothing.