So it’s been a good long while, but I’m back. This is a tough industry for continuity. The breakneck speed of innovation in the industry keeps us all with our hands full all of the time. I have some unfinished business here so I better get on with it.
Small businesses and start-ups have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been consulting for many of them during this long hiatus so I wanted to point out a few things that I have seen work very well out there in the real world where people are trying to grow their businesses.
I started using this app about three years ago to keep track of several projects I was working on. It was my first real exposure to Kanban and it just made so much sense to me, that it changed the way I worked almost without conscious effort.
I know that many people really love Trello, but LeanKit’s backlog feature and analytics feature are incredibly useful for the way that I work and I never really was able to get Trello to do what I wanted.
I have seen businesses in almost every industry realize huge benefits from adopting this approach to productivity. It’s free for 10 boards and up to 25 users. You really can’t beat it.
I’ve been questing for a replacement for Quickbooks for YEARS! I’ve come close a few times (the now defunct Intuit Billing Manager for example), but there always seems to be something missing. I came across Wave Accounting recently and it seems to be the real deal.
It has a full General Ledger system in addition to Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Expense tracking, and pretty decent reporting. This is a seriously full featured system and it’s free. The ad-supported kind of free, that is. The ads DO seem to be relevant to small business, though.
As you might imagine, I get asked about computer problems a lot. The conversation usually runs like this: “My computer’s been running slower and slower over the last few months, and now it won’t even connect to the internet anymore. Every time it starts up I get these screens popping up and they won’t go away. Do I just need to buy a new computer or what?”
If this sounds like a question that you might ask, then fear not. Your computer is most likely just suffering from virus and/or spyware issues and 80% of the time, the free software that I’m going to tell you about will fix you right up.
MalwareBytes Anti-Malware Free
This is a great application. The free version will scan your system and find the vast majority of problems. It’s not going to proactively look for and warn of potential threats, but it’s a great tool to uncover and correct problems that you suspect may be causing problems. Just run a quick scan and it pretty much does the rest.
Microsoft Security Essentials
This free tool from Microsoft is actually worth paying for. It actively runs in the background and scans files as you work. You can even use it for free in businesses with less than 10 computers. You can download it from the link above or it will also show up in Windows Update as an optional update.
Both of these tools are simple to install and very easy to run. If your computer is giving you any problems at all, this is a great place to start.
I’ve known about IrFanView for years, but I always thought that it was just another image viewer app. Little more than the built in windows image viewer. I was WAY off!
This sweet little app is a swiss army knife of basic image editing, audio and video playback and a whole lot more. It will do screen captures of all kinds (even on a timed basis – thanks Jared!), slide show of a directory of images, and batch file conversion and renaming.
I thought the “Panaorama Image” feature was particularly cool. You point the app at a series of images and it will stitch them together into a single view. All this and it can capture images from a scanner too! Very cool.
I have talked about some different applications that can connect you to a remote computer, but I’ve been using a package called Mikogo for the last little bit and I am REALLY impressed with it. It can connect you to a single remote pc or you can get up to 8 others joined to you in a remote training/meeting kind of scenario. No more GoToMeeting fees!
All you have to do is install the started app on your pc and then set up a free account. Once installed you’re just a right-mouse click away from starting up your session. Tell your friend/client/mother-in-law to go to join.mikogo.com and enter the Session ID that you tell them. A few mouse clicks on their side and voila, you are all connected up with about 90% of the tools that the pay products give you. Sweet!
You can share just a single program on your pc, your whole desktop or even switch control over to the other person and check out what’s happening on their end.
There’s even a whiteboard for crying out loud! Are you downloading it yet? Enjoy it!
This weeks selection hits particularly close to home for me and some of my esteemed colleagues. It’s called JibberJobber and it’s pretty slick. They style themselves Career Management 2.0, and I think they bring the goods to back it up.
The software is pretty simple. After you get signed up, you start tracking things like which recruiters you’re working with, any companies you’ve targeted, interview dates and so on. After you plug all that info in, you can do things like search for people on Google, LinkedIn etc directly from the app, you can set follow-ups and reminders and such. It’s like a CRM system for your job search. You’re supposed to be working at this like it’s a full-time job, right? This is the system you need to track your efforts.
It will even show you all of the companies that it knows about in your area:
The base product is free, you can upgrade for 5 or 10 bucks a month and get some nice add-ons. If you’re in the market, check this one out!
Recently I came across Intuit’s Billing Manager. It is a VERY simple way to invoice your clients and keep track of payments. Did I mention it was free? It lets you send unlimited invoices to unlimited clients. Seriously, you can sign up and have an invoice sent out in less time than it will take to you to read this post.
Billing Manager lets you (for a fee) make use of Inuit’s Merchant service to accept credit cards, and you can even seamlessly upgrade to Quickbooks online. Pretty slick of them.
Seriously, if you need basic invoicing and payment tracking ability, you should check this out.
This installment comes to us courtesy of a colleague and a gentleman, Steve Lacey. He sent me over the link and I really thought this was cool. Allow me to set it up a bit.
I have been called an idea hamster. I admit it. I get jazzed up on some concept, think about it and plot a bit, and then move on to the next one. Execution has been a struggle for me in some ways. I just can’t ever seem to foc…hey, look! Ooooh, something shiny!
Anyway, this software is called PersonalBrain. I’m not sure that it will help out with my execution problems, but it WILL let me think of ideas much FASTER. WOOT! Take a look:
It may not look like much to you, but this is one powerful tool for visualizing what’s important to you. A few things I think are just killer:
- You can copy OR link to files on your computer (and network!).
- You can link to web sites and even configure how many links deep you want it to go.
- The search/indexing is amazing.
- “Show Forgotten Thoughts” is like a recycle bin for your thoughts, which I think is pretty nifty.
The pay versions of this package are a little pricey, $150 for Core and $250 for Professional, but it seems to have a lot of functionality in the free product. If you feel like you don’t have enough ideas in your life, I guarantee that this will spark some new ones!
Ok, so that title is a lie this week. Not even a little true. The cool software that you NEED to check out right now is not free. It is a whopping $5/month per computer. Let me tell you why I have violated my own free software principles to recommend this package.
But first, indulge me while I relate a cautionary tale. This week a gentleman that I know came to me with his wife’s iMac and told me that the hard drive was dead. I took a look at it and quickly verified that it was not just dead, but what I like to call dead dead. As in the drive doesn’t spin up at all, no movement no vibration, nothing. I can do nothing for someone in this situation other than recommend some high priced recovery services which will charge you whether they get your data back or not.
He said not to worry, they had an external drive for a backup. I thought little of it until the next time I saw him when he told me that his wife was a basket case because the external drive had failed also. All of their picture, financial data, email, etc was now apparently gone. What a horrible feeling! As a technology guy, that’s one of the worst things to have to tell someone. (Don’t worry, I got their data back from the external drive.)
The moral of this story is that hard drives are evil. There are only two kinds of hard drives in the world. Dying and dead. (If I were a morbid person, I would say the same thing about people.) Don’t trust them. They will hose you. If your pictures don’t exist in more than one place, you will regret it sooner or later.
This brings me back to the software topic that we started with. There’s a great service called BackBlaze and your $5 per computer per month will get you UNLIMITED storage. That’s right UNLIMITED storage.
It works for both Mac and Windows clients (no servers though). It compresses your files, de-duplicates, it slices and dices all for a low low price. Seriously, you NEED to back up your data. Go now. This is your first official directive from me. If you are not backing up, or if you are only backing up to a drive or dvds or something at your house (what happens if there’s a fire?), go get this service.
This week’s entry comes courtesy of my esteemed colleague, Alex Robson. It’s a sweet little app that runs totally in your browser and seems to do just about everything that Microsoft Visio does.
Diagrams, flow-charts, floor plans, you name it and gliffy.com can handle it. It takes about 30 seconds to get started with this tool and it is surprisingly simple. The interface is clean and straightforward:
I was really surprised to see you can do things like copy/paste and grouping shapes. Obviously Visio can do far more, but if you just use the basics like I do, this is a great lightweight replacement. (Fear not, you can save your stuff as an SVG file which Visio can open.)
If you opt for the pay version, it’s just five bucks a month and it gives you some really cool collaboration features and increases your storage. Check it out!
I am a mess. I’ll freely admit it. Those who have worked with me know that I have to juggle many different eggs from vastly different worlds and at times, some of them fall. (It’s not so bad as I make a fantastic omelet.) As a result, I’m always looking for a better way to stay organized.
Evernote has been around for quite a while. The last time I looked at it was a few years ago, and didn’t really see how it would work for me. A friend of mine started using it and mentioned it so I went back to check it out. It seems that the magical elves at Evernote have been busy!
There are clients for the browser, Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android and Blackberry. You can even send notes to your account via Twitter! I’m packing the Droid around these days, so I downloaded that app and the Windows client. I’ve been using it for several weeks now and have been very impressed.
Here are screenshots of the windows client and web client:
The free account comes with 40 GB of space (premium is only $5/month for 500 MB and no ads), which seems to be plenty so far. I love being able to go to my phone when I’m out and about and have all of my notes and lists in one place. The tagging and search functions seem to work very nicely, but I don’t yet have a ton of data in there to give it a real test. The ink note story is not so great (I have used OneNote for a long time and am spoiled) but the ability to access data everywhere overshadows that weakness.
Once Sharepoint 2010 and OneNote 2010 and Windows Mobile 7 phones are out on the market, I intend to see if I can match the functionality of Evernote and still have all the things I like about OneNote. In the meantime, definitely take a look at Evernote.