My favorite Oprah episode of the year (yes I admit it, I watch Oprah from time to time) is her "Favorite Things Show." While I understand these are not always her favorite things (as companies pay handsomely for the product placement), I simply love watching the audience reaction when they hear they are getting things like:
• Diamond Earings worth $2000
• A Volkswagon Beetle (the new 2012)
• High end Pot Set worth $500
• And Beyond
In following Oprah's Favorite things show, I decided to release my first ever "Michael's Favorite Things." One big thing I do want to point out, however, is that these really are my favorite things, and I was not paid by any of these companies to mention their names. Here we go...
Project Management: BaseCampHQ -- Most companies have a variety of projects going on at the same time and lots of moving pieces. We found that it was essential for clients to have everything in a central place, especially with projects that we had to involve outside vendors. We turned to Basecamp and have never looked back. For example, all of our design projects are in Basecamp with milestone dates and to-do items so everyone can see everything. It has saved us quite a bit of time and headaches.
Document Sharing and Email: Google -- There are some days when I say Google more than my own name. My staff and I simply use Google for pretty much everything. From email and sharing files to creating slide shows, all stored in the cloud. It's an amazing tool and at $50/year it's totally worth the money.
Managing Customers: Salesforce.com -- One area that I've noticed most people need some support is in managing their customers and their leads. Many people simply don't track this information, and if they do track the information it's all over the place and incomplete. We've been using Salesforce.com for over five years and have found it to be an amazing tool. We track our leads, customers, contracts, and even our contractors through Salesforce.com. The data is once again stored in "the cloud", so you can access the information from anywhere without having to download any software.
Video Conferencing: Skype -- As I have contractors throughout the world, it wouldn't make sense for me to buy a phone plan for everyone, so we turn to Skype. While I've had a love/hate relationship with Skype (sometimes it simply does not work), it has been an amazing tool. When you take a step back and realize you are talking to someone halfway across the world for free, and with video it makes you wonder where technology will be in another five years or so.
Web Sites: Wordpress -- Boy do I love Wordpress. Every web site that we designed in the last 12-18 months has been in Wordpress. It's easy to use, easy to customize and has the option of being scaled to drastic levels using one of the tens of thousands of plug-ins.
Member Sites: Wish List Member -- Passive, reoccurring revenue has been the name of the game in a down economy. We've been accomplishing that through membership-based web sites. As all the sites we design have been in Wordpress, we wanted to find a really cool plug-in that makes making membership sites a breeze, then we stumbled upon Wish List Member (created by two really cool guys). The plug-in has rocked our socks off and seems to get better every version they release.
Sharing Files: Dropbox -- Last but not least, Dropbox. Remember the days of sending files (small or large) back and forth or using a site like Yousendit.com. Those days are long gone. Install Dropbox on your computer (s) and you're in business. You can upload files and it will automatically sync those files with your other computers in the office. Need to share a folder or file with someone? Right click share, put in their email and the files start transferring to their computers. My favorite part -- if you share a folder with someone once, anytime you move anything into the folder it gets shared with them automatically, like magic!
I could have went on and on with some of my other favorite things but I wanted to limit the list to seven things that you should be using regardless of your business size. These tools are all easy to use and can be deployed quite quickly.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US. And to everyone else, have a rocking week!