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3 Great & Free Online Tools For Consultants & Freelance Professionals
When it comes to collecting and sorting information, managing tasks or collaborating with clients technology can be both a blessing and a curse: email, RSS feeds, blogs and newsletters, not to mention your favorite websites; document servers; and task managers are all useful tools but it’s rare that you have the time to really look through them all.
As result, you can often be behind the curve on news, project revisions, and grocery shopping.
I've collected a few of my favorite tools here to help you stay on top of things. They are all free, easy to setup, and will give you good information in a usable portions.
1. Google Reader: http://reader.google.com/
Google created this free tool that lets you aggregate news feeds (RSS/Atom), then sort filter, flag and share them without hassle. As you'd expect, you can search through the articles using Google's technology: this is a great time saver because once you've done the search, you can subscribe to its feed. Basically, you get to automate sorting through ALL your news sources rather than have to pick through each one.
If you have a gmail account, then you already have a Reader account, but you can setup separate ones for work and personal news in a few minutes. To get the most out of this tool, you'll need to spend 10-15 minutes copying and pasting the URLs of your favorite RSS feeds, but once they are setup, you will be happy you took the time.
2. Remember the Milk: http://www.rememberthemilk.com
This is a task management and scheduling tool. It has a premium version that will let you sync with your mobile devices, but the free version is powerful enough for most users (me included). This is especially helpful for freelance consultants and contractors that work with a number of clients: you can create individual lists of tasks for each client, set deadlines, estimate hours, add notes and tag tasks so similar activities are searchable. You can also share task lists online or print them out. The best features are the ability to email tasks to your lists and the reminders which you can receive by phone, email, text message or via chat.
3. Zoho: http://zoho.com
Zoho offers a full suite of productivity tools, all geared toward online collaboration.
There are paid options, but you can create anything from spreadsheets to wikis for nothing. It also has a cool app call Zoho Show which lets you do online presentations – great for sales calls. Once you are setup, you will also have the ability to share documents and work on them in real-time with your colleagues. This feature plus built-in chat makes dealing with multiple contributors a snap.
If you need more specialized tools for invoicing, CRM, or data management, then you can check out their business apps. I'm a big fan of Zoho Projects which is their online project management tool.
There are a lot of great tools out there. As an online consultant, I tend to get sucked into a new application every week, but the key thing is to make sure you have what you need for doing business efficiently. The three applications I've talked about above are geared toward getting you results and keeping your cost low. Big organizations often spend millions to get the same functionality and their solutions are not half as good. With these tools, you should have an easier time staying on top of developments in your industry, managing & prioritizing tasks, and collaborating on projects.
Best of luck to you.
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