What do you do with those gift cards from Amex, Visa, and MasterCard when they get down to a couple of dollars? You can’t use them on iTunes. It’s silly to buy packs of gum, or cans of soda with a gift card. You could swipe them for a purchase and then pay the difference in cash, but that means knowing exactly what the balance is, so you can max out the card. If you’re like me, you toss them in a drawer and forget all about them, which is what Visa, MasterCard, and Amex hope you’ll do so they can pocket that $1.74 or $2.76. You can imagine how those forgotten balances add up!
But if you have a Square credit card reader and account you can swipe those microcredits right into your bank account. Log onto the card’s web site and check the balance, then swipe the card into your Square account to recover whatever is left. Today I recouped $15.72 after a small fee. Not bad for junk drawer clutter!
Written communication with clients, like email, or messages via Basecamp, these are some ways to track expectations, changes, and requests. It doesn’t hurt to have a paper trail to keep everyone accountable. But is it expedient to dig through every email exchange between you and a client or vendor? What of phone conversations, or meetings, or off the cuff remarks that come back to haunt you six months later, how do you track those? What if you have one of those clients who insist on giving you edits verbally over the phone—which really has to be the worst thing ever, don’t you think? Some people, no matter how much you push back, insist on giving edits over the phone? Why? You know they are the same people who will come back at you a week later and tell you that’s not what they asked for—but I digress. The point is; how do you track all of this communication and keep yourself accountable?
I use Evernote. There are so many uses for Evernote, in fact, it’s such a flexible tool, I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into my workflow at first. Did I use it as a virtual moodboard, to collect things that inspired me? Could I build a notebook of all my favorite ukulele songs and carry them with me on my iPhone or iPad? I could, and I did. But it didn’t click for me in those capacities. I really wanted to use it, Andrew Sinkov, the marketing guy at Evernote, is a former client of mine from his previous gig, and I wanted to support him in his new venture. And you know I like my applications to be affordable and universal, and Evernote is both. Then I found this blog entry about using Evernote as a Relationship Manager and it all clicked.
Now, whenever I interact with a contact, client, vendor, potential client, I make a note. Sometimes I schedule a follow-up action, sometimes I just jot down the content of the interaction and leave it be. It’s rarely more than a line or two. However, when a vendor tries to tell me that I didn’t mention that we’re brewing beer the first week of July, in a click I can tell him exactly when we had that conversation, what his response was, and if it was via email, I have a time/date stamp to help me find the actual correspondence to forward back to him.
Should I meet with a potential client, I can make quick notes about his schedule and intentions. Then I time my follow-up for when he expected he might need my services. It helps to note things that come up in conversation, like, maybe he enjoys water skiing. So I when I reach out to him about that direct mail project he was considering me for, I can ask if he has enjoyed any good water skiing outings this summer. It’s not that I don’t pay attention and listen, it’s just that Evernote helps me remember what I heard.
With a client who has a lot of balls in the air, I can use Evernote to help him keep track of projects he’s mentioned, but then stuck on the back burner because he’s got a lot on his plate. That’s a potential paying project that could slip through my fingers because a goal has lost priority, but if I can bring him back to the reason why he wanted to publish that brochure, or build that web site, that’s me looking out for both my client and my bottom-line.
Evernote is one of the most popular applications out there. I don’t have to sell anyone on that. But as a tool for keeping your footing in the vicious undertow of communication, it is invaluable.
I like my apps inexpensive, simple, and universal. Wunderlist from Wunderkinder is all of these things and my tool for managing lists.
First, it’s free. Free is the magic number, yes it is, it’s the magic number. You thought it was Three but that guy had a speech impediment, it was Free all along.
Second, it’s easy to understand, intuitive to use. You make a new list, name it whatever you like, Shopping, To-Do, “Client’s Name Here,” however you like to organize your lists. Then you add things to check off. You can give it a due date. You can set-up notifications. You can flag the item as a priority. When the item is complete, you check it off. Just how you hope a checklist will work.
Third, it’s universal, and then some. The wholly trinity, Mac, iPad, iPhone and they sync together. If you’re out and about and don’t have access to your own devices, you can access your lists through their web app. But seriously, you left BOTH your iPad AND your iPhone at home? Were you abducted? I don’t understand this scenario. You can add new items to the application via email and sort them out later, if that makes your life easier. Wunderlist is a very accessible application.
You can use Wunderlist as a task manager, especially for smaller projects, but it’s at it’s best when it is used as a list manager of any and all sorts. Personally, I keep the Mac app open on my machine at home and I’ve trained my son to add things to the “Shopping” list whenever we run out. And since Wunderlist syncs with my phone, when I go to the grocery store I have the most up-to-date list of what we need in the house.
It’s well designed, you can customize the appearance, and it just works. Tool for this Tuesday’s recommendation? Most definitely Wunderlist.
I was late with my Tools Tuesday post because I was out at the mall picking up my new Weber Q 2oo grill. For years, I was a charcoal girl. I had the Smokey Joe and my charcoal chimney, and I was very proud that I had not succumbed to convenience of propane. But ten years is a long life for a Smokey Joe, he was ready to retire. When I considered my options I had to admit I didn’t like it when all my guests were on the porch, but I had to be out in the yard because I was concerned I’d set the house on fire with Smokey. And honestly, “all my guests” usually amount to me, my son, and a couple of friends—I don’t have huge barbeques, I don’t need a grill of historic proportions. The Weber Q series is small, somewhat portable, and uses either camping size propane canisters or, with an adapter, a regular size tank.
The grill surface is enameled cast iron and wicked heavy. It leaves the best grill marks and apparently it seasons as you use it, like a good cast iron pan. The side tables are a convenient extension of your work area, but when you’re done they fold up into the grill, reducing the area you need to store your grill away. For apartment dwellers, it’s pretty sweet.
Finally, the good people at Weber have released an iOS app full of recipes and tips. It also has how-to videos and shopping lists. One of my favorite features is the Grill Timer. Touch the time in the recipe and the timer pops open, ready to go. I’ll miss Smokey Joe. He was a good pal. But I must admit, I am really excited to break in the Q.
Tools Tuesday, something tells me this could be an awkward category to carry forward!
One of the things I would like to do with this blog is showcase tools that help me do my job better. This could be a book, a website, an app, an inspiring place to take a walk, etc. Today we have an app.
I’m a Mac girl, naturally a lot of us “creatives” are. But I have used PCs, I have heard great things about Android phones, I don’t judge people by their laptops—by their music collection, yes, but not by their laptops. That said, most of the software I’ll be recommending will be for Apple products.
It took a while for me to find a time tracking option that worked for me. I wanted to avoid a subscription based model like Cube or one that would hit me with lots of expensive in-app upgrades like TimeMaster + Billing. If possible, I hoped to find an app that was affordable, universal for iPad and iPhone, and allowed me to export and backup my information. But most importantly I didn’t want to change how I do things to match the app, I wanted an app that was customizable enough to work with me.
TimeTracker by Silverware Software is pretty new to the App Store. It’s available for iPad and iPhone. It’s $2.99 with two in-app upgrades available, Device Syncing for $1.99 and Dropbox mobile backup for another $0.99. The interface is very clean and simple with a little customization available, for instance you can upload client logos or other icons to the time logs. It allows for a variety of billing options, including Flat-Rates, Pro-Bono and Day Rate and it even tracks your break time, if you like to record that kind of thing. Information is exportable in plain text or CSV for easy porting to Excel or Numbers.
I particularly like that it can remember frequently used clients, projects, rates and tasks which makes it less labor intensive to record all the important information that you might forget later, like, “what, exactly, was I researching for my client for 3.5 hours last Wednesday night? Hmmm, now that he’s questioning the invoice, I can’t recall!” You don’t want to be in that situation, neither does your client, so making the annotation of your time as automatic as possible is a definite plus for everyone.
I can’t speak to how TimeTracker would work for me if I had a number of employees. I really wasn’t looking into a solution that would apply to an office. But for a single freelancer who wants to get paid for the time she’s working, and track where that time goes. I think it’s an excellent, easy-to-learn, and affordable tool.