Embracing technology

I’ve always been a bit ‘old school’. I like the reassurance of having a hard copy of important documents. I like the act of writing with a decent pen in a good notebook. I like to know that I’ll still be able to function if the battery in my phone dies. But since I started Sockmonkey eight years ago, I’ve become increasingly interested in how I can use technology to help me to get more done. And I’d like to take a few minutes to share some of the apps that I’ve found to work well for me, in the hope that they might work well for you, too.

When I first set up my own firm, I did my accounts in a fairly basic Microsoft Excel workbook. It worked just fine and, when the time came to do my annual accounts, my corporation tax submission or my quarterly VAT returns, it was easy enough to tot everything up and fill in the relevant forms online. But with the advent of HMRC’s ‘making tax digital’, this no longer cuts the mustard, as I need to use an approved software provide to submit my VAT returns, and probably everything else sooner or later.

After a bit of research and some discussions with others who run their own business, I opted to try FreeAgent, which provides specialist online accountancy software for freelancers and small businesses. And it is, quite frankly, fantastic. Sending invoices, managing my expenses, tracking time spent on projects, running my payroll and monitoring my finances are now a breeze. I’ve even figured out how to import transactions from my online bank account. And to upload photos of my train tickets and other expenditure.

Sure, you have to pay for the service. But it’s not a lot and it has saved me so much time. And I have the additional reassurance of knowing that I’m doing everything correctly and at the right time. Incidentally, if you take out a subscription to FreeAgent, you can get a 10% discount by using my referral code, which is 48nyams7. Or just follow this link. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also get a 10% discount when you sign up. So if you could tell nine other people, too, that would be great.)

As I spend a lot of time managing different consultancy projects, it’s also really important to me that I manage my time effectively and that I don’t forget any important tasks or deadlines. I’ve tried a range of different online project management tools, but the one that I’ve found to work best for me is Todoist, which – as the name suggests – is an online to-do list manager. I now have it on my laptop, my tablet and my phone.

Todoist allows me to make a note of tasks, add deadlines and match the tasks to different projects. And it’s completely free. Though the premium version adds more really helpful stuff, like the ability to get reminders when tasks are due and to back-up my task lists securely. It’s a simple thing, but it’s had a massive impact on how I work. And I can’t recommend it enough.

By all means give the free version a try. But if you use my referral link, you’ll get a free two-month upgrade to the premium version, too. (As will I, which is always nice.)

As a consultant, the bane of my life is – or, rather, has been up until now – arranging phone calls and meetings. The constant back and forth of dates and times, especially when trying to set things up with a group of people, would take up hours of my day. And I’d need to hold dates free until I’d heard back, which was a nightmare when I had a list of people with whom I needed to get meetings into my diary.

Enter Calendly. Calendly is an online tool for scheduling meetings. And it links directly to my online diary. So all I need to do is set some basic parameters for when I’m happy to accept meetings, send out the link to my Calendly site and wait for the calls and/or meetings to appear in my diary. It really is as simple as that. And it has saved me, quite literally, days of tedious administrative hassle.

The free version of Calendly is all you need to get started. But if, like me, you work on several projects at once and want to set different parameters for different projects, the premium version is well worth the small investment required. And not just in terms of the time and effort you’ll save. I like to think it makes me look more efficient to my clients, too.

Calendly doesn’t, sadly, have a referral programme. And it probably doesn’t really need one, as everyone who gives it a try seems to love it. So if you, like me, are tired of the hassle of getting meetings into your diary, Calendly is most definitely the app for you.

I have more apps and gadgets that I was going to talk about, but that’s probably enough for now. I’ll introduce some more another time. In the meantime, though, if you try any of the apps I’ve mentioned above, do let me know how you get on.

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