5 Online Tools I Use to Grow My Consulting Firm

The right tools can multiply the effectiveness of your efforts, enabling you to grow your consulting firm’s revenue and profit faster. Since I’m frequently asked what tools I’ve used to build my practice, I’ve compiled a short list of business tools that my team employs day in and day out to bring in more clients, more projects and larger engagements.

Join.me or GoToMeeting – If you target clients around the country (or world), in-person meetings are often infeasible or impractical. We conduct extremely effective, virtual meetings that engage prospects using join.me (we used to use GoToMeeting; both are good). These tools allow us to work with a whiteboard, sketching out ideas and responding to the prospect with frameworks and “instagraphics” on the fly. Virtually everything I do involves a team that isn’t on site, and join.me is perfect for hammering out a project plan, reviewing an idea and perfecting a presentation.

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Pipedrive.com – Want to consistently improve at anything? Then you must track your efforts and progress. Hulking giants at the gym note every rep and every pound hefted. Internet marketers analyze every promotion and mouse click. Consultants like you and me need to track our outreach efforts and prospects’ movement through the pipeline. There are plenty of great CRM applications including the giants like Salesforce.com. Personally, I use Pipedrive.com. It’s simple, intuitive and, while most CRM software is really built for the sales manager, Pipedrive caters to the person drumming up business.

ScheduleOnce.com – I detest the calendar dance. It sounds like, “You can’t do Wednesday at 4:00? Okay, can you talk Thursday at 9:00 or 10:00? No, well, uh… what about next Monday afternoon?” Talk about an energy-suck! For the past couple of years, any client or prospect that wants to meet with me is directed to my online calendar, powered by ScheduleOnce. It sidesteps the calendar dance and integrates seamlessly into my team’s workflow. Instead of missing prospect meetings because the frustration of finding a common time derails the process, prospects immediately see me as being flexible and easy to work with.

Mindjet.com – Everyone thinks, plans, and organizes differently. For me, mindmaps are the go-to format. They corral my thinking about projects, articles (including this blog), processes and more. Even my daily to-do list sits in a mindmap. Again, there are plenty of fine mindmapping applications and I highly recommend you use one like Mindjet that is resident on your desktop as well as online. Mindjet is not without flaws, but overall it’s robust and team-friendly. (One downside to Mindjet is that the Mac version of the desktop application doesn’t play nicely with the rest of the team.)

Elance.com – The best tool, of course, is another person who is better than you at whatever task you’re undertaking. Tapping others’ talents to multiply your effectiveness is the epitome of leverage. For every task on your to-do list, ask, “Could someone else do this faster and either well-enough or better than me?” If the answer is yes, then seek out that someone else. I’ve spent almost $100k in the past couple of years on contractors found through Elance. Online marketplaces abound: oDesk, Freelancer.com, and Guru.com are a few respected alternatives. For editing work, I’m a fan of scribendi.com. Regardless of the platform, to enjoy outstanding results always write a good project description, review portfolios and feedback on candidates, and, for big projects, hire a few folks to work on a pilot or sample.

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These five, online tools have proven to be invaluable for my firm’s growth. What are YOU using to fuel your firm’s success? My readers and I want to learn from you. Please post your favorite online resource below.


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Text and images are © 2015 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.

By | 2017-08-07T12:42:42+00:00 March 4th, 2015|34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Heather Cartwright March 4, 2015 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Hi David,
    This is outstanding and much appreciated. What do you use for time and expense software?
    We are just looking at this and would appreciate your thoughts.

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:00 am - Reply

      Heather, this is a good question for the community. Personally, I don’t use time and expense software for my firm because I don’t bill by units of time and I have a bookkeeper manage expenses. I do track time to some extent (to understand the profitability of different offerings) and have found a simple spreadsheet works fine for that. Each of the consultants I have working on a project is responsible for keeping rough track of the time put in on an engagement.

      That said, I know of many firms that turn to Unanet for this type of software. Finally, if you’re evaluating a number of different software packages, I can point you to a resource that will help you make the best decision. Please call or email me and I’ll give you that information.

    • Sujee Maniyam March 9, 2015 at 4:48 am - Reply

      We use Expensify https://www.expensify.com/
      Easy to capture receipts

      For time tracking we use QuickBooks Online — works out well for invoicing ..etc

  2. Richard March 4, 2015 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Don’t forget Lync in the mix of online meeting applications. As part of the MS Office 365 suite I found it to be the most cost effective as I needed the other MS online tools (exchange, SharePoint etc) anyway.
    Am glad to see that MindJet make the list.

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:01 am - Reply

      Thanks for the suggestion, Richard. I’m not as familiar with Lync, but will definitely look into it.

    • Luda Fedoruk March 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      Totally agree on Lync (also used for instant messaging). Another similar one is ReadyTalk.

  3. Ken Majer March 4, 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

    I find your posts to be interesting and useful. Thanks and keep ’em coming!
    Ken

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

      Thanks, Ken. Feedback is always appreciated! Please post your thoughts and insights too–I know a lot of people read the comments and like to see what others are thinking.

  4. Bonnie March 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    This was very valuable and perfect timing for reading today. I will share with a couple of other people who could use this type of help.

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

      Excellent, Bonnie. As you chat with other folks about these resources, ask what online tools are critical for them and let us know the short list you come up with.

  5. Thomas Cox March 4, 2015 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Great list, and a useful one. I’ve already standardized on TimeTrade for scheduling, but I’m open to a switch. I’ll check out the others.
    -Tom

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:09 am - Reply

      TimeTrade looks powerful, Tom. For me, scheduleonce was my choice because it’s simple (and it integrates seamlessly into my website). However, there are always alternatives to every application. I tend to lean toward simple tools that accomplish the one thing they’re meant for. Otherwise it’s so easy to traipse down the power-user rabbit holes and poke my head up days later wondering where the time went.

  6. Chris Doig March 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    David, based on what you taught in the CAF course I have found reaching out to clients by phone (voicemail) and following up immediately with an email to be much more effective that either one by itself. One excellent tool for email is Yesware.com. The features that matter are:

    * You can see when a prospect opens your email, and how often they do it.
    * You can create rich email templates.
    * You can schedule emails to be sent at certain times, e.g. the email can arrive in the prospect’s email box at 7:30 am and be near the top of the list when they walk into their office.

    – Chris

    • David A. Fields March 6, 2015 at 9:11 am - Reply

      Great addition, Chris. Does yesware integrate with the common platforms people use for their email (e.g, Outlook) and email services such as Aweber and Mailchimp?
      (I took a quick look and it does appear that Yesware integrates with Outlook. Also with Pipedrive!)

  7. Chris Doig March 15, 2015 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    David, Yesware integrates with both Outlook and Gmail. It will also work if you send email from Pipedrive, because Pipedrive sends email through your actual email client, and not directly.

    Yesware works with your mail client and includes a 1 pixel by 1 pixel graphic in every email you send. This graphic has a unique file name. When the recipient opens your email, the mail client also retrieves that graphic from the Yesware server, which then knows your email was opened. If the recipient does not allow pictures to automatically download for messages, then Yesware will not work. So, if Yesware says somebody did open a message, you know it was opened. But if Yesware does not say anything, it does not mean the message was not opened.

    I find Yesware very useful because it pops up notifications in the bottom right corner of the screen. So I can see if somebody went back to an email after days or weeks. Then I can call them because we are already on their mind. Yesware also includes a very valuable email template feature and allows you to do A/B testing with templates.

    I don’t think it will work with services like Aweber and Mailchimp because the email is not sent by the mail client; rather it is sent directly by those systems themselves.

  8. Michael J. Meier March 20, 2015 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    David-
    Thank you for sharing these tips. A free service that I have used to transfer large files to clients is WeTransfer.com based in Amsterdam. With WeTransfer you can send up to 2GB per transfer.

    They also sell WeTransfer Plus accounts to those who want more out of the service such as 10GB per transfer, password protected transfers, and long term storage.
    -Mike

    • David A. Fields March 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Michael. I have used a service called yousendit.com (or something close to that) in the past, which sounds similar. Also, if you’re working a project that involves multiple large files, setting up a dropbox with the client often works. WeTransfer sounds like a great service. Thanks for adding it to the list.

  9. Luda Fedoruk March 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    I have to mention OneNote (also part of MS Office). It’s sort of your notebook except electronic and more interactive then paper version. I have used it for a few years, an excellent tool of keeping track of small details, conversations, follow-ups, agendas, etc.

    • David A. Fields March 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      Good suggestion, Luda. I am also a heavy user of OneNote. It’s my go-to app for taking notes on conversations with prospects and clients.

  10. Jaime Campbell April 22, 2015 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Some of my clients use Cashboard and Freshbooks for time & expenses. On the rare occasion that I use an hourly rate, I just use QuickBooks because that’s what we use for our accounting, and I can bring that time and those expenses into the invoice (with or without showing the detail to the client) with a couple of clicks.

    • David A. Fields April 30, 2015 at 9:26 am - Reply

      Thanks for that insight, Jaime. You’re entire business is tied to accounting, so it makes sense that you’re using QuickBooks for your accounting. As a purveyor of accounting/CFO services, do you think most independent consultants should be doing their own books?

      Cashboard and Freshbooks sound like good tools to look into.

      • Jaime Campbell June 3, 2015 at 11:31 pm - Reply

        I actually do think that most consultants should be doing their own books, but they should have a professional (a) set up their accounting system to automate as much data entry as possible, (b) create a dashboard showing key trends, warning signals, milestones, and comparison to best practices, and (c) be available for the occasional “how do I book this?” question.

        I wouldn’t outsource consultancy accounting because it’s typically pretty basic, and a lot of it should be able to be automated to an extent – so there’s not much of a market value n those services. This has the ripple effect that it would be hard to find a high-quality bookkeeper inexplicably willing to accept a really low fee for services rendered.

        Better save the dollars for automating & streamlining the process and creating clarity, which is done at a higher level than bookkeeper.

        • David A. Fields June 4, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

          Jaime, that’s an interesting perspective. Here’s my counter: I pay quite handsomely for my bookkeeper to do her work. Is what I pay her above the “market value” for very simple, mostly automated work? I don’t know and I’m not sure that’s important. What I pay her is below my value for the time I’d put into learning and executing those simple tasks. “Simple,” non-core activities pile up very quickly but they don’t bring in revenue or deliver value to the client. As a consultant I want as close to 100% of my efforts as possible to be directed to the consulting core: win engagements + deliver value. Thanks for your input and thoughts!

  11. Jennifer Leake June 25, 2015 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    David – Have you tried ZOOM.us as a meeting tool? I have had great meetings and results with it.

    • David A. Fields June 25, 2015 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      Jennifer, I haven’t tried Zoom.us as a meeting tool. I’ll definitely look into it, though. Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. Dan Janal June 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    Canva.com or snappa.io to create graphics for ads, blog headers, LinkedIn headers for posts, anything visual. They have pre-formatted sizes for each social media activity so you don’t have to guess at the size and you don’t have to settle for one-size-really doesn’t fit all. They also have templates and clip art and photos to get you started (some free, some $1).

    • David A. Fields June 27, 2016 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Cool, Dan. I’ve heard of Canva and people on my team have used that service, but snappa.io is new to me. I’ll definitely check it out. Pre-formatted is a good thing! Thank you for telling everyone about another great resource.

  13. Margery December 19, 2016 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Hi David,
    Love reading your blogs and reading the suggestions from the comments! I wanted to know if anyone has any suggestions for software to use for drafting contracts or business plans for clients?

    • David A. Fields December 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      Interesting question, Margery. Can you give more specifics around what you’re trying to do? From what I can tell, most consultants (including me) have a template or two they follow for contracts and plans. What are you envisioning the software would do?

      • Margery December 20, 2016 at 11:11 am - Reply

        I’m thinking of a software that would allow me to create templates for forms or contracts that I can send to my clients & allow them to sign it or fill it out.

        I want to be able to send clients a form/contract & allow them to complete it & be able to submit it or send it back to me in the same format they received it.

        I know Adobe has fillable forms but I have not had any experience with it so I wanted to see if anyone else had personal experience using it or something else.

        • David A. Fields December 20, 2016 at 7:10 pm - Reply

          Margery, it’s possible you’re overcomplicating this. (Or, as one of my early mentors told me, “you’re over-egging the omelet.”) When you send a proposal for a client, all they need to do is indicate which alternative and/or options they’re taking and provide a signature.

          In fact, they can even just email your proposal back with a note that says, “This email serves as my electronic agreement to proceed with the project as outlined in the attached proposal. We have chosen to go ahead with Alternative #3 and are selecting the success-fee structure.” That and a check are all you need.

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