Communicate with clients in your office or from anywhere in the world with practical IT tools that will help you do business effectively and efficiently. Freelancers must strive to create and reinforce an impression of capability and professionalism that inspires client confidence and trust. Some clients may doubt our ability to take on the most important jobs and instead may elect to call in a big consulting firm. Savvy use of selected IT tools may enhance your image and reassure clients.
The Computer, or Mission Control
Your first decision will be PC vs. Mac. Graphics gurus, photographers and marcomm writers choose Macs for their sophisticated color and font style options. The rest of us gravitate toward PCs, which work well for standard business functions.
Your next decision will be desktop vs. laptop vs. netbook. Desktop units have larger screens, making them suitable to function as mini-home theaters. Laptop units are smaller and portable and for most of us have excellent functionality and memory.
When you need a computer for the road, a netbook is the smart choice. Smaller, lighter and less expensive than a laptop, netbooks can run on battery power for long stretches. Pick up free wifi internet access in schools, cafes, hotels and other office buildings while you’re there. The trade-off is netbooks don’t have much memory and they’re primarily suitable for web browsing and word processing.
A printer is standard, even if you don’t print often. You can find a reliable inkjet color printer for under $200.00. A scanner is also useful hardware to own. The ability to convert hard copy documents into electronic form, including a nice photo of yourself to upload to your social media profile (or blog!), is beneficial. You can have documents scanned at Staples for a quarter a page and photos at CVS or Walgreens for about $1.00 – $2.00, but if you can budget the price of a scanner (around $175-$200), I recommend you do so.
You’ll also want to have a couple of portable memory devices, i.e. flash drives, in your possession. When you go to Staples to scan documents, that’s where the data is transferred. My flash drives are important storage units for me as my laptop runs out of memory. They hold many of my files.
When I have a speaking engagement, I transfer the Power Points to a flash drive and plug into the A/V equipment at the venue (if there is good A/V equipment). That’s so much easier and safer than dragging around my laptop.
Processes that are usually performed through software running on your computer, but are instead accessed directly via the internet, is an elementary definition of cloud computing. The cloud allows you to perform all manner of functions from anywhere there is internet access and a keyboard.
Service providers like Amazon, Google, Yahoo, IBM and Microsoft maintain the servers, provide the content and charge customers according to the services accessed via the cloud. Flickr, Office 2.0, Googleapps and Googledocs are examples of how you may already use cloud computing.
Network storage that backs up and archives data, application hosting and virtual IT that acts as an extension of a company’s in-house IT network are other functions available through the cloud.
There is a perceived threat to the security of documents stored via the cloud, however, and sensitive documents perhaps should not be stored in that manner. Archives and sensitive data can be safely stored on portable memory devices.
Whether or not certain of your IT functions are in the cloud, your computer still needs operating system software. My tech expert colleague Craig, owner of Roan Solutions roansolutions.com, likes Windows 7.0. Bookkeeping and financial statements can be handled with Intuit QuickBooks Simple Start or Microsoft Office Accounting. Another nice software feature is Microsoft Fax or other online faxing services that allow you to send and receive faxes directly from your computer.
Voice-over-Internet Protocol services like Skype and Vonage allow you to make calls directly from your PC. Local and international calling will be either free or cheap. You can even get VoIP for your cell phone. Voice, video and conference calls, voice mail, faxing, instant messaging and caller ID are all available through VoIP. Use the video calling feature to set up a real time virtual face to face meeting with team members based in various locations around the world.
Land Lines and Smart Phones
Let’s start small. Get your phone company to add conference calling to your land line, because every once in a while you need to have a 3 or 4 way conversation to hash out an issue.
Now on to the smart phones, which join together the features of cell phones and personal digital assistants like Palm Pilot. Smart phones provide you with a date book, contact list, to-do list, email and internet access. You can even create and edit Microsoft Word documents, edit photos, access GPS assistance and create a play list of your favorite songs, depending on the unit you purchase.
There is a standard keyboard for ease of typing. You can text, have voice mail and yes, make phone calls. If you are away from your office for long stretches and would like to have internet and email service plus a telephone, you’ll need a smart phone.
Hope I’ve helped to untangle your technology options. Thanks for reading and have a great week.