In the spirit of showing appreciation, I am going to list the things we can't live without here at Fastspot. These are applications or services that save us time and money, and make us look better at what we do. Author Disclaimer Alert! Two of the apps I mention...
In the spirit of showing appreciation, I am going to list the things we can't live without here at Fastspot. These are applications or services that save us time and money, and make us look better at what we do. Author Disclaimer Alert! Two of the apps I mention are Fastspot creations, if that bugs you then skip this post. Now, without further ado:
1. Rackspace. Rackspace provides hosting services. We have been with them for 8 years. They rock. We found them after dealing with months of increasingly stressful and frustrating calls and emails to our old hosting provider who clearly couldn't deliver on what they were promising. We had constant downtime for our sites. Sure, we were paying less, and yes, I do think I was talking to people who might have been in a basement somewhere in Canada, but hey - live and learn. After months of really horrific situations where clients were calling, our own site wasn't up when we would be doing presentations, etc - we opened a magazine, saw an ad for a company promising Fanatical Support, and we called. The rest is sweet blissful history, filled with nights of restful sleep and happy clients! We've even made a few friends along the way, and are proud to consider Rackspace a partner. They make us look good, and are worth every dollar when you consider the alternatives.
2. Google Calendar. My mother always said I needed a good calendar. In fact, I don't know how I got through life before Google Calendar. Now we use it at Fastspot, and it was our choice after looking at many calendar alternatives. The features I love most about Google Calendar are the alerts and reminders. Every day I get an email in the morning with my daily agenda, and I can set a variety of email, SMS and popup alerts as I need them. I never miss a call or meeting any more, and I can invite others easily so they don't miss things either. The ability to create multiple calendar "types" viewable by groups or kept as private is also a nice addition.
3. Google Analytics. I look at analytics several times a day. I can see who is visiting our site and our clients' sites, what content they are finding interesting, who is linking to it, and many other valuable bits of information. While the total traffic, unique visitors, etc. is interesting, there is one section I look at all the time. I set the calendar to "today's date", and then click Visitors / Network Properties / Service Providers. This is where the hidden gold is for me. Mixed in amongst the Comcasts and other ISPs are the names of potential future clients. For example, I know of one potential client who we have sent a proposal to. They just spent 40 minutes on our site this morning. That tells me they are taking a very close look at Fastspot, which usually means we will get the gig. I can make educated assumptions on these visits and what they mean, and I can also be prepared for hearing from them in the future. I could do an entire lengthy post on all the great things about Google Analytics, but figured it most practical to share my one favorite list to look at. To learn more, I recommend investing in a book like this one. The other great thing about Google Analytics? It's free.
4. Basecamp. I was a fan of 37signals back when they did Websites. Then they created an application to make their lives easier, offered it to others, and it took off like wild fire so now 37signals creates and supports apps for those working in the web industry. Basecamp was their flagship application, and it's the only one we use. One of the best things about Basecamp is that it keeps things organized between us and the client. As our team expanded, it became increasingly troublesome when one member of a client team would email important files to a designer on our team who would forget about the email, or lose it or accidentally delete it. Then you would play the, "I sent that to you weeks ago", "No you didn't" game. I think that is the biggest seller for Basecamp, it keeps everyone from playing the blame game over unorganized project management. Plus, our clients love it once they start using it.
5. Harvest. Time tracking, no one likes it, but if your business runs on hours, it's critical to track them against projects and tasks. Harvest makes things easier with a nice user interface, providing you with only the things you need, and ensuring it plays nice with other applications (like Basecamp). The built in timer is used heavily within Fastspot, as it's easier to hit the start / stop buttons when working on tasks then trying to remember how long something took at the end of the day, or *gasp* a few days later. I love Harvest because I can quickly and easily go into the app, unarchive an old project, and see exactly how many hours my team billed to the project, and for what tasks (design, programming, project management, etc.). It allows me to make more accurate estimates for new clients, and to have a clear view of what problems might have arisen on a past project that went over budget.
6. Denote. Disclaimer - Fastspot made Denote, and Fastspot now offers Denote as an app (a free version is available). We made Denote for ourselves, actually one of our lead programmers made the beginnings of Denote one day when he wasn't busy, to make some repetitive tasks easier to manage. For anyone who has managed a Website project, either a large site that is getting ready to launch or a providing maintenance and updates on a site over time, you know how tedious it can be to share notes on issues with teams. You have to find the issue, copy the URL, paste it into an email or Basecamp, describe the issue in words, make sure you include what browser, then send that off to some poor recipient who has to jump through the same hoops just to understand what you are trying to show them. Denote allows you to skip all those steps and simply leave the note right on the web page. The recipient gets an email, files can be attached to the note, the browser is automatically detected and included in the note info, and an admin area keeps all the notes organized for any reporting needs. It's simple, easy to use (even for non-techy clients), efficient, and only does what it needs to. We love it, our clients love it, and we know you will love it too.
7. BigTree CMS. Second Disclaimer - Fastspot made BigTree CMS and Fastspot sells BigTree CMS. BigTree is a content management system. We created it because so many other content management systems sucked. Really sucked. And not only did they suck, they were incredibly expensive, and worst of all - only programmers could work with them. I often ask myself, what is the point of a content management system if you still need programmers to make all the content changes? BigTree CMS is built around some basic premises. First premise, the CMS should be enjoyable to "use". Why should we expect someone to be happy clicking around a horrendous looking interface in order to update a nice looking website? We shouldn't. I look forward to working in apps that look nice and are easy to use. Isn't this the reason behind Apple's success? So, BigTree is pleasurable on the eyes and simple to use. Second premise, the CMS should do only what you need it to, no more, no less. So we customize it to suit each project, and give our client the tools to mold it to suit their needs down the road. Last premise? Don't lock the client out. We give full access to the code and system so clients aren't bound to us for future CMS work.
8. WordPress. WordPress is even better when you purchase the Thesis theme for it, as we did. I love WordPress because not only is it an intuitive and powerful CMS for our blog, but it also seems to have a special relationship with Google. Posts to a WordPress blog seem to immediately flag my Google alerts, meaning the posts are indexed at blazingly fast speeds, which is good news for anyone who cares about SEO (search engine optimization). I also like WordPress because it has a great community built around it, with developers constantly creating new plugins, tools, and ways to further the power of the blog. It still requires some programming knowledge to get it up and running effectively, but not a ton. Once you are setup, tweaking it, adjusting the themes, adding plugins - it's a breeze. However, Wordpress (especially Thesis) really helps you keep your eye on the ball, which is the content.
9. TweetDeck. TweetDeck is my favorite Twitter client because I generally keep multiple columns open for multiple accounts, and I use Twitter as much for listening as I do for broadcasting or conversing. TweetDeck lets me do all of this with ease, and it lets me sync these setups between computers and on my iPhone. My only complaint? The iPad app is sluggish and crashes frequently, but hopefully that is being fixed as I write this!
OK - so there are my top 9, the things I use every single day and would be very upset without. Anyone else using these apps or services? Got some other good ones to add to our list? Is MailChimp your favorite email blaster or do you prefer Emma? Is your day incomplete if you don't open your favorite code editor? Leave your faves in the comments and share the love and appreciation for the things that others have made that make your life better.