Originally published in CommPro
People working for large corporations these days are constantly told to think and act like they work at a startup. Fail fast. Be nimble. Wear hoodies.
Here’s a different take on that advice: act like you’re self-employed. After a 15-year streak working for media and marketing firms with barely a day’s break, I launched my own consultancy and suddenly needed to fend for myself. A handful of technologies have made the process much easier.
There’s a lot I miss about the corporate world. When I return sooner rather than later, below are some of the tools I will take back with me, and if you’re gainfully employed, some of these may come in handy today.
Calendly: Do you manage your own calendar? Scheduling meetings, especially with those from outside your organization, can be one of the most time-consuming chores. Calendly often makes the process much simpler. You start by syncing it with your calendar, and then creating rules for when you’d like to have meetings scheduled. Then, you can share the link so that others can schedule meetings around your availability. The meeting appears on both parties’ calendars. It takes far longer to describe it than schedule a meeting.
Google Voice: I kept burning through my mobile minutes when I ventured out on my own. Google Voice saved me. First, I started making calls through it, using the Hangouts app. Then I got my own number. Instead of searching for random numbers in local area codes, I searched for number strings of four of the same digit in a row, like 1111 and 2222. Ultimately, I got a number that starts 747 with three 7s after, and while it confuses some people when I seemingly call from California, I can easily remember the number, and calls are free or close to it.
Upwork and Fiverr: Need a freelancer? I did use Upwork in my previous job for a couple of odd projects that I needed done quickly and cheaply. The point of either site is to find people to do odd jobs and more intensive projects. You can find people who can work on web development, graphic design, market research, content development, and most other jobs you can think of. Granted, the talent I’ve found is hit or miss. When it works, it’s a huge win, but when it doesn’t, it can be frustrating, especially when you’re on a tight deadline. More recently, LinkedIn widely rolled out ProFinder which competes with these services and could be a good alternative.
Wonder: While Upwork and Fiverr can handle research requests, Wonder is designed for it, with a corps of freelancers who are ready to answer questions within 24 hours for $40. The more specific a request, the better you’ll do. It works well if you need to know an ad tech company’s top competitors, contact info for the CMOs of the top 10 largest pharmaceutical companies, or case studies of B2B content marketing. I haven’t done as well with queries that were too wide open.
Chatfuel: To try out more futuristic modes of communication, I built a chat bot. After researching a number of ways to do so, I came across Chatfuel, which is one of the easiest drag-and-drop bot editors. I created one and linked it to my consultancy’s Facebook page. While it’s not heavily used, I can direct people there to have it respond to commands like requests for my contact information, scheduling meetings (through Calendly), my bio and headshot for speaking opportunities, links to my social profiles, and other needs. It also responds to various conversational topics and swear words. What may be most surprising when you build a bot is how quickly you can create one for yourself or your business, though it’s like those games that advertise that they take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.
I Want My Name: Do you ever wind up needing to buy domains for random projects? I’ve used GoDaddy for years, but for finding a domain name, it can be a bit tricky, as it’s limited to the top-level domain extensions that it offers. I Want My Name has a seemingly endless list of what’s available, from the popular .com and .net, to the increasingly common .us and .me, to the lesser known .agency and .expert, to the global .kaufen (German for “buy”) and .shiksha (Sanskrit for “instruction”). For more sophisticated domain recommendations, try NameMesh, but it can be dizzying with lots of ridiculous name variations. Whatever you do though, unless your job involves dressing up in black and assassinating people, do not buy yourself a .ninja domain. For a more robust domain recommender
Senders: Senders bills itself as “caller ID for email,” and it is very useful. When you receive emails, it automatically looks for relevant details like senders’ social profiles and basic biographical information. It makes it much easier to connect with and follow people. Perhaps the best part is that unlike so many other extensions and plugins, it works seamlessly in mobile email. As a bonus, it’s free.
Founder Dating: A poorly named site, Founder Dating has nothing to do with romance, unless you’re turned on by discussing company valuations and growth hacking. While it can match founders with advisors and other executives, the site is best for its message boards. For instance, I used it to get feedback on a site that supposedly helped find board members (dozens of people responded, most of whom had negative experiences). A friend just posted there asking how early was too early to find a PR firm for a startup. It can be a useful place to get feedback on professional topics, especially from people you don’t know.
Streak: This customer relationship management software works within Gmail, and it has a robust set of features. I just use the free version, either to delay email delivery (such as when I’m working late at night or on weekends) or to return emails to my inbox at a later date (such as when someone asks me to follow up with them next week). The only downside is that it doesn’t work within Gmail’s mobile app.
SumoMe: This is one of those services I wish I knew about the last time I redesigned my company’s site. It includes a lot of reporting and promotion offerings such as heat maps, sharing buttons, content analytics, contact forms, email list development, all for a fairly low monthly cost (plus a free version, but that’s best for personal projects).
Looking at this full list together, more than half of these are free, and the rest combined could run all of a few hundred dollars monthly. They should save enough time and money that they will turn any CMO into a CFO’s best friend. The best part is that if you have a steady job, you don’t need to quit and become a consultant to learn about them.