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The Freelancer's iPhone: Productivity solutions for independent professionals


Last summer I started to fantasize about working for myself. I pictured a home office, afternoons with the kids and life as the boss. My employer maintained a similar fantasy, and a few months later they went out of business and left 120 of us high and dry. Synchronicity is cruel. Thanks for that, Carl Jung.

I've learned that working solo is 1 part thrilling, 90 parts horrifying and 9 parts educational. Also, I've found the best setup for my iPhone to help me through my self-employed day. Here I'll describe the apps, settings and hardware that I've found most useful. Feel free to share your own.

Gaining and maintaining clients

I use my blog, email and Twitter stream to advertise what I do and interact with clients. My blog is running on WordPress, and the iPhone WordPress app [App Store] lets me publish a post easily and from anywhere. I've set the default category to "News" and love being able to write a post at any time.

I manage my email lists and campaigns with Mailchimp. While there isn't a Mailchimp iPhone app, the iPhone-optimized version of their website is sweet. I use it to manage lists, view reports and browse all of the information on my dashboard. It's clear, legible and snappy over WiFi and EDGE. (Other TUAW team members recommend Campaign Monitor, Emma or Constant Contact for email list management.)

Twitterrific 2 [App Store] is my mobile Twitter app. There's so much I love about it, but for now I'll focus on the ease of switching between accounts. From the Sources screen, click Edit and add as many as you like. Best of all, you can assign an icon to each account (what else would you expect from the guys at The Iconfactory?), so it's super-easy to find the one you're after.

Not only do I have my own business and personal accounts in place, I tweet for a couple of clients and have their accounts in Twitterrific, too. I can easily tweet as myself, my business or a client at anytime.

If these apps don't float your boat, consider these alternatives (there are others, of course). Each link opens the App Store. For blogging:

  • Typepad lets you post to a Sixapart Typepad blog. It's free.
  • iBlogger works with nearly any blogging platform, including WordPress, ExpressionEngine, MovableType and more. $9.99US.
  • Tumblr works beautifully with the Tumblr service and is free!
  • Sleepydog Ltd also works with a variety of services like iBlogger and is free.
For Twitter:
  • Tweetie also features multiple accounts, following and unfollowing and more. $2.99.
  • Twittelator Pro offers cool options like landscape tweeting, offline tweeting and unlimited drafts. $4.99

Project Management

You've gotten the word out and landed some gigs. Now you've got to keep organized and moving. In other words, you need a project manager. For me, the answer is Daylite. We posted a very thorough review of Daylite just a few weeks ago, which I invite you to read, so I'll just point out the highlights.

I got Daylite Server running on an old G4 iMac in my basement which I access from my iPhone with Daylite Touch. The server app got itself around my Comcast router (something even Back To My Mac can't do) effortlessly, and I've never had trouble accessing my data. It lends itself to GTD with minimal fuss, satisfying my meticulous side, and let me re-purpose a legacy machine, satisfying my cheapskate side.

There are other solutions to choose from, including:
  • Basecamp from 37signals should top your list as you audition solutions. If your work requires you to collaborate with a team across multiple projects, Basecamp could be the solution for you. While there are no official iPhone apps for the 37signals products, you'll find a slew of high-qualiity offerings from 3rd party developers. Pricing plans vary.
  • Backpack, also from 37signals, offers collaboration tools that aren't as extensive as you'll get with Basecamp, but could be perfect for the freelancer with less demanding gigs. Pricing plans vary.
  • OmniPlan from the Omnigroup has quite a following and runs $149.95US for a single license.
  • Things syncs with its desktop-based sibling wonderfully and is beautiful to boot.
Time Tracking and Billing

At this point, you've gotten the word out, landed some gigs and managed them well. What's next? Getting paid, of course! For client management, time tracking and invoicing, I use Freshbooks. This is a great service with a super iPhone app. With Freshbooks, I manage clients, generate invoices, run reports and so much more. The iPhone app (free) is quite useful in the field. I can select the project I'm working on, task within that project and start the clock. When I'm finished, I simply click Log Time and off it goes.

While nice, it could be better. You can't move from client to client on the app (only project to project), nor can you create a new project or task. Definite drawbacks, but I like the Freshbooks service as a whole so much that I'm willing to let it go (Related: Please add these functions to the next release, guys!).

Of course, there are a great many apps that offer time tracking and billing on the Mac and/or iPhone, including (but not limited to)
  • Tempo combines powerful reporting with billing via the iPhone
  • LiveTimer was an Apple "Staff Pick."
Finally, let's talk about simple settings on the iPhone. As a MobileMe customer, I let Mail and iCal mange my (wait for it) mail and calendar. I get a LOT of email (keep sending in those tips, folks!), so I've disabled the Mail arrival notification. My voicemail greeting is courteous and professional.

For at-a-glance reference of the day's activities, I'll take a screenshot of iCal in list mode at the start of the day and set it as my wallpaper. Then, all I have to do is click the home button to browse the day's tasks and activities.

Why the iPhone 3G S will rock even harder for freelancers
  • Video: I can see contractors taking quick videos of work sites, real estate agents shooting home interiors, photographers scouting out shoot locations.
  • Compass: Don't get lost on the way to the gig. Tardiness is frowned upon.
  • Spotlight: Search for the contacts, Notes, emails, phone numbers, etc. that pertain to a given project in a snap.
  • MMS: Are you a professional organizer creating solutions for a remote client? Send photos with commentary quickly and easily.
Of course, this article explains how one freelancer -- me -- uses his iPhone. Which begs the question: How do you use yours?

Photo via Johan Larsson

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