Freelancing - Tools

In my last post I talked about freelancing. Somebody asked for more details about my “agile tool set” so here I am trying to explain more in details what tools I use.

Environment

mb Most of my work is done on my 13.3” sexy black macbook

Tiny and powerful, this laptop is a key element to my productivity. Because of it’s size, I take my MB everywhere. However when at home, the macbook is hooked up to my 22” LCD screen.

chair I also recently acquired a great office chair that seriously makes a huge difference.

Wilson probably didn’t that in mind when he asked about my tool set, however a great work environment will help you working better, seriously!

Software

In the list of more traditional tools, I use Lighthouse quite a lot. Check this old post to know why I chose to use lighthouse.

Iterations, user stories and acceptance criteria are managed in Lighthouse.

gdocs However, most of my clients have a hard time defining user stories. To help them in this process, we often end up using Google docs. GDocs comes handy when a client tries to describe a feature and he ends up telling me: that’s too complicated to explain, I’ll write a document and email it to you.

That’s usually a sign that the client can’t break the feature in small chunks or that there’s some confusion somewhere. Few hours later, I receive a long Word document or Excel Spreadsheet explaining in details how things are intended to work. After a quick import in Google Docs I use my favorite feature: “Insert Comments”

Here is a screenshot of a comment I made on a client’s document: comment

GDocs lets you have multiple people editing the same document at the same time. While I’m adding the comments, my client answers them and tries to clarify the document. The client can save any revision he wants and export it back to MS Word if he really wants.

I then extract user stories directly in Google Docs. Often the client quickly understands how things work and will write the user stories and acceptance criteria himself. People are familiar with the page format and often feel more comfortable in this environment. I personally move the user stories in Lighthouse and we then only deal with lighthouse (until a new set of feature requires a virtual drawing board)

Communication

I have a daily standup with each client. You have a variety of alarm system you can use to make sure you are not running late. I don’t have any preferences, but setting up a cellphone reminder can be handy if you have a tendency to forget.

To call my clients I use a VOIP service. Actually I have 2 VOIP services, one for my home line and I use Skype for work. (different providers)

skype provides me with a local phone number, voice mail and unlimited calls in the USA and Canada for something like $90/year.

Skype is also great for video conferences or simple conference calls with many people. Clients know that they can ping me via Skype if they need to. (only during work hours) (I use skype with a Bluetooth headset so I can move around when I talk :))

Time tracking

I tried different solutions but I wasn’t pleased. I couldn’t find a simple solution properly handling time tracking and invoicing. I ended up writing a custom solution perfect for my needs: when you want something done right, do it yourself :)

pt

I have simple ajax timers I can start and stop easily (I’m planning on writing a widget too). Finally, the app generates PDF invoices (using logo etc..) which makes my life easier when it’s invoice time :)

Payment

checkout Talking about invoices. I generate invoices once a week and the payment request is made via Google Checkout. Google doesn’t charge for transfer fee until the end of the year. Clients might be used to paying by check but seriously it’s a real pain. Checks take forever to arrive, they take forever to clear and banks mess up way too often. I personally prefer to manage my finances online and I think the small fee is worth it.

That’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to let us know what great tool you use.

-Matt

By Matt Aimonetti