After a year of working for myself as a software consultant, this Monday I begin a new position at IDMWORKS. And, while I’ve had a blast being self-employed, I’m very excited to start this new chapter in my career with a lot of really cool ladies and gentlemen.
As I wind down my consulting I thought I’d do a blog post describing some of the resources I’ve used for the past few years in order to work with my customers as a software consultant and freelance developer. One of the fun parts of venturing into this was learning about all of the really awesome services there are out there – and at amazing prices – to help the solo consultant really hit the ground running.
Time Tracking & Invoicing
For tracking time and invoicing customers, I really dig Harvest. It does everything I need and then some, and it’s priced right. Harvest is very easy to use and lets you manage:
- Time Sheets
It also lets you accept payments via PayPal, Stripe, or Authorize.Net, sends out automatic invoice reminders, and more. When it comes to time tracking, they have a very nice HTML5 page for that, or you can use mobile apps and desktop widgets.
And, you can use it for free until you need more than two projects or more than four clients. After that, if you are the only user you are looking at a whopping $12/month.
In order to get projects under way you’ll eventually need to draw up some contracts and get them signed. I’m a fan of Contractually for getting this done. They have a library of contract templates available to customize, and you can save your customized templates for re-use later. From there you can invite folks to review and, optionally, edit the contract online with full version control. Once both parties accept the contract, both can sign the contract digitally. With the latest changes from the team at Contractually, the party you invite to review and sign no longer has to create a Contractually account.
Like Harvest and the rest of the resources on this list, Contractually is priced right. The price has gone up since they launched, but you can still get a solo account for $49/year, which is a bargain for getting this level of ease when it comes to the contract process.
So everyone’s all “Trello“! Honestly, I really like Asana for project/task management. It’s a very straight-forward “traditional” task management system that lets you break things down into workspaces, then projects, and finally tasks. Tasks can have sub-task lists, and it’s very easy to invite customers to participate in individual workspaces.
Asana is completely free for teams up to 15 people. After that their pricing model scales up nicely.
Hosted Source Control
As with project management, there’s already another strong contender in this category: GitHub. And I love GitHub, especially for working on collaborative, open source projects. The workflow is just superb. But it costs money to host private repositories, and you must pay more as you add repositories. To me this discourages version controlling projects and keeping them offsite.
Bitbucket is a really wonderful product. The only real weakness is that it’s not GitHub. And everyone uses GitHub for collaborative projects. But if you need somewhere to store your private projects with great features and the ability to easily invite your customers, Bitbucket gives you that and is free – including unlimited private repositories – for up to 5 users.
If you follow my blog or my Twitter account you’ll know I’m a fan (if sometimes critic) of the Windows Azure services. To me, there is no single stronger tool a self-employed software consultant can have under her belt. Eventually you are going to need to host things somewhere that isn’t your machine. In my experience, the hosting options out there come in two flavors: cheap and horrible, or expensive and great.
Windows Azure gives you hosted environments for many different things, from websites to full virtual machines (Windows and Linux) to SQL data, off-site storage and APIs for mobile applications. And the pricing is very attractive. All of the services let you start off for free and the portal and services are structured in such a way that you will be warned before you are ever billed. From there, the pricing scales very nicely.
Most importantly, Windows Azure is absolutely a high priority for Microsoft. This is obvious from their recent developer conferences and product releases. For now it looks like Windows Azure is more of an Xbox than a Silverlight.
The independent software consultant must constantly stay up-to-date on the available technologies in the field and how (and when) to exploit them. And Pluralsight is just a fantastic resource for training and education on the top technologies in development today. They go far beyond just how-to and include great details on the whys of what you are watching.
I’ll still be blogging here, plus I’ll be contributing to the IDMWORKS blog going forward. Feel free to share any resources you’ve found useful in the comments and good luck!