What Software Helps You to Succeed in Consulting?

I know that this blog focuses on direct marketing. But it seemed appropriate to talk about something else that I am passionate about. It has to do with efficiency and looking professional with the most demanding clients.

When I first started consulting in 1985, I was using PCs in my business and struggled with Microsoft's operating system for three years. Buying newer computers did not fix the continuous flow of techs coming to my office every week to tweak something so the system would work properly.

It's as if Microsoft conspired with big businesses requiring internal IT support to keep the computers running.

The problem was that as a small business, I could not afford the IT support required to run DOS. (And to this day, much of that DOS code survives in one form or another within VISTA. OS X, however, abandoned it's early code and created a new operating system based on the robust and open sourced UNIX.)

We had to find a better solution that did not eat up so much time. But mostly, we were tired of paying high rates for tech support. We wanted something that would simply work.

When I fist saw the Mac in action with the power of the mouse to move graphics around and re size on the fly, I was sold. But what really sold me was the ease of use and how things simply worked without requiring tech support.

In fact, tech support was really not available everywhere for Macs, so Macs just had to work without continual tech support or the company would never survive.

Anyway, just in case you hadn't figured it out by now, I'm a Mac fan. So if you are a die hard PC user, then this post may not be for you.

As an independent consultant with power user skills, I beta test new software from PIMs to disk maintenance programs like TechTools Pro. So I have tested many options when it comes to the software I use to support my consulting business.

So here is a list of the software to keep your Mac running to preparing graphically stunning presentations with ease.

For maintenance:

All you need is OS X's built in Disk Utility and Disk Warrior. Run Disk Warrior once a month and keep up with your OS software updates and you should have few, if any issues keeping your system reliable for years to come.

For graphics:

When developing flow charts, I use OmniGraffle. It can open and edit Visio files for PCs , but it is easier to use and looks much better. For photos and cleaning up screen shots, I recommend the inexpensive Adobe Photoshop Elements.

For presentations:

You can use the cross platform Office products like PowerPoint. But the type, graphics, transitions, audio and video support in Apple's Keynote product put PowerPoint to shame. You can always export your Keynote presentation as a PowerPoint, PDF, QuickTime, Image, Flash or HTML file to use with a PC.

Proposal development:

For preparing complex RFPs or proposals, I begin with a professional outliner tool like OmniOutliner Pro. You can move around information from one section to another with ease. You can incorporate notes and tie them to specific elements of your outline along with graphics, video and audio tracks. You can then export your outline into Word or your favorite word processor to expand it into a full fleged presentation.

I often include plan or project outlines prepared with OmniOutliner as part of proposals or contracts for work in order to pin down specifications for consulting projects.

Another powerful program I use for project management and proposal development is FastTrack that is cross platform. It creates wonderfully clear and attractive Gantt charts as well as highly detailed resource allocations needed to manage large projects. It works with and exports to Microsoft Project for added flexibility.

Thought stimulators:

I use Inspiration that provides mind maps and other templates for brainstorming. As you write an outline, the program automatically creates a flow chart. Or you can create your thought processes as a flow chart and the program automatically creates an outline of the flow chart. Changing the flow chart or the outline automatically edits the graphic or the outline as required to update the latest information.

Teachers and trainers use this program heavily in their curriculum development and teaching. But this program works well for all kinds of marketing and communications projects.

Necessary programs:

For most of us, we use Excel and Word as givens in the business world. Of course, database specialists use specialized and powerful programs like SPSS for analytics and graphic artists need Adobe's numerous design programs as well as Quark.

What programs have you found save you time and help you sell your estimates and proposals?

Posted on June 25, 2008 and filed under Consulting, General.