Congratulations, Mac-based freelancer or business owner! Maybe you’re just starting out on your entrepreneurial journey or perhaps you’re gearing up to take things to the next level. Either way, if you’re already feeling overwhelmed by a seemingly endless to-do list that you have yet to actually jot down, these ten great business apps and plug-ins could be just what you need to tackle the tasks at hand.
Let’s face it: Apple’s iCal is good for the occasional shopping list and errand reminder, but if you’re running a business or juggling clients, you’ll need something with more organizational oomph. The $149 Daylite ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) from Market Circle is a much better tool, making it easy to track customer correspondence, manage tasks and delegate them to fellow employees, and link files to projects and appointments. Daylite is a productivity enhancing dashboard for virtually any business, and you can even bring it all with you using the free Daylite Touch for iPhone app.
Also from Market Circle, the $59 Billings ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) is to time tracking and invoicing as Daylite is to project management. You can track the time you spend on a project, right down to the minute, and create customize invoice templates for billing repeat clients. In fact, if you manage your projects in Daylite, you can send it all to Billings when it’s time to invoice. Billings can track when customers are late with payment, sync due date alerts to iCal, and take it all on the go with the free Billings Touch for iPhone ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). If you need Billings for your small-to-medium business, Market Circle is beta testing Billings Pro with support for multi-user time tracking and billing.
Mac OS X doesn’t offer much flexibility when it comes to protecting your data. You can use the Security preferences panel to turn on FileVault and encrypt your entire user folder. You can use Apple’s Disk Utility to store particular files in an encrypted disk image. But if you’re looking for the easiest way to encrypt a few folders, or password protect folders so others cannot view files when you step away, Tao Effect’s $30 Espionage ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) may be the answer. This utility lets you encrypt specific folders on your Mac or just password protect them from prying eyes. It integrates into the Finder and stays out of your way. It also makes it easy to protect e-mail messages, chat transcripts, and sensitive application support data. Espionage is a great way to protect business documents and financial records.
Whether you’re building a small business or working as a lone freelancer, file backup, synchronization, and collaboration are essential. For more than two million people (and counting), Dropbox has quickly become the go-to solution, as this online service’s file synchronization and collaboration features work across the Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, and even Linux. Download the Dropbox software and sign up for the service. The software creates a folder in your user folder that looks like any other, except anything you save here gets uploaded quickly and securely to your Dropbox account in the cloud. Save changes to a document, and they are again uploaded quickly while you continue working. Like OS X’s Time Machine, Dropbox stores a month’s worth of file revisions, but you can access them online and retrieve a previous version even if you’re away from your computer. You can share folders to collaborate with other users, and Dropbox offers 2GB of space for free to help you get your feet wet. Upgrade to a Pro 50 account for 50GB of storage at $10 per month, or to a Pro 100 account for 100GB of storage at $20 per month.
Apple’s Mail is a good, general purpose e-mail client, but an active business life demands more from our correspondence. One of the more interesting e-mail options to come around in a while, the $40 Postbox from Postbox Inc. is a dynamic and even social e-mail client, able to display all recent correspondence with a contact, as well as post to Twitter and Facebook. Postbox’s tabbed interface gives you more flexibility. A smart content areas collect all attachments in your inbox (without forcing you to dig around in messages), or all important information (say, photos or addresses) from a conversation. You can tag and create to-do items from messages, or even edit messages in your inbox to change the subject or add notes for future reference.
6 (and 7). MailTags and Mail Act-On
If you would prefer to stick with Mail instead of giving Postbox a try, adding this pair of plug-ins from Indev Software is like hiring two e-mail secretaries. The $30 MailTags ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) adds a much-needed organizational boost with interfaces for tags and more powerful calendaring integration. It features type-ahead support for tags and everything you need to create events and to-do items that are associated with the original e-mail message. The $25 Mail Act-On ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) adds more powerful rules and keyboard shortcuts for filing messages in their proper folders. You can colorize messages for followup or even apply rules when sending messages. In short, MailTags and Mail Act-On are an invaluable duo for getting more work done faster with Mail.
Your business is going to need a Website, but that doesn’t mean you have to hire a designer or hunker down with a $399 copy of Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ). Realmac Software’s $79 RapidWeaver ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) ships with a plethora of gorgeous, customizable site themes, as well as “page types,” such as photo galleries, blogs, and even straight HTML pages for the ultimate in customizability. It plays well with the rest of OS X and iLife. You can add Web stats tracking. RapidWeaver can publish to Apple’s MobileMe with a couple clicks, or to any Web host with just a couple more. But RapidWeaver’s real strength lies in its rich, diverse plug-in ecosystem. Tons of developers build add-on themes, page types, and more to make RapidWeaver do virtually anything with just a couple clicks. Use plug-ins to open a Web store, host a forum, or create an engaging portfolio, usually without touching a single line of HTML code.
If you’re getting into the publishing business or you want to make writing or blogging a focus of your work, you’ll need a great blogging client. Whether you publish to a Blogger site, collaborate with clients on WordPress, or wade through the rest of the jungle of publishing platforms, Red Sweater Software’s $40 MarsEdit ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) can handle it all. It’s a streamlined blogging client that lets you write and save drafts offline so you never have to lose a post if your browser crashes. MarsEdit sports a flexible text editor, iLife integration, and support for every publishing platform that matters.
After you get your site published or your blogging name out there, you’ll need a way to get in touch with your industry, customers, and audience. These days that can mean juggling multiple social networking sites just to keep up. Simplify these duties by using Realmac Software’s $29 Socialite (formerly EventBox) to access everything from one place. Socialite works with Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, Flickr, and Digg. You can add multiple accounts for each service to manage work and play in a single app, making Socialite a one-stop shop for getting you or your company’s name out into the social Web.
So there you have it: ten Mac apps and plug-ins for getting started, or pushing forward, with your business. How did we do? Did we miss any programs that you think deserve a slot up here? Let us know in the comments and maybe we can revisit the topic in a future post.