If you're just starting a private counseling business or if you already have one that you're always looking to improve, here a couple tools we use that we've found particularly helpful. I thought sharing what we've found works might spread the good word about some good products.
Quickbooks makes accounting easy. You can invoice customers, track expenses and even accept credit cards (if you sign up for their merchant service). Here's a bonus tip: Hire one of their Quickbooks experts to set it up for you. It's easy to install, but they can help you set up your chart of accounts and teach you how to use it properly. Trust me. We had one come visit us for an hour for only $75.
2. Emma email newsletters
If you want to send out email newsletters to customers or prospects, Emma is a great tool. You put your text in a template that Emma designs for you and then Emma sends it out. Easy. We use something called their "Trigger series" that actually makes all of this automatic. I wrote 30 newsletters with tips about college admissions, and the day someone signs up to receive it, the trigger series sends one every three weeks, automatically. You can create your own sign-up screens and Emma handles all the list management so you're not tracking people on a spreadsheet. And the price is based on how many people you email. We've got 2500 people on our list and it's still very reasonable. It's a great tool. In fact, we're featured as one of their "Customer stories."
I write this blog on Tyepad. We had our layout custom designed to include our logo and branding, but you can sign up for a free service and use one of their templates. People talk a lot about social media and how important it is, but I don't think having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is as important as having something to say that people want to read. And nothing we've done has helped us build more of an audience than this blog has.
4. Google Apps
Ah, Google. Your Apps program hosts our email (with huge storage capacity) even though it's @collegewise.com, not @gmail.com. You let us share documents through Google Docs. You help us do all our summer scheduling of editors and interns using Google calendars. And you do it all for free.
OK, here's something that we don't use, but I want to find a way to. 37Signals makes software that's designed to make you more productive. They've got a project management program, a program to keep track of your contacts and even some free programs like online to-do lists and editing of documents. They're a good company run by smart guys who are passionate about what they do. I've read their books and will probably be attending one of their seminars next year, and I'm not even a customer yet.
It seems like some combination of their tools would be great for a private counselor but I just haven't identified the right way to use it yet. If you do, write to me at kevin (at) collegewise (dot) com. (That's my cleverly coded email address so the spammers can't fish it off our blog). In the meantime, I'm going to start 2011 with free trials of their programs (which they offer) to see if I can find a way to use them.