A digital toolkit for consultants
As a solo consultant, I’m drawn to anything that promises to save me time, make my life easier, or help me do a better job. This is a snapshot of my current toolkit and how I’m using the things in it.
This is an updated version of a post I wrote back in 2018. A lot of the tools are the same, but there are some new ones.
- What does it do?: It’s a tool for gathering and analysing insights from research.
- How do I use it?: I use Evolve for user and stakeholder research. It’s my go-to for capturing notes, creating affinity maps, spotting themes, and creating insight-backed findings reports. I love the structured, organised approach it provides.
- Cost: Free (for now)
- Link: https://evolveresearch.app/
Answer The Public
- What does it do?: Enter a keyword and Answer The Public will give you the most common who, what, where, when, why and vs questions people search for including that keyword.
- How do I use it?: I find this helpful for basic user research, as these searches give you an insight into what people are thinking, feeling and asking.
- Cost: Free/$79/$99/$399 a month
- Link: https://answerthepublic.com/
- What does it do?: a tool to gather and audit website, search and social data.
- How do I use it?: I use URL Profiler for content audits. I enter a list of URLs and it returns loads of useful data, including metadata, page speed, word count, readability data and more.
- Cost: Free trial then around $30/$40/$100 a month
- Link: https://urlprofiler.com/
Collaboration and workshop tools
- What does it do?: Mural is a collaborative digital whiteboard and workspace.
- How do I use it?: I use Mural as the focal point for online workshops, meetings and training. I use it the same way I would use whiteboards, flip-charts, and worksheets in a real-life session. It’s been a lifesaver during lockdown.
- Cost: Free trial then $12/$20 per month
- Link: https://www.mural.co/
- What does it do?: Helps you plan agendas for workshops, meetings, conferences and more.
- How do I use it?: To cut the faff of planning agendas and keeping track of timings. You can add or remove items from your agenda, increase or decrease the duration, and it’ll recalculate your running times. It also keeps track of the things you need, like pens, print-outs, Post-its, sticky dots, etc and gives you a checklist to help make sure nothing is forgotten. I also use it while I’m running sessions, so I have all my notes to hand.
- Cost: Free/$13/$60 per month
- Link: https://www.sessionlab.com/
- What does it do?: Calendly helps you schedule meetings without the back-and-forth emails.
- How do I use it?: When I’m arranging a call or meeting, I just send people a Calendly link and let them choose a time. (This works for me because my diary is always up-to-date and I block out time for things like thinky work, travel, lunch breaks etc). It’s great for user and stakeholder interviews too.
- Cost: Free/$8/$12 per month
- Link: https://calendly.com/
- What does it do?: What doesn’t it do?! In brief, it’s for writing, planning and organising. Like a cross between Evernote, Google Docs, Trello, a wiki and a CRM.
- How do I use it?: I’m still finding my way with Notion, but so far I use it for project management, content creation, notes, bookmarking and as a wiki. I’m going to integrate it into my workflow more next year.
- Cost: free/$4/$8 per month
- Link: https://www.notion.so/
- What does it do?: Shift gives you one place to access all of your accounts, apps, and workflows.
- How do I use it?: As my primary workspace and browser. I check my email here, access Google Drive, Notion, Airtable and more here. I create different workspaces for different clients and projects — this helps me stay focused and saves time logging in and out of different accounts for things like Google Analytics, Trello etc.
- Cost: Free/$100 per year
- Link: https://tryshift.com/referral/9124/lauren.pope/ (If five people sign up via this link, I get some credit. If you’d prefer not to use that link, try this one https://tryshift.com/)
- What does it do?: Otter is an app that uses AI to take notes during meetings and interviews. You just start the app and it transcribes while you and the people you’re with talk.
- How do I use it?: To transcribe notes from meetings, calls and interviews. I also use it to draft emails and blog posts by making ‘notes to self’. The transcription isn’t 100% perfect, but it’s pretty good.
- Cost: Free/$8/£20 per month
- Link: https://otter.ai/referrals/J814U31Y (Again, I get some credit if you use this link. If you’re not into that, use https://otter.ai/)
- What does it do?: FreeAgent is online accounting software that helps you with invoices, expenses, time tracking, tax returns and more.
- How do I use it?: I use this for anything and everything money-related and it’s made me feel a lot more organised and under control. I also have to give them a lot of credit for their ‘Support’ section — I’ve found the answers to any question I’ve had in there.
- Cost: £10–30 a month
- Link: https://www.freeagent.com/
- What does it do?: It’s a powerful spreadsheet-database hybrid.
- How do I use it?: I’m in the early stages of using AirTable. So far I’ve found it’s a game-changer for content audits and content models. I’m planning on writing more about this when I have a clearer idea of how best to use it.
- Cost: Free/$12/$24 a month
- Link: https://airtable.com/invite/r/w6Ac3KnS (alternative link https://airtable.com/)
- What does it do?: A grammar, spelling and style checker.
- How do I use it?: Working solo, I rely on this for proofing. And as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I make a *lot* of mistakes. I disagree on some stylistic points, but it improves my writing and I crave a 100% score. The Google Docs add-on could be great, but it’s very slow.
- Cost: Free trial then $20 a month/$80 a year.
- Link: https://prowritingaid.com/?afid=6528 (alternative link https://prowritingaid.com/)
- What does it do?: Hemingway is a text editor that helps you improve your writing by highlighting long or complex sentences, words you don’t need and uses of the passive voice.
- How do I use it?: Before I bought ProWritingAid I used this daily for checking my writing for passive voice and long sentences.
- Cost: Free
- Link: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
- What does it do?: Copy text into Natural Readers and it reads it back to you, in a natural voice with a choice of accents.
- How do I use it?: Natural is a bit of a stretch, but this is great for copyediting. It gives you a fresh perspective on how your writing sounds, and helps spot punctuation mistakes, repetition, and places where you need to work on the rhythm of your copy.
- Cost: Free
- Link: https://www.naturalreaders.com/online/
- What does it do?: Gather Content is a tool that helps you produce content in a more consistent, structured, timely way.
- How do I use it?: I recommend Gather to all my clients, and I’m doubling down on this after a recent experience of using Word for a content production project. Feedback got lost, the number of documents floating around was dizzying, and keeping track of the workflow was tough. None of this happens with Gather — templates keep your content consistent, all the feedback is in one place, the workflow and sign-off process is clear for all to see.
- Cost: Free trial then $99/$299/$799 a month.
- Link: https://gathercontent.com/
The Noun Project
- What does it do?: A million icons (literally) for any and every idea you want to convey. Need something that says ‘dystopia’? There’s an icon for that! Sexting? They’ve got you covered. Seagull dressed as a sailor smoking a pipe? No problem.
- How do I use it?: Icons are great for presentations, diagramming, decks etc. It’s a good companion for making empathy and customer journey maps too, as it covers so many emotions.
- Cost: The icons are available for free on a Creative Commons license (don’t forget to credit the artist) or as a paid option.
- Link: https://thenounproject.com/