By Ty Collins
Being in the consulting business means being agile. You have to respond quickly to new information and use it to best serve your clients. To do that effectively, you need the right consulting software.
Consulting firms make use of a variety of different programs tailored to different parts of the job, from data gathering to client communication. The more bases you can cover with your software solutions, the better off you’ll be.
You probably have a decent idea of what software you need to be an effective business consultant. In fact, you might already use some of the items on this list.
But do you know what to look for when adding new software to your toolkit? Do you know what categories of software help you form the most well-rounded software solutions for business consulting?
Read on to find out.
Before getting into the specifics of which programs you should use, it’s helpful to first understand the different features of effective software. When looking to get the most out of your investment, choose software that is:
Flexible: Different clients have different needs. Look for software that lets you get creative. It’s essential that the tools you use are able to adapt to the job.
Customizable: No two teams are alike. The software you use should let you customize it for best use by you and your staff. Whether you customize it when you buy, or later on, good software can be built around your business.
Scalable: You’ll need to be able to adapt the software you use to the size of your client base as it fluctuates. Look for software that allows a la carte customization options you can add when you need them and remove when you don’t. No-contract options are also a plus.
Fantastic in its customer support: Make sure that the software you’re choosing has solid customer support. Even if it doesn’t seem like things can go wrong, an error that takes too long to solve because you can’t contact anyone can be costly. Look for companies that offer customer support 24/7, through multiple channels like email, online chat, online forums, and over the phone.
There are multiple types of business consulting software, each with their individual benefits. Each of the software offerings listed here will fit into one of four categories:
Project Management Software
Billing and Invoicing Software
Each category will be broken down into its core features with software solutions listed after.
As a business consultant, you don’t want to have a clunky proposal process. Instead, make the experience as efficient and easy for the client as possible. For example, choosing software with proposal templates can increase the speed of the entire proposal process — and make what you send to the client more aesthetically pleasing.
Other great features for proposal software include:
Speed: The best proposal software will let you create and send proposals to the client quickly. Templates and smooth UI can enable you to create a professional-looking proposal without spending an entire day on it.
Automation: Automated features that let you program and send a proposal with a click or two can save you a lot of time and headache. More and more programs are taking advantage of automation in today’s business world.
Visibility: Look for software that lets you easily track when your proposal has been sent, seen, and signed. Greater visibility helps everyone stay on the same page and keeps each party accountable for their portion of a task.
Here are a few of the best choices for proposal software today.
With the tagline “proposal to paid in one place,” Practice Ignition aims to be a one-stop-shop for the proposal process. Create comprehensive proposals and get them right to your clients so you get paid in a timely manner for your services.
Practice Ignition includes features designed to make the proposal process speedy and efficient, like premade templates. You can also collect one-time payments or set up a recurring payment schedule, right from the proposal you send.
This software is also e-sign capable, so your clients can add their signature right in the document. They can also add any comments or objections they may have before the proposal is finalized. Practice Ignition also integrates with commonly used payroll and workflow programs like Xero and Zapier.
Another excellent program for streamlining the proposal process, Proposify is an option that smaller consultants on a budget will want to take a look at. This software also lets you add in more visual elements to your proposal to create a polished, professional feel.
Proposify’s templates are one of its main strengths. Users can add elements like images and videos to make their proposals interesting, informative, and interactive. Collaboration features mean your team can easily communicate and track the progress of each proposal, and address any issues that arise.
Clients can also view your proposal on the go with mobile device access. There are even interactive tables you can insert into the document so your client can choose which of your services they’d like to hire you for.
A software option that lets you move quickly, PandaDoc puts the focus on efficiency and analytics. That makes sense, considering it’s a software designed for sales and marketing teams looking to quickly grow their client base.
Because it’s web-based, PandaDoc lets you create proposals anywhere on any device so long as you have an internet connection. There are also in-depth analytics features built in that let you track everything from who’s viewed your proposal to how much time that person spent reading it.
PandaDoc comes with a library of templates ready to go, with several options to choose from depending on the situation. Collaborative features let your team stay on top of a proposal, and e-sign capability makes it easy for clients to approve it.
BidSketch lets you put a professional-looking proposal together very quickly, and automates the steps after signing so your client isn’t kept waiting. This program also lets you upsell to clients by adding additional features or services they can consider, and opt to pay more for right there in the proposal.
BidSketch also sends you notifications for every step in the process, letting you track each proposal easily. It also integrates with a host of other software options like Zapier and SalesForce.
Qwilr’s visual features make it easy to use as a branding tool in addition to proposal management software. Its templates are designed to be consistent across multiple platforms, from desktop to mobile, so it’s easy to establish a brand look.
Qwilr incorporates security measures like password protection, view limits, and time limits to help keep your documents and information safer. This program also includes reporting features that let you see who viewed your proposal and for how long.
Collaboration features to streamline the process of editing and approving your proposals round this software out and make it a strong option to consider for your toolkit.
If you’re trying to step up your efficiency, you’ll need good project management, and the right software can help with that in a big way. Look for programs that offer:
Ease of use: Multiple team members will need to use this software independently. That means your team should be able to pick it up and go. Software with an easy-to-use interface and built-in tutorials for more complicated processes is best.
Real-time collaboration: Software with comment and messaging functionality will let you and your team collaborate on a project in real-time. This is a must when you need to move quickly.
Data reporting: Try and find software with comprehensive reporting functionality. This allows you to set benchmarks, analyze how well your team is meeting them, and figure out what you can do better next time.
Take a look at your needs and choose one of these solid software options to help with project management.
Mavenlink markets itself as an all-in-one solution for project management. This software puts the focus on collaboration to help manage projects efficiently and deliver them on deadline.
An executive dashboard feature provides a bird’s eye view of where your resources are going, and how people are performing. In-depth planning features also let you track the amount of time being spent on each facet of a project. And Mavenlink connects with the other tools you use to run your business, like your CRM software.
Avaza focuses on simplicity. It doesn’t come with a bunch of bells and whistles, but it does have everything you need to get the job done.
Avaza’s easy-to-use dashboard feature lets you see timelines for multiple projects at a glance, or tailor the display to view just the information you want. Commenting features let team members collaborate and keep track of everyone’s ideas.
Avaza also lets you automate recurring processes for speed and efficiency, making use of templates. You can create different roles for your staff and assign them projects based on those roles.
While mainly billed as a powerful scheduling tool, Calendly can also do a lot to help streamline the project management process for consultants and freelancers.
When sending prospects that first email, for example, Calendly lets you include a link for them to schedule a meeting. You can also program in buffer time and limit the number of meetings scheduled each day.
Calendly also integrates with Stripe and Paypal to handle payments easily up front — clients can submit payment as soon as they schedule with you. This software also lets you reach out to interested leads first, so you can connect quickly and reduce customer drop-off.
Collaborative features like comments, messaging, and video calls let your team stay connected as well, even on flexible schedules.
Zoho’s strong suit is data analytics and visualization. If you’re looking for granular detail from your customer data, consider taking this software for a test run.
Mobile apps for iOS and Android let you and your team track projects even when you’re not at your desk. And document management tools mean your team can access anything they need to work on in real time.
This software lets you build Gantt charts to track the progress of your projects, and immediately notifies you of any deviations between planned progress and actual progress toward your project goals. Tasks can be automated with a drag-and-drop interface.
Zoho also lets you track your billable hours, so you get paid fairly for your work.
Accelo’s focus is on automation. Users can automate everything from invoicing to notifications to time approvals, so you can free up space to focus on the more complicated tasks involved with managing your latest project.
Built-in tools let you track everyone’s time. Scheduling functionality lets you know what your team is working on and when. Accelo also lets you construct Gantt charts to track progress with a drag-and-drop builder.
Accelo offers a client-side portal, so your customers can submit and track their tickets with you. Internal collaborative features let your team work together on projects and prioritize their individual tasks. Invoicing and expenses can also be handled in Accelo with easy submission for reimbursement.
Workfront prides itself on scalability and flexibility. Real-time reporting helps you track your goals, and device synching lets you track projects from anywhere. Smart forms and real-time collaborative features mean even distributed teams can work on projects from any location.
Workfront also has features to let you track your budget and manage resources, and is customizable to scale up or down with you as needed. This software also includes automation features and integrates with apps like Adobe and Outlook right out of the box.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a must-have tool for any consultant. Odds are, you’ll be handling multiple clients at once, and good CRM software can keep their records and information stored in one place for easy access. Good CRM software should also:
Be customizable: The best CRM software will let you tailor your dashboard so you can see all the relevant information you need without digging for it.
Provide advanced analytics: Look for a CRM that gives you in-depth reporting from detailed data, provided in a way that’s easy to understand. That reporting will let you perform a granular analysis of your interactions with clients, and figure out where you can improve.
Have a simple interface: If your software is easy to use, you’re more likely to use it, and more likely to enjoy the experience. Also, since all your staff will probably use your CRM software, it should be something that everyone can easily learn
Probably one of the most famous marketing software platforms out there, Hubspot offers a limited version of its CRM for free. If you’re on a budget, use that as a way to test drive the program and see if you like it.
Features include detailed reporting, automation, and email templates. A pipeline visualization shows you where your customers are in their journey and how many people you need to hit your goals.
You can also call clients from Hubspot’s CRM and log those calls for analysis later. Live notifications let you know in real time what’s happening with your prospects.
Hubspot has an impressive feature set, but be advised that most of the better features you’ll want are only available in the paid version of their software, Hubspot Saleshub.
Pipedrive is set up more visually than other CRM software, enabling you to access the information you need quickly. That means ease of use and a speedier sales process.
A drag-and-drop interface lets you move prospects between stages of your sales funnel, and a sales forecasting feature helps predict what deals are more likely to succeed.
Reminders and updates keep you and your team up to speed on your latest project. Mobile apps for iOS and Android also make it easy to access your dashboard on the go. Pipedrive also integrates with Google apps like Drive and Calendar for easy sending of information like contacts.
Salesforce is the largest CRM platform currently on the market. While they have an offering for small business owners called Salesforce Essentials, their main market is enterprise businesses.
The interface is easy to use and highly customizable, so you can tailor it to your business as you scale up or down. It also has an intuitive interface, which cuts down on the learning curve for your staff.
Customer support is also available 24/7 through multiple channels, which is especially helpful if you’ve got a distributed staff in different time zones. Salesforce also integrates with a host of other apps, so you can link it to whatever makes sense for your business.
If you prefer Google software, this one’s for you. Copper is made specifically for those using Google’s G Suite of tools. Copper touts ease of use and visibility as its strong points.
This CRM has an extension you can add to Google’s Chrome browser that lets you add contacts and track opened emails in real time. Copper’s visual style also mirrors that of Google’s apps, so it fits in well with the rest of G Suite. Automate processes by linking related calendar events and files, and integrate Hangouts to use as a video conferencing tool for your staff.
The Projects feature lets you deliver work right in the app. Copper’s reporting features also integrate with Google Sheets, so you can get a clean, detailed report with all of your data.
An efficient, easy method of collecting payment from clients is essential for every business consultant. In addition to making it easy to get invoices filled, billing and invoicing software helps you keep track of who owes what and when it needs to be paid.
Look for software that offers:
Flexible payment options: The best software will give you flexibility in the type of payments you accept. Whether clients want to pay you through a conventional debit or credit card or via newer options like Paypal and Venmo, it should be easy for them to do so.
Templates: Premade invoice templates go a long way to improve ease of use and payment processing speeds. Look for software that lets you customize invoicing templates to your needs.
International currency acceptance: Great software lets you convert fees in your currency to the currencies of international clients, taking the burden of conversion off their shoulders.
In addition to its powerful scheduling capabilities, Calendly can also help you collect payments from your clients. Integrations with Stripe and Paypal let you collect your fee upfront, right when a client schedules a meeting with you.
Xero accounting software also provides a comprehensive invoicing solution for small businesses. A good option for businesses of all sizes, Xero comes with a library of templates and advanced security features like two-factor authentication.
You can set up recurring invoices with regular clients, as well as recurring reminders when payment is due. If you have multiple clients, Xero lets you send bulk invoices.
One of the biggest names in accounting software, Quickbooks is made by Intuit — the same company behind Turbotax and Mint.
Quickbooks’ invoicing software lets you generate encrypted links to your invoices for an added layer of security, which you can send via text or email. Invoices are fully customizable and can be made from scratch or created with a template.
Real-time alerts let you know the progress of your invoice, from when it was viewed to when it was paid.
Another very popular name in accounting software, Freshbooks is easy to use and visually pleasing. Automation and other convenience-focused features make it easy to get up and running with this software.
Freshbooks lets you accept payments via credit cards and Apple pay, and you can automate reminders and follow-ups with your clients to save yourself some headaches. Invoices are highly customizable, and you can even include a deposit on them so you can get paid upfront.
Ty is the head of digital acquisition and content at Calendly.
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