So far in this mini-series of posts I’ve dealt with Admin and Design Tools. Now it’s the turn of a super-vital component of running any studio or freelance business: Communication Tools.

Clear communication is one of the bedrocks of any business, so having and using the right tools is essential. It’s obviously important to remember that every business runs differently, and the tools I’ll mention here are what I use and have used.

An old dog with new tricks

Two of the most commonly used tools are also the oldest (relatively speaking that is): telephone and email. So I’ll start there.

Whether you like it or not, the telephone is still one of the best ways to communicate with people. Sometimes there is nothing that can replace a simple person-to-person conversation – with all of it’s tonal nuances, there is so much that can be conveyed by the sound of a voice.

As for the actual tools? Without getting into a debate about what is best, I use an iPhone on a Vodafone business contract. This allows me unlimited calls in NZ and to Australia, unlimited texts (more on this shortly) and more than enough data for when I’m out and about. It also gives me a ‘local’ number – that is a number that looks like a landline one, that goes direct to my mobile.

Smaller studios that I’ve worked in are now opting for VOIP phones. Companies like Conversant are now well established to help small businesses with getting the most out of Cloud communications.

Using a mobile or VOIP phone has a bunch of things that are beneficial too: all of your contacts can be stored on the device and synced with whatever computer you’re using. I’m no expert here, but I imagine that there are cloud services to sync to various CRM tools.

Needless to say, I haven’t used a landline for years.

Phone & Tablet Apps

Facebook MessengerOf course, mobile devices are so much more than phones now, and with that comes a slew of communication tools (apps). For the purpose of this post, I’ll just talk about the ones that I use.

Text messaging is the obvious place to start. For the most part I’ve used it to keep in touch with team-members, but I do have a small number of clients that like to keep in touch by text (or in a lot of cases iMessage). It’s fast, simple and if you’re using and iPhone and have a MacBook or iMac you can use the Messages app without having to touch your phone. Obviously it’s not ideal for longer messages.

FB MessengerTwo other apps that I use (apart from email) are the LinkedIn app and Facebook Messenger. Yes, Facebook Messenger.

LinkedIn’s in-app messages are really good for connecting with people who I am connected to within the network but who I’m not in regular contact with. Often the messages on LinkedIn lead to further email, phone or in-person conversations.

Facebook Messenger has become a bit of a surprisingly useful tool for me. It can switch from simple text-like messages through to video calling, with quality that outstrips Skype by a long shot. The obvious loophole with FB Messenger is that you need to be friends with the people you’re messaging.

tweetbot_app_iconAnother app that I’ve used with varying degrees of success is Tweetbot for Twitter – it is the best of the Twitter apps by a country mile and worth paying for. I’m a long-time Twitter user and there is no question of how many connections I’ve made thanks to this remarkable platform. The reason that I say I’ve had varying degrees of success is due to the amount of distraction that Twitter can create, and also the brevity of the posts on the platform. Tweetbot is really good for managing multiple accounts and is super intuitive, and it works on my iPhone, iPad and Desktop.

I do have other communication apps on my devices, Snapchat for example, but I use them for personal rather than business purposes.

Slack-IconOne app that I use more on the desktop, which does have an app is Slack. Slack has been one of the wünderkind apps of the last few years, and for good reason. Leadership blogger Michael Hyatt wrote a good post about what makes Slack so good. I’ve used it particularly as part of the planning team for Auckland Dribbble Meetups.

One studio that I worked in used Google Hangouts for quick, quiet communications in-studio. Hangouts is great if you have a quick question for someone and don’t want to disturb everyone by talking across the office. Slack has a similar function and I’ve found that both can be a tad distracting…

Talking of email killers like Slack, this leads me to…

Email is not dead

Despite the rise of Slack and other apps like it, email is still very much alive and is still at the forefront of business communication. It’s just one of those things that we have to deal with. I’m not even going to try to talk about managing email here, there are no shortage of posts, articles and even courses on that topic. What I will focus on are the tools I use (or have used).

Postbox-IconBeing Mac based, Apple’s Mail app could easily be my default, but for the last four or so years I’ve opted to use Postbox. It has a number of integrations that make it a standout for me.

Firstly it plays really nicely with Gmail. All of my personal and work emails are managed through Gmail, and Postbox does a brilliant job of keeping things properly synced (I use IMAP rather than POP). Next, Postbox integrates really well with Evernote, which is a tool that I use every day and would be lost without it. Postbox also integrates with Dropbox, although I’ve not really used that functionality. The Postbox interface is beautifully clean, and can be customised nicely too. My only bugbears with Postbox are that it doesn’t have an iOS app and sometimes it makes a hash of displaying HTML emails.

MS-Outlook-IconThe other app that I’ve used (although never by personal choice) is Outlook for Mac. Some studios that I’ve worked in are part of larger organisations that use servers running Microsoft products, or they simply use Outlook because it is a legacy product. I will say this much – Outlook is really good if you use it for email, calendar and contacts; but I dislike its interface, even the newly updated 2016 version. Its calendar doesn’t sync with iOS however, and unless you have a 365 account, and use the Outlook mobile app, it won’t sync with Apple devices.

Video calling

Skype-IconA number of my clients are in different cities and countries, which means that face-to-face meetings have to happen using video. For a long time the default app for this was Skype, which of course needs little introduction.

As mentioned above, Facebook Messenger is also good, and Google Hangouts also have video function (although I’ve never found it reliable).

In person

Over and above all of these digital forms of communication, there is one that trumps them all: a simple face-to-face conversation. Granted, that can’t always happen, but it’s still the best way of understanding what your client, supplier or co-worker needs.

These are just a few of the tools available for communication, but they’re the ones that I use every single day. Are there any others that I’ve missed? Use the comments to let me know.

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