The first thing you need to know is that I am immediately skeptical of any tool that promises an "all-in-one" solution to anything. This, of course, is not what And.co is promising, but it is however, what they provide to freelancers and independent service providers, especially those who are digitally based. An all-encompassing dashboard that allows you to automate 98% of your Administrative functions.
The story for me is simple. At 27, I've already been freelancing professionally for a decade. I am a creative. I am as technical, strategic, and analytical as I am creative. However, in spite of having the gift of hyperfocus - I have the tremendous bane of experiencing cognitive pain at the minutia of administrative bullshit. Lists, "Stick-note" ins-and-outs, and little details weigh me down and cause me anxiety.
Thankfully, technology allows me to compensate for this weakness easily.
Yet, for years, I have longed for one hub that would allow me to manage it all more efficiently and without stress. A place where all of the details can live together in perfect digital harmony. Where I can feel like the commander of a Starship, rather than like a worker bee whose desk is over encumbered with nonsense.
TLDR of this article is this: It's 2017. Imagine that your independent, service-based practice had its own digital command center for everything, that was still easy to use and better than 90% of the clunky and overpriced garbage that exists in the World Wide Wasteland of Apps and Software. Well, now it does.
And Co Conquers time tracking, invoicing, client and project management, accounting, even LEGAL, and even provides you with your very own, real human, Chief Operator - to help you stay on task and assist with business logistics.
Besides all of these lovely features that every digital nomad needs, And Co has invested tremendous amounts of time into developing useful resources for freelancers. One of the most impressive of which is something I have always wanted - called The Gig List - which is literally a newsletter that sends you listings of Freelance Gigs!
The tool is Freemium, so if you want to skip my breakdown of each of the key features below, you can hope on over to www.And.Co and try their tool out for free, up to two invoices sent to your clients.
1. KILLER User Interface, Web + Mobile, That's Easy on the Eyes (*And easy to use)
For YEARS I have longed for a singular dashboard and hub that would allow me to manage my entire business. There are so many "All-in-one" apps and "project management" tools that come close but fall short in one extremely important category: the way they are designed.
The design of an app or software can make or break its usefulness. Hands down. And this isn't just my bias as a designer! This is the reason that millions of users chose Instagram over the endless sea of other photo-taking and sharing apps that existed at the time of its release. They all essentially did the same things - but Instagram's unique design and functionality made it stand out the most. The results? The crowd decided.
And.Co's interface design is perfect for my constantly moving and easily distractable brain. All of the features are well organized and well positioned. There's absolutely nothing unnecessary weighing down the screen. There is no question: this platform is designed FOR and by creatives.
The only thing the app needs now is a "Full screen" mode so that I can have my ChromBook loaded up with And co or a giant monitor while I do all of my work on another screen and/or laptop.
2. Project Management & Business Logistic, AND Your Very Own Personal "Chief Operator!"
For me, this by FAR is the most mind-blowing feature of And co. All of the other tools and features are great, but just the fact that I can keep all of my projects straight, have assistance with logistics AND have a PERSONAL "Chief Operator" completely blows my mind. Even my wife, Kari, was like, "How is that possible?!"
It's not just a Bot, either. Connie, the Chief Operator, at And Co., is literally your very own dashboard assistant. She chats with you, reminds you to do things, and answers your questions about logistics, and helps you get set up. She's what every creative who gets easily distracted has always needed. She even has her MBA!
And she's all yours...
Actually. I imagine they will certainly have to hire more "Connie's" when they scale and get more users (Let me know if you need help with that, guys). Nevertheless, I was blown away to find out that Connie was not some robot, nor some random face in a giant response center in the backwoods of some far away land. Call me old fashioned, but the connection with a real human being is highly important to me. The freelance life can get very lonely. Trust me.
Connie also helps you with things that tons of new freelancers inevitably struggle with, like setting up your LLC.
If only I had access to a Chief Operator years ago... I probably would have saved myself tons of time and headache.
3. Client Management
A good friend once told me that I capture clients like one captures Pokemon. In large quantities....And then I groom and train my favorite ones to take into battle against my foes... Or to trade for even mightier clients, like on an episode of Madmen.
Er... well. You get the point.
Keeping track of my dozens of clients hasn't always been easy. In fact, it has often been overwhelming. I went through a period where I never said no to a project. Because, well... I couldn't. I had to pay the bills. If you don't have working capital, and you need money to pay the rent, you easily fall into the trap of taking any client that walks in the door to pay the bills. A grave mistake made by MANY freelancers.
Even if you aren't filling your Pokedex with dozens of new clients every year, however, even managing a few can be tedious without a proper management system.
And Co's client management area lets you keep every client and all their details in one place.
It's perfect, too, for whenever you finally hire people to help you out. Then you can literally just let them log into your account and show them everything.
Gotta' Catch Em' All!
There are frankly TOO MANY invoice platforms out there. I literally used to design every invoice in InDesign and/or Photoshop, until I was like, "Why am I doing this? I should be automating this."
Out of convenience, I have used PayPal's non-sexy Invoice templates, because it goes immediately to my PayPal, and then I have access to the funds immediately.
However, And Co's sexy Invoice tool syncs with either PayPal, Stripe, or straight to ACH, and lets you get paid just as efficiently. Most would say that this is one of the key features of And co. I would agree if I was not already "set in my ways" with existing invoice solutions. I may soon replace my invoicing method with And Co.'s.
I will NEVER forget the early days of my career. Terrible one-sheet agreements that made me look completely unprofessional. Many of which often times screwed me over whenever clients would skip out on their bill.
Eventually, I got coaching in how to write good agreements. I actually became SO boss at writing my own agreements that I briefly considered law school. But that is not my calling...
Then I discovered a nifty tool called Shake which I use to create all of my agreements. However, I don't need Shake if I can do everything within And Co and keep it simple. This is one of the appealing things about And co. Why use fifty different tools when you can use one?
And Co's legal templates solve worlds of problems for freelancers and independent business owners. NEVER underestimate the power of the pen. ALWAYS get it in writing!
6. Time Tracking
Time tracking. Boy oh boy. If you're not doing this, how can you know if you're giving a client too much... or not enough time? If you're not billing hourly you should seriously consider it. Unless your total project/results rate is high enough to justify throwing hours out the door. Otherwise, you could be killing yourself.
And Co's hour-tracking feature lets you keep everything straight, with every project, and every client, and then Auto-Magically invoice for the hours you have worked.
This is amazing. Takes out ANY work or tracking on your part. Takes away any guesswork.
BILL WHAT YOU ARE WORTH!!!
7. Expense Tracking & Accounting
QuickBooks, Freshbooks. Xero. The list goes on. Most of the accounting tools out there are perfect for storefronts, but not for freelancers. And then you still have to import stuff, export stuff, blah, blah, blah.... what a drag.
And co lets you track the IN and OUT, all of your expenses, all of your income, in one easy place. They even have a nifty freelance tax calculator! Holy Mole!
8. The PEOPLE
People are often the reason I choose to become a regular at any Coffee Shop. Ira Glass at This American Life put it best in their episode, It's Not The Product, It's The Person. The People And Co are no exception.
When choosing any tool, I like to look into the people behind the magic. I took some time to do some digging on LinkedIn. Not only did I find out that Connie, the Chief Operator, is a real human being with her MBA, but the Founders and creators of And Co are entrepreneurs just like me - who have cofounded other ventures - and who are constantly creating useful tools! They're a small team out of New York (*but from all over the world), who clearly has a serious passion about what they've created.
Whether you're a freelance UX Designer, a Digital Marketing Consultant, a Rogue Ruby Developer, or even an Attorney at Law, I am confident that And Co. would save you thousands of hours and headache. On the other hand, if you prefer endless sticky notes, spreadsheets, and hand-making every little invoice, by all means... but the rest of us will be exploring galaxies, far, far away.