I worked as a freelance writer for several years and sucked royally at it. Between the deadlines and the billing and the convoluted tax documents, I could barely handle one assignment at a time, let alone the four or five needed to make a living. Excel -- horrid, torturous, spiteful Excel -- was of no help. What a shame Solo wasn't around then.
Solo is a project-management tool for freelancers, and it is gorgeous. It's got all the requisite templates for self-organization, from invoices to contact sheets, stuffed into a single program, and with its grids and elegant Clarendon type, it looks like a beautifully executed print page. Designer Jerome Iveson tells Co. about his inspiration:
During my time as a designer I've used many different methods manage my time and juggle multiple projects. Paper based, desktop apps, early web apps: I've tried them all. They were either too expensive or didn't fit my workflow. A few years ago I decided to develop Solo. A lot of apps seem to be lacking visually. I'm not going to lie to you; my main inspiration was better design.
But more than a pretty log, Solo is designed to give visual form to the business of freelancing. Your monthly hours and turnover are rendered as line graphs. Circles show what percentage of individual projects are done and change colors as the projects nears deadline. In short, you get an instant snapshot of how you're using your hours, instead of a bunch of meaningless numbers strewn all over a spreadsheet (we mean you, Excel!). That, in turn, makes it easier to maximize your profits.
It's a brilliant gesture to the culture of freelancing, which loves its freedom but doesn't always exhibit the keenest financial savvy. Here, simple data viz helps you track your progress, which means you spend more time being the wonderfully liberated creative you are and less time at the calculator.
One drawback: Solo is $10 a month or $100 a year. That seems awfully steep at a time when folks are accustomed to getting apps for free or on the cheap. Besides, there are other, less expensive project-management programs out there, albeit ones of inferior design. The question is whether Solo's sleek look -- and its corollary usability -- add enough equity to make the tool a worthwhile investment. For me, it would have. I can guarantee you that the money I would've saved if I'd had an easy-peasy system for organizing my freelance career would've stretched way beyond $100 a year. Which reminds me: Someone still owes me a paycheck. Now if I only I could figure out who.