Don’t know about you, but I’m prepared for the day that an evil anti-creative force out for world domination puts into place a policy that all of us creativepreneurs are limited to only 15 tools to run our businesses. Some are calling it the Creative Apocalypse (how original), but no matter what you call it, I want you to be prepared too . . . thus this post.
There’s always hope that Sean Connery or Daniel Craig will come along in a bespoke tux and save us from this Creative Apocalypse put into place by SPECTRE Jr. (007 anyone?—yes, I own every single Bond movie ever, some on VHS, don’t judge), but just in case, I’ve identified 15 categories of creative business tools that I use each week and my top app or item for each. Some of these are free, some of these cost a bit, but all of these are legitimately what I use to run my business (and about two of these categories include affiliate links, so my hope is that you’ll know I truly mean what I’m saying). For your extra info., in each category I list what I’ve tried in the past (if it’s relevant) and what I currently use.
#HeadsUp: The first 11 creative business tools in this list apply to almost all businesses, and the last 4 are more specific to infopreneurs and those making money with their minds.
1. Editorial + Business Planner
As in >> A space to record your overall vision + plans + content/product ideas.
What I use now: EPICBLOG editorial planner (physical); OneNote (Mac + app version); a Moleskine and a pen
What I’ve used in the past: a traditional planner, Evernote
If you’re kind enough to have connected with me on Instagram, then you may already know that I’ve been working on EPICBLOG (an editorial + business planner for your blog). Well, I’ve been putting it to use to make sure it has all the sections necessary for an amazing year worth of strategy, and . . . not just because I made it (pinky swear) . . . it’s been super helpful. Honestly, it just works around the way I think and I created it for those of you who may think the same way and want the same type of organization.
The sections are as follows >> blog defining statements // mini blog business plan // ideal reader survey // custom blog post process checklist // blog post categories // space to plan blog post image styles // monthly theme planning // monthly goal planning // monthly calendars // monthly progress tracking // running blog post ideas list // running series + theme ideas list // running product ideas list // yearly blog accomplishment tracking // affiliate + blog account logins
P.S. If you want to hear more about EPICBLOG, I’ll be releasing a whole post about it later this month (me hopes) and it will also be available for sale via Amazon.com and a few other channels soon.
My friend Bunny (@BunnyWanderland) introduced me to this concept. OneNote is basically a digital canvas where you can record and organize multiple projects, ideas, lists, calendars, and more. I love opening it up and seeing all my digital product ideas for the year, current content ideas, and more. Bunny uses it more to its potential, but I love it for what I use it for. I’m a person who needs to write things down, by hand, but I love backing up that information digitally.
2. Computer (or Tablet)
As in >> Tech for content creation + whatnot. I know, this is a “duh” category.
I use and love my MacBook Pro from 2011, though, I shant lie to you >> @BunnyWanderland and I just got twinsies iPads, and after a few days of use, I’m pretty convinced it’s the only tool one needs (more on that in another post). I snuck a picture while Bunny was geeking out about using Canva and many other apps on her iPad.
I think we all feel that a computer of some sort is necessary, so I’ll just note the document storage apps I like to use to backup files and transfer items between laptop >> tablet >> phone >> camera: Dropbox and WD’s My Cloud EX2.
3. Phone w/ Camera (or Tablet or DSLR Camera)
As in >> Something to take your own photos.
What I use now: iPhone 5, Canon T5i + this one lens I’m in love with
Confession. I used to think all bloggers and product sellers who took their own photos were a bit nuts. I mean, is it really necessary? People would say things like, “You’ll eventually want to take pictures that other people can’t copy,” and “You’ll eventually want the ease/quickness of grabbing your own shots when you’re working with a tight deadline.” Okay, fanatics. Whatever.
But then, a crazy thing happened. I eventually wanted to take completely original images to complement my posts and products. I eventually wanted to quickly get the exact shot I needed instead of searching through stock photography for three hours. Taking your own photos (for your website, products, blog posts, or just to record ideas/inspiration) may be something you want to do eventually too, if you aren’t already.
4. Graphic Design Software
As in >> Software that helps you create the images that help you stand out online.
What I use now: Photoshop, Canva
What I’ve used in the past and recommend in a pinch: Pixlr.com
When I started taking design seriously, in terms of my blog posts and products, I saw 10,000 times more traffic (I’m being literal) from Pinterest and other sources, but mainly Pinterest. Not only were wonderful people coming to my site to read my free blog posts, but these spectacular individuals were also coming to buy stuff. Say, what? It was awesome. And the reason I started making a full-time income from blogging (here’s my income report).
When I’m designing my everyday blog graphics, I’m typically using Photoshop (because I slowly learned how to use it over time), but I’ve also been learning Canva (which takes a whole lot less time to learn and is freaking amazing). Whenever I’m creating something like a media kit, my first choice is Canva.
5. Task Management
What I use now: #EPICDAYnotepad (below)
What I’ve used in the past: Wunderlist (I still use this for my grocery list), Evernote, TeuxDeux, Asana, Workflowy
Honestly, I’ve tried so many freaking apps and systems, I couldn’t even remember or list them all. Anytime a new app comes out that helps with task management, I geek out and think it’s the answer to everything. Until I stop using it three weeks later.
What I’ve found works best for me is having a central place to store information on all my ongoing projects, products, and content ideas (OneNote and EPICBLOG), and then having a simple, physical space where I can record and focus on my daily efforts.
The #EPICDAYnotepad (above left—my brother’s; above right—mine) has a section for a daily quote or driving thought, space to write the three things you will fight to accomplish that day, a place for business management notes/tasks as well as ongoing projects/products notes, and the very bottom has a place where you can check off your social media and blog activity for the day (you can see this on my recent Instagram picture).
It’s a tearaway notepad so that you can tear off each day and start fresh. A huge part of being a successful creative business owner is forgiving yourself and moving on if you don’t get everything done each day. This is the major lesson I’ve learned, and one of the top things I would tell anyone about running a rewarding, peaceful, meaningful business.
P.S. If you manage a number of clients for your freelance busines, I do think Asana, Basecamp, and even Workflowy are worth a look for you.
P.P.S. I’m giving away one #EPICDAYnotepad and a free 30-minute planning/idea session with me (via Skype). You don’t have to pin this post (though I’d love you forever), you don’t have to tweet this (though I’d buy you a beverage the next time you’re in Austin) . . . all you have to do (to enter to win) is comment on this post and include the magic password: #EPICDAYnotepad. I’ll be selecting a winner on Monday, November 24 and notifying you in the comments. Moving on.
6. Social Media Management
What I use now: Buffer
What I used to use: Hootsuite (okay, I still use this during Twitter chats and other events)
Wouldn’t it be neat if you were browsing the web and found a great article and could just press one button to bring up a screen that allows you to tweet the web page out (or share it on Facebook) at any time in the future you wish? Or wouldn’t it be awesome to read a tweet in your Twitter timeline/notifications and be able to press one button to retweet or quote that tweet in the future (image below)? Or, or, (here’s a good one) wouldn’t you love to read blog posts from your phone (on let’s say Feedly) and be able to easily add content to your queue of tweets set to go out? Buffer, for the win, yo.
A huge part of being effective online is being present. But, you can’t actually always be present. A tool like Buffer allows you to schedule out content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and more in a few simple clicks. And the extension for your browser—amazing.
My favorite feature, though, is pictured below. I love being able to easily retweet something in the future, because the moment a cool tweet pops up, or the moment you notice a tweet, is not necessarily the best time to retweet it (it may be too late, you may have just tweeted 3 other things, etc.).
7. Email (List) Management
What I use now: MailChimp
What I’ve used for clients in the past: AWeber
Wrote a whole post on my favorite 11 features of MailChimp and their multiple benefits. Le check it out, please, if you’re interested.
What I use now: Gumroad + PayPal (online); Square + PayPal Here (in real life)
What I’ve used in the past: WooCommerce (with WordPress), Etsy, Shopify, Squarespace
I plan to write a whole post about it, but I use Gumroad because it allows me to sell my digital products quite easily. There’s “pay what you want” pricing that allows customers to set the price, there are recurring/subscription sales, and there are awesome bi-weekly payments via PayPal that help me feel like a normal person.
Why Square + PayPal Here?
Both PayPal Here and Square (pictured above) offer small devices that plug into your touch screen phone or tablet and allow you to sell products or services by taking in-person credit card payments. That cute little device is a card swipey. I use these apps because I often sell books and other materials at workshops. I like the fact that PayPal Here is directly linked to my PayPal account (funds available immediately), but I also like the fact that Square has an offline mode that allows you to take payment info. with no Internet connection, then process the payments afterward.
What I use now: WPEngine, Bluehost
What I’ve used in the past: GoDaddy, 1and1, Dreamhost, A Small Orange, + so many others I can’t remember
WPEngine is a WordPress host that offers nightly backups, automatic updates, extra speed, a lot of security (they’ll fix your site if something gets past all their hack/malware measures), and my favorite feature ever . . . a staging area. You can copy your live site to a staging area, test out a new theme and new plugins, fix any kinks in your new design, and then with one click, you can make your staging site your live site. This is a super way to roll out rebrands. WPEngine can handle lots of web traffic, so if you have a large or growing site, it’s worth a look. P.S. The support is amazing and their whole team seems to be exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable.
I’ve been with Bluehost for around six years and I host 90% of my sites with them. My absolute favorite feature is the amazing support. Over the last several years, I’ve had countless excellent calls with Bluehost. Everyone is ready to help, is knowledgeable, and seems truly concerned with all of your problems or needs. Bluehost is also extremely affordable and incredibly easy to use. I’d easily recommend their platform to any small business owner or blogger. This is not just because I have an affiliate link; I’m speaking from actual years of experience with them.
What I use now: Wave
What I’ve used in the past: Outright
Wave is not only free, but it includes invoicing, an app that lets you take pictures of receipts (and have the relevant info. automatically pulled off of them), and much more. Wave is very simple to use as a way to record your expenses and income. Wave also has the ability to take credit card payments (for a small fee similar to PayPal’s) and has a paid add-on to help you manage employee or subcontractor payroll and employment reports and taxes.
11. Web Analytics
What I use now: Google Analytics, Alexa
Why Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is free software the allows you to see your total pageviews, number of visitors, most popular pages/posts/products, best web traffic sources, and even search terms people use to get to your site.
I pay attention to Alexa because it is a free tool that others can use to see how your website is performing. Why does this matter? Recently I had a company contact me (through which I earn affiliate commission), and based on my Alexa stats and other factors, they wanted to partner up on some future projects and increase my affiliate commission per signup. I’m saying this to make the point that Alexa matters, not only because it’s a useful tool, but because other people can’t log in to your Google Analytics (only you can see that), so Alexa is their way of finding out how your site ranks and how it performs overall (of course, this matters more for bloggers than other types of business owners, but still).
12. Online Courses
What I use now: MemberPress (WordPress plugin), CourseCraft
Other cool tools: MailChimp (courses by email delivery), Gumroad (courses by subscription delivery)
If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, I think that with a small learning curve, MemberPress is one of the best plugins to offer “members only” content or host courses on your site. I don’t even use it to it’s full potential, but, it allows students to register and pay for a course, receive a login, then log in on your site and see pages that others can’t see, etc.
If you want to set up a simple, attractive, multimedia course (hosted on a separate site), CourseCraft is definitely worth your time. When I started using it, the thing that struck me as most awesome was how intuitive it was for the course designer (you) and the students.
13. Scheduling (for Client Sessions/Meetings)
What I use now: Calendly
What I’ve used in the past: every app ever, back and forth emails
It works the way people think. Your clients can land on your Calendly page (with a custom username in the URL) and see what types of appointments you’re available for, choose the one that applies to them, choose a good time (based on the schedule you set), enter a few details, and be done. Calendly has a free plan that integrates with Google Calendar and allows you to create one meeting/event type, and Calendly also has an affordable paid plan that I’m about to upgrade to with unlimited event types and automated reminders.
What I use now: Camtasia (to record my computer screen and/or myself as well as to edit videos)
Other tools to check out: iMovie, Screenflow, Screenr (free + web-based)
If you want to be able to record your computer screen (for video tutorials) while also recording yourself (check out my Pinterest tutorial that I uploaded to YouTube as an example—screenshot below), then Camtasia is for you. Also, it is super duper ridiculously easy to edit from. You can totally record just you or just your screen, but I love it for the fact that you can do both at the same time.
15. Document Design
What I use now: Apple Pages
Other tools: Adobe InDesign, Canva
Why Apple Pages?
I think Pages (I use the’09 version on my desktop and the 2014 app version on my iPad) is like a mix between Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign. I’ve often felt limited with Word when it comes to designing worksheets/workbooks or complex documents, but I’ve often suffered under the InDesign learning curve. Apple Pages allows you to easily align elements (with little guided lines so that you know one image is exactly centered/aligned with another), do complex formatting over multiple sections, and more. It’s how I created my digital workbook 3-Day Create—for people who want to create and sell information products. Check out the 3-Day Create post or this pin for several shots of what I created using Pages.
Sooo, I know that was a long list, but I wanted to answer some of the most common questions I hear, “What do you use for _______?”
Do you have any tools in these categories that you can’t live without? Do you have more questions about any of the creative business tools listed above?
Photo: (c) Mosuno via Stocksy.com
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