Originally Posted on LinkedIn Pulse, Aug 15, 2015
I am the sort of person who would rot and die, or worse, implode- black hole style- in a traditional office environment. I can’t sit still, I’m constantly moving from room to room, I have extreme energy swings where I’m 10X more productive than the average person, then hours where I twiddle my thumbs, go for a run, or have to break from the task at hand in order to come back refreshed.
Basically, I’m the cubicle dweller’s worst nightmare of a neighbor.
As such, I’ve made a lifetime career out of avoiding offices- finding non-traditional jobs working remotely, and working ‘in the field.’ The flip side of liberation of course is that it is just more difficult to stay organized when working from home, with pets, kids, social media, household duties, and hobbies as a constant distraction.
Or, at least, organization SEEMS like it should be more difficult when working at home.
Luckily for us little guys, we are at a place with technology where often free or inexpensive apps and budding tech companies provide better, smarter, and more user-friendly services than are available at your cushy corporate job. While larger companies need long periods of time to adapt to new systems, little guys like us can identify new or well-endorsed technology, give it a whirl, and if we like it, use it to work organizational magic. All the benefits of having an office but minus the cubicle, the 8 hour days, and the commute in to work.
I do not claim to be an expert on technology or on launching startups, and I do not think working at home is a successful for every personality. But, I can tell you that I started discovering these tools several years ago when I worked for a multinational spirits company, and in particular Evernote and Boomerang enabled me stay far ahead of the curve on the many conference calls, the never-ending email threads, and the 24/7 schedule, while still carving out ample time for myself and my hobbies.
Today, as an individual entrepreneur I still use all of these tools, and they have allowed me to freelance like a boss, and launch my business(es) on the thinnest of shoestring budgets. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any add-ons, I would love to hear them!
BEST CATCH-ALL ORGANIZATIONAL TOOL
Evernote is kickass. I use this for every important bit of information in my life. You can use it on the web, download it for your mac, PC, tablet, smartphone. The basic program is free, you can upgrade for a small fee to access more advanced features, like access to notes offline, and sharing notes with collaborators in realtime.
What makes Evernote so killer is that you create ‘notebooks,’ and create individual ‘notes’ within the notebooks. You can switch the location (notebook) of the note at any time, and can create your own unique tagging key. You can incorporate images in your notes, and text in the images is searchable! Basically this means you can find any tiny tidbit of information in seconds. You can also send multiple notes in a single email in seconds (I believe this is only possible from your desktop, not your tablet or phone.)
For example, when I worked for spirits brands, I created a cocktail database, complete with images. I could search for any word within the recipe, but I also created a tagging key for number of ingredients (3, 4, etc) and method (shaken, stirred, muddled, etc) so if our distributor partners needed ‘easy shaken cocktail recipes’ I could immediately locate all the recipes I had, and send them in a single email complete with images. Just amazing.
Evernote Web Clipper is also pretty boss. This is a little widget you install in your browser, and great to use for research. If you’re searching the web to accumulate information, you click the widget and it asks if you want to save a screenshot, bookmark, the full article, etc. It automatically saves it as a note in your database, and you can assign tags and a notebook when saving. Of course you can always change that information later.
“I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING AND NEED TO TEACH MYSELF” TOOL
Skillshare is an amazing database of thousands of skills-based, online classes, with great digestible classes in the fields of business, entrepreneurship, design, photography, culinary, music, writing, etc. Like many of these tools, I had a need for their services before they actually existed. Almost 5 years ago I was one of their first students and one of their first teachers when they still had a face-to-face model. At the time they were struggling to provide affordable access to great content, but they switched to an online model with $8-$10 monthly membership, and have done a killer job sourcing content from thought leaders in each space- Barbara Corcoran and Seth Godin being a couple of shining examples. (If you look hard enough, you can also find a beginner cocktail class of mine up on the site;))
I can honestly say, I’ve learned so much from the SEO, marketing, photography, and social media classes… I’ve incorporated learnings from every class I took into building my current businesses.
In my mind, without a doubt, this is the best educational deal on the planet, and perfect for small businesses where you don’t have the option to hire outside help.
GENERAL COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Boomerang for Gmail
Boomerang genuinely changed my 24/7 lifestyle as a spirits brand ambassador from something exhausting and soul-sucking, into work that was pleasurable, and manageable, and would leave me feeling smug and delighted every time I sent an email.
Boomerang is another (widget?) that you install in gmail. It does two remarkable things with resounding lifestyle implications.
- It allows to type/respond to emails at any time, and schedule an exact time to send it at a later date. If you’re someone, like myself, who like to work at all hours but doesn’t want to be bothered by endless email threads over the weekend or at the end of the day, this ensures you can respond, but don’t have to worry about the instant low priority response.
- You can schedule any email to return to your inbox at a later date, saying ‘return after X days if no reply,’ ‘return regardless,’ etc. I had one boss who would never respond until the deadline had just passed on my projects, leaving me looking like I didn’t take care of the project. After I found Boomerang, I would send my initial email, and schedule it to return a week or a few days before the deadline, so if he didn’t respond, I could hustle him. Literally no problems after that point.
- This last feature, is merely a hilarious implication of this awesome service. I had one boss who was super responsive Monday mornings, but less so after he was buried in work the rest of the week. As I had a very late night schedule, of course I didn’t want to be up at 9 am Monday morning, so I would write all my emails over the weekend and schedule them all to bombard him at 9 am, 9:01 am, 9:02 am, etc. When I announced what I was doing he was both indignant and thought it was hilarious, and I just continued to feel smug. Lol.
I started to use this tool when it was Hellofax- a service that allows you to store your legally binding signature in their software, and sign and fax documents without printing, scanning, etc. I am not sure why they changed names, but as far as I can tell, the service stayed the same. This is so amazing for the home office as you can upload any document you receive through email, add text, dates, check marks, and signatures, then email it to an email address, or EMAIL it to a fax number!! Mind blowing. The first 3 uploads per month are free- if you use it more often, you’ll pay a small monthly fee.
GET MY BUSINESS UP-AND-RUNNING TOOLS
These guys are an excellent one-stop-shop for everything you need to get your business started. They have great resources on entity types, attorney services, trademarks, patents, and copyrights, tax advice, and more. Highly recommended.
If you’re looking to create a beautiful website with basically zero tech-savvy, Squarespace will blow your mind. Mind you, there are a few details that take some getting used to (like editing font style from a master menu within the style editor within the design menu, rather than on each page itself.)
That said, they provide beautiful templates, excellent customer service, and you can see what your site would look like before purchasing. Also, you get a free domain if you purchase hosting through them annually, or you can use a previously owned domain with Squarespace.
**They also have a very helpful metrics app as well as a blogging app available for iPhone, for business owners on the go.
Need a logo, brochure, brand identity, web design, business cards?
99 Designs is a community of designers that has streamlined the process of describing a design brief. You choose the prize level (cost of the project) and designers submit designs for your feedback. You have several days to give feedback and choose finalists, then more time to refine your design with the winning designer. Really excellent, low cost way to get design work done. (I know of course that there are other services out there, but this is the one I’ve used, so it is the only one I can vouch for.)
If you haven’t seen or heard of Square, you have definitely missed out on a transformational tool for small businesses. Square processes payments for businesses of all sizes. You have the option to take payments using several methods- their tiny Magstripe reader for smartphones, a POS stand for tablets, a chip reader, or my favorite method for my type of business, Square Invoicing. **You should note that while Square accepts any credit card for a flat percentage rate of 2.75%, the rate goes up to 3.5% + $.15 for any keyed in card numbers. The 2.75 % is lower cost than Paypal’s rates as well, but of course everyone has their preferences for various reasons.
My experience with Square has been seamless, with payments transferring into my account within 2 days.
QUICK PHOTO EDITING FOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Photo editing may seem like a minor category next to filing paperwork to become a legal entity, but it is KEY to presenting a polished, professional appearance, especially when starting out.
Snapseed is a photo editing app for smartphones. What is distinct about this from any other app I’ve found is that you are able to edit brightness, contrast, and saturation selectively- meaning on small details, rather than on the entire photo as a whole. This enables you to create relatively precise edits to smartphone (or real camera photos) in seconds rather than spending hours in Photoshop on your desktop. Even real photographers think I’ve edited some of my images using expensive software….
We all know how annoying it is to lose part of your image in Instagram because they only upload square images! Square ready takes images of any shape and shrinks it just enough to fit into a Square for Instagram. Typically I do my major edits in Snapseed, pop it into Square Ready for ‘squaring,’ then publish via Instagram and Facebook. This works great for professional photos I’ve taken as well as smartphone photos. Typically takes 1-2 minutes for each photo in total.
And there you have it! A not-entirely-comprehensive roundup of my favorite tools. Please post any add-ons or questions below- I am always in the market for new technology.
Thank you and have a great weekend!
Swig + Swallow
"Everything but the booze"