My Tools of The Trade
Here’s a collection of tools I use to run and grow my consulting business. I thought it would be helpful to compile a list for all of your programming, writing, and consulting needs.
Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service through these links, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I don’t endorse any product I don’t use personally.
Running A Business and Getting Shit Done
Freshbooks (affiliate link) is how I handle all of my financial matters. I use it for all of my accounting. The lesser known killer feature is the ability to sync Freshbooks with a credit card for automated expense tracking. This feature combined with easy reporting makes tax season a breeze. Is Freshbooks the right accounting software for your freelance business?
I’m a big fan of the “Getting Things Done” method. After project planning is complete, Asana makes it easy to put together a hit list of tasks and tackle it either individually or as a team. My wife and I even use it to keep our house in order.
Trello is my go-to approach for sorting out ‘big picture’ ideas in my head. It’s “lists of lists” offers enough flexibility and simplicity to make organizing thoughts a breeze. I use it to plan out books and courses, write out long-term goals for my business, and keeping track of my editorial calendar.
Between clients, subcontractors, and virtual assistants, it can be difficult to manage permissions to different documents. Google Drive has the best sharing features for these use cases, which is why I prefer using it as my primary business storage solution compared to Dropbox. Google Drive makes keeping tabs on who can edit what simple.
When I integrate with a team at a client’s business, Slack is the solution more often that not. But slack isn’t just for business communication; I have an automated slack channel that gives me real-time updates on invoices and product sales. I am also a member and administrator of several Slack professional networks. Slack is my new social network.
Sales, Marketing, and Other ???? Activities
(affiliate link)People don’t like monthly newsletters cluttering up their inbox, and people don’t like writing them either. Drip offers a paradigm shift in how email fits into your marketing funnel: Instead of shotgunning ‘blasts’ to your entire list, Drip is built around sending the right email to the right person at the right time. Drip’s effectiveness combined with its conversion tracking shows me that it is the tool that pays it’s own monthly subscription fee more often than any other tool on this list.
(affiliate link)When you have multiple client deals in the pipeline, it’s easy to forget about following up with leads. Those slip-ups will costs you sales. Pipedrive has the opinionated feature of reminding you to set the next step whenever you check something off of your to-do list. Pipedrive helps me forecast future work, and has increased my conversion rate by allowing me to streamline my pipeline workflow.
When I decided that I wanted to sell digital products, Gumroad was my shopping cart of choice. It has a beautiful interface, and integrating with WordPress and Drip are simple. Gumroad also ran a program called the small product lab, a challenge to help people ship something in ten days. This challenge got me off my ass and helped me ship my first product, which later turned into Dependable.
Direct Mail is a tool that allows you to send email blasts from Excel spreadsheets. It’s a one-off newsletter. You have to be careful because this software makes it possible to spam people. However, used sparingly and appropriately, it can help you automate your outreach efforts, or send all of your clients a nice note at Christmas time.
Hacking away Writing Code
Honestly, I prefer Github’s workflow, but I dislike that they charge on a per-repo basis instead of on a per-user basis. Since every client project has multiple repos, it’s easy to get to their higher paid plans.
I am not a sysadmin. Whenever possible, I prefer to use resources that save me time, even if they cost an additional fee. Heroku helps me spend time on business problems, instead of hosting or scaling problems.
Emacs is my text editor of choice. If you map your caps lock key to ‘escape’, then the finger gymnastics are much simpler. The other benefit to Emacs is that Mac has emacs keybindings built in by default. Don’t believe me? If you’re on a Mac, press ctrl+a (not cmd+a) and boom. You’re at the beginning of a line.
Writing Words and Being a Hack
I didn’t develop a love of writing until later in life, long after college. It took me a while to develop a discerning eye when it came to editing. I found Grammarly, a browser plugin that adds advanced grammar, style, and even plagiarism checking to any textbox on the internet. Everything from email to blog articles to Reddit comment threads. Grammarly helps make all of my writing a little less crappy.
When I write articles, I’m usually fine writing directly inside of WordPress or some other platform. But what do you do when you are tackling a bigger writing project, such as a book or course? In those cases, I need something able to handle longer more complex documents, while maintaining the concentration-enhancing simplicity I want from my tools. Ulysses is a Markdown-based editor that checks all of those boxes. The interface is elegant and makes it easy to work with large, complex documents.
I understand that the design of a proposal or a book can directly affect revenue, but I don’t have the time or money to invest in customized designs for everything that I publish. Remarq takes Markdown documents as input and churns out beautiful PDFs, ePubs, and mobi files. Remarq enables me to generate beautiful documents quickly and on demand.
Speaking of Markdown, Deck Set is a tool that turns Markdown documents into slideshows. It enables me to put together pitch decks quickly, and syndicate content on SlideShare.
Click-to-Tweet is a handy tool that creates nice calls to action for social media. Write 140 characters for your audience so that they’ don’t have to. It’s pretty sweet, check it out:
Running My Website
(affiliate link) I’ve hosted many a WordPress installation in my day. I know how to set up an instance of WordPress, lock it down and speed it up. But just because I can do something doesn’t mean that I should. It’s much smarter to spend a few bucks a month to hand off maintaining and optimizing my WordPress install so that I spend more time on valuable activities. Flywheel hosting allows me to do just that.
A content upgrade is a specialized piece of content you offer to readers in exchange for an email address. Despite this being a well-known content marketing tactic, it is still a giant pain in the ass to set up these types of calls-to-actions with most marketing automation tools. Content Upgrades allows me to create content upgrades easily for my audience inside of WordPress.
(affiliate link)Most WordPress themes are absolute crap. The free ones are charging you the cost of “turn your site into part of a botnet.” The ones for sale are bloated messes trying to please everyone. Thrive Themes is something I’ve spent a long time hunting for; Simple, goal driven themes.
I spent years using a static site generator but decided to join the other 11% of the internet and switch to WordPress. The wealth of themes and plugins allows me to use my website not only to publish content, but also sell products, and onboard clients.
Does what it says on the tin. I use Skype Call Recorder for video interviews, podcasts, and sending coaching clients a copy of calls so they can review them later.
In today’s interactive world, simple pictures of functionality often don’t tell the whole story. Cloud App allows you to create GIFs, videos, or screenshots with a shortcut. Then, Cloud App automatically uploads the file and puts a shortened link into your clipboard. Talk about automation. I use Cloud App to create content for tutorials, train contractors and assistants and demonstrate features to clients.
Personal Management aka “Life Hacks.”
Focus at Will is as far as I can tell, sorcery. It plays music that is scientifically designed to help you concentrate, which sounds like total bullshit, but for me, it’s been effective. It has the nice addition of a timer, which helps you time block without staring down a timer.
Sometimes, I find myself with too many spinning plates, and an inability to focus on any one of them. Other times, I find myself struggling with a challenging personal or business problem that I am unable to sort out. I’ve found journaling helps with both. When I feel overwhelmed, getting everything out my head and onto paper takes some of weight off. When my monkey mind is all of the places, writing forces me to think about one thing at a time, and put my thoughts in logical order. That method alone has helped me discover several solutions. Day One is an app for Mac that makes journaling a snap. I use this over other tools like Evernote so that I can my personal thoughts separate from other apps, tucked away under a digital bed.