Getting any project, business or venture off the ground can be a daunting task, especially for those with less technical orientations. There are so many digital tools, resources, apps, methods- it can be a minefield. I know- because I’ve been there and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what works for me, and what doesn’t. So, I have complied a list of resources and tools which could save you a lot of time and money.
After 10 years as sole-trader (as a mentor, photographer and project starter) here are some of the best and simplest tools I have found. Many are no cost or low cost. I have put an asterisk (*) beside any which are free or have free versions available.
The first and best tools may not be the most obvious:
I want to start with my best tools, which are not technical at all. They are my best tools because they help me to think more clearly and process what feels like a jumble of thoughts, ideas and the seeds of ideas in my head.
My best tool of all is my journal. In there goes ideas, plans, morning pages, draft posts, course plans, random quotes, scribbles, doodles. I’m a big fan of soft-back large blank or dotted Moleskins. They are a bit expensive and this feels like an indulgence, but how I love their blank pages. The journal comes everywhere with me (except into the shower or bath!), and it is usually beside my bed so if I can’t sleep because of an idea, I can just jot down what’s on my mind, and then it helps me get back to sleep. A journal is the closest thing to a panacea that I know.
The next best tool I use is a large blank roll of white or brown paper (mostly wallpaper lining). On there, comes the big picture views- mapping the year ahead, or a book projects, or a marketing plan. The big sheet helps me to see links between ideas and helps me cluster projects into plans. Coloured pens, post-it notes and some design thinking symbols also help to make the muddles in my head look a little bit logical. These plans then get condense into Trello lists (see below).
I keep a separate notebook/ day planner for day to day to do/ priorities. This is often just a refill pad- something not too precious.
These days, it need not cost a huge amount of financial investment to get your venture started. You can build a website, get good design and begin getting your offerings out into the world with some clicks and a few emails. Over time, when you know you have a product which works and the services you are offering are tried and tested, you can then invest in higher end production and design.
My website is a wordpress.org site*, which I got a web designer to create. I have learned some very basic html coding so that I can add and amend a little- but I still need her support with some design work. I use a security plugin (iThemes).
Newsletter/ Email Marketing
I’ve found Mailchimp* to be very reliable and solid for my email marketing needs so far, also easy to use. Their reports, analytics and help services are excellent.
I’m on Gmail*. The Boomerang* plug-in for Gmail helps to schedule emails and set up replies to send at a given time. This means I can write a batch of emails and have them deliver when I think is the best time for the receiver.
I use Tweetdeck* to plan and schedule tweets.
Linktree* for Instagram links.
bit.ly* to shorten links
When I’m really organised I use Trello* to help me map out an editorial calendar.
I use Trello* for keeping lists and workflows. It’s like a way of organising digital sticky notes. I use the mobile app to add to these list on the go.
So, for example, if I am hosting a workshop, I keep each topic as a separate note and can tag on notes, images, memos to self. If the workshop flow changes, I spend a few minutes the next day reviewing my trello board, re-ordering the workshop agenda so that the next time I have it all ready to go, so that it will take less work to organise and prepare.
Other Trello lists include: lists of potential clients, email template scripts for saying ‘No’ (which can be really hard to write on the fly), books I have on loan, and outlines of several writing projects. want to do.
Basically- it’s handy!
When I have one of those days when I just can’t focus and I need to, I use the pomodoro method. So I use the timer on my phone in increments of 23 mins per slot.
Dropbox* has been my friend. I use the mobile app to bring photos into Instagram.
Google Drive* for sharing documents, especially if two or more people are working on the same document.
Most of my design work is made in Photoshop. I sometimes use Illustrator (although I’m novice, and it takes me ages!)
I have availed of free fonts on DaFont*.
Occasionally I turn to Canva* for poster design.
I have made some one-off books on Blurb.
moo.com. I love that I can have a different image on each card. I also love their new ‘cotton’ option, which is made with recycled T-Shirts.
If I am out walking and have an idea, or in bed, and have an idea- I audio record it on my phone’s dictaphone.
Photography (where it gets a bit more technical, and a bit more expensive)
Images are shot in RAW format, processed with Lightroom, and, if needed, additional editing in Photoshop. I also resize and reformat in Photoshop. I’m a Canon Girl, working with a Canon 5D Mark II, and three main lenses: 50mm f1.4, 100mm f2.8, 24-105 f4.
I maintain a library of my own stock imagery (on back up hard drives) and keep a selection of these in Dropbox* so they are easily accessible for sharing on social media etc.
Hosting Online Courses
Surveys, Feedback and Online Applications
Typeform* has been good for online applications for programmes and for gather feedback from course participants.
Survey Monkey* has been useful for general surveys (I find their analytic graphics better than typeform)
Finance and Accountancy
I use Bullet HQ* to keep track of invoices and income. In theory I use their app to track expenses, but this is not always consistent for me- but it is an option!
Other than that, it’s basic spread sheets.
Online banking with a separate business account (I am always amazed particularly at how many sole traders don’t have a separate business account).
NETWORKS & RELATIONSHIPS
It’s back to old school tactics! Word of mouth is the most powerful tool I know. If someone does a good job, I try to tell others about it. If I do a good job for someone else, I ask them to spread the word and ask for a testimonial What goes around…
Hand written notes, thank you cards, snail mail. Antiquated? Maybe. Powerful. Beyond a doubt. People who come on retreat with me get little hand written notes, someone offer you a valuable piece of advice- popping something in the post as a thank you makes the exchange even more precious. Writing letters to people you admire- priceless!
Picking up the phone. An email might do it, but would a phone call be better? Often because it’s… connection and connection is what relationships and networks thrive on.
I don’t use fancy editing or writing tools. Things start in my journal, or a post it note, or a napkin, then make their way to a word document. That’s kind of it. A nice pen helps.
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Hope you have found this helpful! Happy plotting and planning!