Tools of the Trade

One of the questions I get a lot is “What do you use for (Fill in the blank)?

Tools are important. Whatever we do, haveing the right tools makes the work go better, helps us do better work, and gives us more time to do what we love. I happen to do a lot of things. I have a coaching practice. I am a consultant. I paint. I write. I design and project manage. I am a pastor.

I happen to do a lot of things. I have a coaching practice. I am a consultant. I paint. I photograph. I write. I design and project manage. I am a pastor. Those are very different things, and the challenge has been to find tools and services that will help me do all those things smoothly, with as little complication as possible. Tools need to work, to free you from the drudgery so you can do the things you love to do.

So here’s my list. Make sure you read the last couple paragraphs. They are the most important!

chaossoftware-2010

Chaos Software is at the center of my business. I could not function without them. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Every year or two I look around to see if there is a better tool for a small business out there and every year I stay with their central piece of software, Intellect.

Intellect is the swiss army knife of business software. It has an e-mail client that will allow me to read e-mail from all of my different accounts and businesses in one place. It is a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) that lets me track all my activity with clients and people, from e-mails to calls to to-do lists. There is a project management component. From the single home page I can get to everything – people, email, to-do, appointments, files. Everything I need to organize my follow up in life is there, for all the things I do. Easy to use. Crazy powerful. Flexible as all get-out.

Very connectable too. My calendar syncs with google calendar, which allows things like my phone and iPad and business/accounting cloud services all work off the same calendar. Automatically. They also have an add-on that lets you get to everything from the cloud. Make notes in one place and they automatically sync at the other place.

And really, really affordable. Start free. Pay for what you use after a trial.  www.chaossoftware.com.

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Another swiss army knife service, this one cloud based. It combines a lot of things that we have to do to run a business, things that all had their own software or service, in one easy to use service.

It includes accounting (I hate accounting, but this has been easy to learn and implement). I can invoice anything or anyone electronically on via paper. They can pay the old fashioned way, or electronically via pay pal or a credit card.  It has marketing tools, like creating web forms that I can put on my website, my blogs, anywhere, and then sends the information anywhere. I can follow up leads from 17 Hats, or from Intellect. I can create proposals and contracts here, send them via e-mail where they can be signed electronically and sent back electronically

Likewise. I can create proposals and contracts here, send them via e-mail where they can be signed electronically and sent back electronically. I can build a sequence of autoresponding e-mails to make sure people know I’ll be getting back in touch with them. Sounds complicated, but they make it easy with video tutorials that walk you through it all step by step.

They have an e-mail client too, but it’s kind or rudimentary. That works fine for a simple single proprietor kind of company, but less so for me, since I run so many things. The good news? It syncs with my email provider so I can get to my e-mails from either 17 Hats or Intellect.

The list of what they do is way long, but that does not keep it from being simple to use. If you run a small business, this is worth a look.

Talk about speeding things up! Yeah, This falls into the same category as Intellect. I could not function without it. Start free. Pay for what you use after a trial.  www.17hats.com.

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I have kept a journal since I was in my teens. My mom got me started. It’s a good way to sort things out in our head, and a good release when things are roiling around in there.

The computer and internet age have made journals even more useful. Today’s software and apps have a database attached so you can tag posts, or do searches on the text and find out how I wrote and responded to different things at different times, allowing the journal to become a tool to review your progress, or how you dealt with something in the past.

I don’t just journal myself. I recommend it to my coaching clients. It has a host of business uses as well.

I’ve learned that that database has another value. I can tag posts as poems, essays, chapters in different books, projects, and that allows me to keep track of my writings in all my different venues. You can do this with a host of apps and software, but I like Life Journal best, despite it’s slightly dated user interface. It has the best, most intuitive, and easiest-to-use database in the business, and a web-based version as well. Start free. Pay for what you use after a trial. www.lifejournal.com 

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A notebook. Yep. Old school as all get out. But carrying a notebook all the time is so useful. It’s a journal when I don’t have my computer, a notebook when I am visiting people or talking to clients. Plus, science shows that we remember things we hand write better than when we do it electronically. (My clients know that if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen.)

I happen to use Red and Black notebooks because I like a hardbound notebook, quality paper, and a professional look for when I am with clients.  But brand doesn’t really matter. The notebook does.

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A four color pen. Again, old school. Mine (A Y&C Quad point) has black, blue, red and pencil in one pen. I use black for notes. Blue for things to research and learn about. Red for things to do, and the pencil for drawings. What the four colors do is help me find things in my notebook very quickly and make sure they get done or followed up on.

And no, brand doesn’t matter. I like the Y&C because despite the four colors, it’s still a slim pen. But you can buy a four color pen pretty much anywhere.

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Mindjet is mind mapping software. You haven’t seen a lot of mind-mapping in my posts (though you will likely see more in 2017), but anyone who has worked with me very long has seen me making them as I take notes, as I explain things, as I manage projects, design processes, websites and workflows

What is a mind map? Here is a good explanation.  And here is a sample of one I generated recently:

reclaiming-your-creative-life-2

You can do them on the fly using a piece of paper, or use software. I often create them on the fly, and if it’s something that I need to use professionally, quickly transfer it to software where it can be sent by e-mail, folded into proposals, or used as a tool for ongoing projects.

There are a ton of mind mapping software packages and apps. I use Mindjet more out of habit (I started with version 2, and now they are past version 10) than for any other reason.

 

SYSTEMS THINKING

Here’s that last paragraph (Ok, a couple of paragraphs) I mentioned at the beginning of this. You see, each of these is a great tool by itself. But the power is where they interconnect. When you are buying any service or app or software, spend some time seeing what it works with and how tightly it is integrated. This takes advantage of something called System Thinking that is how big business and the most successful people manage to get so much done.

It’s kind of pain making all these things work together at first. I won’t lie. But it is so worth it in the long run. When all these things work together, you end up saving a ton (A TON) of time doing routine things and get to spend more of your time doing the things you love.

Don’t know what system thinking is? Don’t worry, I’ll talk about it in my next post.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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