Tools I Use to Run My Business

I had a comment on a post several months back asking for more information about how I began my freelance work and the tools I use to run my business. The reason it took me so long to write a post in response was that I was busy doing the work itself! Usually after a long day on the computer, I try to take my leisure time away from screens, which means that posts get written around here a little less often. Fortunately, again and again in my life I am reminded that, like Glennon Doyle, I read to inhale, and write to exhale. So, finally, here we go! Here is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use to run my current business, as of September 2017. You can learn more about my work here.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post, but my opinions are always and forever my own, and this post is not sponsored by anyone except me myself and I.

Websites: Bluehost + WordPress

I’ve written about my love for these two services before, but I’ve been using them both in conjunction since I first started a self-hosted blog back in 2009! A lot of people are switching to Squarespace these days, which makes sense because it’s pretty and drag-and-drop. If you only have or need one website, I would recommend it, especially for beginners. If you’ll be building more than one website (ie. I have my blog, my personal website, my former podcast website, etc), it’s far more cost-effective to go with WordPress, and the service is a lot more robust.

Time Tracking: Timely

Most things I use to run my business are completely free, because I like to keep things simple and lean. Timely is one of the services I’m happy to pay for, because I’ve tried most of the other options and they’re just not as good, not as well designed, and not as easy to use as Timely. I can manage all my clients within one platform, bill my time at various hourly rates, and run a timer for the exact length of time I’m working on a project. Trust me that it’s the best.

Invoicing: Wave Apps

I don’t use most of the (many!) features available from Wave, because I do my accounting the old-fashioned way: in a spreadsheet (albeit a Google one!) and ask to be paid by either e-transfer, Paypal or direct deposit. But I do like their invoices, because they are easy to create and look professional. I save all mine as PDF and send by email manually. That said, I’m hoping that Timely (see above) will come out with an invoicing feature soon!

Banking: Tangerine

I switched to Tangerine right when I became a full-time freelancer, and I’ve never looked back. Tangerine is only for Canadians, but I would encourage you to look into no-fee bank accounts in your country and go through the process of switching. So far I’ve saved about $200 in fees alone since making the transition, which is a non-trivial amount!

Communication: Inbox for Gmail + Slack

There is not much more on this planet I love more than I love Slack. If you are working with any size of team, I recommend using it. Hell, even if I was working 100% alone, I can still think of features I’d like to have access to (their Posts function is great for storing ideas or lists). I cannot recommend anything more highly! I have now been responsible for getting two separate work teams onto Slack, and the productivity increase and stress decrease in both cases has been palpable.

I run all my email through Gmail accounts, and Inbox is my favourite app for my phone (with all the notifications off, of course!). I especially love their function to ‘snooze’ emails to come back at an appointed time, since I operate under Inbox Zero as much as possible.

Graphic Design: Photoshop + Canva

I have a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud for Photographers, which comes with Photoshop and Lightroom for around $11 a month. If you’re just starting out: don’t even bother. Canva is amazing, has so many interesting and well-designed templates, and is really easy to use. It makes creating graphics something that just about anyone could do in just a few minutes.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Personal Management: Todoist + Bullet Journalling

I’ve tried a lot of different to-do list apps, and have settled on Todoist (for now) on account of enthusiastic testimonials, mainly from my friend Isabelle, who is incredibly organized and productive. It’s loosely based on the GTD model, which I am reading about right now, but mostly I like that it is very fast and very simple. If I had a larger team to manage or in-depth projects, I might use Asana, but for my own personal stuff this is perfect.

And of course, my brain likes paper far too much for me to be 100% digital! I use a bullet journal that is not even a little bit artistic or fancy – it is extremely basic and utilitarian, which works for me. I mostly use it for lists of ideas, goals, quotes, and planning out a week at a glance. Anything that doesn’t really fit on a “to do list” but I want to capture somewhere goes here.

Storage: Google Drive

I like Drive way more than Dropbox for most things, although I do have a great Dropbox setup going for sharing files with one of my clients that syncs directly from my computer. For most other things, I like Drive. I don’t save many emails, so I still don’t have to pay for Drive! Yay!

Music: Spotify

I now pay for Spotify Premium and I have never once looked back. Once it was pointed out to me that I listen to music for my entire workday, and that I was hearing annoying ads every 20 minutes, it was an easy choice to spend $10 a month.

Tech: Macbook + Over-Ear Headphones + Ergonomic keyboard

I love all these things, but I didn’t buy them all at once, and none of them are strictly necessary to start your own business. I have a refurbished Macbook that works like a charm, and I take care of it well because it is my livelihood. For my work, it’s important that my computer work fairly quickly, and that it can handle video and audio editing programs without becoming a sloth. But Sarah of Yes and Yes uses a cheap laptop and swears by it!

The headphones I have are so great: I wear them every morning at the café I work out of and they’re noise-cancelling enough to help me focus. I mainly wanted over-ear headphones because my ears were literally bleeding from wearing pointy earbuds all day long, and asked for a quality pair for my birthday, but any kind of headphone that doesn’t irritate your ears would work.

Lastly, my keyboard and mouse are a huge part of the reason that my chronic back pain has subsided – I am no longer hunching all day long.

Whenever possible, I look for tools or solutions that are cheap or free, and that work well. I am always looking for ways to pare down or streamline, especially when it comes to unnecessary business expenses, but I am also open to spending money to get something that works and makes my life easier.

What’d I miss? What else would you like to know about the way I run my business? Do you have any tools you would recommend to me?

Inspiration: September 15

Every week on Friday, I share a list of the most interesting and inspiring content I’ve read lately here on my blog. You can expect thoughts on productivity, happiness, balance, spirituality, politics, and more. Subscribe here to get updates. See archives here.

Inspiration: September 15 >> Life In Limbo

The best thing I experienced this week was the new documentary about The Avett Brothers, May It Last. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful this portrait was, but my favourite aspect was the exploration of humility, dedication to craft, and tolerance of the uncertainty that comes with an unfolding journey. I was lucky enough to see it in theatres (thank you Sonja!) but you can learn more here.

This post about the emotional labour of female travel bloggers has much broader implications beyond just travel blogging. I see this kind of thinking and behaviour with women in many of areas of life. Her specific examples are particularly clarifying and were a good reminder to me of what I can choose to opt out of.

10Q is coming up soon! The idea is simple: once a day, you answer a reflective question about the past year. Then after the 10 days are up, the vault is closed for another year. Last year I only did 3 out of the 10 questions, but reading those answers when they landed in my inbox this week was surprisingly emotional. You can learn more here.

Even just reading the words, “that’s enough,” felt so calming to me. Maybe you need to hear this message too? “You’ve done your piece, wholeheartedly. And truly, that is plenty.”

I started a free course this week called Building Your Business Blueprint, and have been completely blown away by the depth of the content so far. I haven’t even put in my email anywhere! Just quality content, available to anyone, and tiered into 3 levels depending on what kind of business you currently have. Highly, highly recommend, especially since Caroline and Jason are the kind of entrepreneurs I admire most: very successful, but very thoughtful. Also, all their websites are so beautifully designed.

Speaking of amazingly thoughtful entrepreneurs, my friend Rebecca ran a free 5 day Ignite Your Style Challenge this week, and I can safely say it was transformational. I created outfits I didn’t even know I had and (even better) felt so cute/fun/flirty all week. As someone who regularly doesn’t feel like I know anything about style, it was a big shift for me. You can learn more about the challenge here or sign up for her course here.

Wow. Talk about an inspirational week! I love those weeks when it feels like the juices are flowing and things are happening both internally and in my community. I feel unbelievably grateful to have such interesting people in my life who inspire me on the daily and push me to dream about what’s possible. (Speaking of which: this is your weekly reminder to find your local chapter of Tuesdays Together!! Lol.) This weekend is the yearly (enormous) Polish festival in my neighbourhood, my book club is meeting to discuss this great read, and I’m going home for a family reunion lunch. I hope you have a wonderful weekend too! xo.

PS. See that email opt-in below this post? I’m going to start sending these weekly Inspiration posts by email (plus whatever extra bonus tips or ideas I have each week!) to those who like to keep up with blogs that way. If that’s an easier way for you to stay in touch, feel free to sign up below! If not, no worries: the posts will still be here every Friday.

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Book Club: Summer 2017

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

Book Club: Summer 2017 >> Life In Limbo

This summer was a great one for reading! I finally came out of my reading slump and ended up flying through so many books this summer that I did a double-take when I saw how many books I’d read in July alone. I decided to put the last 4 months together and pull my favourites from the past few months. Yay! So much good stuff to read.

Book Club: Summer 2017 >> Life In Limbo

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

This was the first thing I read on vacation – I borrowed it from Katie as soon as I landed in New York and was promptly swept away on an Italian getaway. This books spans several generations and moves (almost too) quickly through them, but happily you love each new set of characters as much as the last. It’s a long book, but I also didn’t want it to end. Also: can I visit this fictional island?! My heart is broken that it doesn’t exist.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

This was our book club’s pick for August and damn, was it good. I came away feeling so inspired to make things just for the sake of it, to stay focused and committed to your work, and to love the hell out of your friends. Patti Smith is an amazing writer, and she writes so beautifully about her friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This is one of Seth Godin’s favourite books, which is what brought it to my attention at first. Our discussion during book club was all about art, friendship, meaning, and finding community. So good!

Wabi Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams

The basic premise of this book is that you can entertain imperfectly, and it can be beautiful. She emphasizes that the most important thing is gathering often with your favourite people, no matter what that looks like. The book is also full of absolutely gorgeous photographs from different places around the world that embody wabi-sabi entertaining: Japan, Denmark, California, France and Italy. The photos are not polished or staged, just perfectly imperfect in and of themselves. It felt like such a refreshing (and approachable) way to bring people together.

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer

A journalist tries to improve his memory and ends up winning the U.S. Memory Championship one year later. In this book, he tells the whole story while also explaining lots of practical techniques for improving your own memory. My friend Laura recently tested me almost a month after first reading this book, and I could remember a whole grocery list of random items that I’d memorized in a memory palace, verbatim. It’s not hard, and so fun! My social insurance number now lives in my childhood bedroom (in my mind). Highly recommend: fun and helpful at the same time.

You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations!

Inspiration: September 8

Every week on Friday, I share a list of the most interesting and inspiring content I’ve read lately here on my blog. You can expect thoughts on productivity, happiness, balance, spirituality, politics, and more. Subscribe here to get updates. See archives here.

Inspiration September 8 >> Life In Limbo

I love this writing advice: “Write to find out what you think, or find the story you need to tell”.

Anyone in the market for business tools or services? I loved reading Sarah’s list of what she uses to run her business.

Liz Gilbert doesn’t stop dropping truth bombs, ever. Her article on the Dreamers is so moving & energizing.

This dance was so fun! But nothing tops Lin-Manuel’s wedding surprise for me.

Yooooo this article is so on point. Amazing advice on budgeting, spending on yourself, and fully fleshed out scripts to use when family members or friends make inappropriate comments. No big surprise, got this gem from the Money & Happy Facebook Group.

I’ve been very into Kesha’s new music this week. I (like many others) was horrified by her legal struggles with her abusive producer, and I think her new stuff shows her soul and her strength. Especially Praying.

This blog is so cool and gets my brain buzzing about things I could do.

I gave myself Monday off for Labour Day, so it’s been a fast week! Lots of work, lots of creative projects, lots of reading (I can’t put this one down). This weekend I’m volunteering at an entrepreneurship conference and spending some time with my Dad’s new puppy! Yay! I hope you have a wonderful weekend too. xo.