6 Free Tools That Make My Online Life Easy + Awesome

free blogging tools
This blog post has been gathering dust in my drafts folder for, oh, always. 
I want to write posts for you guys that are clever, inspirational, and filled with ideas that make your online life more awesome.

I also assume that you already know about the piles of tools/apps/platforms available to you. But one person’s obvious is another person’s you just changed my life with this information, right?

And if you already know all of these? Here’s a cool cat hoodie.

Tweetdeck (free)
This platform allows you to schedule tweets months into the future and (most importantly) upload images for your scheduled tweets. Thus far, this is the only platform I’ve found that will post images with the tweets (rather than posting a link to the image hosted elsewhere.)

If you’re not using images in your tweets, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to OMG DO IT. Tweets with images are 94% more likely to get retweeted and favorited! And you can include the title of your post in the image, ‘freeing up’ your tweet so you can use those 140 characters for pull quotes or @mentions.

Gramblr (free)
In a perfect world, we’d all be professional-level photographers who took in-the-moment, filter-free photos for Instagram. For the rest of us, Gramblr allows you to post images from your computer, so you can pull images from blog posts or something you took with your DSLR.

500px.com Creative Commons // Flickr Creative Commons // YAY Images (free trial)
All of these are free resources for gorgeous, professional-grade images for your blog posts, social media updates, and marketing emails. If you’re using a Creative Commons image, make sure to link and credit the photographer. You can find Flickr’s best photos by sorting by ‘most interesting.’

Picmonkey (free or $33 a year for platinum membership)
I’ve heard tons of good things about Canva, but I still love my cheap, basic, incredibly user-friendly Picmonkey. I use it to resize images so they’re more Pinterest-friendly, create images for Twitter, and make headshots matchy/matchy.

Trello (free)
Are you working with clients or a VA? I bet you are and I bet you’re sick of 15-part email threads or those “just checking in” emails. Without exaggeration, Trello has completely changed my business life. It helps me stay on top of deadlines and huge multi-part projects. It helps me work with my designer and my VA without annoying them so much they want to quit.

Trello allows you to assign projects and break them into checklists … and then save those checklists so any time someone has to complete that complicated task again, you can just pull up said checklist. And you can assign deadlines! When a deadline is looming, Trello will automatically send the task-doer a reminder email, so you don’t have to!

IFTTT (free)
This awkward acronym stands for ‘If This Then That’ and it writes ‘recipes’ for hundreds of online tasks. Like “If I post a photo to Instagram, then a tweet with the image and caption will be automatically generated” or “If someone posts a Macbook Air on the Minneapolis Craiglist for less than $700, I’ll get a text about it.”

There a jillions of helpful ‘recipes’ – recipes for photographers, streamlining social media, even news junkies.

Of course, I also use all the usual suspects – Google Docs, Dropbox, Google Calendar, Paypal. But I imagine you really do already know about those!

I’d love to hear all about the resources, tools, and apps you use for your business! Let’s make this comment thread a recourse itself!

P.S. I remembered another one! Co-schedule’s Headline Analyzer! It’s amaaaazing!

photo by Death To The Stock Photo // cc

 

9 Wonderful Posts About Blogging + Creativity + Business-ing

18875946_15238842_pmA cute print from Saskia Keultjes

I rounded up the best of the net! For you!

Etsy friends! Sarah has made over 500 Etsy sales – here’s what she’s learned.

Pop-ups are annoying, but they totally work (I use IP-sensitive pop up Opt In Monster so once you close the pop-up, you won’t see it again till you clean your cookies or use a different IP). If you’d prefer not to use a pop-up, here are seven spots for your opt-in.

I love how Esme outlined her process for writing and designing her book. So helpful!

Also helpful, Maria’s post about discovering your competitor’s success secrets – without getting too jealous.

6 ways to recharge. I particularly like the tip about creating your own stop signs.

If you’ve ever struggled to price your work (who hasn’t?!) Kyla made you some worksheets that’ll help!

A complete beginner’s guide to starting a lifestyle blog.

Interesting! If you, like me, are trying to cobble together your ‘graphic design’ with what’s available in Picmonkey, you’ll love this tutorial on font pairing. (It’s so much more complex than I thought!)

If you want better content ideas, here’s a 144 slide presentation on how to do that. So.

If you’ve read or written anything particularly amazing lately, leave the links in the comments!

12 Surefire Ways To Master Business-Life Balance

This guest post comes to us via Jess Brown, a virtual assistant and health coach who helps other entrepreneurs and self-employed types find time for balance and health in their busy lives. You can get her free book ‘The Virtual Assistant’s Guide to Creating the Perfect Work-Life Balance’ here or follow along on Facebook.

work life balance
Are you tired of feeling like your business is creeping into all parts of your life? You started your business so you could live your life your way. But instead of having that work life balance you crave every waking minute is filled with email, client issues, and creating your next product. It doesn’t have to be that way…

Here are 12 tips to give your well-being and your business a boost:

1. Get dressed
I will be the first to admit that yoga pants and pajamas are super comfy and my outfit of choice. But there is something about putting on real clothes with buttons, zippers and all that puts your brain in the right mindset to really get stuff done. Get dressed every day. It will make a huge difference when you actually feel like you’re in a real work environment.

2. Schedule family time first
Grab a blank calendar and mark it up with your family activities and obligations. When you start to schedule this way, your life won’t revolve around your business. As you’re filling out your calendar, be honest with yourself about how long each task actually takes. If you need to leave the house, for example, don’t forget to factor in drive time to get to your destination.

3. Say goodbye to perfectionism  
This is where you’ll have to give yourself a break. So what if your apartment isn’t immaculate and that blog post you wrote last week isn’t the “best” it could be. If you’re someone who can’t stop thinking about these things, you could try a yoga class or go for a brisk walk or run.

4. Announce your “working hours”
Balancing business time with family time isn’t easy. Giving your full attention to both sides of the spectrum can be difficult if you have tons of distractions that pop up throughout the day. If you have blocks of time to work on your business and your family knows this, you’ll not only be more focused and productive, but you’ll feel a lot less stress because your family will come to know and expect that you’ll be working during certain hours. That means when it’s family time, you won’t have to worry about business. All business matters are dealt with during your regular “working hours.”

5. Learn to unplug from your business
When you’re the one in charge, it’s next to impossible to completely unplug, but there are ways to get some balance during your off-time. One idea to help is if you have people helping email address for important “after-hours” matters that need your immediate attention. Your people will know how to get a hold of you and you don’t have to check your regular email and social media constantly.

6. Expect the unexpected
Let’s face it, stuff happens. When you’re scheduling your day, it’s smart to book an hour to “unexpected” things that come up. This block of time is to take care of unexpected interruptions or events that happen. If nothing unexpected happens that day, great! You just gained an hour you can do whatever you want with.

7. Get laser focused
When it’s time to work, turn off your phone, close your email and social media and let the people in your life know not to interrupt unless it’s an emergency. Part of being balanced is using your time efficiently and minimizing distractions whenever possible.

8. Break it down
Make the most of your time and get more done by breaking your tasks into smaller chunks. Not having a plan for your work session usually results in wasted time and little progress. Get focused. Use 15 minutes to return client emails, 20 for social media engagement and 40 to write a draft for your next blog post, etc.9. Harness the power of no

If you’re available to your clients 24/7, it’s a clear sign you have a hard time saying, “no.” If you let that continue, over time it leads to bad things. Not only are you going to burn out, but you very well could start resenting your clients and your work. If you tend to say “yes” without thinking, don’t answer immediately. Get back to the person later and then you can decide if it’s a task you want to do or not. If you end up saying “no”, don’t justify or make excuses.

10. Take care of you
When you’re creating your schedule, don’t forget to pencil in free time for yourself. Book an appointment once a week to take a long bath and a glass of wine. Block out time to go to the gym. Schedule a date night with your partner. Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to get a good night’s sleep every day. Skimping on sleep is bad for your health, but also adversely affects the quality of your work and productivity.

11. Have a strong support system
Tell your friends, family, colleagues and clients you’re trying to balance work and life. Tell them about your plan and ask them to respect it.

12. Take baby steps and work up
Changing things in your life that have become habits is no easy feat. If your goal is to have dinner with your family every night, start with one dinner per week. Don’t try to change too much too soon. Just like any new routine, it’s going to take the time to adjust and build new habits.

So how do you find balance in your business? Do you have something different than what I’ve listed? Tell us in the comments!

P.S. How to juggle a day job + a blog + a freelance career + a life

Online “Success” And “Failure” Don’t Look The Way You Think

online success

For the last few years, I’ve been smugly convinced that I knew what “success” looked like online.

It looked like tens of thousands of social media followers. It looked like book deals and big brand partnerships and press mentions. It was numbers-based (of course) and bigger numbers = more success.

I was also pretty sure that I knew what “failure” looked like. It looked like fewer comments than usual on that post or a Twitter following that stalled out. It was snarky comments and unsubscribes.

And isn’t it awkward when you do more work and meet more people and realize how wrong you’ve been?

In the last year, I’ve seen “success” that looks like a friend who wrote a New York Times bestseller and kept a part time gig to make ends meet* or my buddy whose products were featured in Martha Stewart Living …. and saw little increase in sales. I’ve seen multiple friends get book deals so stressful their relationships and health hit the rocks.

I’ve seen also seen a lot of things that could be mistaken for “failure.”
I watched a client with 72 Twitter followers earn a seven-figure income. (She’s had a booming business offline for a ages.)
I’ve had people unsubscribe from my newsletter (and then email me to say they’re unsubscribing because they’re following on Feedly now.)
I’ve published posts that got three comments (but 10 long, heartfelt email responses.)
I’ve watched a client’s Facebook page stall out (while her Instagram following quadrupled.)
I’ve published posts that offended some readers (but opened up important dialog.)
I posted an Instagram photo that garnered all of 44 likes (and netted me a copywriting gig with a major athletic clothing manufacturer.)

If you ever find yourself feeling less-than while flicking through a famous Instagram feed or reading a highly-trafficked blog, know that numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Popularly doesn’t necessarily equate to profitability. The minds you change and the hearts you open can’t always be measured in Twitter followers

What looks like failure might be success dressed in overalls.

What does business success look like for you? Have you had any “successes” that didn’t quite have the end result you imagined? Or things that looked like “failure” … but weren’t?

* Totally no shame in keeping a part time job! It’s smart to have stable income! But I really thought someone who’d written a wildly successful book would be rolling in the dough, you know?

photo by decor8 holly // cc

Compassionate Business Advice From A Surprising Source

business advice
In case you were wondering, no one has ever asked me “Sarah, how’d you get so wise?”

(And with Instagram photos like this, I’m not sure anyone’s going to be asking me anytime soon.)

But if someone were to ask me, I’ve got an answer ready. I will steeple my fingertips, take a deep breath while staring into the middle distance, and then I’ll murmur:

“I steal my wisdom from other people.”

One of the benefits to interviewing hundreds of people is that eventually, some of their wisdom will rub off on you. And if you’re a greedy wisdom-hoarder like me, you can make this more likely by straight up asking every single interviewee “What have you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?”

It was this exact question that lead to one of my new favorite business insights … and it’s from a surprising source.

Caryn Davies is a three-time Olympian. She’s won more medals than any other American oarswoman. She’s 6’4”, a graduate of Harvard’s law school AND a graduate of Oxford’s MBA program. If she wasn’t so nice (and wise) I’d probably hate her. She was kind enough to let me interview her for True Story and as we were wrapping up our interview, I asked her what we plebeians (um, my words) could learn from her Olympic experience.

“You don’t have to put in your best performance every day, you just have to beat your average. If you consistently aim to beat your average you’ll consistently get better. It’s quite a lot of pressure to put on yourself to perform at your peak every day. Have a little self-compassion; you’re just aiming to consistently get better. You don’t have to be amazing all the time.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of setting some pretty ridiculous goals for myself. I hope that every reader will love every post. I want every launch to be wildly successful. I want everything ever to be a smooth road of good, better, best fading off into the overachiever sunset.

Not surprisingly, this mentality leads to exhaustion and watered-down work.

So I’m taking Caryn’s advice. Instead of hoping for a six-figure product launch (and being devastated when that doesn’t happen) I’m aiming to make slightly more than I did last time. Instead of being disappointed when my funny tweet doesn’t break the internet, I’ll hope that it gets seven ‘favorites’ instead of six. I’ll aim for one more blog sponsor each month and a few more comments than usual on each post.

My new goal? To be slightly amazing, most of the time.

Do you set unrealistic goals for yourself? If you do, how has that worked out for you? If you’ve recovered from burnout, I’d love to hear your story and tips in the comments!

Photo by Ben Rodford // cc

6 Smart, Helpful Things The Internet Wrote For Your Business

It’s the end of the month! I’ve been stockpiling the best of the internet for you!

I love a good statistics-backed breakdown. Kyla shows us how she increased her Pinterest impressions by 240%!

What happens when your Facebook post goes viral and is seen by 1.9 million people?

I loved Amanda’s suggestions for testing new product ideas!

The internet has changed A LOT since I started blogging approximately one million years ago. I enjoyed this podcast about creating content for the ‘new’ internet.

Why can’t you get blog traffic? Ahem, nobody cares.

Ooooh! How to write blog posts that generate leads!

And a few posts you might have missed: My biggest work happiness secret and Collaborating your way to more traffic + clients

2 Dirty Secrets About Starting Your First Blog

start a blog
Let me preface this by telling you that today I’m writing a love note to people who’d like to start a blog. 
This is for every former English major who needs a creative outlet and everyone who wants a space to share their recipes/outfits/insights.

If you’ve already got an awesome, established blog here’s an amazing live webcam of otters.

Still here? Wonderful!

When you’re thinking about starting a blog, it’s spectacularly easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to over-research, psych yourself out, and decide that you clearly can’t begin till you have your own domain, professional headshots, and an amazing mailing list opt-in.

While you’re doing all that research, you’ll find all sorts of good advice about the things you need in order to start a blog. You will be told that you need to be on lots of social media platforms and that you need to use gorgeous photos. You’ll read about the importance of building your list and how to optimize your posts.

That’s all good advice! But you know what you really, actually need in order to start a blog?

The desire to start a blog.

You won’t know if you like writing on the internet until you do it. You won’t know how fast you write, how long it takes to assemble a post, how people feel about your writing until you do it.

And as soon as you start, you’ll discover two dirty secrets.

1. You need way, way less to start a blog than you’ve probably been lead to believe
For the first four year of Yes & Yes I spent $13 a year on it. I took photos with my ancient digital camera and wrote on a $300 netbook or my work computer. I cobbled together the design on my own and I USED A YAHOOMAIL ACCOUNT AS MY PROFESSIONAL EMAIL. I still managed to book sponsors, publish two ebooks and write blog posts that went viral.

2. It will take a while for anyone to notice your blog
For the first few months of your blog, not many people will be reading. That sounds a bit depressing, but you can choose to view that time as a space to experiment and get your internet legs. For those first few months, it won’t matter if you publish something controversial or riddled with typos. You can use this time to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you’ve got thousands of readers it’s a lot harder to publish haikus about your Brazilian wax.*

So dear would-be blogger, this is your permission to just start. Just try.

P.S. If you’re a small business or a consultant, I would recommend a slightly more studied, professional approach to starting a blog. You don’t want to send clients to a janky .blogspot.com website full of broken links! Here’s a list of things I suggest doing before you launch your blog.

* Yes, I did that. ACCOMPANIED BY A PHOTO OF A HAIRLESS KITTEN. WHAT THE EVER-LOVING EFF.

photo by Zoe // cc

4 Ways To Be A Boss In Work And Life

This guest post comes to us via Kathleen Shannon. Kathleen just launched a podcast with her creative comrade Emily Thompson called Being Boss. We talk about doing the work, being boss in work and life release, creative collaboration, what to do when you’re freaking out about money, and how to embrace your personal brand.  You can find more, including their secret episode on cultivating confidence, at www.lovebeingboss.com or subscribe on iTunes

be a boss

When I first started working for myself as a freelance graphic designer I knew I wanted to be in control of my days and make money being creative. But I had no idea how to be my own boss and have learned a lot along the way. Today I own a booming business helping other creative entrepreneurs not only get their vision on paper but create a brand that really feels like them. Along the way, I learned that there is no such thing as a work/life balance for creative entrepreneurs – it’s more like a work/life blend. (And most of us like it that way.) But nobody teaches you how to navigate those blurry lines in art school and get paid to do it.

So today I’d like to share with you 4 ways for being boss in work and life:

1. GET IN YOUR RIGHT MIND 

I was never great at sports, but I always did best when I was feeling confident and unafraid of breaking something. My body always seemed to move a little faster when my mind was in the right headspace. Being your own boss is the same way – when you’re in your right mind the rest will follow. I get in the right mindset by reading memoirs from other brave creative women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, listening to good podcasts, and adopting positive mantras like “I’m wildly productive and living the dream” (which is especially helpful when I’m feeling “crazy busy”.)

2. ESTABLISH HABITS AND ROUTINES

One of the best parts about working for yourself is total freedom to work in your pajamas and eat cereal for lunch at 3PM. But total freedom can backfire and leave you feeling scattered and unfocused. I like to start my day with a routine of waking up at 6:15AM, eating the same breakfast every morning (overnight steel cut oats with two eggs whisked in), and knocking out three pages of free-form writing. I also like to schedule everything, including my workouts, into my Google calendar. Find consistency and ritual in your days by adopting little habits and routines where you can; it will make you feel professional but on your own terms.

3. SET BOUNDARIES 

The hardest part about being your own boss is knowing when to leave work – because work is always with you, especially if you love what you do. Setting healthy boundaries is essential to avoid turning into a workaholic and burning out. The best way to set some boundaries is to set work hours (even if it’s unconventional hours) and to have a defined office space or nook if you work from home.

4. CULTIVATE YOUR CREATIVE PACK

One of the biggest struggles I hear from creative entrepreneurs, especially those who are going from a day job to build their own dream job, is feeling isolated and alone. Even introverts need a little creative collaboration (or simply a vent session) from time-to-time. Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely I’ll get dressed and work from a coffee shop – I usually always end up seeing a friend, making new acquaintances (and sometimes clients!) or at the very least appreciate a change in scenery. If you live on an island (or in the middle of nowhere) and can’t meet up with creative peers check out online resources like a Facebook group or online mastermind dedicated to connecting creatives with each other. Just because you’re your own boss doesn’t mean you have to go it alone!

Are you your own boss? Or trying to be? Tell us how you manage in the comments!

P.S. How To (Nicely) Set Boundaries With Your Clients + My ‘Collaboration Guidelines’

A Kinder, Smarter, Better Way To Think About Blogging

a better way to think about blogging
Here’s a great way to feel terrible about yourself and doubt your internet abilities:

Google ‘rewardstyle highest earner.’

(Don’t do it! Did you do it? Gah! Dooooon’t!)

If you do that (which you shouldn’t) you’ll find all sorts of information about fashion bloggers who earn multiple six-figures by posting gorgeous, professional-level photos of their cleverly assembled outfits.

And then, if you’re human, you might decide
a) you should start a blog and make a bunch of money
b) that the blog you already have clearly sucks because you’re not earning six-figures on affiliate links for skorts

I say this because I’ve done it. The self-doubt part. The why-am-I-not-making-more-money part.

I’ve glared at my sweet little blog and cursed my own inclination for posts that can’t really be monetized and aren’t ‘Pinterest-friendly.’ I’ve wondered if I should start posting about makeup and clothes even though I have a three-product makeup bag and just rotate through three sundresses from Target.

This mindset is completely unfair. It’s disrespectful to my own hard work, to my blog, and even to my readers. While Yes & Yes hasn’t brought me zillions of dollars, it brought me experiences and opportunities I didn’t even know existed.

It introduced me to some of my closest friends and helped me meet amazing people while I traveled. It found me on-camera gigs, writing jobs, a literary agent, and an app developer. It gave me (another) reason to try new things and a place to share them. It gave me a space to share important stories and connect like-minded people.

And I think that’s the reality of blogging in 2015. Sure, it’s possible to earn a living from ad space and affiliate links. It’s also possible to earn a living as a professional athlete or an astronaut.

You’ll like blogging more if you view it as an opportunity maker rather than a money maker.

We’ll all enjoy our blogs more if we see them as a means to an end. Luckily, we get to choose what that ‘end’ looks like. Maybe it’s establishing yourself as an expert so you can book more clients. Maybe you’re uniting people around a common cause or starting an important conversation. Maybe you’re developing your photography portfolio or interviewing your professional idols. For nearly every opportunity, there’s an online instigator.

Give your online space the credit and love it deserves. (We all know that life experiences are worth more than skorts, right?)

How has blogging affected your life? What opportunities has it presented? Do you ever get hung up on how much money you’re making directly from your blog?

photo by  // cc

Hurry! Or these 9 helpful blog posts will get cold!

il_570xN.637163039_rokl
Isn’t this cute? Download it here

It’s the end of the month! I’ve been stockpiling great links for you!

If you’re suffering from blogger’s block, Jess has six great places you can find content ideas.

If you can only spend a limited amount of time on social media, how should you spend it?

I loved Michelle’s post about how freelancers need to stop giving each other limiting advice.
Every time I’ve asked for help in replying to a terrible email, when I thought it has been clear that my main issue is in composing a break-up reply that does not turn into just one big long blue streak of swear words, I’ve had people respond suggesting ways I can salvage the project and keep working with the client.

Ooooh! 10 interesting ways to use Instagram!

Want to make your life better? (Dur, we all do.) Five simple emails you can send that will do just that.

What’s the daily habit that contributed to Steve Jobs success? (It’s not what you’d expect.)
Think about work/life integration, not balance. “Balance” suggests that the two are opposite and have nothing in common. But that’s not true. If you keep them separate, you don’t learn to transfer what you do successfully in one domain to the other. When we’re mindful, we realize that categories are person-constructed and don’t limit us.

Food bloggers! Or anybody who photographs things inside! This is for you! 5 ways to improve your photography with artificial light.

Co-signed on this: the biggest mistake I made starting my freelance business.

Also: Email guidelines for the world.

And a few posts you might have missed: 2 Lazy Things I’m Doing To Improve My Writing + Business By Osmosis and How To Win Friends + Influence Buyers On Instagram