When I first started playing around with design, those CD-ROM’s full of clip art images were the shit. (If you grew up in the late 90’s, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) Things got really crazy once I discovered Microsoft Publisher how to install free fonts on my parents’ computer and for a while I was the reigning queen of designing babysitting ads and pet-walking flyers.
Software has come a long way in the last decade since then, thankfully, and now as a business owners we have tons of amazing tools and programs at our fingertips. The sheer number of options can get a little overwhelming – frankly, I’m ready for a JARVIS–style program a la Iron Man to do it all for me – but in the meantime, I’ve come up with a list of what I use on a regular basis to help you narrow down your options a bit! I’m not going to list all of the alternative options in this post (keep an eye out for that, though) – today is just the ones that I’ve found to be my tried-and-true ones.
This is obviously where I spend a good amount of time and money on software and tools. Here’s the breakdown of my most often-used ones:
ILLUSTRATOR: AI (Adobe Illustrator) is my go-to program for design. It’s vector-based, which means designs can be scaled as big as you want without getting pixelated (unlike Photoshop, which is raster-based). I use it for branding, social media graphics, blog graphics, single page worksheets, icon design, and digitizing hand lettering, to name a few.
INDESIGN: this is where I head if I have to create anything that’s more than a page long while still making it look gorgeous. That includes fillable PDF’s/workbooks, worksheets, presentations (yup, just save it as a PDF!), ebooks, contracts, and proposals.
PHOTOSHOP: the workhorse of the Adobe programs, in my opinion. There’s always more to learn about working in PS. I use it primarily for light photo editing (I don’t love photo editing), batch editing (like cropping or watermarking photos), and making GIFS!
SKETCH: I’ve been using Sketch to work on wireframing and web design and so far I’m really liking it. The shortcuts and layouts are different from the Adobe software so there’s a learning curve, but it’s really a great tool to have in your arsenal if you find yourself doing lots of web or app design.
2. Task + Project Management
TRELLO is currently my favorite project management software. Read more about why I love Trello here – in short, it’s free, unlimited number of projects and users, I can upload images, color code things, and it’s wonderfully visual.
TODOISTis my favorite to-do list. It’s super minimal (though the premium version has some nice features, like labeling) and it’s perfect for brain dumping all of those random to-do items that aren’t necessarily things that you’d file away under project management software.
CALENDLY: I use Calendly to book any and all client-facing meetings and Skype dates. My favorite thing about Calendly is that it allows me to create multiple events, each with different time frames (ie, an event can be scheduled during certain time frames on certain days) and I can link people to book specific events – 30 minute coffee dates, hour-long branding audits, you name it. Oh, and it integrates with Google calendar so on days where I have appointments or events scheduled already, it shows me as unavailable. Perfecto!
SUNRISE: Hands down my favorite calendar app. Sunrise integrates with Google calendar (so it pulls in all of my Calendly appointments) and with Trello (so it shows when all of my deadlines are). Plus, it’s pretty and I can use it on my laptop and my phone. Boom!
I could use 30 productivity tools and still need more, but here are my favorite few.
NEWS FEED ERADICATOR:this Chrome extension hides your main Facebook feed completely. It makes me a little twitchy sometimes – that damn FOMO – but it’s a great way of preventing myself from spending ages scrolling through my feed.
SELF CONTROL:this is a goodie. It’s free, the idea is that you set it to block all sites that you tell it to block for however long you want. The catch is that you can’t access those sites again until either time runs out or you restart your computer.
MAILPLANE:I only use this on my desktop (I have Mailbox on my phone) but I’m definitely liking it. The selling factors for me were that it’s basically the normal Gmail web interface BUT you can easily have multiple accounts up at once and you just flip between tabs. SO useful if you have multiple email accounts.
SLACK:I’ve started using Slack for communication with some of my long term clients to cut down on the number of emails back and forth. Basically, it’s a dedicated chat room where we can have conversations (to replace the emails) and share files, and it’s all contained in one spot. So handy! I also use this with a couple mastermind groups to brainstorm and chat.
MAILCHIMP:these guys are tried and true, and there’s really nothing more fun than seeing that hairy monkey animation when you hit “schedule” or “send” on a newsletter, amirite?
I keep it pretty old school here, using the Instagram app, the FB website, and Pinterest app.
HOOTSUITEis the one 3rd party social app I do use, especially for scheduling Tweets, but even then I’m much more into using Twitter for real-time conversations.
MINTrecently replaced Wave for me for categorizing expenses, and I’m (attempting) to do things like budgeting and goal-setting in there too. Because it pulls transactions from multiple accounts, I have very few paper receipts that I ever have to deal with. Hooray!
8. Web Stuff
Like how descriptive that category is? Yeah.
CHROMEis my bae. I love Chrome. Plus I have Chrome extensions like Evernote, Adblock Plus, What the Font (very handy), Full Page Screen Capture (for screenshots of entire web pages) and Chromecast to make it even more powerful.
FILEZILLA (FTP): I highly recommend this for any of my designer or web-savvy biz friends if you need to be able to directly upload files to your web server. No frills, easy to get the hang of.
WORDPRESS + DIVI:Yup, this baby is built 100% on WordPress with the help of the Divi theme/framework (they call it a theme, I think of it more as a framework. Potato/potato.) Anyways, Divi has a lot of options so I wouldn’t recommend it for an absolute novice or technophobe, but if you’re already familiar with WordPress and are willing to poke around and follow tutorials? It’s definitely worth a shot. I’ve also been using Layers to build my shop, which is a slightly different variation on the same idea of a “visual” theme creator. Both are super flexible and made for WordPress.
PRODUCTHUNT: Ok, so it’s not software itself, but it’s worth mention. Producthunt is basically user-submitted leaderboards of amazing apps, resources, and websites for tech geeks and entrepreneurs. I’ve found some great apps + fun websites through there (and my Ultimate E-course Toolkit was even featured on there!)
BACKBLAZE:Do you have Backblaze (or a similar cloud-based automatic backup of your harddrive)? If not, get thee over to Backblaze and subscribe. Seriously. I’ve lost seen the aftermath of harddrive failures, I’ve had to replace computers without having a backup…it’s not pretty. Backblaze automatically syncs any and all updated files from your computer straight to your cloud-based account when you’re connected to the internet, no work required. Downloading backup files is easy to do, too. Trust me on this one.