Last week, my computer crashed.
Have you ever had one of those "Oh ****!" moments?
Well this was it for me.
I run my entire business from my computer, so this was like finding my office space burned to the ground. To make matters worse, I am in the Philippines and the internet here is basically nonexistent.
Not a good feeling.
While this could have been one of those freak-out moments, I took a breath and evaluated the situation: What exactly was broken and what wasn't?
Sure, I had to do a hard reboot of my computer and I lost all my files...but I had everything backed up on an external hard drive (and a second backup to the cloud), so I was able to get back up and running in a few days. At the same time, I received thousands of hits to my website and hundreds of new subscribers to The Resistance Broadcast. I simultaneously sold several hundred dollars worth of books from my online book store.
Basically, everything I had built these past three years had continued to operate without me.
This is not something I take for granted, but I'm also not lucky - I put a lot of time and energy into making sure everything I build can operate without me. A big part of this was researching the right tools for the job...
That's why today I want to share over a dozen business apps that allow me to not only automate the majority of my business (so it can work even if I'm not there), but apps that allow me to work from anywhere in the world.
Make sure to leave a comment when you finish this article and let me know what business apps YOU use for your business.
1. Manage multiple projects virtually
Business App of Choice: Trello.com
Trello is a simple, powerful, free project management tool. Trello helps me organize and manage multiple projects, whether solo or collaboratively (the ability to tag team members in individual cards keeps conversations out of my inbox, which is a must). I organize projects within trello using a lean manufacturing project management layout (Kanban), which helps me keep track of what I've shipped, what I'm working on, what's in the chute, and misc backlog ideas.
Here's an example:
If you're interested in how to structure your business projects in Trello, this blog post by WPCurve.com says it better than I could.
2. Stay on top of everything
Business App of Choice: Todoist.com
Do you ever feel like there are a million and one things you need to do every day, but you struggle with remembering, prioritizing, and / or executing on them?
Thanks to Todoist I can jot down important to-dos on the fly, tag the task to a project and a person (even if that person is just me), set a due date and forget. Todoist also has the ability to prioritize items by color (handy for quick reference and to determine your critical path for a project) and create multiple levels of subtasks, which makes big to-do items manageable.
While apps like Trello and Evernote and Hackpad have built in checklist features, I've found a standalone app for to-do items to be uniquely valuable so i don't have to jump into and out of multiple programs, which would get convoluted and annoying very quickly.
3. Capture every idea (never forget anything)
Business App of Choice: Evernote.com
Capturing random tasks on a to-do list is important but sometimes you need space for bigger thoughts. Enter: Evernote.
Evernote is a memory organization tool that let's me capture thoughts on the fly, save and highlight websites (say if I want to reverse engineer a sales page for a new project), take pictures and screen captures and annotate them from my phone or computer, and much more. Best of all, it seamlessly syncs with all my devices, so I never forget anything.
I'm currently writing a new book and using Evernote not only as a research tool (to save all my notes, references, and sources in one spot) but also as an outline, wireframe, and rough draft development tool. Here's what that looks like:
I'll update the resistance broadcast subscribers on how this goes when I get closer to completion.
4. Collaborate with people from around the planet
Business App of Choice: Hackpad.com
I work on a lot of collaborative projects. This means I need reliable collaborative word processing software. While I love Word (true story) it's ineffective for collaborative work: save, send, open, edit, save new edition, send back...wash, rinse, repeat.
This process is convoluted and painfully inefficient.
That's why I use Hackpad for collaborative projects. Hackpad lets me co-create a document with others, has a beautiful interface, is incredibly easy to use, and I love its checklist presentation.
Hackpad is useful when you need more room for brainstorming and notes than Todoist, but less features and complexity than Trello.
Honorable Mention: Google Docs
Google Docs can do just about everything that Hackpad can use but I just prefer the Hackpad interface (easier to use and easier on the eyes).
5. Backup everything
Business App of Choice: Dropbox.com
My computer recently crashed while I was traveling + working in the Philippines. Because I run my businesses from my laptop, this is a major setback.
Luckily, I backup all my important files on Dropbox, which saves them to the cloud so I can access them from anywhere. So while I waited for my computer to reboot, I was able to download key files to another computer so my current projects didn't take much of a hit.
What could have been a disaster ended up a mere hiccup because of Dropbox. If you don't use it, you should.
Honorable mention: Google Drive
While I find the Dropbox interface and integration way better than Google Drive for file storage and backing up data, Google Drive is much easier to use for managing and sharing collaborative documents and folders. I use them both.
6. Setup a virtual store front
Business App of Choice: Newrainmaker.com
Newrainmaker is the content management system, web hosting, all-in-one solution I use for Tommorkes.com.
I recently switched from self-hosting Tommorkes.com on Webfaction.com to Copyblogger's new, all-in-one website solution (I still use Webfaction for all my other websites). Newrainmaker includes: website hosting, podcast hosting, https security (so i can safely and securely sell products on my site), the ability to create a membership site, build out password protected courses, with powerful analytics software baked in (I haven't even scratched the surface of this just yet).
Oh, and it looks great and loads much faster than my old site.
What's not to like?
While it's not cheap by any means, because it had so many features built in, it's very much a platform that will scale with me, and the customer support is top notch, which saves me hours a week on tech issues that used to drive me nuts.
7. Stay in contact with your customers
Business App of Choice: Mailchimp.com
Mailchimp is what I use to stay in contact with the 3,000+ members of The Resistance. Mailchimp is an email marketing service that is powerful, flexible, and cheap (free for the first 2,000 subscribers).
With Mailchimp, I can do all sorts of advanced segmentation (in case I want to send a message exclusively to people who opted in for a specific book or product of mine), create autoresponder sequences (in case I want to deliver free email ecourses like my course on pay what you want pricing), and it's integrated with just about every piece of software I use.
If you're just starting out, I highly recommend Mailchimp.com.
8. Sell a product in seconds
Business App of Choice: Gumroad.com
Gumroad is a beautiful, painlessly easy eCommerce solution that I use to sell just about everything. If you check out the cache you'll see dozens of books, guides, and resources available for purchase (the majority of them are pay what you want, which is just another neat feature they have seamlessly built into the platform).
While some of these products took me months to create, Gumroad allowed me to start selling them within minutes. Just a few examples:
Notes from Seth Godin's Revolution Conference
The Bootstrapper's Guide to Fast and Effective Project Management
The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing: How You Can Share Your Work and Still Make a Profit
If you're looking to find a simple, intuitive eCommerce solution, I can't recommend Gumroad enough.
Honorable Mention: Paypal.com
While I use Gumroad for digital products, I like to use Paypal for any type of consulting invoicing. Like Gumroad, it's incredibly easy to use and it's becoming more and more common (thus trusted).
9. Automate your entire business
Business App of Choice: Zapier.com
Zapier is an API automation service, which is codes or for: it let's me do all sorts of crazy, MacGyver-esque tricks with the just about all the software and apps mentioned here.
Want to turn all your Gumroad book purchases into Mailchimp email subscribers? Done.
Want every new task in Trello to auto-populate Google Calendar based on its due date? Too easy.
The point is, if you'd like two pieces of software to play nice together, Zapier lets you do it (limited only by your creativity).
10. Create any kind of webpage (sales page, splash page, lead capture page) in 37 seconds
Business App of Choice: Leadpages.net
Leadpages integration is the reason I was able to increase my subscriber list by over 500% this year (adding over 2,000 people to my newsletter in 2014 alone).
Leadpages is a multi-functional piece of software best known for its simple landing page creation and deployment tools (check out my "7 days to bestseller" live training workshop page as an example), but more recently they launched Leadbox, which lets me create optin forms that will automatically deliver digital products upon sign up.
So lets say you want to give people the first chapter of your book for free. With Leadpages, you can create a Leadbox (takes about 4 minutes), copy and paste the link on your website, and when people click on it and enter their email, they'll either be rerouted to a special page you have setup or they'll receive the free chapters in their inbox (you decide how to deliver it).
You now have a new newsletter subscriber and a delighted customer. This is single handedly the best method for building an email list as a writer / author / publisher (with more advanced techniques including free e courses or other bonuses do opting in...but that's another blog post).
Honorable Mention: Optimizepress.com
11. Make calls to and from anywhere in the world
Business App of Choice: Skype.com
Skype lets me call anywhere in the world for free or a marginal cost. I pay less than $100 per year and I can make unlimited calls to the US (phone or computer) and unlimited international (skype to skype), plus calls to international cell phones and landlines for a marginal fee.
I use Skype for coaching and consulting and to record all my podcasts using Skype + evaer.com.
Honorable mention: Google Hangout
Google Hangout is a perfectly acceptable way to make videos calls, but they're not as clear and recording is a little trickier.
12. Keep track of time
Business App of Choice: Toggl.com
It's easy to be distracted when you're self employed and the only one who cracks the whip is you. The best way I've found to control my impulse to YouTube Kishi Bashi and watch live music videos for hours on end is to track my time. The simple act of setting a task for yourself, clicking record has, and watching the seconds tick by is enough to get the biggest procrastinator moving.
An example of what my time clock looks like for 2014:
If you're just starting out, don't even worry about being more efficient or focused or whatever. Just track your time honestly and judgement free. Within a week, without even "holding your feet to the fire" or building more willpower, you'll naturally begin to focus more on the task at hand and think twice before hitting record to watch Manchester live just one more time.
13. Get everything done
Business App of Choice: Idonethis.com
Toggl automatically creates daily, weekly, and monthly snapshots of where you've spent your time, but it doesn't necessarily tell you what you've shipped.
I use idonethis.com, a simple, free app that sends me an email every evening asking me what I did today. This is the moment of truth when I can either write down what I shipped that day or feel bad about myself and vow to do more tomorrow.
14. Never miss an appointment
Business App of Choice: Scheduleonce.com
I've spent the past year and a half vagabonding around the world while I built Insurgent Publishing and co-founded High Speed Low Drag. Because I travel, I'm constantly changing timezones. This can be a huge pain when it comes to organizing my calendar and especially painful when it comes to scheduling or coordinating conference calls, virtual meetings, etc.
That's why I use Scheduleonce.com, which let's me identify times I'm available and automatically adjusts for timezone changes. This combined with Google Calendar and I'm always aware of what calls I need to make / events I need to take part in and when.
What Business Apps Do You Use?
So these are just a few of the primary business apps I use for my virtual business. How about you?
Every business is different and requires different tools for the trade. Leave a comment below and let us know what business apps you use that you couldn't live without.
The best post ever. A testimony from the front lines trumps any other recommendation.
Awesome, Tom! I just booked my tickets for a 4 month stay overseas, so this article comes right in time. Thanks so much for the valuable info! "See" you on the Collaborate course!
Thanks Anne! Where are you headed overseas?
Great post Tom, like the ones with to do stuff. Appreciate you writing.
Thanks Joe - noted!
Really good list.
I love and use Dropbox but I don't consider it a backup service. It syncs files so if you happen to delete something in the local dropbox folder it deletes it everywhere. Crashplan would be an example of a backup solution.
Donnie - good call. What's funny is I used Crashplan ALSO...but when it came time to get my biz stuff up and running, everything was on Dropbox and because Crashplan had 500 GB, it would have taken too long to fully restore abroad...Dropbox was better in this instance for me as it's where I keep business and working files.
What do you use for a customer database (CRM)?
Does it integrate with your other tools?
I use Contactually and really enjoy it so far...I use it for book marketing and managing membership sites. It integrates fairly well with Gmail, Mailchimp, and Zapier (so you can basically do whatever you want with it).
Do you use one or are you in the market? Happy to share more details - let me know!
Great post, Tom! I also like Carbonite. It backs up all of my data files to the cloud automatically either on a schedule or as they're changed -- your choice.
Cassandra - thanks! Heard of this and will check it out (although I assume its like crashplan, so I may already be covered).
Tom, great post. Some apps not heard before like Toggl. Will be using that for sure, maybe it might deter me from going for another swim in the ocean where I am right now, in a beach front hotel 🙂
The one tool I use that I would recommend for writing, planning and blogging, book writing or any writing project is Scrivener. Its not an app but software and it helps you get organised as you write, it has so many features which are too many to list here. (I am flabbergasted to hear you use Word!) sorry Tom but I hate it, so bulky and slow, have been spoilt with Scrivener.
The app for finding your documents is Alfred. Brilliant little light weight web tool/computer tool that sits on your tool bar and you just click on the "hat" icon to get it to open and tap in what you are wanting to find, it finds with accuracy exactly what you want most of the time. Constantly use this.
Awesome Jane! Scrivener and Alfred are now on my list to get (Scrivener has been for a while but once I uncorked the power of Word it's been hard for me to switch to anything else).
Very nice list!
I like it, will check out the apps.
Hey Tom -
Great post. I've used Trello, but am having better luck with Asana now. Definitely just a matter of personal preference on you manage your projects.
I just started using MeetEdgar a few months ago, but it has made growing my twitter followers super easy. Definitely a new product that i've really loved so far!
Tony - good call. It's all about how it works with whatever style business you have...for me, when it comes to digital products (creating, shipping, etc.) I find the structure of Trello powerful. Will definitely check out Asana though.
MeetEdgar - never heard of it...what does it do exactly? Will check it out, thanks for sharing!
Love tech but I'm overwhelmed. I need to organize and make my life simpler but there is so much. Not sure where to start.
Debbie, don't get overwhelmed...all of these are secondary to doing great work. if you're overwhelmed, start with the core of what you're working on and what hurdles you're experiencing.
Many of these apps are only useful if you struggle in these areas (Scheduleonce, for example).
Let me know if I can help.
Great article! This is one of the most complete list I've found so far. I'd like to share with you a tool that I am currently using and which helps me to stay focused and have all my productivity software in one place. I'm a freelancer copywriter and I've been traveling the world for 2 years now! Timeneye (www.timeneye.com) is my daily companion - it's a simple time tracking tool which integrates with Basecamp (I use it for my to do lists) and Google Calendar (I use to schedule Skype calls with my clients and other important meetings). Now I don't have to manage my time using different softwares but it's all in one!
Solid recommendation Jamie, thank you. Checking this out to see if it can connect to Trello (maybe with a bit of Zapier power it can do just that).
I use their Chrome extension.. try google "Timeneye Chrome Extension" and you should be able to find it.
Tom, I came across a site that supports your theme of working anywhere in the world. The site is http://www.nomadlist.com - the best cities in the world for digital nomads to live & work remotely. It shows local internet speeds, area cost of living, temps, and other good info.
John, love it! Thanks so much for the share...I have been tempted to start something like this just for myself and my own needs - love that someone has beaten me to the punch.
Wow some fantastic tools here some of them l have not heard about yet at all.
Have you already left Philippines yet Tom? What part of the Philippines did you try to get internet?
I have a few project team members from there also my lovely dearest wife if from there so l know a little about the country now.
Brian, great stuff. I was in Manila, then we went north to Sagada, and then to Bohol. The only place I found reasonable wifi was at a coworking space in Manila (3Mbps on average...pretty rough).
Really Interesting list! I am currently looking for tools to facilitate my remote developer's team and that list really helped! I am testing Comidor at the moment, which is not listed here but I will totally take a look at your suggestions! Thanks a lot!
Awesome, thanks Nicole!
I recently discovered http://www.grammerly.com for quick and reliable editing / proofreading of all my various research projects - and its an app on my Chrome browser, waiting for me to Click whenever I'm ready to be "corrected"!
The trial version is adequate, but after writing a very lengthy article with citations, I can appreciate how much horsepower the Pro Version offers. Give it a SPIN, Tom.