On several occasions I have been asked what tools do I use for my website and my home office business. Here is an updated list which will hopefully inspire you to look into using some of these for your own online platform!
Now updated – 5 Sep 2015
I have two self hosted WordPress sites running on Windows Azure, hosted in Microsofts Western Europe data centre.
The database used by WordPress is ClearDB. With two live sites I have upgraded to the basic ClearDB subscription which costs about $9 per month. This gives me 1Gb of database; which for my needs is adequate.
To start with Azure I signed up for a free evaluation trial, after which I subscribed for a modest fee to ensure that my blog could be reached by my URL of choice. I have found the Azure platform reliable and with above average performance, I have no need to consider hosting anywhere else, but I am price sensitive and I realise that there are other providers which are cheaper.
My WordPress sites have several dozen plug ins to handle themes, backups, membership sites, eLearning etc. I have not listed these here as there are too many of them. If you want more information on this then let me know!
My gavinhalse.com domain is provided by NameCheap.com – a reasonable annual fee allows me to redirect www.gavinhalse.com to my WordPress blog on the Azure platform, as well as incoming e-mail messages to my Gmail account.
I have also registered several other domains with NameCheap including learn4keeps.com.
My company name is Absolute Perspectives and this domain is also with NameCheap, although I have passed control of this domain to Microsoft Office 365 because this is my primary mail service for business.
I love Canva (http://www.canva.com) which is a web hosted platform for creating really simple banner ads and promotional graphics. A typical sidebar ad is 300X300px which is very easy to create with professional templates.
I really enjoy a clever simple app for the Mac called ImageWell. With Imagewell you simply drop a graphic image onto the app and quickly resize and compress for web – my most useful graphics tool ever. I really need the services of a graphics guru – perhaps when I hit a million subscribers!
I used to use Keynote to generate my logos and develop brand elements. These are captured and resized using ImageWell. Most of my images are now created using Canva.
I have subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud which is intended for photographers mainly (and I use it mainly for my own pictures); but the Adobe tools are also very powerful in also creating book mockups and 3D prototypes. I find the user interface very complicated and not intuitive; so only use Adobe when necessary.
I have decided to subscribe to Shutterstock for images for my websites. As I move into Professional mode, I cannot take chances on copyright infringements. Shutterstock provides royalty free images for about $5 each for websites and blogs. In the scheme of things a business cannot afford to risk not being licensed for images used.
Since I joined Shutterstock I discovered DollarPhotoClub. Much more reasonably priced and a great selection as well.
This page is being edited using the native WordPress editor. Serves me well. The editor has improved with continued upgrades to WordPress.
When I really need to focus on writing only I enjoy using Byword (for the Mac). The benefit of Byword is its pure simplicity – the app is so simple and minimalist that you are simply forced to focus on the content of your post and not the bells and whistles. As an engineer I am easily distracted by bright and shiny things so the minimalist approach is the best for me.
I have also used Microsoft Word 2013 to post to my blog – the attempt went surprisingly smoothly and Word fully understood what I was trying to achieve with no fancy manipulation required. However I find Word too bloated for most of my needs nowadays. The complexity might be necessary for some; but I have managed to write very long documents without needing more than basic functionality.
For writing I have been using Scrivener. This takes some getting used to but it has been worth persevering. When writing a book it is not possible for me to write in a linear fashion (from start to end). Scrivener allows you to break up your content into sections that can be moved around with annotations and notes. Scrivener is only useful for writing text copy – graphics and diagrams are a bit of a headache because they have to be created separately. But at the end of the process Scrivener can produce your manuscript in the format needed by the publishing houses.
I prefer Powerpoint for designing business graphics. The Smart Art and other graphics tools in PowerPoint beat Keynote hands down. However I like the simplicity of Keynote for exactly that – Keynote presentations. Keynote for creative presentations, PowerPoint for technical presentations to Engineers.
I get frustrated with large file sizes in PowerPoint. Most of my presentations are graphic rich and I have yet to find a way to distribute smaller copies easily afterwards. Because I now present with my Macbook; I also find my native PowerPoint fonts are changed in the Apple environment and this wastes a great deal of time in preparing presentations and distributing them to people who run PowerPoint in Windows.
My favourite mail list tool is MailChimp. Works like a charm, and the version I am using is still free because I am still below the 2000 subscribers level.
Office 365 is my toolkit for serious business applications and Exchange+Outlook is my preferred mail service.
I have found the Google mail service limiting in handling multiple archives and folders to separate business and private mail. Because I effectively “work” for my own company; I need a separate mailbox for official correspondence that I am confident with in terms of retention, privacy and security. I use Gmail for two of my private e-mail addresses.
Office 365 provides multiple licences for Word, Excel and PowerPoint and this suites me perfectly since I run a number of virtual machines and need to licence the software properly.
Office 365 also provides a SharePoint service for team collaboration on projects.
When on the Mac I use Office 2011 for e-mail and PowerPoint. I really wish that Microsoft will update these versions because the new 2013 versions are far better. I am not convinced however that the other Mac mail clients are any better.
When working with partners I fit in with their platform of choice for collaboration. OTC use Google drive for collaboration and I must say it works very well in an environment where many people collaborate virtually on shared documents. Google also have a local cache server in South Africa so the performance is great!
Posting to social media
I have abandoned Nextscripts, and now use Buffer for scheduling posts to Linked-In, Twitter and Facebook. Buffer is a great app to schedule posts to happen while you are asleep (and the massive USA audience is awake!). You can also get statistics to measure what posts were noticed and clicked on etc.
I run a Mac with 24Gb RAM which also hosts a Windows desktop running in a VMWare fusion virtual machine. I have learned how to switch between the best of both words – Mac and PC using this setup.
I love the Apple Thunderbolt display – if only other Intel based hardware came with this quality monitor. I have two large displays. The quality of the Apple hardware is simply in its own class. Generally I manipulate graphics and write content on the Mac side (the more creative bits), and for productivity and sheer efficiency I use the Windows side. I am literate in both platforms so regularly find myself cutting and pasting between environments to get the best experience overall.
I also have several iPads, and an Apple Macbook Air. I also use a Windows 8 tablet by Acer (Icona) which has an incredibly crisp display.
Dropbox (I have a 1Tb drive in the cloud), Microsoft OneDrive (a 25Gb storage space and another 30Gb I think as part of Office365) and Google (I have access to a 30Gb drive on a project I am working on with OTC).
I use Dropbox for backup of my personal documents including photography and video. I use OneDrive for business documents and I use Google a special project I am busy with. My dropbox connection is slow, so backups can take days and on ADSL any upload slows the whole network down.
For interest, my personal music collection is on ITunes Match, all 22,000 tracks. I have also subscribed to Rdio and since then I hardly need my music collection unless I am on the road.
My desk has an imposing Microphone by Rode connected with XLR into a Behringer X1204 USB Mixer.
I recently purchased Camtasia for Mac and I am impressed so far.
Quick and cheerful – my iPhone. When I need more control I use a full frame Canon 6D – by far the best camera I have owned.
I use Handbrake to process and compress video for Youtube – works reliably for me. Videos are hosted on Vimeo
I use Afrihost and have a 10Mbps capped package, as well as a VOX Telecom capped account. I switch between the two because both become congested at times. Hoping for fibre in our area soon.
I have found Safari in the Mac environment perfect. Good handling of bookmarks between devices; excellent password autofill capability and other productivity enhancements. I also enjoy the ability to open multiple private windows, this allows me to log on to my various systems with multiple accounts and test each account and security context in a sandbox environment. I also appreciate the ability to zoom text on the web for readability and get a crisp result. In the windows world IE is my choice of course. I have not taken to Chrome yet; but I hear it is fast and reliable as well.
I abandoned One Note when I hit Microsofts little publicised limit back in 2010. At the time my notebooks became corrupted, out of sync and the experience was just ugh.
I tried Evernote and subsequently upgraded to the paid for edition. I love it – save all my documents in there and my office is now largely paper free.
My virtual mentor
I hold the work of Michael Hyatt in high regard. He is light years ahead of me in the social media space, and is generous with advice and tips. Much of what I have learned has been through his generosity on his blog at MichaelHyatt.com I also bought his book, “Platform” Get noticed in a noisy world” – very inspiring if what you really want is to work on your own terms.
Nothing beats a Pale Ale, brewed by yourself and lovingly crafted to get the creative side going. But thats another story…
Hope something above is of interest to you if you are an aspiring information entrepreneur like me. Let me know how your journey through the multitude of tools and platforms goes!