Tools for Running Your Small Business

7494837030_4595747d3e_zGenerally, in this blog, I write about culture and politics. Today we’re taking a detour. I make my living online. As a freelance web content developer and project manager, my whole professional world is contained in my tiny little Macbook Air. I rely on web-based tools – very few of which I pay for – to organize content, communicate with clients efficiently, and track my productivity.

About once a week I find myself demoing one of my favorite tools for a friend or colleague. To save time, I’ve collected my favorite free tools – the ones I use daily – in one convenient post. Whether you’re just getting your small business of the ground or if you’re looking for the right tool to help you solve a problem, try my list of essential tools to decrease your budget and increase your productivity.

  • Evernote – This is the bibliography of my life. I use Evernote to organize research into separate virtual notebooks – including to-do lists, audio recordings, photos, text and website clippings. I keep my life, personal and professional, squirreled away in hundreds of notes that I search by keyword or tag to find what I need in an instant. 100% free, unless you want to explore sharing notes and some of their other robust business features.
  • Google – Everyone knows about Gmail and Google Maps, but there are a variety of less appreciated Google tools – and tips and tricks for using them.
    • Calendar – Sure, you know you can make multiple calendars, sync them with your phone and manage your schedule with them. But do you make public calendars you can share with your clients displaying your availability for meetings or projects? Or you can elect to share just your free/busy information from your primary calendar, to keep things simple.
    • Voice – Stop using multiple phone numbers (home, home office, cell) right now with Google Voice. Set up one phone number that can be answered anywhere and forwarded to more than one phone number. Make calls from within your Gmail window. Basic services are free, calling internationally costs money.
    • Drive –  You’ve probably experimented with using Drive (perhaps better known as Google Docs) for creating and collaborating on documents, spreadsheets and perhaps presentations. But Drive is also great as a rudimentary file sharing system – you can upload PDFs, images and other files to share with colleagues or clients. Organize content into separate folders, designating some for sharing with specific people.
    • Now – Google Now is a new and little-known app for your phone – once you configure it for your needs, it will send you notifications about traffic on your way to work, scores for your favorite teams, reminders about tasks, flight on-time status and points of interest in your surroundings. While I enjoy Now for travel, it is also very convenient to know if there’s unusual traffic on my way to a meeting.
  • Mailchimp – If your distribution list is under 2,000 subscribers, it’s free to create templates and signup forms, manage your list and send regular mail. Keep your clients up-to-date, share information with your network and publicize your efforts with clean and professional looking emails.
  • Dropbox – If you are creating, managing or sharing a large number of files, Dropbox is your go-to tool to share, store and organize your files. To keep yourself in the “free” limits of Dropbox, move files in and out of your Dropbox folders as you need them.
  • Rapportive – This is a great tool you can add to Gmail so that you can view snippets from your contact’s social network profiles as you are viewing your correspondence with them. Excellent for helping you tailor your email to the audience.
  • Boomerang – Statistics show that there are good and bad times of the day to send emails, depending on your goals and audience. If you want to make sure your emails reach your clients at the best time, use Boomerang to schedule your “send” times.
  • Doodle – Do you feel a little bit dead inside everytime you get an email asking you for your availability for a group meeting or conference call? Train your colleagues and clients to use Doodle to take a poll of participants to determine an optimal meeting time among a large group of people.
  • – If you need to share your screen with a client (or vice versa) to demo an app or discuss images, will get your screen in their browser in seconds. You can switch presenters, pass control back and forth and either use their conference line or their VOIP app. The free tool is relatively full-featured.
  • Screenr – Interested in quickly making screen capture videos with voice narration? Screenr is a web-based tool that enables you to make five minute videos and publish them to YouTube instantly. This is a super simple way to capture and share your ideas.
  • Lastpass – Never again waste an iota of your brainspace on passwords. Let Lastpass catalog all of your passwords, and use the browser extension to enter usernames and passwords for all the different sites you use. For extra security, let Lastpass generate super-complex passwords for your accounts as you set them up.

Surely I’ve forgotten some great apps and ideas – please share your favorites and I’ll wait for that “shattering glass” moment as I discover the tool I didn’t even know I needed.

Image credit: eduArd on Flickr


Vibrant Localism

photoThe first time I noticed was in San Antonio. I was there for a wine festival, and as I made my way from my hotel downtown to a venue in the outer rings, I saw a Chili’s, and a Home Depot, and a Target. Freeway signs, and lots of cars. I forgot where I was.

Maybe I was tired, but I couldn’t see anything that made San Antonio any different than parts of Los Angeles, where I grew up, or northern California where I was living at the time. It all looked the same. I lost my place – not just what exit I needed to take to get to the tasting but what city was I in? Where did I go?

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s – I grew up in the boom of the big box stores and mega-chains and the appreciation of consistency. “If I go to this Chili’s in San Antonio, it will be the same as any other Chili’s anywhere else!” And that, for the moment, seemed like a good thing.

But when there’s nothing left that’s different – nothing left that’s unique – where do you belong? What’s there to remember? What do you call yourself when someone asks where you’re from? You get lost on freeways.

This country didn’t used to be so uniform. As a little kid, I visited Boonviille – a small town in northern California, where I had the best ice cream ever. Boonville has its own language:

Boontling is a folk language spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. Although based on English, Boontling’s unusual words are unique to Boonville, California. Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish, also influenced the vocabulary of the language.[1] Boontling was invented in the late 19th century and had quite a following at the turn of the 20th century. It is now mostly spoken only by aging counter-culturists and native Anderson Valley residents. Because the town of Boonville only has a little over 700 residents, Boontling is an extremely esoteric dialect, and is quickly becoming archaic. It has over a thousand unique words and phrases.
Boontling, Wikipedia

Boontling arose from its place. With trails of languages from Native American and immigrant groups, it reflected the unique people, place and time special to Boonville. How do we keep Boontling alive? How do we tell these singular stories?

Hoping for the Vibrantly Local

I think Portlandia is the indicator that a tide is turning. People are turning on their TVs to watch quirky skits about a city that has an identity. We’re making choices that reject the bland, the repetitive, the big box in order to invest in the things that set us apart.

“Local” is trendy, but if local means gentrification of spaces where affordable housing is needed, or inflating prices for fresh food, or reliance on transportation to access specific services, then we are building a localism based on class. We’re invading others’ spaces to reinforce a new localism that further excludes already marginalized groups.

If we care about fairness and inclusivity, the solution is a localism that makes towns, places, communities more stable, that keeps people supported and loved where they already are (if that’s where they wish to be). This is a call to reflect – on bringing your time, attention and money to your community. To speaking out if you can or wish to, to inviting others to do so, and to listening when they do. Invest in your community by listening to the folks who are already there. Majora Carter says it best in her Twitter bio: You don’t have to leave your neighborhood to live better!

This is an ode to vibrant localism, to lively communities, to neighbors who know one another and to what makes us unique, different and separate. This is a beginning.

Bring back the moderates (and celebrate compromise)

No matter what election results you’re rejoicing or bemoaning, there’s a lot to mourn. In the last decade, we have seen many great moderates lose primary or general elections or simply walk away from their (sometimes long-held) electoral offices.

  • Olympia Snowe
  • Richard Lugar
  • Arlen Spector
  • Lincoln Chafee
  • Scott Brown

Lisa Murkowski, another fabulous, smart, thoughtful representative, barely held on to her Senate seat in 2010 after losing the primary election to a tea party candidate.

Everyone bears responsibility, but for the last year or two it feels like the Republican definition of compromise looks a little bit like this:

the McConnell compromise

Republicans are guilty of eschewing compromise – and their thoughtful moderate representatives –  in favor of more ardent, extreme politics. Toeing a party line preferred largely by a narrow base has become more important than getting things done.

The results? The paralysis of the last 4 years. Pending sequestration. A borderline Stormtrooper v. Rebel Alliance relationship between our two major parties. Complete dysfunction.

This harsh election season has been divided not on issues, but on lines of class, ethnicity and gender. White men voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney, and almost every other group voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. This is an America where everyone feels left out.

Etching these lines of division even deeper won’t make anyone feel better – it’ll just make us angrier – and it won’t help us get anything done. We need a politics of compromise – not of anyone’s core principles, but of our short-term goals. We need to understand that compromise is no sin – it’s a cornerstone of change. We need the bridge-makers who cross party-lines in favor of common sense.

I suggest we commit the next four years to these basic kindergarten principles: Problem-solving, compromise and no name-calling. Leaders like Chris Christie and Mike Bloomberg are setting a new tone, where “red lines” about social issues don’t prevent their ability to be practical when it’s in their constituents’ interests. I never thought I would put these words together, but Governor Christie’s quote from this week captures the spirit we should embody:

“I don’t give a damn about Election Day. It doesn’t matter a lick to me  at the moment. I’ve got bigger fish to fry,” a solemn Christie told  reporters during a morning briefing in which he outlined the damage from  Sandy.
Chris Christie says Sandy first: ‘I don’t give a damn about Election Day’ – Andrew Restuccia (

We’ve all got bigger fish to fry – wars to end, a deficit to address, healthcare and education to improve – it’s time to leave today’s politics behind in favor of a practical, action-oriented politics of compromise.

On the Huffington Post: SXSW Struggles with Women, Bullying & Tech

Super proud to share that the Huffington Post has published a piece I wrote about sessions I attended at SXSW:

SXSW Struggles with Women, Bullying & Tech


Image credit: Julia Manzerova on Flickr

Building Human Rights into Social Networks #SXsafesocial

  1. The panel “How to Build a Social Network without Getting Users Killed” had a sensationalist-sounding title, but one founded in real concerns. Citizens are becoming citizen journalists, using social and online tools to share real-time information from breaking events. The Arab Spring revolutions became known as Twitter and Facebook revolutions because of the visible role those tools played as accelerators of existing sentiment and action. With this great scale and usage, social network platforms play a key role as a broker of access to information and access to ways to share information.

    But that power is tempered by networks that weren’t necessarily built to play a role in advocacy, and can easily be  manipulated by actors motivated to repress information, expression and ideas. Panelists Jillian York (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Ahmed Shibab-Eldin (Huffington Post), Danny O’Brien (Committee to Protect Journalists) and Sam Gregory (WITNESS) discussed the ways social networks have been manipulated, and what ways they can change to avoid manipulation in the future.
    With a veritable who’s who of the Twitter journalist corps in the room, the session was live-tweeted in detail. 
  2. Share
    The idea that one can bully a company into removing your content really irks me @jilliancyork #sxsafesocial
  3. York opened the discussion with a core idea: Companies can be bullied, manipulated and used to repress information, although, in a sense they are becoming communications utilities.
  4. Share
    During important time in Egypt, @jilliancyork says, @Ghonim page was taken down because he was anonymous. #sxsw #safesocial
  5. Share
    Why was @jilliancyork blog blocked by Yemen? Because her posts were spammed by pornographers. #safesocial #sxsw
  6. Share
    York: community policing is vulnerable to abuse for political purposes. Likely example of Moroccan athiest FB page removed. #sxsafesocial
  7. Facebook got a lot of (negative) attention not just because they are one of the most widely used tools but because of concerns about lack of transparency, inadequate response to user concerns and slow adaptation to needs of international users.
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    .@jilliancyork: Facebook’s TOS is in 11 languages, but it’s not enough. It’s not in Arabic, for example. #sxsafesocial
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    York: I pick on Facebook because they’ve been resistant to listening to complaints and concerns from users. #sxsafesocial
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    York: Even though I’m not totally satisfied with Google’s #nymwars response, it showed they actually listened. #sxsafesocial
  11. Both panelists and listeners defended the social networks in one sense – they weren’t built to play pivotal roles in civil discourse. They were built by college students in dorm rooms trying to make it easier to keep up with their friends. They aren’t prepared for attacks from state level actors.
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    #sxsafesocial state level actors now try attacking facebook, google, etc.
  13. Share
    at #sxsafesocial foreign govts love targeted phishing operations against activists
  14. Share
    Comment from @techsoc: some problems are just issues of scale. Platforms don’t have enough staff to address millions of users. #sxsafesocial
  15. A lot of the negative outcomes are the result of mistaken applications or abuse of spam policies.
  16. Share
    “algorithmic collateral damage” – algorithms aren’t built to detect human rights violations @danny_at_cpj #sxsafesocial
  17. As journalists adapt to their roles as curators and organizers of shared information, they will be targeted by actors seeking to repress information.
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    O’Brien: you’re going to see more regimes going after data journalists because they’re the ones with the deepest knowledge. #sxsafesocial
  19. So what change is needed? Software developers need to understand that the decisions they make (perhaps in dorm rooms) may have future implications for human rights. Gregory in particular argued that communication and outreach needs to occur between the developer world and the human rights communities, to make sure human rights are “baked in” on the front end. 
  20. Share
    Designing for human rights and privacy needs to be embedded in developer mindset #sxsafesocial
  21. Share
    Are there ways to create a campaign to make tech wake up to privacy, rights, to leverage change? #SXsafesocial
  22. Share
    #sxsafesocial we should base our terms of service on the UN declaration of human rights.
  23. Share
    Audience comment: Many western CEOs and engineers are unaware that human rights violations are occurring on their platform. #sxsafesocial
  24. Journalist Brian Conley disrupted some of the assumptions underlying the conversation by pointing out that assumptions about working with software terms of service are based on typical American TOS. 
  25. Share
    Ht @BaghdadBrian: has anyone reviewed tos of social networks across countries? #sxsafesocial
  26. Finally, collaboratively created notes from the session are available on Google Docs. 
  27. Share
    Notes from today’s #sxsafesocial session: #sxsw

Jay-Z at SXSW: I’m funded and I’m stealth and my series A is a go

I told my brother Lucas J Meeker that I was seeing Jay Z at SXSW (long story, thanks American Express!) and I got this GENIUS in my inbox:

Now the year is ’12 and my start up is raw
In my iPhone reflection is a code ninja.
I got two choices y’all, pull out a card or,
Pounce on his LinkedIn, check in on FourSquare, friend him on Facebook, follow him on Path, send him a TextPlus, and Instagram me thumbs-upping and post that shit on his wall.
Now I ain’t trying to see no location based start up with Jake,
plus I got a few dollars and I can offer options to make my case.
So I, pull over to the South by Southwest Tech panel on how to brocode,
and hear, “Son do you know what I’m Pythoning you for?”
Cuz I’m funded and I’m stealth and series A is a go?
Do I look like Facebook, sir, I DON’T CODE.
Should I post on your wall or tweet hashtag SXSW some more?
“Well, you was networking at a panel on hipster whores.
Twitter handle, Southby badge, and step off of the floor,
into a stealth hipster coffee bar to talk some more.
Are you carrying a company card I know a lot of you A rounders are?”
I ain’t steppin outta shit without posting to my Path about it.
“Do you mind if ask about your idea on Quora a bit?
Well my ideas amazing and so is the app, and I know my rights so I’m gonna NDA that.
“Arent you sharp as a tack are you some kinda venture fund person?”
Nah, I aint cashed out hard, but I know a little bit, enough not to get jacked by a hipster keyboard jockey bitch.
“Well we’ll see how smart you are when the Facebook recruiters come.”

Update on Unrest in Mali

  1. Share
    Was at #Niger #Mali border today: thousands of Malian refugees survive in makeshift shelters. Fear returning to unsafe #Azawad Mali region
  2. Share
    #Malian#refugee Zoulfa in #Ayorou, #Niger:”Several armed men entered our village in #Mali & stole everyth. We fled w our children, cattle”
  3. UNHCR reports that more than 44,000 people have fled fighting into neighboring countries Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  4. Like populations in many other Sahel countries, Malians are particularly vulnerable in times of civil unrest because they already live a subsistence lifestyle – without reserves of food or funds. As they enter similar subsistence economies in neighboring Sahel countries, they put additional strains on limited resources.

  5. Share
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  7. The violence is also putting strain on democratic institutions in Mali. According to Amnesty International, the Malian government is both arresting suspected Tuareg participants without due process and failing to protect Tuareg people threatened during protests in Bamako, the capital:

    “During the demonstrations, the Malian security forces failed to prevent an angry mob from attacking homes and properties owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups – including Arabs and Mauritanians – living in the capital.”  
  8. Violence is spreading out of the Sahara and into the Sahel. Yesterday, armed groups entered Hombori, in Central Mali, and killed the village chief. While some reports attribute the violence to Tuareg rebels, others attribute the murder to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is also active in northern Mali. 
  9. Meanwhile, Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure has announced that the scheduled presidential elections in April will go forward, despite the violence.