Category Archives: good times

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.
  • Join.me – If you need to share your screen with a client (or vice versa) to demo an app or discuss images, join.me 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

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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.”
I GOT 99 PROBLEMS BUT A HIPSTER BROGRAMMER AINT ONE.

Michelle Obama is a New Kind of Role Model

There’s a lot of discussion of the President lately – perhaps even more than usual. His birth certificate, the successful anti-OBL operation, the budget negotiations, etc. are all hot topics. There’s a lot to talk about, and that’s great, but I want to talk about Michelle Obama.

Since the inauguration, Michelle Obama has leveraged her position as first lady to work on issues she cares about, and in the process has become a new kind of role model for a new generation of women.

She’s assertive, complex and likable. She has pursued nonpartisan goals in a unifying way. She is professionally accomplished, both before and after the election. She is seriously funny, and knows when to undercut herself with a joke. Also, she can dance.

I’m 29. I grew up in the era of emerging female professional role models like Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. All of these women are accomplished in their own ways, but they leave no room for error. In themselves or in others. Their every appearance is well-planned and their images are created with care by a hundred sculptors. That generation – of iron women – seems successful because of an exterior and interior built on relentless commitment, extreme attention to detail and perfect execution.

I don’t want to be those women, because they scare me. It seems impossible to duplicate their success.

Michelle Obama seems balanced. She cares, she loves, she believes, and makes it all seem possible. I’m not denying the possibility that Michelle Obama is confidentially an iron woman. It’s possible. But what matters for the sake of this appreciative blog post is what kind of role model she is.

The First Lady exhibits balance, flexibility and kindness. Mrs. Obama has led efforts to make the White House a home for cultural, family and art events. She spends time with military families. Her “Let’s Move” initiative has successfully started a new kind of conversation: one about fitness, children’s health and returning our country to valuing real things and real food. From the Easter Egg Roll to the White House concert series, she has welcomed diverse families and voices into her environment.

So, I don’t just want to be her: I want to hang out with her. I want her to be my mentor. Maybe go out sometime for girls’ night.

Ultimately, Mrs. Obama stands out because she fills a hole in our saturated culture: She’s a lady. She takes old-fashioned values like respect, motherhood, good taste and excellent manners and brings them to the modern cultural context of valuing success, strength and accomplishment.

As a young professional woman, I usually don’t fit in anywhere. I’m not quite an adult: not a mommy, not an accomplished professional, not settled. But nor am I a coed anymore; I feel like I’ve grown out of some of the posts on Jezebel, and certainly all the articles in Cosmo.

It’s an awkward in-between time, where I lack a set path to follow. I’m on the cusp of being really grown-up, and I want to know that there are women who have found complex success and happiness. I want not just fashion models but serious role models who believe in a serious future for themselves, their families and our country.

Michelle Obama is a visible, reliable example of a woman with a heart and big piles of success that she’s built in her own way. Her example helps me find patience for myself.

Commitment to Civil Discourse

I commit to using this blog to talk about ideas and not about the people who have them.  I also promise that I will use epithets only kindly.

I will also try not to take myself too seriously.  That is why I will sometimes blog about the time I spilled a latte in my backpack, onto my laptop – thus turning my Macbook screen into an aquarium.

But I believe our country has reached a turning point where we must decide: Are we committed to taking each other seriously even if we disagree?  Also, what are our fundamental values?

I’m also interested in development issues and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life.  I’m probably going to blog about those issues every now and again.