I love great apps and am always on the lookout for new software that can help me save time and make me work more efficiently. This is the list of the indispensable tools that I use to run my site and that I highly recommend. Majority are free. I am a fan of the open-source philosophy and use open-source tools when possible. I use a Mac so some of these might be Mac only.
- MacBook Air – I’m a Mac. My MacBook Air 13-inch late 2010 version is my primary workstation. It is very light, tiny, fast and it just works. It also has a decent camera and mic that I use for videos.
- iPad – When I’m on the road and want to travel very light I use an iPad 3rd generation for everything. There’s a nice WordPress iOS app for example. I do find that I work much slower on an iPad and focus more on consumption rather than creation of content, so lately I’ve been trying to minimize my iPad usage. I’m thinking that MacBook Air 11-inch display might be the all-in-one machine for my hardware needs.
- Kindle – I use my Kindle to read whenever I have some free minutes. I read a lot and use the highlighting feature to note some interesting ideas and stories. I just use the basic e ink Kindle display as I find that it helps me read without putting too much strain on my eyes. Reading on an iPad, despite being presented very beautifully, strains my eyes.
- WordPress – I just love WordPress and use it for all my content publishing needs. I do all my writing within the WordPress post editor. WordPress is simple to use, yet a very advanced tool too. See how to get started with WordPress.I currently have seven plugins activated on this blog to help me add extra functionality, but I also use a variety of other plugins on other sites I’m running. This is the full list of plugins I like.
- Bluehost – WordPress needs a domain name and hosting in order for you to have your site accessible to the world. Bluehost is the WordPress recommended provider of these.
- Genesis Framework – To get a better and more unique looking site I use a premium theme from Genesis. They have a wide range of great theme designs.
- Piwik – For tracking visitor data. I monitor analytics daily to measure how my content and my marketing routine are performing. Mainstream version of this is Google Analytics.
- TweetDeck – I prefer TweetDeck for my Twitter use. It gives me a better overview of several lists and searches that I do. It also knows what tweets I have seen last time so it doesn’t show those tweets again. 10 more useful Twitter specific apps are here.
- Feedly – For subscribing to feeds and following different sites. I don’t subscribe to many sites anymore (I use Twitter lists instead), but for a handful of sites that don’t publish very often and/or don’t have Twitter feeds I check here.
- Time Out – Staring at the screen for long hours does not feel too good. I use this to take 20 second breaks from the screen every 20 minutes. I try and close my eyes for those 20 seconds or look at something that is not a screen.
- Self Control – Sometimes I do find myself mindlessly browsing the web. I use Self Control to block sites that waste my time. Using this has actually made me more focused as I no longer need it that much as I have stopped typing Facebook.com or similar at any possible time.
Visuals and other imagery
- iPhoto – For keeping all my pictures nicely organized. I use a lot of my own images in my content so this is very nice way to keep track of them all. I also like the option to “Enhance” a photo which is a very simple way of getting a better picture without any manual editing.
- Preview – For basic image editing like adding notes, cutting and resizing. When saving it also compresses the size of images for faster load on the web. Also helps me merge and rearrange PDF files.
- Gimp – For all the more advanced image editing needs I have like creating graphics and adding text and text overlays to my images. It’s kind of like Photoshop, just open-source and free.
- Flickr Creative Commons – In some posts where I don’t use my own images I use Flickr to find pictures that I am free to use on my own site.
Screencasts and other videos
- Screenflow – I use this to record my computer screen when I do instructional videos and other how-to screencasts. Quicktime is a simple and free alternative. It comes with your Mac, does the basics but you might miss couple of advanced features.
- OmniDazzle – I use this to draw shapes and to write on my screen. Very useful in order to create better presentations and screencasts.
- Keynote – I’m using this to create presentation slides when I need to present something. These presentation can be uploaded to Slideshare and you can even create screencasts of them. I also use it to create simple graphs and table images.
- iMovie – Simple app that is easy to use but has some very professional looking video editing features. I use this when I am editing video footage.
- Simplenote – I keep my notes, book highlights, post drafts and other ideas in here. Simplenote is where I keep my ideas doc.
- Flycut – Clipboard manager that saves and allows easy access for multiple cut-and-paste texts so I never get rid of something by mistake.
- TextWrangler – For editing the CSS of my pages and all the other coding/FTP needs like the IP address block I have on my WordPress install.
Browser and extensions
- Firefox – If I’m not using one of the apps, I am usually doing all the work in Firefox. Most of my day actually is spent in Firefox.
- AdBlock Edge – This is so good. It blocks all the ads on all the pages that I browse. Even blocks ads like those pre-rolls you see on Youtube. This is the real banner blindness and every should have it on.
- Rapportive – Browser extension that sits next to your Gmail email and tells you more details about the person you are in the conversation with.
- Skype – For meetings (when really necessary) and other video/voice calls online. Have recently started using Google Hangouts as an alternative.
- Google Mail – My emails, contact form submissions and all the other mail communication happens in here.
- Cyberduck – For all the FTP file uploading needs to my web server.
It’s not all about the tools, it’s about ideas
Something I need to stress on. One of the misconceptions that newbies have about writing and blogging is the importance of and the focus on the tools of the trade. Seems like people are prepared to spend money of getting the tools that their blogging idols are using. This is probably in hope of getting a shortcut to the high levels and is an unrealistic hope to have. Nobody can tell you what equipment is best for you. It is not about the tools, it is about the ideas and the inspiration. What makes a great content marketer is not the tools he uses, but how the person uses it.
Great ideas and inspiration can come to you no matter where you are or what tools you are using. It is very rare that you get the great idea only when you are sitting on a fancy new computer or when you have that brand new camera to work with. There is no correlation between owning the cool tools and having great creating ideas. You cannot compete by having the great tools, you must compete with your unique personality, your drive and ideas. This cannot be mechanized. The best tool you have is your brain. A fancy tool is nothing else than that. It will not help you become better. You do not need to have a brand new laptop and expensive software to start writing something. You will still take crappy pictures even with that great new camera. I use some quiet basic and mostly open source tools as you see in my list above. No matter what the tool you still need to experience it, learn about it and improve your own skills.
No one tool equals success, and the gear that works for one person won’t necessary work for someone else. But people don’t like hearing this. A simple formula would have been easier. Not having all the latest and greatest equipment could be an inspiration. All the constraints could help drive and inspire your creativity. All you need to communicate online these days is an access to a computer with internet connection. You can even take great pictures and videos with a simple mobile phone. It levels the playing field and allows anyone to bring life to their dreams. You can improvise with whatever tool you have at hand. It makes the idea the central part of your project, it is the idea that counts. It is the idea that will help you spread the word about yourself and will help you reach your goals. The real master does not need any special tools.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look to get the tools that you like, that make you feel comfortable, tools that you prefer to work on. That is fine. You should get whatever makes you feel good and relaxed. This will result in you being more motivated, more creative and harder working. It sometimes also helps to buy yourself a piece of nice equipment that will improve your output. This can for example happen as a reward of reaching a goal and should not necessary be the thing you do before starting a project. It’s best to start with a great idea in mind, and use the simple tools you have at hand to try it out and then build it from there according to the feedback you get. There’s is no reason to start off by investing money into buying fancy equipment and tools.