These are the tools I use for running my business and website.
I'm usually trying out new things alongside my basic kit, and I update this page when something new makes the leap from experimental to essential. The last update was July 2018.
Got questions? Ask me anything...
Something that's radically changed how I select software is my Setapp subscription. Setapp offers a huge library of apps for a flat monthly fee. It’s not just a cost thing - it really saves time shopping around for an app to solve a specific problem.
Mac or PC? (Warning: Youtube rabbit hole…)
I’m a Mac. Have been for years. Currently a newish 13” MacBook Pro, an older 9” iPad Pro with Pencil, and a fairly old iPhone 6.
When I’m doing stuff that needs a bigger screen, I have an external monitor from HP. It looks great with my Mac and it cost a lot less than the equivalent from Apple.
Email and calendar
For calendar I like Fantastical. It handles reminders better than Apple’s version, though there’s not a lot to choose between them.
After many years as a loyal Evernote user, I decided to move on. I hate untidy notes, and while the web interface for Evernote is beautiful, the apps are a mess and you have to format everything by hand.
After trying Apple Notes (which looks great and has fantastic Pencil support, but doesn’t do Markdown) and Agenda (which has Markdown support and a great Calendar link feature, but doesn’t handle attachments), I tried Bear.
So far this seems to be my perfect notes app. Looks beautiful, handles Markdown, and the tags-as-folders thing works for me. Plus the web clipper is much more flexible than Apple’s so finally I can clip whole articles again.
And for iPad note taking on the fly I like Nebo, which has the most amazing handwriting recognition. It’s also a great tool to give your wrists a break from too much typing.
Writing and editing
For drafting blog posts and text documents I mostly write in Ulysses (also available through Setapp). This editor hits the sweet spot for me between simple markdown tools like IA Writer and Marxico, and super-sophisticated writing apps like Scrivener.
Because Ulysses exports in so many formats I can send docs out as PDFs, Word, or anything else, without needed to switch tools. I have the iOS app as well as the MacOS version, and finally feel able to edit blog posts on the move.
For anything even vaguely important, I use Grammarly. It helps you find and fix spelling and grammar errors virtually anywhere in your browser, and there’s a desktop app too. I also use Hemingway - usually before Grammarly, in my current workflow. This editing tool focuses less on correctness and more on brevity and simplicity. With continued use, you’ll find your writing style gets punchier and easier to read. Try it. Your colleagues will thank you.
And for blog posts, I also use WebTextTool to handle the SEO side of things. There’s a keyword tool and built in checkers that score your post on a range of criteria. I have a paid plan, but there’s also a free basic plan that’s fine if you’re posting infrequently.
My weapon of choice here varies a lot depending on whether I’m working alone or in a team.
For team work, I’ll use PowerPoint or Google Slides, as the group prefers. Alone, I’m more likely to pick up Keynote. It’s so simple compared to PowerPoint, so I get less distracted by the whizzy features.
I’m also experimenting with Deckset, an even more stripped down experience. You write your slides and notes in markdown, and then let the app turn them into slides. No more faffing with pixel-perfect layout! An initial concern was that Deckset didn’t offer custom templates (though the built in library is gorgeous). However, the newest version now lets you create your own templates to match your brand.
File storage and sharing
I find iCloud is very convenient for personal stuff, because of the way it keeps docs and photos instantly in sync. I tend to use Office 365 for consulting projects, because we tend to live in PowerPoint for those and OneDrive works really well for Microsoft apps. Google is brilliant for when you have several people working on the same spreadsheet, and some of my clients just prefer it.
All three services sync to my hard drive so switching between them isn’t terribly hard.
One tip: use a consistent folder structure for all your drives (and your notebooks, and anything else), so you can find things easily. I use the one outlined in Tiago Forte’s P.A.R.A method.
Xero is my cloud accounting service. There's a mobile app for recording payments and expenses on the go, and you can share your files with your accountant, so it’s easier for her to do her job. I work with Sestini & Co for accounting services, and they also set up my company for me. The whole thing was a doddle.
I also use Cushion for forecasting. It connects to Xero so I can see my budget turning into cash when invoices get paid. Very cheering. The workload planning feature is useful as well - so I don’t over-commit.
This section used to be called ‘Social media’, but I have to admit that I use social media a lot less than I used to. I ended up taking a break due to pressure of other commitments, and then found I’d filled the time with other things. Mainly a subscription to the Economist, but also 70+ blogs of various kinds, which I follow on Feedly.
Images and other graphics
I use Affinity Photo and Designer for graphics - properly professional graphics tools at a really friendly price. I also love IconJar (via Setapp) - it does its one thing (storing icons so you can export them in any size/colour/format) really well.
Photos come from Unsplash.
Teamwork and project planning
Currently using Trello for my projects. Most clients have heard of it and it's easy for them to learn if they haven’t. I love the calendar view, though not many people seem to know about that feature. I'm still amazed that such a great tool is available for free - though I use so many power-ups that I am on Business Class now.
I’m also in love with RealtimeBoard. It’s great for remote teams, but also a great alternative to covering the walls of my study with stickies when I work at home. It also has a very sensible freelancer plan so I can use it with clients without needing to spend a fortune.
Web hosting and content management
I use Squarespace to manage my site, including commerce, hosting and domain management. I’ve recently updated my template (again!) to Brine, which is unbelievably flexible. (I love building Squarespace sites, so if you’re looking for help with that, let me know.)
I’ve also taken the radical step of retiring my entire email list-building malarkey. I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time. We’ve ended up with an internet where everything looks ‘free’, but actually you have to pay for it in personal information, and you don’t often get the option to keep your privacy and pay in some other way instead.
So, currently, things on this blog are either really free, or they’re in the store.
In case things go wrong
I have professional indemnity insurance with Hiscox, in case a client sues for damages as a result of advice I gave. I feel a lot more comfortable recommending things to clients, as a result.
I use Time Machine for my onsite backups, to keep handy at home. I've actually restored from Time Machine when my hard disk failed. It was super easy.
I have had to move off Crashplan, as they stopped doing personal plans. Now on Carbonite. Mainly because of the discount I got at switching. I don’t love it, especially that it doesn’t like FileVault, so that’s the next thing I need to research. Suggestions welcome!