Welcome to Digital Homesteading.
This collection of resources from 9 Clouds helps you build your business and community.
Magicians love sharing card tricks.
I recently heard that from a mentor, and it’s true. When you meet someone who does the same thing you do, the conversation quickly moves to “How do you do it?” Tactics, techniques, and tools are swapped to learn how someone else tackles the challenge of their work.
As a creator and entrepreneur, I love looking under the hood at how other people create. Recently, I was challenged to create an A-Z list of the tools I couldn’t create without. Now, I’m happy to share these with you.
Of course, I need to share the important caveat: Tools don’t make the art. The artist makes the art.
The question most often asked to Pablo Picasso was “What kind of brush do you use?” Of course, that’s the wrong question. It doesn’t matter. Picasso would have created magic with a stick if needed. Instead, it’s the rituals, discipline, and radical you-ness that will help your work stand out.
But tools can make your life a bit easier, and it’s sure fun to share card tricks. Let’s try it!
A – AwardWallet
In a previous life, I was a travel hacker. I still travel a fair bit for work and love earning points and miles to earn fun travel.
AwardWallet is the perfect solution. It puts all my mileage programs in one place, updates me when points are going to expire, and helps me find my account number quickly when checking in for a hotel or flight.
B – Basecamp
As our team has grown, it’s become increasingly important to move productivity and communication out of email and into an organized location. Basecamp is the productivity side of our work, and Slack (see below) is the communication side.
Basecamp hosts our files and to-dos, and it’s the first place our employees log in each morning to see what needs to get done. I’ve used this product for almost eight years and have loved it even more with every update.
Price: $29 a month
C – Cash from Square
Whether you’re splitting a bill at dinner or charging someone for a small project, Cash is the easiest way to pay and request money. There’s no fee for sharing, and it keeps a nice record for paper-averse people like myself.
D – Drive
Collaboration drives much of the creation work we do at 9 Clouds (and the work I do personally). Using shared documents and presentations via Google Drive is essential for fast work and minimal email.
Drive will also convert file types quickly, so anyone can see a file regardless of the software they’re using. Drive allows massive storage and real-time document sharing.
Every digital audit we perform at 9 Clouds is shared via a Google presentation that can then be shared with the potential client. The ability to duplicate these past audits and presentations also speeds up my process for future work.
If you’re already in the Google universe with Gmail or YouTube, it’s a quick click to get started with Drive.
E – Evernote
Like it does for most creators, my muse arrives at unexpected times. Evernote enables me to capture and find ideas online and offline, no matter where I am.
I usually start blog posts in Evernote; I also take photos of important information that I’ll know I need to find in the future. The search capabilities on Evernote are unparalleled. Text within a note is searched quickly, so any scribbles or photos from a meeting or a conference are quickly found, regardless of what I titled the note.
There are many other features and ways to use the tool — my friend Andy can help you learn all of them — but one of my favorites is the simple feature of titling a note based on my physical location. This has helped me remember ideas and to-dos years later.
F – FreshBooks
FreshBooks takes care of invoicing and time tracking for both 9 Clouds and my personal projects. It’s easy to use, simple to pull reports on where time is being spent, and capable of being integrated with other tools you are probably using.
The ability to watch what we’re billing and how much time is being spent on a task has made 9 Clouds more efficient and has helped us get paid. There’s not much more important than that for a business!
The runner-up is FancyHands, which I use for quick research or clerical tasks. Don’t want to sit on hold? Have FancyHands call for you. Need to move a bunch of PDF information to a webpage? Don’t waste your time. Ask FancyHands.
Price: $29.95 a month (both services)
The best leads for 9 Clouds are webinar attendees. That’s one of the reasons we preach inbound marketing.
If you can teach your potential customers about what you do and why it’s important, they will be more likely to work with you.
GoToMeeting (GTM), for up to 99 people, and GoToWebinar, for any number of people, allow us to easily meet with and teach large numbers of people at the same time. They convert our sessions into video recordings. We can then use these recordings for online courses, blog posts, and tutorials to teach even our own team how to do something.
The mobile app for GTM works well, and the call-in number GTM creates is helpful for handling group calls for those pesky, location-independent millennials.
Price: Free to start
H – HubSpot
HubSpot is the engine behind our work at 9 Clouds. It synchronizes our digital marketing efforts in one location and helps us track web visitors so we know who is a warm lead.
We are Platinum partners at HubSpot, and now we use the tool not just for digital marketing but also for our customer relations. Its free CRM tool is a nice, lightweight option to keep track of leads and deals.
My favorite feature is the pop-up notification when a lead is visiting our site. When I call someone who is looking at our pricing page, they are initially shocked and then impressed with what we can do.
HubSpot isn’t cheap, but it’s also unlike every other product out there. You can cobble together these features with a dozen other tools, or you can save yourself hours a week and improve your results with this all-in-one marketing automation solution.
Price: HubSpot for marketing automation = $800 a month, plus $50 a month for every 1,000 contacts
HubSpot CRM = Free
I – Inbox
It’s been said that the biggest worries of the modern person are getting fat and getting too much email. Inbox by Gmail doesn’t help you lose weight, but it makes email management much easier and more enjoyable.
Rebuilt for mobile devices from the ground up, Inbox is a minimal approach to email that learns what emails actually matter to you. It groups low-priority messages so that you can quickly sweep them away. It also allows you to send an email back to yourself in the future, so you look at emails when you need to take action.
As email marketers ourselves, we love a good email tool when we see it.
Meditative practices are common habits among successful people. That’s what Tim Ferriss has concluded after interviewing 250+ all-stars in a wide variety of industries.
I used to journal when I traveled (and when I had capillaries filled with teen angst). I slowly have started again, thanks to my brother’s 8FD.
The Five Minute Journal has emerged as my favorite journaling tool. It actually takes more like 30 seconds a day, which makes journaling easy to stick to. It is recommended to do first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
The journal sets your mindset for the day, helping you focus on gratitude and visualize what you want accomplished. Taking these few moments to reflect keeps life in perspective and reminds you of all you have achieved.
I love tools that serve a single purpose. A basic Kindle is a great example.
If I’m buying an e-reader, I don’t want the option to surf the web or download apps. I want a device that makes it easy to carry around my favorite books and highlighted quotes without distraction.
The Paperwhite is my favorite Kindle and has helped me increase the number of books I read dramatically.
Reading is the best way to become a better writer. Much of the inspiration for my own writing is tied back to this one-trick pony.
L – Leadin
For many years I used the Hello Bar to invite web visitors to download or subscribe with a pop-up or drop-down alert. Now, Leadin takes care of this and tracks that person’s visit for me, so I know if they should get a phone call or a personal email.
A free product offered by HubSpot, Leadin has been used to promote our State of Automotive Marketing, resulting in the most conversions in the history of our company.
Showing up on Google matters, and the rules are always changing. Moz keeps me informed on best practices, and the tool Moz Pro helps me manage my own websites as well as those of our clients. Use it to identify problems or opportunities and pull reports on how you show up (and stack up) on Google.
The runner-up, myCharge, is a must-have for travel. It gives me three full iPhone charges, and unlike other mobile batteries, it plugs directly into my phone — no USB cord required.
Price: Moz Pro = $950 a year for up to five sites
MyCharge = $40
N – NPR
I’m a big believer in inspiration from a variety of industries and sources. I leave NPR on in my house (on an actual radio), so I absorb interesting ideas and thoughts throughout the day. Dinner party conversation often starts with “I heard on NPR…”
Price: Free, but consider giving $5 a month
O – Overcast
I’m a podcast aficionado. I find any time of silence in the car or elsewhere as a perfect opportunity to learn. (See some of my favorite podcasts in the R section).
After years on Stitcher, I made the switch to Overcast. It has no ads, a beautiful design, and the option to group podcasts by category. Then, if I’m driving or not paying attention, Overcast will start the next podcast in the category I am listening to.
I also love how easy it is to share a podcast — even a specific time on a podcast — and the ability to jump to specific times in the podcast if the description includes time stamps.
Bottom line: this is a beautiful way to start a podcast habit.
P – Plantronics headphones
I’ve had my Plantronics headphones for five years, and while they’ve taken a beating, they still work. They are my favorite way to take online calls.
I don’t think you can even buy the headphones I own anymore, so the takeaway is simple: find a great pair of headphones that are durable. My Plantronics headphones cost me just $30 and have lasted a (digital) lifetime.
Q – iQ6
As a podcast lover, I like recording my own audio. I have grand ideas of turning these personal audio clips into new episodes of my own podcast.
To capture thoughts and interviews on the road, I’ve learned I need to make it easy. The iQ6 is a mic that plugs into your iPhone and captures fantastic audio. I combine it with the bossjock app to make a mobile recording studio.
Q – Questions with mentors, learning partners, and communities
I had to work in this tip because it has been the most valuable use of my time. I have a small number of mentors, learning partners, and communities to which I can ask honest, open questions about everything from running a business to balancing personal and professional life to how to get a community excited about a project.
I’ve found great connections at small events and through introductions from mutual friends. Take time for a few virtual coffees a month, and check in with a handful of people you trust and respect. You won’t regret it.
Price: Free (I found a great online community through BuyMyFuture)
R – Revisionist History / Reply All / Radiolab (and podcasts in general)
Hearing big ideas inspires me to create. Magically, three of my favorite podcasts all start with R!
These podcasts (Revisionist History, Reply All, and Radiolab) help me look at the world differently and see things I may not have noticed. Plus, they remind me what polished creative products look like and challenge me to create a product that can be consistently, and professionally, shared.
S – Slack
Slack makes email nearly obsolete for internal communications at 9 Clouds. It’s the chat program that builds our company culture, even though some of us work remote.
Plus, our team is able to easily share inspiration and great articles throughout the month, which we then use in our monthly roundup newsletters.
Price: Free to start
T – TextExpander
TextExpander is changing the way 9 Clouds works. As soon as you start typing a word or phrase you often use, TextExpander will fill in the rest.
Our team has hacked this tool to automatically create UTM tags, emails, and even small things like website URLs to speed up our workflow. We only have so many keystrokes left before we die, so TextExpander helps us spend less time re-typing the same things over and over.
Teachery is a runner-up that makes online course creation super simple. We just launched a Facebook Ads bootcamp that looks great and works perfectly. If you want to teach your own team or sell an online course, Teachery is your answer.
Price: TextExpander = $4.16 a month
Teachery = $49 a month
U – Unsplash
Plus, they are 100% royalty free, so we can find our favorite images without worrying about license problems.
V – Video, Amazon
With two kids, sometimes you need to go nuclear and put on a video to entertain them.
For years, I used the Apple App Store for movie purchases and rentals if I wanted something that wasn’t streaming (see also: Frozen). The problem was that my wife and I have different Apple accounts, which means our videos aren’t always housed on the device we were using.
Enter Amazon Video. By moving our video library to the cloud, we can log in to a family Amazon account and see all our videos in one place. Plus, some of my favorite shows (The Americans) and movies are free for Amazon Prime members.
If you need Disney on the go, go with Amazon.
Price: Free with Amazon Prime ($99 a month)
W – WordPress
9 Clouds’ website is built on WordPress, and we are big fans of open source technology. We love how easy it is to integrate features with plugins and are always happy with the SEO of our WordPress sites, especially with the Yoast SEO plugin.
X – Xero
Xero is a reimagined QuickBooks for the mobile world. Xero works great on my phone, has easy-to-use reports, and is the monthly hub for conversations with our accountant.
If you are starting fresh with accounting software, I would definitely start with Xero (and encourage your accountant to use it too).
Price: $9 a month
Y – Yorker, The New
Reading news online is a tour through the echo chamber. If the story about Facebook’s manipulation of their news feed didn’t make it clear enough, what you see online is usually based on what you have read before.
That’s why it’s important to read traditional journalism that will expose you to stories on a variety of topics. I love opening up The New Yorker each week to see what I will learn about things I didn’t even know existed.
The New York Times is my go-to news source (here’s how to get published there), although I am learning I get too addicted to checking for the latest headline. That’s why I’m pushing myself to rely on long-form, in-depth journalism to really learn and grow. For me, The New Yorker (and The Atlantic) are my recommendations.
Price: $12 for 12 weeks
Z – Zapier
For things like this huge list of tools, sometimes you need to connect A to Z. That’s why there’s Zapier.
Using a tool like Leadin, I might want to connect it with WordPress, Hubspot, and Xero. Zapier is there for me. I can easily connect APIs from different online tools with a simple drop-down menu.
If you’ve ever wanted to create Frankenstein, now you can with almost any online tool that has an API.
Price: Free to start
Get More Tools and Strategy Help
At 9 Clouds, we love to test out digital tools and strategy to learn what works best.
Every week, we write about our tests and share them on our blog. You can subscribe to get a short, weekly roundup so that you can stay up to date on what works.