The Cobbler Has No Shoes

At last week’s Tuesday’s Together meeting, I mentioned that ever since I started my business, my website had gotten very little attention and I didn’t have a mailing list set up for my own clients. That month’s expert speaker said, “I get it, the cobbler has no shoes and all that.” She then went on to say that her own business website had been considered a “known issue” in her company for years, despite the business being successful and thriving.

The Cobbler Has No Shoes >> Life In Limbo

I’m not a person who believes you have to get every duck into a neat row before you can launch your service or products. In fact, I think that your best ideas won’t and actually can’t come until you’ve started the process, worked with a couple customers, and started to see what isn’t working and could be better. I like to keep my business fairly nimble so that I can pivot easily, change things up, offer new packages and work with new businesses. For example, I’ve run my business successfully for two years and I have yet to print business cards. (Which is a good thing, because I didn’t know what exactly to call what I was doing until about 30 seconds ago.)

That said, I also have no interest in being a shoeless cobbler. I want to help myself and my own business grow and thrive just as much as I help my clients grow theirs. That’s part of what my new “think bigger time” is for: putting the systems in place that will support me moving forward, and dreaming big dreams about what things might look like 5 years down the line. And this goes for every type of business: so often, we aren’t offering to ourselves what we offer to others. 

Even though I’m proud that my business has been sustainable without all the trappings of Business Legitimacy (barf), I also think it’s important to recognize the moment where you do have new shoes to fill – pun most definitely intended. There comes a time when you need to step up to a new level and decide that the way things were will no longer be the way things are. Even if they’re “working”! Even if they’re “fine”! If parts of your business feel clunky and tedious and unsustainable, they probably are. And by deciding to improve them, you become more confident in what you’re offering.

It’s important to remember that you don’t fix things just so that other people will think you’re a professional at what you do, but so that you will start to see yourself that way. When you turn pro, at first just through your actions and decisions, your confidence in yourself follows suit.

I’m working on making myself shoes, slowly but surely. What are your shoes to make? What part of your offering are you not giving to yourself?

Thinking Bigger

Now I’m just getting cute with my post titles, I know, but as they say: the opposite of a great truth is also true. So, as much as thinking smaller is important, so is thinking bigger.

Lately thinking bigger has represented thinking outside of the box, looking outside of the bounds of my regular day-to-day life. It’s meant stretching myself and pushing myself to step into spaces that feel scary and intimidating. It has meant taking time to get a bit meta: to work on something rather than just in something, to paraphrase the E-Myth.

Thinking Bigger >> Life In Limbo

Last week I was on an unofficial retreat with my friends Sonja and Moni. For the whole week, we thought bigger. We put aside our everyday responsibilities and worked on our lives, businesses, relationships and blocks, rather than just in them. It made me realize how rarely, in my business life, it is that I do the kinds of tasks that the great Stephen Covey would consider “Sharpening the Saw”. For example, my website usually gets the bare minimum of attention, and my bookkeeping system hasn’t changed in 2 years since my business has grown. Every work day is usually consumed with my task list and answering emails rather than setting myself up for future success. Every weekend day is for relaxing and connecting with loved ones. Sharpening the saw of my business happens only rarely, because (until now) it felt hard to justify taking non-billable hours to work on my business itself.

How silly and ridiculous it feels to write that! Of course those hours are billable, you just don’t happen to see the return right away. Of course working on your business is a good idea and well worth the investment of time and money. Of course it’s important to think bigger and plan ahead for the future. Of course it’s necessary to work on making your work life more sustainable and enriching for everyone involved. Of course.

But of course this is one of those simple, hard things to remember. When every day feels full and sometimes overwhelming, thinking bigger can feel like a luxury you can’t afford.

From now on though, I’m giving myself permission to take one work morning a week to devote to sharpening the saw of my business: working on my systems, setting up my workflows, optimizing my website, trying new apps, designing better invoices. Anything that will move the needle towards greater sustainability for myself and my business. I’m calling it Thinking Bigger Time and it’s now a recurring event in my calendar. Today was my first day, and so far it’s been great.

PS. Want to see what I’ve been working on? You can check out my new services on my website here!

Tools I Use to Run My Business

I had a comment on a post several months back asking for more information about how I began my freelance work and the tools I use to run my business. The reason it took me so long to write a post in response was that I was busy doing the work itself! Usually after a long day on the computer, I try to take my leisure time away from screens, which means that posts get written around here a little less often. Fortunately, again and again in my life I am reminded that, like Glennon Doyle, I read to inhale, and write to exhale. So, finally, here we go! Here is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use to run my current business, as of September 2017. You can learn more about my work here.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post, but my opinions are always and forever my own, and this post is not sponsored by anyone except me myself and I.

Websites: Bluehost + WordPress

I’ve written about my love for these two services before, but I’ve been using them both in conjunction since I first started a self-hosted blog back in 2009! A lot of people are switching to Squarespace these days, which makes sense because it’s pretty and drag-and-drop. If you only have or need one website, I would recommend it, especially for beginners. If you’ll be building more than one website (ie. I have my blog, my personal website, my former podcast website, etc), it’s far more cost-effective to go with WordPress, and the service is a lot more robust.

Time Tracking: Timely

Most things I use to run my business are completely free, because I like to keep things simple and lean. Timely is one of the services I’m happy to pay for, because I’ve tried most of the other options and they’re just not as good, not as well designed, and not as easy to use as Timely. I can manage all my clients within one platform, bill my time at various hourly rates, and run a timer for the exact length of time I’m working on a project. Trust me that it’s the best.

Invoicing: Wave Apps

I don’t use most of the (many!) features available from Wave, because I do my accounting the old-fashioned way: in a spreadsheet (albeit a Google one!) and ask to be paid by either e-transfer, Paypal or direct deposit. But I do like their invoices, because they are easy to create and look professional. I save all mine as PDF and send by email manually. That said, I’m hoping that Timely (see above) will come out with an invoicing feature soon!

Banking: Tangerine

I switched to Tangerine right when I became a full-time freelancer, and I’ve never looked back. Tangerine is only for Canadians, but I would encourage you to look into no-fee bank accounts in your country and go through the process of switching. So far I’ve saved about $200 in fees alone since making the transition, which is a non-trivial amount!

Communication: Inbox for Gmail + Slack

There is not much more on this planet I love more than I love Slack. If you are working with any size of team, I recommend using it. Hell, even if I was working 100% alone, I can still think of features I’d like to have access to (their Posts function is great for storing ideas or lists). I cannot recommend anything more highly! I have now been responsible for getting two separate work teams onto Slack, and the productivity increase and stress decrease in both cases has been palpable.

I run all my email through Gmail accounts, and Inbox is my favourite app for my phone (with all the notifications off, of course!). I especially love their function to ‘snooze’ emails to come back at an appointed time, since I operate under Inbox Zero as much as possible.

Graphic Design: Photoshop + Canva

I have a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud for Photographers, which comes with Photoshop and Lightroom for around $11 a month. If you’re just starting out: don’t even bother. Canva is amazing, has so many interesting and well-designed templates, and is really easy to use. It makes creating graphics something that just about anyone could do in just a few minutes.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Personal Management: Todoist + Bullet Journalling

I’ve tried a lot of different to-do list apps, and have settled on Todoist (for now) on account of enthusiastic testimonials, mainly from my friend Isabelle, who is incredibly organized and productive. It’s loosely based on the GTD model, which I am reading about right now, but mostly I like that it is very fast and very simple. If I had a larger team to manage or in-depth projects, I might use Asana, but for my own personal stuff this is perfect.

And of course, my brain likes paper far too much for me to be 100% digital! I use a bullet journal that is not even a little bit artistic or fancy – it is extremely basic and utilitarian, which works for me. I mostly use it for lists of ideas, goals, quotes, and planning out a week at a glance. Anything that doesn’t really fit on a “to do list” but I want to capture somewhere goes here.

Storage: Google Drive

I like Drive way more than Dropbox for most things, although I do have a great Dropbox setup going for sharing files with one of my clients that syncs directly from my computer. For most other things, I like Drive. I don’t save many emails, so I still don’t have to pay for Drive! Yay!

Music: Spotify

I now pay for Spotify Premium and I have never once looked back. Once it was pointed out to me that I listen to music for my entire workday, and that I was hearing annoying ads every 20 minutes, it was an easy choice to spend $10 a month.

Tech: Macbook + Over-Ear Headphones + Ergonomic keyboard

I love all these things, but I didn’t buy them all at once, and none of them are strictly necessary to start your own business. I have a refurbished Macbook that works like a charm, and I take care of it well because it is my livelihood. For my work, it’s important that my computer work fairly quickly, and that it can handle video and audio editing programs without becoming a sloth. But Sarah of Yes and Yes uses a cheap laptop and swears by it!

The headphones I have are so great: I wear them every morning at the café I work out of and they’re noise-cancelling enough to help me focus. I mainly wanted over-ear headphones because my ears were literally bleeding from wearing pointy earbuds all day long, and asked for a quality pair for my birthday, but any kind of headphone that doesn’t irritate your ears would work.

Lastly, my keyboard and mouse are a huge part of the reason that my chronic back pain has subsided – I am no longer hunching all day long.

Whenever possible, I look for tools or solutions that are cheap or free, and that work well. I am always looking for ways to pare down or streamline, especially when it comes to unnecessary business expenses, but I am also open to spending money to get something that works and makes my life easier.

What’d I miss? What else would you like to know about the way I run my business? Do you have any tools you would recommend to me?