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10 digital tools for your home-based business

10 digital tools for your home-based business

Posted: Wed 8th Mar 2017

From ticking off tasks to time management and chat, freelance copywriter Jessie Day lists her essential apps and tools for running a business from home in this article published in association with Currys PC World Business.

I recently wrote a post on setting up the perfect home office, calling out a few of the digital tools I use every day, as a freelance copywriter. Here, we're going to dig a bit deeper into which tools can save you time and energy, helping you fly through tasks and projects rather than wading through an inbox full of to-dos. They're grouped into four categories; communication, collaboration, organisation and helpful extras.

I've canvassed some opinion on these, to be sure I'm not just coming from a copywriter's perspective. So from accountants to artists, any of these might be useful for you. And last but never least, at the time of writing they're all either free, or come with a free trial. So you can give them a try before committing any cash.

1. Communication

Slack: I mentioned this in my last blog post, and it really is a great tool. Slack is built to keep chat 'healthy'. By that, I mean out of your email inbox and in a channel where it can be ignored, filtered, switched off, taken offline, and pretty much anything else that you require. It helps me solve problems quickly, in a focused channel, and ask quick questions that help me get on with my project. Questions that would probably just got lost in an email chain, if I were to reach for my Gmail. Which leads me to...

Google Hangouts: There are some things Google just rule with, and for me their video call solution, 'Hangouts' for short, is one of them. I've covered it in the last post, but this feature has been improved over time and for me is simpler than Skype and more professional than FaceTime. As a Gmail user the whole thing comes pretty naturally, but if you're new to Hangouts or Google tools in general, you can get set up very easily.

WhatsApp: It may sound oddly basic these days, but WhatsApp is a handy tool for managing 'work chat', if you're not looking to set up something bigger, like Slack. You can make calls from it, but the best feature is of course Groups, which allows you to create dedicated chat rooms for all your different projects. People tend to already be using WhatsApp too, making it easy to just start a new Chat, and get going.

2. Organisation

Wunderlist: I should caveat here that I did use (also very good) for a long time before switching to Wunderlist. My reason for switching was the stability of Wunderlist's platform, and I haven't looked back. This app is very simple, and allows you to build intuitive, non-intrusive to-do lists, without the weird frameworks or in-app salesy stuff you get with so many alternatives. I use it for work and personal, and it's the first thing I check each morning.

Pocket: From the moment we wake up to last thing at night, we're consuming so much content. That might sound buzzy, but what I mean is, flicking through your Twitter feed, online news subscriptions, articles a colleague has circulated, etc. Pocket is possibly my best-loved app, being super-easy to set up, integrate with my phone, laptop and desktop and 'pocket' whatever article I've found until I have time and brain-space to read it properly. You can also download all your 'saves' to your device, so that you can read them offline, if you want.

Wallet: This is so widely-used I'll just mention it quickly, but if you have an iPhone this is built in, and most other providers have an equivalent. Don't ignore it as it's so handy. I use it for all my contactless payments (no more grabbing my purse for a quick coffee break), and to store event and plane tickets too.

3. Collaboration

Trello: On my laptop or as a phone app, I keep up with lots of clients using Trello. This tool uses dedicated 'Boards' for broader projects, 'Lists' to show the status of smaller tasks and 'Cards' to move those smaller tasks around nice and easily. It helps you keep a great audit trail, and syncs nicely with smartphones to show alerts and notes on the go. You can house so much information in Trello that it's in danger of making email redundant. And we wouldn't want that.

Google Drive: It featured on my last post so just a quick mention here. From spreadsheet reports to written documents and presentation slides, Google Drive helps you keep a live, central version of your work, with easy collaboration and sharing tools. It's my answer to the madness that is version control.

4. Two extra special apps, to keep you sane

f.lux: I'm not sure which came first, this or the iPhone's Night Shift feature, but f.lux is a blessing for any writer or general screen-peerer. Downloaded to your desktop or laptop, f.lux automatically warms your display colours at night, reducing your exposure to the harsher 'blue light' used on most devices these days. It's the blue light that contributes to your insomnia after a late stint at the desk, not to mention headaches and eyesight problems down the line.

TomatoTimer: I'm using it now! This is the simplest of the lot, and I have it permanently switched on. Just set TomatoTimer for 25 minutes of work, a 10 minute break or even a five minute break if that's all that's needed. It keeps me on track and ensures I take regular breaks, even if just to put the kettle on. It's also great for breaking up the intensity of working from home. Sometimes, you need someone (or something) else to make sure you haven't been at your desk for three hours straight.

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