What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. Now, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile, you’ll know a bit about me and my back story of how I first got into furniture refinishing and what my life looked like before that. But for those who are new to the podcast, I wanted to give some back story before jumping into the beef of today’s blog post because I think it can provide some helpful context for what we are going to get into.
So it all began on Saturday, January 16th, 1993 in the early hours of the morning around 7:21am when I made my first appearance into this world… just kidding, we won’t go back THAT far. Basically, I come from the social services world– I did my undergrad and graduate programs in criminology and victimology, and after post-secondary I started working frontline in a men’s homeless shelter and then young women’s transitional housing, then spent some time as a housing based case manager for Indigenous youth and then found myself in a cushy government gig as a case worker providing financial assistance to those in need. I was then looking for a bit of a change from the frontline, case worker-type roles and moved into a program coordinator role rolling out an anti-racism strategy that was the first of its kind in the organization, and just before I decided to go full-time in MelDidItHerself, I was working as a program support consultant in social services helping to roll out programs, budgets, analyzing and compiling reports and some other fun stuff like that.
Looking back on that trajectory, I was always just doing the next best thing that interested me and had a component to it that allowed me to learn more or work with a different type of clientele or expand my knowledge and skillset in a new way. I learned the people skills from frontline work, being thrown in in a VERY big way having to learn to react calmly in really substantial crisis, set good boundaries, have clear and effective communication, and how to connect with and support people in a sincere, empathetic but productive and action-oriented way. My case worker roles helped me to juggle competing priorities and get effective at handling a large amount of clients (my caseload would often be over 150 files which could be anywhere between 150-900 people in total), so I had to get good at staying organized and on track and setting up effective systems in order to do this. Moving into more project-based and consultant work, this is where my business knowledge and acumen began to flourish and I learned business strategies and what goes into the backend of projects and project management and fostering and maintaining stakeholder relationships and writing reports– there were times when I was effectively the sole person writing a 30+ page report that was going to Council.
So there’s two points that I want to make in telling you all of this… well, I guess three. First, I just like letting you guys in and getting to know me a bit better. But also, to show how our trajectories can seem sort of…random? Or like they maybe don’t always make the most sense in the moment but that you can take all of the little pieces of what you pick up at every stage of your journey and bring all of the best parts together to mould it into something you really love. So I hope that resonates for some of you out there who maybe feel like you aren’t yet where you ultimately want to be– look around at the opportunities and the knowledge and resources around you currently and take in what you can now that you can bring with you later on.
And the third thing is that in all of these areas, you can pick up tools and knowledge of software and use your time to do other personal and professional development that will give you those things that can come together to one day run your business in a way that doesn’t feel super overwhelming to you and is run by tools and websites and platforms that you’re familiar with and that you really enjoy!
Which leads me to today’s topic, because as I was plugging away at the various types of work that I do in a day, I realized that although I’m a solopreneur doing everything in my business, I really do have a big toolbelt of products that I utilize in order to get everything accomplished. With technology advancing at rapid rates, there are endless apps, tools, software, and other gadgets and websites that can help you streamline things in your furniture painting and refinishing business (or whatever business or side hustle you may have), so it can be really confusing when you’re trying to decide what to use. So I’m bringing you 6 tools that I have in my toolbox that I enjoy using that I wanted to share with you. A lot of these things are really personal preference of whether or not you enjoy the user interface and know how to use the tools, so feel free to try them out but just know that if you check it out and feel it isn’t for you, that there are probably hundreds of other options on the market that you could check out that do the exact same thing just a little differently, so do some research to find your own personalized toolbelt that can fuel you and your business as you go on.
The first tool I utilize is Google Drive. This is where I store….pretty much everything for my business, honestly. Any high level planning and strategy I plan out for the business, my podcast episode ideas and show notes, my brand partnership contracts, CRM and media kit and rate card, my client testimonials, my Feeling Inspired folder (shout out to those who know what that is, from a previous blog post!), my notes from my coaching and consulting sessions, my goal planning and personal development workbooks and resources and my curated things for my Friday Furniture Focus newsletter all get housed in my Google Drive.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, Google Drive is cloud storage for documents, spreadsheets, photos and other files you want to keep accessible whether you’re on your laptop, your phone, your tablet and can be accessed anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Anyone who has a Gmail email account has access to Google Drive for free, you do need to upgrade eventually if you fill up the storage they allot to you but that honestly goes a REALLY long way because if you create any documents or spreadsheets using the Google version, it doesn’t take up any of your storage space. So, for example, if you uploaded a Word document into your Google Drive it would use up a marginal amount of storage space, but if you instead copied the information from that Word document into a Google Doc and put it in your Google Drive, that wouldn’t use up any space. Fun fact, while I was in university I worked for many years at a real estate office and one summer I got hired to be their Google Guide (like that was literally my title, which I think is hilarious) and so I know a lot about the suite of Google products in comparison to some other competitors for cloud storage like this such as Dropbox and others, but those are definitely options that perform a similar function.
I think having a cloud document storage system like this is critical to many small business owners as a place to house everything you need to. The major key here is to set it up and get it organized and working well for you before you really need it and things are getting jumbled and hard to find on your desktop and all that because it will save you a lot of time and probably a headache or two of trying to locate things. Just create a folder system that makes sense for you, and then like I said, you can access it wherever you are whether you’re travelling and have your laptop, are at home and working from your desktop, or if you remember you need to check something while you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and need to take a peek when you only have your phone on you. Super handy. AND, when you eventually are able to hire freelancers or your own employees, then everyone can easily access the documents they need to perform their tasks as well.
The next tool I use and invest in AKA, yes, I spend money on it to upgrade it to something that works for me and my needs, is iCloud. I… create a lot of content. And for however much content I create, I have 50x the amount of content on my phone that I have recorded. There was a time that I had an iphone that only had like 60GB of space on it, and I found myself spending a lot of time going through my camera roll and deleting pictures and videos I didn’t want or didn’t need anymore or creating folders in my Google Drive to upload videos and photos I thought I might want one day so that I could offload some storage on my phone.
Eventually, my husband, my little guardian angel, just came home one day and was like I got you a 500GB phone so you can stop having to waste your time doing that, because he knew I would never pull the trigger to just invest in something like that that would help me out so much. Which it did– waay more storage plus a way better camera for a very marginal increase on our phone bill. So then I was able to go fast and loose with recording content and I didn’t have to be so vigilant about offloading apps that I wasn’t using actively, getting rid of photos and videos, and finding ways to empty off storage space. BUT… wouldn’t ya know, I eventually found my storage getting decently filled up and so eventually my iCloud was full and no longer being backed up in the cloud.
Which in theory is fine, except for if I ended up losing my phone or breaking it and then losing everything I had recorded past the point of the iCloud filling up… especially when it came to my UGC work and brand partnerships, because there could be times when a brand comes back months later wanting to rework a piece of content or even requesting raw footage and things like that. And if I no longer had it, that could be breaking the terms of a contract that I signed potentially.
SO, I upgraded my iCloud to…I think it’s like 2 terrabytes now, which God help me if I ever fill up. It’s $13 a month I believe for that plan but if you don’t need quite as aggressive an amount of storage, the 200GB plan is $4 a month and you can share that space with your family too if needed so it’s super affordable. I was definitely anxious about spending money on any apps or services or anything at the beginning of my business because I wanted to keep expenses as low as possible so my profits and money in my pocket would be as high as possible but you get to a point where you realize that investing money in things that are going to save you time, effort and energy are absolutely crucial investments to make if you don’t want to burn yourself out so if you are someone who finds yourself in that mindset of being like ahhh I can’t pay for that, I always need to find the free options… just promise me that if things start to get too hectic and busy, you will give yourself permission to offload some things by putting a bit of money into things that can act as a team for you helping you out on some tasks. Please and thank you!
The third tool I have in my toolbox is called MailTrack and it’s an extension you can add on to your Gmail account. Again, a Google product but I’m sure there’s similar options depending on your email provider. This… is kinda sneaky but it is incredible, and I often wonder who may be emailing me that has this installed too so it actually really kicks my ass into gear, kind of out of shame and guilt, to reply to people in a timely manner. Basically, you connect it to your email account and then it lets you know when people open your emails, or if they haven’t. Simple as that. There’s a paid version that must offer more features but I’ve never really looked into it because the free option works great for me. This is amazing for when I’m pitching brands and to know whether or not to follow up with them, or if I see that it’s been a long time and one hasn’t been opened then that can also be an indicator that my email went into spam (especially if there were links or attachments in the email, which I did early on but have since learned better). It’s a very basic tool but again, I find it saves me so much time because I’m not having to be annoying and following up more than is necessary with people so that keeps relationships good and positive, and if you’re someone who can get anxious or antsy when you’re waiting for replies from people, it’s a good way to ease your worries to know that the person has seen the email so if you haven’t gotten a reply yet, presumably they’re getting the information you needed together and will get back to you. It also notifies you when your email gets opened a bunch of times in a short period of time (I think they call it a hot streak), so that’s usually a good indicator that the person is working on a reply to you and you’ll hear back from them soon. So if I’ve ever emailed you and ghosted me… just know that I knowwwww. Hehe. Just kidding, not really kidding but I won’t hold it against you!
The fourth tool I use is the accounting software that keeps me sane at tax time, which is QuickBooks, I use the Self-Employed version. I have dedicated full blog posts to this in the past so I won’t spend too much time talking about it today. But essentially, this is an app and website that I use to keep track of all my income, expenses and mileage that is used for business purposes throughout the year. I find it to be a really easy to use software, they recently made some changes that help to save time when inputting certain things too which is amazing, and you can upload photos of your receipts in there too so it’s really a one stop shop at tax time. There’s also an invoicing option within it so this is what I use when sending out estimates for custom projects–I can include the cost, any details on delivery and other things the client may be responsible for, and it has the details for the deposit I require. Super easy and inexpensive, I think it’s $14 a month if I recall correctly and it’s worth every penny in my opinion. I do have a code because I am a QuickBooks affiliate because I love it so much, so if you are interested in trying it out you can use this link to get 30% off your first 6 months of a subscription. Again, something I highly recommend investing some money in or else I promise you, you will pay far more at tax time to have someone do your business taxes for you and it will be a big, messy mess trying to find all the information you need if you don’t start keeping track of this stuff in one spot now.
The fifth tool I use is what I use to edit all of my photos and videos that I post across my social media accounts and that I use for my UGC work, creating content for brands to post on their social media accounts and use on their websites and in email marketing. The app is called InShot, I just use the free version and it has a ton of functions and you can turn off the watermark in the settings. I find it an easy to use interface, you can crop and split and edit clips easily, add text in the app if you want, add filters or watermarks or other things to your videos and photos super easily. You need to wait for an ad to play after you download your video so that’s the only downside of the free version but, you know, whatever, it’s all give and take. I recently recommended this app to a client that I’m working with who was looking for help putting together a content strategy and growing her social media channels and she loves it as well so if you don’t already have an app that you use and love, I hope you’ll like this one too!
The last tool that I’m going to walk through today (because realistically there’s way more than 6 tools in my toolbelt that I use on the regular), is Canva. Ohhh Canva, how I love thee. Now listen- I truly do not think that I have any sort of creative abilities when it comes to graphic design and pairing fonts and colours and all that stuff in a digital context. I just don’t, and I don’t dedicate enough time to learning how to get better at it. But with all the templates that are available on Canva, I can use them as a starting off point and then tailor them to meet my needs and integrate the fonts and colours that I often use and that mesh well with my branding to create things that look far more aesthetic and cohesive than they otherwise would have if I designed them from scratch, trust me.
With Canva, again, I use the free version although the paid version does look like it offers a ton of really useful features, so this is one that might really be worth investing in. I only use the templates available for the free plan which are more limited although there’s still a ton of options. For people who use Canva a ton, they would maybe look at my designs and visuals and know that they were Canva templates originally but honestly I just can’t be fucked to spend too much time on creating carousel posts or cover images and things like that, I have enough that I’m already trying to pack into my days, so this works great for my needs. I think this is one that most people likely already know about, but if you don’t, definitely recommend you check it out.
And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end everyblog post with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.
So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: It doesn’t help if you row harder in the wrong direction
Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!