Top 10 Tools Going Into Twenty-Ten (2010)

By far, one of the things I love most is discovering new ways to do things better – that can include anything from finding a good program, changing the steps in a process, to discovering new ways to collaborate.

Here is a list of the top 10 things, that I am very glad to have in my tool chest as we move forward into 2010:

1. WordPress.com

Without a doubt WordPress and learning the php behind it has naturally transformed my business and the services I offer. With easy to manage plugins, like WPWishlist (transforming it into a powerful membership site) and other add-ons, to the accessibility it offers, I believe WordPress is a great solution for both large and small scale website marketing.

2. HootSuite

This is a tool that I use daily. Not only can you access it from any computer and manage all of your accounts, it also tracks essential stats, provides a great scheduling feature, and is a great way to keep track of multiple accounts across key networks.  Twitter became a huge part of my life in 2009, where I participated in a successful Twestival fundraising event, launched other events and businesses, as well as made some great personal connections.  Once I discovered Hootsuite, it made it much more manageable to handle all of my diverse needs.

3. 1Shopping Cart

Even after introducing an unpopular support fee, 1ShoppingCart remains one of my favourite tools. Aweber tries to challenge them, but to me, they can’t compete with the integrated shopping cart and affiliate management system found in 1ShoppingCart. Affiliate marketing is still gaining in popularity and I can see the development of this program being worth the investment.

4. Google…everything

What can I say, except I’m in love with Google. They just give me so much – and ask for so little! They provide information, take care of a lot of my demands, all for a very reasonable price (did I mention…it’s free!)!!

From Gmail, which I have now fully switched to after years of Outlook, to their analytics, now hosting and document solutions, Google is at the top of my list for great resources.

Gmail, after the initial adjustment and setup, is a solution that’s really working for me! My emails have never felt more organized and manageable – couple that with the accessibility that Gmail offers and it’s a service that I can’t get enough of!

Google Analytics is still my preferred analytics and reporting software for any website. With valuable tools like Experiment, you can setup split testing and learn from your own audience.

Google Insights is one of my new found favourite tool giving you stats on any keyword you can imagine, and the information displayed shows you related searches, countries and areas that are most active.  If you’re doing any keyword research, you’ll want this link bookmarked.

Calendar – In a word "awesome" – the Google calendar has been my solution to managing all of my personal, professional and client calendars. To increase the usability you can even embed it on a website to display the most current, functional calendar for all of your public to see.

Google Maps – It’s crazy to think how far we have come sometimes – when you look at the detail and information available now online, it’s astounding and only bound to increase, both in size and functionality. I use Google maps more in my ‘personal’ life, but the applications for business are incredible: from guiding your potential client to your door, to providing an exterior shot of the shop, with the popularity of the iphone, GPS, and the sheer volume of distance covered by the Google Truck (…) Not on the map? That’s okay – add it yourself – Businesses this is a great opportunity for you! Google even has a tutorial at their local business center on the services you can take advantage of.

Google Documents – I may have mentioned that Google is on my list of favourites – well this is one of the reasons. The value of the Google Documents is definitely seen when you’re working with multiple collaborators and across many operating systems. I can simply send a link to all parties involved on any Google doc and we can all update – why didn’t Microsoft come up with this sooner?!

Google Forms & Surveys – Did you know that you can create an effective survey for no cost? Did you realize that the results are automatically held in a spreadsheet for you, available online at any time? Did you realize it was that easy? No?! Well I didn’t either, and thanks to a very informative presentation through one of my peers early 2009 I discovered the wonder of using Google documents for creating surveys! Here is a link to one of their videos on how to setup a form.

YouTube – Yup, even YouTube is associated with/controlled by the almighty Google. If you haven’t had a chance to watch some videos via YouTube, feel free to visit the site and type in anything (really anything) that comes to mind. I’m sure you’ll find something amusing, if nothing else. YouTube does have a great application for business too – there’s a lot of power of influence in watching a testimonial on a service or product you’re considering.  For business there is a fantastic opportunity to get some viral video exposure, so have fun and post away!

Google Alerts – If you haven’t already got your alerts setup, I would highly encourage you to do so! I have alerts setup for specific things, like my name, company name, website URL’s and as needed I’ll add alerts for the current projects I’m working on.  Google Alerts let’s you keep right up to date on any mentions of your keywords, allowing for a great reputation monitoring opportunity. 

5. Grooveshark

Working on your computer and want to groove?! Oooh, I love this…Grooveshark offers you a huge variety of songs, sortable by artist, album, check out the fans to discover new songs. 

6. Freshbooks

Switching over to Freshbooks was one of the best changes I’ve made in 2009! It’s easy (once you get past the initial setup…but isn’t that always true), it allows you to have your own account and monitor others (perfect for contractors), as well as provides good invoice templates and the option to send via email or regular mail (don’t worry they do all the work).  If you’re looking for a good invoicing/time tracking solution for 2010, then check this one out!

7. W3Schools

Probably one of my most used references – I love the fact that this is an updated how to guide with examples, and ‘Try it Yourself’ features, guides on everything from HTML, CSS to PHP, makes it one of my most valuable resources.

8. W3Validator

This is a great tool…although your web developer will hate you for it. Even though I love this tool, the gruelling task of going through and correcting code is not something every developer looks forward to!  We don’t mind at all – so if you run your site through and are in need of some clean-up, feel free to connect with us!

9. Skype

This has had the most profound affect on my family, after moving this year, we’ve given all the grandparents webcams with built-in microphones and Skype has allowed us all to keep in touch virtually! I can see Skype’s applicability blossom in 2010 with applications geared at small businesses like their PBX Phonebox. I’m enjoying Skype and look forward to see what they have in store for 2010!

10. Best Year Yet Goal Planning System

I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with the creators of this powerful system in 2009.  With some huge testimonials, hundreds of partners across numerous countries, this system has the recipe for success.  Whether it’s for your own personal use, or using it to develop team goals, even utilize it’s power to do employee appraisals, this is one tool that allows you to create Your Best Year Yet! 

Looking forward to more in 2010: iPhone

If there was one thing I was excited about under the tree this year, it was my iPhone! Okay, so I actually bought it for myself prior to Christmas, but still I was happy to receive it none the less! With the popularity of the iPhone skyrocketing and iPhone applications booming out of control, there is a great opportunity for both the consumer and business to get on board to this amazing device.  Anything from making your website mobile friendly to developing your own iPhone applications, should be a priority for any online business in the coming year!

Networking Groups & Training – A Highlight of 2009!

Reaching out and connecting with the community, has by far been my most valuable asset in 2009. Whether it was developing classes for, or interacting with the professional membership at VAClassroom.com, making new friends at the Business of Bliss event, developing connections through LinkedIn groups, raising awareness and money through twitter, and even running contests through facebook – social media and networking has proven to be an invaluable tool for myself and many businesses.  Check out this very cool clickable graphic to showcase the social networks:

 

I look forward to discovering new tools and finding the best solution for the tasks that I’m presented with.  If you have some favourites of 2009 or some new found gems of 2010,  please share!!

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Branding Through Business Cards

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of encountering two sets of business cards that really broke the mould of the traditional business card and completely knocked my socks off.

If you spend anytime handing out your own business cards, then you can definitely learn a thing or two from these guys.  When I was in high school one of my projects was to do a basic business plan for a company. I happened to choose business cards, researched the designing and printing costs (at that time was a lot more than it would be now), and all the other peripherals that go into running a business.  I was horrified when I worked out all the numbers and found out that this business actually lost money (I thought it was a sure thing when I picked it).  I didn’t have time to start my whole business idea over again, plus I concluded that the experience of going through this process to actually show that it wasn’t a money making gold mine, was very valuable, and valuable for me to share.

Francomedia Clear Business CardsI didn’t stop at the business plan, I knew I had to come in with something more in order to not completely flunk this course – not only that, I had some cool business card ideas I really wanted to share!!  When it came time presenting our idea I had a mock up logo, presentation board, and of course business cards.  I broke the mould of the traditional business card and made different shapes and styles – something that you would remember.  I ended up with an A+ on this presentation, even though my business actually lost money – the power of presentation.

When I first saw Francomedia’s cards online, it got me all excited, bringing me back to my creative happy place. Recently when I got to visit their headquarters, I had the absolute privilege to see them in person.  I know what you’re thinking, but these are just business cards – they are, yes, but they are also a brand. They speak to the creative touch that you can achieve in a subtle place, that really solidifies your brand and makes you and your business memorable.

Again, creative happy place!

The other business card I came across through a meeting on Twitter, and then in person.  Brent Hammond is a business coach with a unique approach that I can really resonate with – Adventure Life Coaching – fun.  Everything from his twitter background, to his unique website and business coaching system encourages you to remember him, and his brand.

Brent Hammond Pop-up cardWhen I had the pleasure to meet Brent in person at a local charity event, he handed me his business card – again my inner creative started jumping for joy. Brent has developed a pop-up business card. Having three young children I can relate to the joy we all feel when anything pops up at us.  So much fun!

These are two great examples I’ve come across that if you happen to see in person, you’ll remember – just for the one simple touch of a fantastically branded and unique business card.

Now time to get my own creative juices flowing again and revisit my own cards to see what we can do.

Do you have an example of an exquisitely unique card?  If so, please share!

3 of Francomedia's Clear Cards

Find out more about how Francomedia achieved these unique see-through cards.

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Windows Live Writer Review

So just how easy is it to use Windows Live Writer to update your WordPress blog posts?  That’s what we are about to discover, as I share with you my thoughts and findings on using an offline platform to update your website. 

First, what is Windows Live Writer?  Essentially it’s a re-wrapped and slimmed down Microsoft Word that easily connects to your WordPress blog allowing you to work within a familiar environment and still create fabulous results on your website. 

What does it cost?  So far, it’s free.  Available to download at http://windowslivewriter.spaces.live.com/ 

Here is a list they had posted of some of the features they offer:

Windows Live Writer Full Feature List
In addition to the highlights of this release, here’s the list of all the major new features added since Windows Live Writer 2008:

  • New border treatments (including Instant Photo)
  • Crop and tilt photos
  • Insert multiple photos
  • Toolbar alignment commands enabled for images
  • Insert and upload Windows Live photo albums
  • Insert and publish video to YouTube
  • Additional spell checking languages: Arabic, Basque, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, English (Australia), Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish, and Ukrainian
  • Server-side tagging (for supported blogs)
  • Type-down filtering in the Open dialog
  • Twitter, Digg and Flickr Plug-ins
  • Improved blog account setup
  • Lightbox and Windows Live Spaces inline preview support
  • Improved category control: adding categories, type-down filtering
  • Tabbed view switching
  • AutoLink glossary
  • Smart quotes/typographic characters
  • Word count
  • Support for bidirectional languages (like Hebrew and Arabic)
  • Tabs for view switching
  • Updated look and feel

 

Looking at the list of features and using it for this post now, for about 5 minutes – so far so good.

Let’s start getting into some of the issues I see people have with posting online:

  • Formatting

A LOT of people are used to working within Microsoft Word at this point – the limitation of the online WordPress editor is that ‘What you see ISN’T always what you get’.  Different from Word, the online world is subject to styles and formatting that is not always visible within the post you are working on. 

Windows Live Writer claims to give you an ability to view the preview (just as the online editor does), however this didn’t work for me in my initial setup. I am going to change the permissions of the next user I setup to see if that will allow me to download the theme for preview.

Windows Live Writer comes with the basic tools for formatting your post – so nothing too new there. The only thing that really peaks my interest is the ‘Insert Table’, as the current WordPress is sorely lacking in table functionality without downloading more plug-ins.

Program

WordPress

Windows Live Writer

Tables

Needs improvement
(without plugins)

Good tools available
(still subject to little annoyances)

(Side note: as I update the table the alignment keeps seeming to reset – not a big deal, just a little note to recheck entire post before publishing for any other little changes that pop up)

  • Inserting Images

I love photos, I think they add a fantastic element to any number of subjects and posts.  Although the online WordPress admin panel does have a media library and post, they never seem to be formatted ‘quite right’ without a little extra manipulation.  While that’s fine for someone like myself who has no issues going into the advanced options or the HTML code and tweaking – it’s a little more intimidating for a new user.

iPod Touch

This is something really cool that I hope to own one day.  The picture was on my computer and uploading it to this post was very easy.  (I actually had the option to select a web image – which I will do next).

There are some great options that make some cool effects – notice the mirror reflection in the picture, that’s not photo-shopped, just a setting in the sidebar.  I simply selected ‘Left align’ to keep the text over here and the image there.

Lots more features and settings – make your photos look truly professional.

So far – REALLY GOOD on the photos (let’s see if they look the same online!).

 

This picture of everyone jumping for joy is linked from an online source.

Besides a little bit of annoyance of my cursor wanting to be at the top of the page after inserting an image.  All is still good.

Let’s try some advanced options on the online image:

  • Borders, size, margins, and alt text can only be updated
  • Not too many available, but that’s okay cause we’re just borrowing it!

 

 

The other interesting feature I really want to test based on the website, is the Photo Album feature….

Hmm, I’ve added the above and have a few settings about the layout – so I can’t wait to see how it looks online.

 

Well let’s see how this all looks and post what we have so far.  Review to be continued….

Okay, we’re back  – after hitting the PUBLISH button at the top left hand side of the screen – here’s the results:

  • Overall I would say just based on the advanced image options alone I would be recommending this tool to any users looking for a Word-like option
  • The table I inserted has to be adjusted based on the width of the blog I’m posting to (a little dragging the arrows around and hopefully it looks better upon republishing)
  • I was really interested to see the photo album and how it worked – I did need to login to the Windows Live site with my ID, where it uploaded the pictures to – I really like the look of the photo album, but would like to disable the ‘view full album’ feature, as I don’t want people to leave my site per se.

I’m going to continue to use this tool for a few more blog posts on more of my sites (this does let you post to more than one site), so I will update the article as I find out more tricks and keep you posted :-) !

So far, this makes it on my recommended list.

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WordPress 2.8 – What it means to users

The new WordPress it out! Version 2.8 has come a long way since 2.0 with it’s revamped look coming out in 2.7, WordPress has come a long way.

You can read about all the improvements that they’ve made at http://wordpress.org/development/2009/06/wordpress-28/ – what it comes down to is some minor improvements that you will likely find useful.

First, for those of you that like to change your themes – there is now a built in filter and search. With a few clicks you can be up and running with a new theme. No more FTP’ing!

The second major difference is how the Widgets are handled. Things like editing widgets on the fly, having multiple copies of the same widget, dragging and dropping widgets between sidebars, and saving inactive widgets so you don’t lose all their settings are long awaited and very welcomed!

Along with making it faster and smoother, there are many more improvements you can read about http://codex.wordpress.org/Version_2.8.

So far I’ve automatically upgraded a number of sites and haven’t run into any difficulties, although time will tell.

I really enjoy working with WordPress and truly believe it’s one thing that can really make the internet an accessible and realistic avenue for so many businesses.

Contact us today if you’re interested in setting up a WordPress website for your business.

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VAClassroom’s Social Media Marketing Program

One of the most popular training certification course right now is VAClassroom’s Social Marketing Specialist Program. Craig Cannings, the co-founder of VAClassroom and developer of this program, has seen so many amazing testimonies on how this niche training program has helped to increase many of their graduates’ client and income opportunities!

VAClassroom is running a very attractive summer special on this course where you can access a $100 discount off the regular price of $397 (ONLY $297). The course includes over 30 interactive videos, supplementary resources guides, action-plan templates as well as an exclusive Social Network designed for our Social Marketing Students to connect with instructors and each other – a great learning atmosphere!

“If you are looking to further your Virtual Assistant skills in the area of Social Media Marketing then don’t overlook the Social Marketing Specialist Training Program offered at VAClassroom. The course material is extensive, current and very relevant to any business looking to leverage social media into their marketing plans.

In fact, within 1 month of completing the program, I secured a Social Media project that more than paid for the tuition of the course. Now that’s a good return on investment!”

Theresa Scholes
ClickVA

Here is the link and Coupon Code for the Social Media Marketing Training Program:

http://www.vaclassroom.com/socialmarketing/cmd.asp?Clk=3060468
$100 Discount Coupon: SUMMER09

This early summer special is only available for a limited time, so take advantage of this now and save yourself $100!

VAClassroom.com Social Media Program Certification

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Windows Faces more Challenges

Well if you’re waiting for the new Windows operating system to solve your Vista issues, you may be in for a longer await than expected.

With troubling reports coming out about a reported programming error in the new operating system, it doesn’t sound like Windows PR campaign will solve this one.

The problem lies in a weakness or vulnerability that could allow someone to take control of your entire machine, bypassing all admin passwords and security.  The file that could cause this chaos could be as little as 3KB (very small).  Although not completely able to take control unless they are physically there, this does exploit a major problem that needs some fixing!

Let’s just say for now, I’m very glad that I went with a MacBook!!

Read more about it at: http://bit.ly/DuxGP

Researchers show how to take control of Windows 7, @networkworld

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Creating a “Green Routine”

Sounds catchy, doesn’t it?

“Green Routine”

That’s what I’m hoping for anyways – this to be catchy enough to really catch on. I’ve been thinking a lot lately on various ways that I can go ‘greener’, not only in business, but in everyday life.

What I know works for me is getting into routines.

So here’s my green routine:
Every morning I do a walk around the house, open up the blinds (let sunshine in to heat the house), turn the lights off in every room, turn the heat down – if it’s nice, open a window or two.

It’s little, but every morning if I’m making a little effort to be greener I’m doing something!  Not only that, but I’m starting the day with an awareness that will carry with me throughout the day , hopefully propelling me into greener actuals all day long.

Please share with us your green routine, so we can all learn and grow!

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Green Hosting – A True ‘Wind’ner

Online Office Assistants is so pleased to be providing wind powered web hosting services.

Over the years I have worked with dozens of different web hosts and the one I recommend by far has provided me with the opportunity to utilize their vast network and resources to provide you a green website hosting experience. Not only that – they care as much about the environment as I do.

Contact us today to find out more about our hosting rates and services. All new websites come with 2 months free hosting – and start up costs are minimal for the amount of return you see from having a professional website.

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A touch of green helps air stay clean

NASA knew all about it back in the early nineties, but it’s information that’s worth repeating. Houseplants can help make your indoor air quality better, not to mention providing a green oasis in even the most sterile home or office atmosphere.

Green up your office


Cheaper and more natural than those hydro consuming electronic air purifiers, houseplants can help filter out many harmful substances from the air you and your family breathe. Formaldehyde and benzene given off by many products found around the home or office such as foam padding in furniture, laminate counters and synthetic carpeting are just two of the chemicals that you may be unknowingly inhaling on a daily basis. Houseplants take in air through their leaves and process it through leaves and stems and impurities are passed from the roots to the soil where microbes and bacteria break the toxins down. Photosynthesis means that at the same time, they are taking in carbon dioxide and giving off life sustaining oxygen.


The top plant choices for air cleaning qualities are as follows:

  • areca palm
  • peace lily
  • English ivy (beware not pet friendly)
  • Corn-plant
  • Weeping fig
  • rubber plant
  • dwarf date palm
  • Boston fern
  • Chrysanthemum

Also spider plants and philodendrons showing promising results as well. Just two or three plants in an average sized living room can make a difference.

So besides being a great, green decorating accent, houseplants can help improve the indoor air you breathe!

This post was submitted by lwbiker.

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EchoSign – Stay secure and go Green!

I’ve just tried out a new service called EchoSign. Free accounts are limited 5 contracts per month – if you want to upgrade the next level is only $14.95 per month for unlimited signatures. If you need that many signatures, chance are that you won’t mind a minimal fee to get them all securely in one place.

How EchoSign Works

You just email your agreements for signature through EchoSign — they take care of the rest.

When you email your agreements through EchoSign, our servers automatically and securely take care of making sure the document gets signed and e-mailed right back to you as a PDF.  How?

You Send for Signature

EchoSign makes it as easy as possible for you to get a signature. You can email through EchoSign the document you need signed through our webmail-like interface. And pick what type of signature you want — electronic or fax. That’s it. There’s nothing to download or learn.

They Sign…

When you send the document through EchoSign, the recipient just opens the email, like they already do, and prints, signs and faxes back the document — again, just like they do today. Only easier. Your recipient doesn’t even have to make a fax cover sheet or find your fax number – EchoSign automatically gives them the fax cover sheet, complete with a secure EchoSign fax number.

…Or E-Sign

To move even faster, pick the e-Signature option. The recipient can sign right on the screen — in two clicks or less!

You’re Done!

EchoSign’s servers automatically route signed copies as PDFs to whoever needs them — not only you and the other party, but if you want, anyone else — legal, accounting, HR, your boss, your assistant, anyone. It’s 100% automated, and no one but you and the intended recipients ever receive or read the document.

Never Lose Track

We make sure you can easily find a signed copy later. We store a private copy of the signed agreement in your secure EchoSign account. And you can do even more: Send a copy to anyone. Remind people to sign it if it isn’t signed yet. Remind yourself to renew it down the road. Automatically keep track of what’s been signed and what hasn’t.

By far one of the best features – they will plant a tree for everyone you send an invite to and who signs up.  Win/Win/Win as far as I’m concerned.  So if you’re thinking of a new filing system for your contracts – give EchoSign try and let’s plant a few trees!!

Learn more about the plant a tree program at:

http://echojason.typepad.com/echosign_tips_and_tricks/2009/01/tell-a-friend-and-well-plant-a-tree.html

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