Do creative businesses really make money?
Maybe you’ve heard that art doesn’t pay. But is that true—or are people ignoring a whole world of profitable creative businesses?
“My 9 Favorite Online Resources for Taking Care of Business” (zap zap) is the second part of a series. You can also read about my five favorite tools for making writing more fun.
I’ve been a copywriter for a long time–working in ad agencies, whipping up site copy, banner ads, Facebook posts, video scripts, billboards — you name it. After a while, you get picky about your tools. You identify your favorite tools — and your least favorite. You know exactly how you need things to function and anything sub-optimal just feels annoying.
And some tools just make life a little more pleasant. Make things run smoother. Which makes it easier to focus on deep work and important things. Every person will have different preferences for their tools and the things that help keep them on track–which is why it’s so fun to read about other people’s must haves. So without further ado, here are the nine online services that I couldn’t live without.
Posts may contain affiliate links to products or services I personally use and believe are valuable for people reading my site. These links help provide revenue to run my site at no extra cost to you. You can learn more by reading my disclaimer.
In my last job, my team of six had members all over the United States. Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Cincinnati. We worked better together than any other team I can remember ever being on, and we kept things really, really simple.
Slack for communicating. Google Drive for documents.
The wonderful thing about Google Drive is that it’s accessible to anyone with a Gmail address. Which means it’s free and it comes with 15GB storage. You can also purchase a Google Workspace account which will integrate your business email with Google Drive for a few bucks a month (so you’d be email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org, which can trigger Spam filters when you reach out to people).
Google Drive has everything Microsoft Office Suite has, with the added bonus that their programs actually work. (Microsoft Word has ONE JOB and yet it starts to lag on documents longer than 20 pages. WHY.) Google Docs is your basic word processor with all the same functions as Word. Google Sheets takes the place of Excel and Google Slides takes the place of PowerPoint.
The best part about Google Drive programs is that they’re cloud-based, which means you can access them from any computer, any tablet, any smartphone. You can share documents with other people in real time, and set different levels of access to different people. For instance, letting one person have access to edit the document, and another person access only to comment. You can also download your file to various hard file formats, like Word’s .doc/.docx, as an Excel .xls, or even as a PDF.
I have a lot more to say about how to use Google Drive to help organize marketing data and content, but it’s going to have to wait for another post.
There are only so many ways you can zhush up a marketing message before you run out of words. When you’re writing for competing goals–Hit these keywords! Appeal to real people! Stand out from the competition! – a thesaurus is the tool you need.
In English, we have tons of words that mean the same thing, or similar things with slightly different flavors.
“Excuse me, Sir.”
You could get a man’s attention using any of these phrases, but the subtext underlying each one is going to set the tone for your entire conversation. If you want to be less formal, more formal, more playful, less rigid, go to Thesaurus.com and start writing down alternatives for the words you need. And if you’re not quite sure about all the meanings carried in a word, use Dictionary.com (available on Thesaurus.com as a tab at the top of the page) to double check.
One of the harder things to explain to people is how, as a writer, every word just has a vibe in my mind. A lot of words that mean the same or similar things have different vibes.
For example, teacher (vibe: warm, patient) is close to professor (vibe: more specialized and advanced), or tutor (vibe: one on one help), or mentor (vibe: friendly, advisor, someone who wants me to succeed), or coach (performance-based, encouraging). So if your business is all about helping people learn how to play the guitar, you could call yourself a Music Teacher, or a Rock n Roll Professor or a Guitar Tutor or a Band Mentor or a Chord Coach and every one of them would carry with it a different feeling and a slightly different meaning. Ya dig?
When it comes to your business, words can make or break your message. For example, I could describe what I do as a writer in a number of different ways, all of which have different subtext.
I’m an advertising copywriter = A little stiff and jargony; makes sense to people inside the industry but not descriptive to people who are unfamiliar with advertising. Would be good for a professional portfolio site or marketing myself to ad agencies looking for freelancers.
I help businesses optimize their marketing = Formal, kind of stuffy. Good for a sales pitch to established businesses who might need my services, but still not descriptive to real people. I might say this at a professional networking event or to someone in a suit.
I’m a writer who helps businesses sell more products = Plain-spoken, descriptive, perfect for describing what I do to someone I just met at a party, or for selling my services to real people who just want their businesses to succeed.
If I want to target regular business owners who just need a few tips on how to spruce up their marketing, calling myself an advertising copywriter is not going to get me the same response as saying, I’m a writer who helps businesses sell more products. It just won’t connect with my audience.
Thesauruses are great for finding words with the right vibe to convey your true message. Just like the three examples above mean the same thing but emphasize different elements of my message, your words can mean more than their definitions.
When you own a business, even as a solo-preneur, you quickly realize you’re going to need multiple email addresses. One dedicated to sending out newsletters so your main address doesn’t get cluttered. One just for opt-outs. And of course, you’re still checking your personal email throughout the day, and if you’re like me, you’ve got two of those. One with a stupid name you set up in 2004, and another that’s your name, for when you need to seem professional.
Maybe you also chat with your best friend in Brooklyn everyday through Google Chat. Or you run a Facebook Group you need to check in on throughout the day. Maybe you keep an eye on your brand’s Instagram comments from your desktop, or use a communication program like AirTable, Slack or Asana to keep your team on the same page.
Shift is a desktop program that integrates everything into one window. Instead of toggling back and forth between three or four Chrome, Firefox or Safari windows with countless tabs open, you can just click over to Shift. It gives you Gmail on your desktop (the only feature of Outlook I missed) and all your programs along a minimalist sidebar. Take a look at the full list of apps and extensions Shift supports.
For years, I’ve had a professional portfolio site on Squarespace. And it worked great–it was everything I needed and nothing more. But when I set up a website for my business, LRG Creative, I quickly decided WordPress would be a better fit. For one thing, there are just more options and capabilities–with hundreds of plug-ins and add-ons to deliver any kind of service I need. For another, it’s great for blogging, which (according to my research) isn’t Squarespace’s main strength. And WordPress just has so many more nuanced and thorough capabilities than Squarespace (which is better for simple, elegant, easy sitebuilding).
So I dove into WordPress head-first. And immediately regretted it. The learning curve was…steep. What had I been thinking? There was no obvious way to get from the blank WordPress client to building the site I had in my head, and for a few days, I mostly just tried things and swore at the screen non-stop.
Enter Elementor. It’s a plug-in you add to your WordPress site that allows you to drag and drop formatting right on the page. Add a section with columns, drop in images or headlines or text boxes. Drop in an HTML widget to plug in embed code from YouTube or Spotify or Giphy. Customize the colors, fonts, shapes, backgrounds, etc., on your site to match your business’s branding. It’s all simple with Elementor.
I did upgrade to the Pro service for $49 a year, which I feel is worth it.
Is there still a learning curve? Yes. That’s the tough thing about any new project, unfortunately. But there are tons of tutorials on YouTube from Elementor themselves and other creators that break down the process of building a site into easy steps. Which brings me to…
Okay, this isn’t an online resource I use only for my business. I’ve subscribed to YouTube Premium for years, and I get so much out of it that I’d rather ditch certain streaming services than my YouTube subscription.
But it comes in surprisingly handy for so many different elements of starting a business. As I mentioned above, it’s been heaven sent for looking up Elementor tutorials. I’ve used it to learn Tailwind and Shift to ensure I’m getting what I need out of them.
There are videos that break down the basics of search engine optimization, keyword planning, email marketing and more. Whatever program you’re thinking about using, someone’s done a review on it. Whatever service you subscribe to, someone’s created a quick-start video guide.
In addition to making it easier to learn new things (and save a shit-ton of time you would’ve spent banging your head against the wall), YouTube is also a treasure trove of background music. As I mentioned in my post about my favorite items that help keep me productive, sometimes silence is counter-productive for working. Especially writing.
Maybe you live in a beautiful, open concept house with a lack of noise-absorbing walls. Or maybe you’ve got young kids around, and even with someone else watching them, they’re still noisy. The house next door might have dogs that bark at every squirrel, or there’s construction down the block with power-tools buzzing all day.
Doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just need sounds to drown out other sounds–music, or nature sounds, or white noise, or whatever. YouTube is the absolute greatest in this regard, better than Spotify or Pandora or Apple Music or anything else.
Words can’t explain how delighted I am by the creativity of the people who mix these kinds of videos. There’s something for every mood.
If you have an iPhone (especially without a ton of storage) or an Apple computer or iPad, iCloud is a great, cheap way to add cloud storage and keep your important files safe.
I think a lot of us use our phones for a little bit of everything. It’s a camera when we need one, and photo storage. We use it as our link to our social media channels. Or use it to toggle between email inboxes – personal, professional, business. And to be fair, iPhones make backup files every so often, which is great for general protection against accidents.
But when you lose your phone, or it breaks, or slips right out of your hand while you’re filming the misty ambiance of Loch Ness on your Scottish Hightland vacation–you’re screwed. Especially if your last automatic backup was days or weeks ago. Anything new you’ve stored on your phone is lost.
Even without an accident, you might just run out of storage on your phone. Paying for additional iCloud storage means not only will your photos and videos get stored to the cloud, but you can access them from your laptop or iPad too. And you can use iCloud for laptop storage as well, keeping all of your important documents in one ephemeral, central place you can access from any device.
The first two paid plans are $0.99 and $2.99, which means it may actually be more expensive NOT to have this plan in place if something goes wrong.
Flodesk is one of those services that gets a lot of press, and for good reason. It’s a simple, elegant service that integrates email marketing into your business with an easy-to-use interface. Starting a new business can mean constantly finding yourself at the bottom of a steep learning curve. But Flodesk made it easy to build forms to capture emails for a newsletter list, program different lists (like one for customers and one for people who sign up for a free newsletter).
They also have tons of premade templates that you can customize to fit your brand with just a few clicks. By setting up your brand colors within Flodesk, you’ll always have your palette on hand for custom color combos that match your site and social media branding. Sign up through my link here and you’ll get 50% off this service for the first year.
(Note: I also got 50% off by following someone else’s affiliate link, but I would not recommend this service–even with a discount–if I didn’t love it myself.)
One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen around marketing from other business owners is how grueling keeping up with social media can be. People burn out posting everyday, or they run out of fresh ideas for what to share.
But the business owners who thrive at social media have a secret: they’re not grinding to put out content. They have a system. Like Tailwind, which is a service that can schedule posts to your Pinterest boards, Instagram account and Facebook page with the click of a button. Every time you create one piece of content – say, a blog or a product – you can create multiple Pinterest pins, Instagram posts and stories, and Facebook posts within a matter of moments from that one piece.
There is a bit of a trick to it, which is where a service like YouTube comes in handy. Just search for tutorials on how to get Tailwind up and running for your brand. Then you’ll have the power to harness promotion on a much larger scale for a fraction of the time. Who could say no to that?
So there you have it — my 9 current favorite online resources for running my business. Have you used any of them? Which ones do you like? Which services do you like better? Drop me a comment below and let me know!
I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year?
These are the legal templates I use and trust from A Self Guru. Read more about why you need them and why I chose them.
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Maybe you’ve heard that art doesn’t pay. But is that true—or are people ignoring a whole world of profitable creative businesses?
Meet Heather Miller, an amazing hand-drawn illustrator in Detroit who loves creating work for brands in a riot of color.
There are 7 stages in any marketing funnel. I’ll show you how to use each stage to improve your written marketing and win new, loyal customers for life.