There’s an old saying that you’re only as good as your tools. That’s especially true when it comes to designing and building websites for clients. As professionals, we need to create a zone of productivity, creativity, and sanity to support the work we do. Investing in the tools of our trade and learning to use them effectively is essential.
It would seem to go without saying that a web professional needs a computer, a smartphone, and a stable Internet connection as basic tools, but I have seen many a soul limping along with inferior, time-wasting, irritating situations in all three of these areas. So let’s start with the basics and move on from there.
At a minimum, you’ll need a good computer and high-speed Internet. It doesn’t make a lick of difference if you choose a MAC or PC. What’s important is that your computer is fast, reliable, and has plenty of memory. Don’t put up with old, temperamental equipment. If you routinely have to baby your machine to get it to work properly, just go ahead and replace it. Once you have a good computer, take the time to create an organized file structure to keep you working efficiently.
Don’t be one of those people who prides themselves on still using a flip phone (ye gads!). Smartphones allow you to do your work anywhere while keeping in contact with your clients and colleagues. They’re also great for on-the-go research, inspiration, and organization. The cameras in the latest phones are terrific, allowing you to take quality images for blog posts, social media, or even for your client’s websites. Then there are the apps that keep your business at your fingertips, wherever you are. Need to send a scanned document? No problem. Get the Tiny Scanner app and you’re good to go. Need to make a bank deposit? You’re covered. I especially like the voicemail transcription on my iPhone. I can visually check my messages without being disturbed by nonessential calls, or worse yet – those horrible robocalls.
Life is too short to be using an Internet service that’s slow or keeps going down. If good Internet service is available in your neck of the woods, avail yourself of it.
I recommend using GSuite for your business email rather than having your web host handle your email account. Most web hosting companies provide a free email as an incentive but it isn’t their main line of business. You’ll be much better served using an email company that specializes in that. Google does with GSuite and Gmail. You’re going to need a Gmail address in order to get Google Analytics and a Google Local Business account so you may as well spend the $5 per email address per month and know that you’re getting a fast, relatively spam-free email service.
Google Docs and Google Sheets
You may wonder why I recommend Google Docs and Google Sheets and the reason is document control. You can give others permission to view or edit both documents and spreadsheets. Even if you prefer to use Word or Excel, as a professional, people will expect you to be able to share their documents on Google Docs.
If you don’t use an online calendar, stop right now and set one up. It is essential to keeping your professional life in order. It’s also great to be able to set up appointments and invite others, and, when someone accepts your invitation, the appointment will be added to their calendar.
Although I do use Google Docs and Sheets for shared documents, I still prefer Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Save yourself all the back and forth when trying to set up appointments with people. Instead, give them the option to choose an appointment time based on your stated availability. Calendly is a simple tool that syncs with your Google calendar and allows you to offer people various times when you’re available to meet.
I love the efficiency of using proposal-generating software. Spend a little time creating a template for your most common projects and then bask in the fact that you can create a proposal and send it off in a fraction of the time it took before when you were creating each one from scratch. Another benefit of Proposify is that you can see when, how often, and for how long your prospect has viewed their proposal.
Small businesses need a way to easily create, send, and manage client invoices. Freshbooks makes invoicing and tracking payments an enjoyable process. Using their report interface, cash flow is easy to keep up with as it shows the money scheduled to come in during a particular time period.
Small businesses also need to manage and track expenses. Quickbooks will do such a great job that doing your taxes at the end of the year will be a breeze. You can use Quickbooks for invoicing (which I do), but I still prefer Freshbooks. It’s possible to sync Freshbooks with Quickbooks Online, but, unfortunately, Quickbooks is not the standard.
Zoom is another one of my favorite tools. I use it for client meetings, video conferencing, and webinars. The free version gives you the ability to hold meetings for up to 100 participants, for up to 40 minutes. The Pro version does not restrict the meeting’s time duration. Both levels come with participant controls and the ability to share screens and record the sessions. For webinars and higher numbers of participants, you’ll need an upgraded package. Get the free version and give it a try.
The Slack app is a great resource for teams, workplaces, or organizations that allows members of a specific Slack group to chat one-on-one with others in that group; to communicate with the entire group; or, to communicate with group members on a channel related to a specific topic area. Slack allows you to share files of all sorts and it keeps everything organized; whereas, if you were using email, you’d have to wade through your email threads to find all the content related to a particular team, project or group.
I love Grammarly and use it every day. When I write a post and think it’s good-to-go, I run it through Grammarly which usually catches a few errors. Grammarly checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, context, and sentence structure. It automatically works with Firefox or Chrome Browser extensions, allowing you to proof your Gmail messages, WordPress posts, and social media updates to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, on the fly. It will work with Microsoft Word for Windows but since I use a MAC, I simply click a button to have Grammarly open my document in a browser window where it corrects my docs. Grammarly can never replace an editor or proofreader, however, so if you do a lot of writing and you really want to make sure it’s perfect, you might consider hiring a professional.
Grammarly’s Premium version, which I subscribe to for a minimal fee of $9.00 per month, also checks for plagiarism. I use it for checking my clients’ copy to confirm that they didn’t inadvertently borrow it from another source.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Back in the day, Photoshop was extremely expensive so most of us would try and hold off on doing an upgrade for as long as we could. Then came the days of software as a service where you could pay a monthly fee and get the latest version. This is better for the company that’s able to keep everyone on the latest versions and make more money. And it’s better for their customers since it makes it more affordable than getting a big software hit each year or so. You can choose the package that includes the application you need or get a discount on the entire Adobe Creative Suite.
Photoshop is the gold standard for graphic designers working with pixel-based images designed for print, web, and mobile apps. This powerful editor lets you adjust the colors, sizes, and orientation of photographs and images; and, the layers allow you to make changes incrementally and combine them into one image. It’s my go-to for editing images and creating logos since I’m not skilled in Illustrator.
Adobe Illustrator is best used when you need to create precise, editable vector graphics that will stay crisp and sharp when scaled to any size.
Adobe InDesign is the tool of choice for creating and publishing documents with multiple pages containing text, images, and vector art.
Adobe Acrobat DC
Adobe Acrobat is the trusted PDF creator that also allows you to convert, organize, edit, and sign PDF files. Being able to edit content in a PDF is essential in my work creating courses using PDF transcripts.
It was a happy day for web designers when Google Fonts came on the scene. Before you had your choice of about 13, web-safe fonts to create a website design, or you could pay a monthly subscription to Typekit to license the use of a font on a website. Now, there’s a directory of hundreds of fonts that can be easily added to a website in seconds and also downloaded to your computer at no charge. You don’t want to go crazy with adding fonts to your site since each font makes a data call to Google which will slow your site down.
Even if you’re proficient with Photoshop, Canva is a great resource for making quick and easy graphics and social media posts. If you don’t happen to be proficient in Photoshop, you can create a nice little logo in a pinch.
Awesome Screenshot, a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome, lets you capture the full page, or a selection of a page which you can then crop, edit, and annotate before saving. When I come across something on the Internet I’d like to save for later, I could bookmark the page, but sometimes I want to capture the page or a selection of the page to use as a particular reference. For example, I often capture before and after screenshots of the websites we build. When I find great examples of websites, sales pages or opt-in offers, I like to create a screenshot for our various swipe files. Awesome Screenshot does an awesome job. https://www.awesomescreenshot.com/
Font Finder is a Firefox browser extension that allows designers, developers, and typography lovers to analyze font information to determine its name, color, size, or family from any copy on a web page and to save it to the clipboard if needed. The information can be quickly accessed through highlight & right-click, or right-click on page and inspect-element item.
Among other things, you can use the ColorZilla eyedropper tool to get a color reading from any point in your browser, adjust this color, and paste it into another program. I use it often to help me select and identify the specific hex code of my or my client’s brand colors for an exact match when I’m creating a branded graphic.
WordPress is the only choice for a robust, content-management website that’s easy for an end-user to edit and add new content. WordPress is in its 15th year and currently powers over 28% of the world’s websites.
Please Share Your Favorite Tools
There are so many cool tools out there that I could go on and on but I’ll stop with this list of my top-25 favorites. You may know of some I’ve never heard of. Please share your favorites in the comments!