The main premise of this blog is living an extraordinary life. I’m not always certain what that means, but for the most part I define Extraordinary Living as arranging your life so you can do more of the things you love and fewer of the things you dislike. That often, but not always, means generating your income through self-employment, organizing your finances to maximize passive income, and self-improvement through time management, goal-setting, and several other areas.
After that long winded introduction, here is the segueway into computer software. Often the purpose of computers gets lost among the bells and whistles used to market them. For our purposes, software serves one function—to make tasks that directly or indirectly produce income—faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. Being able to better serve your customers, and produce more income with less effort, leads to more freedom to do the things you enjoy.
There a few things to consider when selecting software. The first is the actual hard cost of purchasing it versus the return it will produce in income or saved time. Theoretically, saved time results in greater income or freedom, however, very good software can be expensive. That higher cost may, or may not, be offset by sufficient income or efficiency to make the investment worth it.
Another important factor is the learning curve. There are some impressive software packages that accomplish incredible tasks, but they can be very time consuming to learn. You have to decide if future income, or time savings, will offset the investment in time to learn it.
Finally, you must consider what bells and whistles you really need. Software has become so advanced, that there are usually many feature you do not need. This can lead to higher costs and a steep learning curves, but there is also a hidden danger. Sometimes you end up using features because you have them, when your really don’t need them, thus wasting time. To explain this, I will jump right in by explaining video editing software as my first example.
I use Windows Live Movie Maker video editing software for creating and editing videos for promotions, informational videos for customers or prospects, or creating actual DVDs for products. For the cost (free), and the very fast learning curve, it’s hard to beat Windows Live Movie Maker. That is what I use 90% of the time.
For making short video screenshots of your actions on the computer, Jing is a very simple free program. It allows you to record your mouse movements along with your voice into short videos. It is excellent for explaining something to your employees, virtual assistants, or customers in a quick video and then sending the video to them. I’ve even made entire PowerPoint video seminars using Jing. There is a worthwhile low cost upgrade to Jing Pro that allows you to record files into an mp4 which can then be edited using Windows Live Movie Maker.
Finally, there is Camtasia, which does everything the others do, but at a greater cost and has several advanced options. So here is the catch with software; Camtasia is much more expensive and takes a lot more effort to learn. If you need those advanced features, Camtasia is worth it, but if you don’t, it is a bad investment of time and money. That said, Camtasia is an awesome product.
It’s hard to beat the latest versions of Microsoft Office even though it’s made by the company everyone loves to hate. I use Word, Excel, Publisher, and Outlook. I’ve tried a lot of other products, but often return to these old basics for the majority of my needs. I’ve written books in Word, made websites and hundreds of promotional products in Publisher, and I use Outlook for a basic email client and customer relationship management (CRM).
I use Excel for 90% of my clients’ financial and business planning work. I believe the more sophisticated programs don’t meet my test of having to provide more value for the time and money. The more advanced software often provides more information than in necessary and over complicates things.
Microsoft has worked out most of the bugs, and they continually improve these products, making them easier to use and more capable. At the price of “free,” since they often comes with computers, it’s hard to beat, but even when paying for the upgraded versions, it’s money well spent.
This program has been one of the single best software products I’ve ever used. For the cost of free, Dropbox allows you to store your files on your computer in one master folder that is also stored somewhere in internet land. That same folder can reside on any other computer you own and they automatically sync when connected to the internet. It’s amazing and very simple.
When you get a new computer or wipe your hard drive it’s no problem because everything is automatically brought back. I’ve even upgraded for a reasonable fee to get more space. The more I travel and run my company from around the world; this program has become indispensable and replaced my need for programs such as GoToMyPC or LogMeIn. However, when I had multiple locations and employees working at my computers, I had to use remote access software to solve issues while away.
I’ve been using Roboform for many years and it saves me hours a week. Roboform allows you to enter one password, once, to access any password protected web sites. It also stores your payment information so you can make online purchases with the click of a button. There is no more need to enter credit card and shipping details every time. But be careful, this ease of shopping can be dangerous.
Phone / Voice Messaging
Google Voice is really impressive and it’s free. You receive a phone number that you may use or forward other numbers to it and then all of your voice messages are transcribed and sent to your email. It does much more than this, but this is my favorite part. When traveling, you can go online and check all of your voice messages online without the cost of using your phone abroad. You can also read messages during a meeting, movie, or conference, without actually lifting your phone to your ear and calling your voice mail. I’ve been using YouMail for years for the same thing. It is very similar to the free Google Voice, but has some additional features.
If you plan to do any marketing, the very first thing you must do is get an email auto-responder. There are two companies I recommend. One is very inexpensive and the other is pricier.
Aweber is a basic, but a very high quality email auto responder. It allows you to add forms to your websites so prospects or customers can add their name, email address, or any other information you need which is then automatically added to a database. From that data base you can automatically or manually send them emails.
I’ve used Aweber for many years and it is a very good company. The deliverability rate is high, which means your messages are less likely to end up in your customers’ SPAM filters. The learning curve with Aweber is relatively fast with their helpful how to videos. This is the first step any business owner beginning their marketing should take.
For more advanced marketing, Infusionsoft is the only product I recommend. It is an advanced CRM designed around marketing and sales. It does all the features as Aweber, but on steroids, but that doesn’t even do Infusionsoft justice. It will manage your entire multiple step marketing campaigns and allow you to do things with your pipeline you didn’t even think were possible. If you want to run an online shopping cart and membership or recurring billing, Infusionsoft can handle it as well.
I absolutely love Infusionsoft, but it is very sophisticated and not inexpensive. If you have a more advanced knowledge of marketing, this is the perfect product, however, if you’re just beginning to learn about marketing, the learning curve is too steep and you will not get enough out of it to justify the cost.
WordPress is a blogging platform that is probably the best in the world, and it is free. With a WordPress blog you can easily set up your own website and/or blog. They are very easy to edit and add pages and content to. They can be customized with a little more knowledge.
This free software is rapidly becoming a staple in my daily work. I first used it to call my family for free when traveling abroad. Then I’ve started using it to call everyone, including clients, when my family and I travel outside the U.S. for extended periods. You can’t beat the price.
Recently I’ve begun using it along with CallBurner and Vodburner to create a digital recordings of audio or video interviews. Those two have a very affordable fee, but combined with Skype, it’s the perfect setup.
I picked this idea up from Tim Ferriss and now use Evernote all of the time. It’s a catch all for any ideas or projects I’m working on and I can write a note or clip an entire web page into its system. Whenever I have a blog idea, it usually starts here. The great thing is, whether I’m on my phone, or any of my computers, Evernote always is synchronized in all places. Usually when an idea pops in my head I start a folder in Evernote, and later I add to it until I have enough fuel to write something longer.
Antivirus / Spyware
I finally discovered that these two free products work much better than the more known and costly programs on the market. Ad-Aware and AVG Free Anti-virus are the only two programs I use to keep my computer running clean of any virus or spyware, without bogging down the computer like the products do.
I have several grease boards spanning a wall in my office that I use to organize client or my marketing type projects. I love working from them, but often I need something more organized and permanent. I use Bubble.us to make flow charts quickly that I can save and modify. This program is perfect for multiply step marketing campaigns that have 15, 30 or 45 sequences. It’s the only way to keep track of all of the different steps, including multiple forks in the sequences.
The above is most of what sits on my computers today. There are a few more very specific nich programs that I use that won’t apply to a general audience, but above is 97% of what I use and most are free, or very low cost. I’ve tried a lot of different things and spent a lot more money, however, I’ve found that simple is often better. Free isn’t always better, but the return on investment on the above products often outweighs much of the more expensive stuff.
I will add to this post with time, but I would really appreciate any great suggestions you have. And for those of you ready to let me know, from what I hear, Mac is better, but there again, I haven’t yet felt the learning curve would be worth it, so many of these products are PC specific I assume.