tools

Can Your Phone Do That?

**This post contains affiliate links**

In addition to phone cases that do more, there are lots of accessories and attachments available that can transform your phone into any other tool you may need for your business. I couldn’t cover ALL the possible phone accessories/attachments in one blog post, since there are so many (and you can only really use one or two at a time, otherwise you’d have an Inspector Gadget phone). The following phone related gadgets are practical and affordable, plus their application can mean saving money on an extra piece of equipment.

Car Mount. This is helpful for people who travel a lot for work related purposes, but it can also be useful if you need a mount for pretty much any reason. This mount attaches to many different surfaces, so you can set it up on your window, wall, kitchen counter, and pretty much anywhere else. Think about anytime you’ve been using Google Maps on your phone for directions while trying to drive- not exactly a safe situation unless you have an extra arm. There are several different types of mounts available for different prices, but here is a recent list of 17 to get an idea.

Square Reader: If you’ve ever needed to accept a card payment from a customer on the go or without a retail setup, the Square Reader lets you swipe from your phone. To get the reader, all you have to do is sign up for a Square account and you’ll get the magstripe reader. Although it costs a little extra, you can purchase a Square Chip Reader for $29 that reads both chip cards and the usual stripe. Either way, the processing fee is 2.75% (which, if you consider the convenience factor is a bit of a fair trade). The reader works online and offline, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of a bad internet/data connection in order to accept payments.



Keyboard. A useful tool for freelancers/people who may not have the budget to purchase a laptop but need to work on the go. Typing on your phone’s keypad is fine for shorter content, but as someone who has to type a lot of longer content, that tiny keyboard gets old fast. Some keyboards can be connected physically or through Bluetooth. Some of these keyboards range from $30-$130, depending on the brand. A couple features to consider- whether or not it comes with a stand (which I’d recommend if you don’t already have one to keep your phone upright while you type), and whether or not you want it to fold (which may be useful if you pack up and go a lot). We really like the ZAGG keyboard– it’s foldable, wireless, and can connect to your smartphone.

Dongles. Need to connect your phone to a projector? Certain dongles (the funny name for certain cords that connect your phone to another device) can hook you up. This Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter will connect your phone to a projector or any compatible AV device. For Samsung users, this HDMI cable will also do the trick. It’s also a great way to do movie night (not really a business application, but a fun idea nevertheless).

Selfie Stick. Don’t knock it till you try it. Selfie sticks are not the magic wand of narcissistic millennials, they can also have a business application. You can use them to get a better vantage point for a picture, recording live videos, and more. (Additional ideas for using a selfie stick include self defense and feeding your pets). Selfie Sticks may seem like a frivolous phone accessory for your business, but you’d be surprised at how handy they can actually be.

Are there any practical phone accessories you’ve found helpful that got neglected in this post? Let us know! We love hearing about useful tech stuff 🙂



Changing Website Design Forever: The Grid and PageCloud

About six months ago, someone asked me what I thought of ‘The Grid‘. Started by some folks behind Medium.com, it was a promising startup. The membership model was simple: sign on as a founding member and lock in a low monthly rate. The idea is that artificial intelligence would decide on what was important on your website and optimize it accordingly for display.

thegridhomepage

It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out $8/month times 56,000ish people is not a bad chunk of change.

Now here is where The Grid seems to have gone off the rails. They promised a ‘late spring’ launch. Now late spring can be anywhere from May up to June 22 (the summer solstice) in terms of interpretation. Guess what didn’t happen?

Instead, The Grid launched its ‘beta’ version to 100 founding members in July, promising to do a full release when they had 100 happy users.

Problem was they kept taking out Facebook ads during all this and so people, seeing it in their newsfeed, left comments there, many of which The Grid did not respond to.

At first, people understood the delay… but the delay plus paid ads plus lack of communication started to rile people up. This comment pretty much summarizes the overall sentiment of those not happy with The Grid:

thegridunhappiness

Basic message: yes we’re on Facebook but we’re communicating with founding members via email and the public via Twitter. So I went to Twitter last night and saw this exchange… with a guy that has 39 followers:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.44.30 AM

OK so there’s no time for Facebook updates but there is time for a Twitter engagement with someone who a) might not even be a founding member and b) has a relatively small following? It doesn’t make much sense. I get that they are hesitant to put out a date but as businesses wait for this technology to come out, etc., it’s pretty hard to not know how long the wait will last.

Of course there are some people who have seen The Grid in action and say it is amazing and that they still believe etc. but I think collectively, the public is wary at this point of The Grid. I certainly am, no matter how many tech journalists with thousands of Twitter followers tell me otherwise. Honestly, I will happily pay $25/month when it comes out to just try it.

So I’ve been watching The Grid for about six months and last night, another Facebook ad showed up to me for PageCloud. Look familiar?

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.53.59 AM



So the idea with PageCloud is that you can have a designer create your site but PageCloud’s technology allows you to edit it on your screen (move elements, resize, etc.) A bit different than having a website automatically created.

I looked at both The Grid and PageCloud. Pricing is similar ($8ish/month for a locked in membership rate and early access) but PageCloud is rolling this out A LOT differently.

For example they are responding to current articles in their blog, which is being kept up to date:

PageCloud's response to the idea that 'web design is dead'

PageCloud’s response to the idea that ‘web design is dead’

The original 'web design is dead' article in UX Magazine, citing AI as a reason website design is declining/dying.

The original ‘web design is dead’ article in UX Magazine, citing AI as a reason website design is declining/dying.

I will say if I had $1 for every time a client said “I trust your intelligence and experience completely, just design me something!” I’d have zero dollars. Because despite the fact that some people seem to have no opinion, they often get one when they see their website design concept. They suddenly hate purple or their email newsletter more prominently featured. Seriously, I’ve seen it happen.

The reality we all face when we want a website:

1) We want a well functioning beautiful website that looks great on all screens
2) We are not going to like the first thing a designer (or The Grid or anyone else) shows us, even if it is perfect, and
3) We are going to want some things how we want them (Definite side menu! Definite slideshow! Something to decide on definitely.)

(If you don’t believe me on 2 in particular, watch Say Yes To The Dress and – even when they find the exact right dress the first time- notice that the bride always tries on several. My statement is no attack of people being persnickety about web design, it’s just human nature to want to see other options.)



So The Grid and PageCloud have accepted these realities and are dealing with them in two different ways.

With something like The Grid, you can click through automatically generated options until you find one you like. You don’t need a designer to start with. Content is your main feature.

With PageCloud, you can have the layout, etc. likely produced by a professional but maintained by you. You probably want a designer to give you some nice ‘bones’ to work with. Content is what you are changing.

Different products but we can agree both are changing the way we look at web design. But I can bet you can tell which one would be easier for me to sell to a client. (You can go to each website and watch the intro videos to get an idea of how each are different.)

I will say PageCloud is maintaining an active social media presence (responding to Facebook comments, etc) and overall, seems like a more upbeat corner of the internet than The Grid right now. Also, rather than alienating the kind of people who could help them ‘sell’ this service (web professionals), PageCloud seems to want to bring them in. Like this guy who said something they could have easily ignored but didn’t:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 12.22.35 PM

I’m going to make a call right now that we can all look back on in a few months: PageCloud is going to do better financially than The Grid because:

1) Designers will be involved.
2) People will get to decide elements (ie not have robots do EVERYTHING for them.
3) There is way better PR happening prelaunch, allowing customers and future customers to feel much better about this purchase.

Once I can get in, I’ll be happy to report back on what I think of both systems but this is a prediction! Stay tuned!



What Toggl Has Taught Me About Life

They say what you can measure, you can manage… and as someone who has at least has a passing interest in productivity, I know this means I need to measure how I’m spending my time.

I know to some of my self employed friends, tracking time can feel an awful lot like working for ‘the man’. Honestly, I felt that way for a long time. I’d try to keep, then eventually get overwhelmed by spreadsheets. I then tried tracking only billable hours, not a complete picture but better than nothing.

For the past 6ish months, when it came time to bill clients I would go through my spreadsheet, Kassie’s spreadsheet, John’s spreadsheet, and Leslie’s spreadsheet to tally totals then invoice the client… or make a note to do more next month. It was kind of making me insane. So I asked everyone to switch to Toggl, a time management system that works with Google (or you can also create a free standing account) built on a ‘freemium’ model- meaning x amount is free but after, you pay.

Like any good leader, I tried to do what I was asking those who worked with me to do. And tracking my time for these last two months has taught me some things.



1. Clients that I thought were taking a lot of time were just taking up mental energy. 

I think we all have these things in our life that we perceive as taking a lot of time but then when you actually look back, it was like 15 minutes. Toggl-ing helped me keep track of not who I thought was taking up a lot of time but who actually was.

2. Checking email takes a lot of my time… and I wonder if it could take less.

checkingemailtoggle

Above, according to Toggl, is how much time I’ve spent on email/project management.. this week.

Despite checking my email twice a day (except Wednesdays which is my email cleanout day), I realize I spend a lot of time checking email and putting things from email (or phone call) into our project management system.



3. I spend less on our own marketing stuff than I’ve projected.

What’s nice about all of us sharing a project though is I see just because I’m not spending time on it, doesn’t mean other people aren’t.

4. It’s for now… and later.

This system over time will help me be more fair with clients, and us, about how long things we do really take. So not only is it going to save ME time with billing now but it’ll help us estimate projects, distribute resources, etc. in the future.

mylasttwodaysintoggl

5. I get to see when my Breaking Even coworkers are active. 

Like any group of people, we all have patterns. I can see for example John likes to log in Saturday mornings, which means if I am on chat at that time, I can probably catch him.

Am I stalking people with Toggl? No, but it does help me to know what work patterns people prefer. I can also note when I have been particularly productive… and attempt to copy the variables that day that made it so useful.

6. We need an internal system we all agree on.

Yeah, we’re still figuring it out. Some of us aren’t putting things into projects, some of us have accidentally duplicated projects. Any new software has a learning curve, I just appreciate that everyone is willing to use it.

So I will say, if you decide to track your time, the results will surprise you. And possibly delight you. I know my time with Toggl so far has done both.



Three Free Tools To Test Page Load Time

47% of people will not wait more than two seconds for a website to load. And if you still don’t care about this yet, please look at this infographic: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/

I bet you’re wondering now, how long does it take my website to load? (And if you don’t, you are in serious denial my friend.)

Here are some free tools you can use to see if your website’s load time:

http://www.webpagetest.org/
Great for: Testing specific browser versions and locations

webpagetest

So let’s say looking at Google Analytics you know most of your customers are using Google Chrome and located in Argentina. You can test the page load time specifically for this case. Now it’s a free tool so don’t go expecting it’ll have every possibility you’d want but at least it can give you an idea of things.

http://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Great for: Getting technical ideas on how to fix issues.

googlepagespeedinsights

If you aren’t looking for a specific load time but want a more technical analysis with some fixes, this tool in the Google Developers section is nice. Specific files are mentioned and the benefit of each fix is also outlined.

http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/
Great for: Overview

toolspingdom

If part of you is wanting that ‘grade’ (and comparison with how your website is doing compared to others) as well as a detailed breakdown of what is slowing your site down, this is a nice tool.

Now if you want something more, like constant monitoring of your website or analyzing more than one page of your site at a time, there are paid services that take this whole analyzing your site load time to that next level. But if you want a drive by view and are ready to do something about the results, these tools can take you far.

Is Someone Copying Your Blog?

contentscrapingandyourblogAs a blogger, I’ve long had my eye on content scrapers, which are people who steal content from your website and, with little or no changes, put it on theirs.

Search engines love blogs so in an effort to get fresh website content that people are looking for, content scrapers hope to take the work that someone else put into writing and use it for their own gain.

I used to pay attention to this when I was a daily blogger but have since stopped, in small part because it made me mad that someone copied my work but in larger part because I realized the people who were doing it were desperate and probably not going to get very far. I have bigger fish to fry.

Matt noticed a few weeks ago that some websites, when he copied a snippet from them, added a URL back to the original post. Of course, I hadn’t noticed this so I immediately looked into it.



Here’s an example of what I mean.

Let’s say I go on the Time’s website and find this article:

articleintime

And in this article I found something I wanted to save, somewhere. I highlight and copy the text:

articlewithquotehighlightedtime

 

When I go to paste that text, here is what happens:

If you want some insight into why the Department of Justice put a gate hold on the merger between American Airlines and US Airways, here’s a number to ponder: 13 million seats—gone. That’s how many airplane seats have disappeared over the past year—seats removed from the system by the airlines as they reduce capacity.

Read more: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2150624,00.html#ixzz2dw7wHcn4




As you see, the quote is preserved but an attribution link with tracking code is automatically added.

I thought this was kind of neat so I installed Tynt on my site.

Something I didn’t think of when I did this was the fact Tynt could now track when content left my site:

tyntreportcontentcopying

 

Now as you see most people who copied text from this site (26 this week) just deleted the tracking link when they copy… but 6 didn’t and people got to my site from it. Interesting.

What’s my most copied article you ask? Here it is: http://breakingeveninc.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-google-apps/ (At least 2-3 copies a week, who knew it was that good?)

So what’s my point in all this? If you write online, there is a pretty good chance someone is using your content (at best, getting information and attributing and at worst, stealing). But there are tools that can allow you to not only measure this but to make it a little more annoying to do so.

Have you created a pdf or some other piece of content people can download? Put your watermark on the bottom then have some fun like my friend Peter did:

someonecopyingpeterswork

If you really want to go after an offender, this blog post is a pretty detailed how to: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/content-scrapers/

This blog post, however, is more to tell you that it can be an amusing past time to watch where your ideas go… and that I’m going to keep my eye on Tynt for awhile longer.



The Pros And Cons Of Google Apps

I’ve been accused of being a bit of a Google enthusiast. The first stock I ever bought was Google. I use Google Calendar to manage my personal schedule and Gmail to filter my email.

Within the business, we use Google Docs to manage projects, Google Chat to talk to virtual collaborators, and Google Analytics to analyze the website data for our clients.

Google is, however, not infalable. Google can go offline on occasion like it did earlier this summer making tools unavailable. Your Google account could get hacked,wiping out your data. This is why it’s important to back information up (yes even cloud stored stuff needs backup!) and use very strong passwords on your accounts. (Here’s how to backup your Google stuff with a combination of Google Takeout and Thunderbird: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/download-gmail-google-data/)



All Google products, whether it’s a Google Form or a Google Map, allow two ways to share the information:
1) A link to it you can share with other people
2) An embed code where you can stick it on a website.

If you click the link or share button when you are somewhere on Google, it'll let you have a link to share the item on Google or the embed code where you can put the item on a website. Whatever you do, make sure your item is set to 'Public' if you want people to be able to see it!

If you click the link or share button when you are somewhere on Google, it’ll let you have a link to share the item on Google or the embed code where you can put the item on a website. Whatever you do, make sure your item is set to ‘Public’ if you want people to be able to see it!

Linking to the information makes it easy to share but the formatting is out of your control since you are linking to where it lives in the Google cloud.

If you take the embed code and put it on your site, you can sort of customize what it looks like.

You can embed a form, calendar, spreadsheet, Youtube video and more from Google into your website. The material still 'lives' on Google and is just displaying on your site.

You can embed a form, calendar, spreadsheet, Youtube video and more from Google into your website. The material still ‘lives’ on Google and is just displaying on your site.

Pros of Google Apps:

  • If you have not so tech savy people updating your site (but can find their way around Google) this is a nice alternative. Basically anyone with a Google account that you give permission to can update your Google item.
  • Some custom formatting possible (column colors, font sizes) make it possible to match the form more closely to your site than you’d expect
  • Indexed by Google (we can also say this happens on your website too but come on, if you were Google, wouldn’t you give stuff on your own server higher ranking?)
  • Shareable to other Google users. If I want to save your Google Calendar and put it with mine, I just have to click that I want to.

Cons of Google Apps:

  • You need to have a Google account and now, Google will press you a bit for more personal details (Google+) so it can collect demographic info and your online behavior information.
  • Not entirely customizable; still will look like a Google Doc for example.
  • Since the info lives on Google’s server and not on your site, any information in an iFrame is not able to be indexed in site search.



So when would I recommend you use a Google Apps versus a program that works with your site (like a Wordpress Calendar plugin):

1) When multiple people are updating a certain piece of info and you don’t want to give them access to your site. If you have volunteers/staff who have lots of other jobs besides maintaining x part of the website, sometimes not making them learn software can take some of the pressure off.
Ex: Booster Club member updates sports scores and only needs access to that spreadsheet.
You want to create a simple form questionnaire for your organization that your board needs to collaborate on.

2) When the organization is using Google already. It’s easier to use tools if you are already familiar with them.
Ex: Google Apps for Education already installed on the server of the school and used by teachers in the school for curriculum sharing.
Google Apps for Business is installed on the domain and the business is already using online calendars to merge schedules.

3) When you don’t care that it doesn’t exactly ‘match’ your site design or that people can’t search for fields of information with the site search. If you are aware of the limitations and don’t care, that’s ok.
Ex: You are going to put a description of the results as a paragraph on the website anyway in addition to the spreadsheet so people can find it via site search.
You don’t care that the chart menu doesn’t have the exact shade of blue in your logo. Close enough!

In other words, sometimes Google Apps are the right tool to use for the job and sometimes they are not. This is why in developing a site, you (or your developer) will want to know as much information about it as possible, including what kinds of information you want to display and who will be updating what parts of the website.

Google Apps, like many tools online, are a great option for collaborating and sharing information. If the features work for you, you can extend the functionality to your website and if they don’t you have other options!