The tactics, tools and rules we use to run multiple businesses while we travel

Get ready for a geekgasmically epic list of all the tools and processes we use to run our multiple businesses and side projects.

Working from anywhere...including beer gardens
Working from anywhere…including beer gardens

We often get asked about the tools, software and processes we make use of while running our businesses while travelling – which is brilliant, because we absolutely love to talk about it. We do get asked A LOT though, so we thought it warranted a blog post in its own right.

This post explains what’s working for us right now. As you’ll see, our processes are by no means perfect (and we’re rather embarrassed about the number of times “MS Word” gets namechecked), but we’re slowly streamlining everything and finding online, cloud-based solutions that suit our needs best.

Work talk

Meetings with each other

It was hard at first to have dedicated meetings about work – it just seemed a bit wrong to be acting like colleagues rather than a married couple. But after two years of practice, we’re better at appreciating that it’s far healthier to have dedicated “we’re business partners, so let’s discuss business” sessions, rather than letting life and work seep into each other constantly with no boundaries.

Our meetings are about our projects, clients and business strategies, and we arrange them using Google Calendar. One of us will take charge of creating an agenda, leading the meeting, making notes throughout, and then writing up those notes afterwards.

During periods where we have a lot of different projects on the go, we’ll have daily stand-up meetings at the beginning and end of the day – just so that we can quickly know what each other is working on that day.

Tools:

  • Google Calendar to arrange the meeting in the first place (it’s usually around half an hour).
  • Evernote to create an agenda and make notes throughout. The benefit of Evernote is how good it is offline. We’ve held meetings in the backs of cabs, on the train and by the pool – so it’s useful to be able to write notes from our phones in wifi-less areas.
  • We share the notes via Slack afterwards (see below).

Some topics don’t need a dedicated meeting, but they do need to be discussed/thought about at some point. And for that we use Slack. Slack is a private chat/instant messaging service similar to HipChat, but (if you ask us) better:

  • The interface is cleaner and more user-friendly.
  • It’s easier to search for files or snippets of past conversations.
  • There are really lovely little (and completely unnecessary) “extras” – like if you type a list of hex codes, it’ll also show you the colours.
  • You can upload and send files so easily it’s ridiculous.

We use Slack throughout the day to avoid interrupting each other when we’re “in the work zone”. We’ll use it to send each other links, to inform the other one when we’re done with a document and it’s ready to be edited, to remind each other of things, and so on.

Tools:

Collaboration on documents and ideas

OK this gets a bit complicated! And we could probably streamline what we do/use fewer tools if we thought about it.

Making It Anywhere blog posts and newsletters

We type these up using an online tool called Draft. Draft lets you write in Markdown (a simple way to add formatting like italics, bold and headings to plain text), then export the document as HTML, a Word document, a PDF and so on. We love writing in Markdown because it’s so much more intuitive than HTML.

The other benefit of Draft is that it’s geared towards collaboration. For example, I’ll write a post and share it via Draft with Rob. He can leave comments and make changes – and when he’s done, he’ll click the “Done editing” button and I’ll be notified that I can go back in and take a look at his changes (which are all highlighted alongside my original version). I can then choose which edits to accept or reject.

The mini-downside is that Draft only works when you’re online.

Tools:

Client documents

“Client documents” covers a broad range of the documents we create as part of our copywriting, brand consulting and web project management business Mortified Cow. It also covers the documents we send out to the clients we coach.

Here are the sorts of client documents we create regularly:

  • Brand strategies for businesses and solopreneurs
  • Copywriting (i.e. text for clients’ website or marketing materials)
  • Client proposals
  • Standard documents like terms of business
  • Write-ups of our coaching calls

We’re a bit old school when it comes to client documents: we tend to write them in MS Word and then convert them into PDFs. While we’d love to use Google Docs for all this, it’s still a bit clunky to use: the newish “track changes” add-on is nowhere near as sophisticated or intuitive as MS Word, and it’s not so easy to insert a screenshot and make it look nice.

For screenshots, we use Awesome Screenshot because it really is awesome: it sits as a little extension on your browser and gives you the option to capture a selection of the page, the entire page, and a few things in between. You can then edit/annotate your screen capture and save or share it.

We create simple wireframes for our clients when we’re project managing the creation of their websites. There are many wireframe-creation tools out there, but my favourite is Moqups. It’s super easy to use and very intuitive, and I can export the wireframes as PDF or PNG (as well as share them online with clients).

We save all our client-related work to Cubby – a cloud-based storage system just like Dropbox. We chose Cubby because we wanted a dedicated place for all our client stuff, and we wanted to keep it separate from everything in our individual Dropbox folders. Anyone who has multiple accounts with Dropbox knows what a pain in the arse it can be, so we found Cubby. It works just like Dropbox, but it’s cheaper and actually easier to use.

Tools:

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

With our newish business, Yellow Lettings, we decided that we wanted everything to be as process-driven as possible right from the start. And while we’ve always used a variety of SOPs for various aspects of our work, life and travel, we’ve never structured an entire business around them.

With Yellow Lettings, every single aspect of our work and our employees’ work has a procedure. And while some might think that there’s no room for creativity as a result, we’re seeing that the opposite happens: by following procedures, we don’t have to waste any mental energy on getting the ideal outcome every time – it just happens. We also get our work done more quickly because we don’t forget things, have to correct mistakes, or ask someone what to do next. All of this means that we can devote our mental energy to finding better ways to do things – trying new ideas that can be incorporated into procedures if they’re successful.

We modelled our “procedure structure” on the advice provided by Tim Francis at Smooth Online Systems. And everything is done within Google Docs.

Tools:

Books

We’ve written a few self-published books between us, and we’re in the middle of writing another one together. With every book, we collaborate: either I write the book and Rob edits, vice versa, or we write a few chapters each and edit each other’s chapters.

At the moment we’re still stuck using MS Word because it’s useful for tracking changes and keeping everything organised. Then we’ll get the book formatted using someone on Elance and export the Word document in the formats required for paperbacks and Kindles.

For our next book though, we’re going to have a play around with Scrivener or ComWriter – word-processing tools specifically for authors/writers. Both pieces of software allow you to organise your notes, ideas and chapters far more easily than regular word-processing software.

Tools:

Phone calls/video calls

(For clients, MIA coaching calls, Hangouts with our forum, and Masterminds.)

All our coaching clients book a session with us through You Can Book Me (here’s our page). It’s a really useful tool because there’s no to-ing and fro-ing over dates and times: our coaching clients just book a time that’s available. The tool is really flexible too: you can specify how far in advance you want the “first date available” to be (e.g. two weeks from today), and you can specify the duration of each call.

For coaching clients and Mortified Cow clients, we tend to use Skype with video. If we’re in a place with disastrous internet though, we’ll resort to Didogic. (Rob’s post here explains how Didlogic works.) For coaching clients, we record the calls using Evaer, so that they can listen through afterwards if they want to.

For Hangouts with our forum and Mastermind groups, we’ll usually use Google Hangouts because – while the quality isn’t that great – it’s easier than Skype for having multiple people on one call.

Tools:

Managing our teams

We run two businesses that have employees: The Property Hub, and Yellow Lettings. The processes, documents, tools and ways of working for those deserve a blog post in their own right, but here’s the basic gist:

  • We use HipChat to communicate with everyone on a day-to-day basis. (We started using HipChat before we even knew about Slack; one day we’ll probably move everyone over to Slack.)
  • Trello is for keeping on top of the editorial calendar for The Property Hub blog posts.
  • Google Docs is for the aforementioned Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Skype is used for phone calls.

Aaaand I’m done!

Was this helpful at all? Do any of our tools/processes look like something you could start using too? Or conversely, are any of our approaches ridiculously long-winded and cumbersome?

And do you have any tools or processes you could recommend to us and other readers? Ours are far from perfect!