Business and Travel Tools I Can't Live Without

I've been quietly appreciating all of the tools that make my life as a (newly) full-time consultant so enjoyable these last few months, so i thought i would share the love. I've had a lot of folks ask me to blog about my travels in general. I've been reluctant for some reason, but that's a note best saved for my therapist.

For those who don't know, my job is to make sure that chamber of commerce staff love theirs.  I help chambers of commerce align their programs and pricing around small business.  And I love it. To do this job, I will travel to gigs about 20 times in 2012, and 35 times in 2013.  I'm a one-person operation with a home office and I also rent an office at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.

I have several devices. Specifically, I have 3 laptops, a Kindle Fire, an iPad 2 and a Droid 3 phone from Verizon. Gadgets, I've got. So the fact that Google Chrome allows me to move from device to device and pick up tabs I've opened or closed in one of my other browsers is a convenient time-saver for me. So my first fav to get out of the way is Google Chrome. Super-awesome, guys. Please stop fighting with Apple.  Now, on to the rest...

FreshBooks

I've been a reluctant bookkeeper until I discovered FreshBooks Cloud Accounting. I paid an invoice I received through FreshBooks and said, "Wow, this is slick." It was the kind of user-experience I want my clients to have. From that standpoint, it's a no-brainer. Add to that the fact that it is free for up to 3 clients and less than $20/month for up to 25 clients, FreshBooks has figured out how to grow with a business. The controls are easy like Sunday morning. If you care about being easy to work with, FreshBooks is a better partner than Quickbooks online where my needs are concerned. One of the many reasons I love Canada. Brilliant.

Shoeboxed

My pile of receipts was intimidating. Not huge, just intimidating. It's a personal problem, I know, but I wanted to get it handled. Then I discovered ShoeBoxed. They sent me a blue envelope and instructions on how to fill it with my receipts (like we need instructions on filling an envelope) in order to emphasize how simple it is to use their service. Within 2 weeks of sending my first huge envelope, they had scanned, transcribed, sorted and upload my receipts, photos and all. Business cards too. Oh man. $30/month for something that saves me hours. I was thinking of buying that Neat receipt scanner for $400, but thanks to Shoeboxed, I will keep my money in my pocket.

Prezi

About half of my business comes from public speaking, so when I saw Prezi, I had to give it a try. They recently added a feature which allows you to import any Powerpoint presentation, so I'm officially done with Powerpoint. Get the paid version if you do any significant amount of presentations. Customize it and brand it as your own. By that, I mean upload your logo to replace the Prezi logo in the lower right-hand corner. Terrific technology. Zoom, zoom.

Square Up

After my presentations, I occasionally sell my books in the back of the room. I would lose out on a lot of sales if I didn't have Square. The Square device plugs into my Droid or iPad and swipes credit cards. They used to have a problem with timely deposits, but now I get the deposits within about 24 hours.

Square has recently decided to flip the whole merchant services world on its head by offering unlimited swipes for $275 pr month. Maybe this is just to emphasize their low 2.75% fee. Traditional merchant services companies give them no credence, but I dig what Square is planting. I think it has legs, but we'll see.

If you're doing that kind of volume, consider multiple merchant services providers. Don't tell the other that you have the one, though. They don't like it. But let's see how YOU like it when you have a couple of good months and they get suspicious enough to hold on to your money for 2 months or 10. True story. Go to any online marketing summit and ask around. Horror stories. Cash flow stopped because of your success.

Schedule Once

My stylist (barber? hairdresser? no, stylist? whatever) uses Square too. I recently told her about Schedule Once. I can't remember how I came across this ridiculously-awesome service, but I'm glad I did. I use a subdomain to forward to it: http://meetme.kylesexton.com goes to my scheduling service. SO hooks into my Google Calendar and shows clients and prospects dates and times they can choose for appointments, regardless of timezone. I added the link to my email signatures and now my clients are using my SO service instead of sending 4 emails back and forth to get something worked out. Flippin. Awesome. Oh, and the reason I brought up my stylist is because their version 4 is perfect for salons. Do it. Don't think about it, do it. And try my sub-domain technique to increase user confidence.

PenUltimate

I only recently joined the ranks of the snooty iPad users, and I get it. It's cool, but the only way (in my humble opinion) that it's REALLY better than my Kindle Fire is in the app assortment. PenUltimate is my new notebook. I can draw, write and email my finger-drawn masterpieces wherever they need to go. Unlimited notebooks and pages within. Man it's cool and easy and fun. I almost forgot I paid for it, maybe 2 bucks. It really makes the iPad enjoyable to use. So dont stop at the $500 purchase. Spend those last 2 bucks and love your iPad even more.

Catch

Before I found PenUltimate, I was typing away on Catch, and I still use it a lot. I'm typing this post in my iPad's Catch app right now on a plane without wi-fi. When i get to the Hyatt and pull up the wi-fi, the app will push this article to my other devices automagically. Catch is another one of those cross-platform tools that I don't think I could live without. Google Docs and Drive just weren't cutting it for me. I haven't had to use the paid service yet. According to Catch, I'm still at 0% of my usage allowance. Any note, photo-note or audio-note, anywhere. Cool.

DropBox

Of course you all know about Dropbox so I won't go into that too much. What started out with 2 GB free has turned into 4.5 GB because I keep referring them (by accident? I don't know). I love it.

TripIt.com

TripIt Pro is about $59 a year, and worth every penny. Text alerts to let me know my flight is on-time or late are priceless.

Alaska Air has this service pretty much built in for every passenger, so when I gave my best friend a TripIt Pro account for Christmas, he said, "What am I supposed to do with this?

I forward each flight confirmation from Delta or Alaska Air (or United, God forbid) to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and it will automagically show up in my iPad or Droid app. No more fussing with confirmation codes, maps, itineraries, etc. I prefer not to put my meetings in there because I put them in my Google calendar. Oh, and the my travel itinerary feeds right from TripIt.com into my Google calendar. This is syndicated on all devices, so no updating is required. Rad.

I think it was a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (gorgeous!) in spring which taught me to pack for the low temperature, not the high. Hey, if you're going on vacation, pack the flip-flops. Otherwise, pull up your AccuWeather app and load your destination city, note the low temperature for your trip, and be able to go for a walk when you get there. Simple concept. Hard lesson. The right jacket makes all the difference.

Headphones

I've borrowed my brothers Bose headphones, so i can appreciate quality audio. But man those things are big to pack.

I think I've bought 9 different sets of headphones and ear buds in the last 3 years. Ridiculous. 2 of them were Sennheiser. I have some Sennheiser microphones in my studio, so I'm a believer. Except that the left speaker on BOTH pairs went out after about 3 months. I thought the first one was a fluke and went for a second pair. $70 mistake x 2.

They all break in some way. I love the over-the-ear type except i cant sleep on a plane comfortably while wearing them, so I switched back to buds.

I just got my new Klipsch reference set from Amazon. I'm listening to them right now, and they are noticeably louder than my Sony noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones. Easier to pack, too. They arrived with a really cool black tin padded carrying case. The silicone pieces actually fit my tiny ear canals, but they came with 3 other sizes too. Totally different sizes and shapes than Sony, Sennheiser, and Skull Candy, too. To top it off, they have this translucent copper-colored cord with copper accents on the ear pieces. With gold and chrome getting a little too loud these days, the copper accents are truly unique in the marketplace. Another $70 spent, but these feel like they will last longer. Klipsch is a brand I trust, but I will post an update if they fail.

Uncategorized (for a reason)

My brother met me in Boston for a weekend when he happened to be between New York and New Hampshire while I was in my favorite east coast city. We went shopping and he bought me a vertical leather laptop bag, messenger style, as a Christmas gift. I had wanted one for a long time. Alas, my 17" HP laptop was too big but I recently upgraded to a really light (white!) 15" HP Pavilion dv4 and it fits fine. (And packs a whopping 8 hours of battery life. Boom!)

I don't complain much, but I happened to mention to my girlfriend that I wished the bag had better pockets for my cords and speaker-type gadgets... Laptop remote, audio recorder, cig lighter USB charger, phone charger, sleep mask and earplugs, etc. The next day, Lindsey brought me a set of clear plastic pouches for my secondary zipper pocket. She explained that they are standard faire in the make-up aisle, but I don't care what the manufacturer thinks they are made for. These bags are made for my electronic gadgets. Ka-chow.

Coldplay, Modest Mouse and Cold War Kids

I love music. I have the unique ability to fall asleep on planes. Not only that, I literally fall asleep to the sensation of take-off. This experienced is enhanced with any album by Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids or Coldplay. I have almost all of their stuff.

What else can I tell ya about?

Oh yeah, if you're getting a passport application form the US State Department, don't fall for the Passport Card. They say you can get into Canada and Mexico with it. Look at the fine print and you'll discover that you can only get there by car or boat with the card. If you're flying, you gotta have the book. You veterans are calling me a dummy right now, but I swear that when I was on their site, they had just released it and were pushing it hard. I can laugh now, but only because a Delta ticket agent in New Orleans really cares about passengers at 4:45am. Thanks, Delta.

Rapid-Fire Travel Also's:

Also, wear slip on shoes, and keep them on your feet for the first and last 20 minutes of the flight. Statistically, that is when the most flight emergencies occur.

Also, in two or more consecutive rows of emergency exit seats, only the back rows recline.

Also, if you're flying into Calgary at night, get a window seat on the left side and check out the Northern lights.  Flying out, sit on the right side.

Also, when Delta upgrades me, the screen says SEX/K, which I assume makes people uncomfortable.

Also, I can't tell you how many neck pillows I've bought at airports. Or how many times I've forgotten them under my bed at home.

// Kyle Sexton is an award-winning marketing strategist and international speaker. His innovations have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, and his book, REMEMBERSHIP - New Thinking for Tomorrow's Membership Organization, is fueling transformations in membership organizations throughout North America.  He can be reached at 888.899.8374 or get his free resources at KyleSexton.com.

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