Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Tools I love...
... but not the kind you may be expecting.
As we've talked about here before, the life of a jewelry artist isn't all sunshine and creativity. A lot of time has to go into things like marketing, accounting, shopping for supplies, shipping, and more - the stuff of any small business. And I'm a sucker for good, quality tools that will help me do those things better and more quickly so I can get back to making things, which is my real passion. So here are a few of my favorites!
When I worked for large companies or firms, we always had an IT group that dealt with things like firewalls and security. As a small business owner, there's just me - and while I have some of tech geek DNA in my make up and I enjoy digging into the nuts and bolts of techy things, I really resent the time I have to spend on "tech support" issues here at home, because they usually pop up at the worst possible time.
Case in point: my personal website got hacked twice shortly after the first of the year, and even after we got it back up and "cleaned" (not an easy process), I fell victim to repeated "ghosting" attacks. That's where someone creates a page marketing their project (usually pharmaceutical products or... you know, that other favorite online activity) and links it to your website so that their pages come up in searches relevant to your site. It got so bad that my site was marked as "unsafe" on Google. I was enormously frustrated.
I am very fortunate to have a good friend who is a web developer and who points me towards cool products and services at times like these. The first thing was to get rid of those "ghost" pages and secure my site from that kind of attack in the future. Enter Sucuri Online Security. For $90 a year, they will monitor your site automatically and guarantee it stays clean. And when (not if, because nothing's foolproof) something latches onto your site, they clean it up at no additional charge. For Wordpress sites, they have a plugin that provides a dashboard allowing you to see every bit of activity on your site, as well as a list of blocked IP addresses. The first time I checked the audit log, I was stunned to see how many blocked access attempts there were on the list - I'm small potatoes in the internet world, and yet there are multiple attempts every single day. The plug-in also evaluates the site and makes security recommendations, then implements them automatically once you approve them. For me, this is money well, well spent. In the ten months I've had the service, I've used their clean-up service twice. Both times my site stayed operational and was completely clean within an hour. I can't recommend this service highly enough.
Another thing we should all be doing is managing our passwords better. Ideally, they should be different for every site, randomly generated, and changed periodically. But if you're anything like me, you have dozens of sites with account logins - your bank, shopping sites, social media, and on and on. Who wants to try and remember all those random numbers and letters times a dozen or more?? Enter LastPass. Create one master password for yourself, and then let LastPass generate and store random passwords for every site where you need a log in. A browser plug-in makes getting into your accounts a one-click operation and offers several hugely useful browser tools, including a form-fill tool - I use it for the standard fields in my Etsy listings. Best of all, it's a completely free service (who doesn't love FREE????!) and for an additional $12 a year, you can download the smart-phone version that synchs automatically with your online account. Again, I can't recommend this service highly enough.
So now that we've fixed our passwords and secured our site, shouldn't we be backing it up somewhere? The answer is yes - even if you're on a user-friendly platform that's doing backups for you, you want one you have some control over. There are lots out there, but the one I use is BlogVault, which is good only for WordPress sites (which is the platform I use). It does automatic daily backups, and I can manually backup whenever I want. Lots of services do the same - but the thing I love about BlogVault is that in the event my site goes down, restoring it is a one-button operation and includes all the customizations I've made to the site design. Cost: $9 a month.
Taken all together, these three services keep my online presence safe, secure, and backed-up. For me, spending that money (a total of $210 per year) is completely worth it, because it means I don't have to hassle with my site any more than I want to. It's cheaper than paying a techie person by the hour when these problems come up - and as my grandmother would say, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
Finally, let me share my new favorite financial tool. I did my first show at the beginning of November (which you must surely know, since I talked about it endlessly - sorry!) and was looking for an inexpensive but reliable way to take credit cards for purchases. I didn't really want to have to go through all the red tape to set up a merchant account, and PayPal's fees seemed awfully high. Square was the solution I settled on, and I can tell you after my one experience with them that I will be happy to remain a customer for as long as they'll have me. Low, low fees (2.75% per swipe - no per transaction fee) and next day deposit to my bank account. The customer can have a receipt e-mailed to them - and if they've used the credit card on Square before, Square remembers their name and e-mail information and enters into the screen on my phone automatically. Square also has a great online dashboard that allows you to set up your store, logo, and profile information - easy to use and very clean to look at. Another big plus for me is that I will be able to set up "staff" for bigger shows next year, so the friend or friends who go with me to help man the booth can have their own Square readers set up on their phones to process payments to my account. All of that can be done on the online dashboard without my having to give them my personal account information. And the Square readers are free. Sweet!
So there you go - some of my favorite business tools that help make all that non-creative stuff a little less painful. Have a favorite that I didn't mention here? Let us know in the comments below!
Until next time!