Let’s talk about tools of the trade. So far, I’ve spent the majority of the words in my posts dedicated to the locations and lifestyle of the remote worker. Today, I’d like to focus on some of the specific programs that I use on a day-to-day basis. Before we delve into these, however, I would like to let you know that my background is primarily in Sales, Operations, and Customer Support. If I had to say I had an area of expertise, I would say that I am near expert level as a Customer Support manager or agent.
Sales and Customer Support roles typically require you to be in direct communication with customers or potential customers. In both fields, follow-up is of the utmost importance. This means that you better ensure that you follow-up in a timely matter as it is super important (for yourself, and your boss). I mention this because you’ll notice that a lot of the tools that I use are based around communication or follow-up. If you were to ask a remote worker who is a programmer what tools they use, their answers would be very different (and they might have a nicer laptop 😉).
This is one spot where I certainly miss the days of Silicon Valley serfdom. In those days, once you pledged your sword to the local Stanford-educated Lord or Lady, he/she would provide ye with a ‘free’ company computer (typically a MacBook Air or MacBook 13). Now, of course, this laptop wasn’t *yours* and you needed to watch over it and be careful with it, but I’m pretty sure that still didn’t stop me from installing CounterStrike and Baldur’s Gate on every single one of the ‘work’ laptops I ever received.
These days, much like a lone Ronin Samurai trudging the roads on a path of redemption, my equipment isn’t the most up to date. It’s still functional and, more importantly, my own, but I do sometimes wish that I had a computer that could shoot brightly colored, coordinated patterns of LED lights into the sky or have 32 Chrome browser tabs open without simulating the virtual-apocalypse.
Without further ado – my laptop:
Lenovo IdeaPad 320-15ABR
- AMD A12-Series A12-9720P (2.70 GHz) <—- This is the processor. Not bad.
- 8 GB Memory <—- This was actually an adequate amount of memory when I bought it.
- 1 TB HDD <—– I curse this HDD, more on that further on in the article.
- AMD Radeon R7 Series <—– Graphics card, not really worth mentioning.
- 1366 x 768 <—– This computer has a 15-inch screen with this resolution.
- Windows 10 Home 64-Bit <—– Operating system – clunky but most programs work well on it.
- DVD±R/RW <—– In case you need to burn some CDs to impress your crush in the year 2003.
I was lucky enough to buy this machine back in 2017 with one hundred percent Amazon credit because of some random gigs I did while still living in California. It was new when I bought it, but far from top of the line. If the boring, grey, plastic aesthetic doesn’t clue you in, I will. This thing is slow, and I mean SLOW. If you are thinking about upgrading your computer and wondering what kind of laptop you should get next, I have three strong suggestions for you:
- Do not buy a Lenovo IdeaPad 320-15ABR.
- Make sure that you get an SSD (Solid State Drive) as opposed to an HDD (Slow-spinning-loud-noise-making-hard-drive-from-hell). I strongly recommend this because even if the rest of the components of your computer are high quality, having an HDD will make it boot up and work at near laughable speeds. The HDD is the single reason why my current laptop severely underperforms. (See here for more on HDD vs SSD)
- Get at least 8 gigs of RAM. RAM is important for having multiple tabs or programs open, and let me tell you – remote work of all kinds is a labor of many, many tabs.
Other than that, there is a lot of wiggle room although typically the larger the budget the better the outcome for your laptop’s technical prowess. I’m certain you can find a great laptop for most remote work for under $600, and if you’re crazy stingy like me and want to push your luck, you’ll probably be able to find a decent one for $300-400. If you have questions or need help with finding a laptop, send us a note and we’ll try and point you in the right direction.
With that being said – I plan on upgrading my laptop either this year or next year AT THE LATEST. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a person who prioritizes travel and freedom over my gadgetry and if I can continue using this computer for a little while longer, I will.
At the end of this Lenovo IdeaPad’s long period of service it will either be sacrificed to the machine-gods or donated to my mother. To be decided.
Slack. Oh, Slack. I was first introduced to Slack in 2015 and relied on it heavily to talk with all of my co-workers at the eCommerce company I was working at. That was a crazy busy year, and it seemed at times that our small team was held together only by the wonderful power of Slack (and many custom emoji and GIFs). I’m excited to talk a little about this wonderful email-killing technology.
For the uninitiated: Slack is a powerful communications tool disguised as a chat room. Workers communicate in Slack via different topic-based channels such as ‘General’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Random,’ ‘Executives’, or in our case ‘Grillmasters’. We use Slack, and while our Slack workspace (their term) currently only has three members (David, Myself, and our loveable intern Joe) it is still the bustling central hub of our community’s creative and logistical inspiration.
Slack integrates with many other technologies and works wonders as a place to set reminders and hold oneself accountable. My Charlie to Charlie DMs serve as a place for short notes, passwords, and other thrilling information. The DMs sent to David are typically discussing a certain upcoming article or contain a link to an interesting site or service for us to check out.
Long story short: I’ve used Slack for a long time and I love it. 10/10 recommended.
PS: We hope to one day create a private community on Slack based around the theme shared here on our site: ‘Freedom Through Remote Work + Travel’
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Office. However, this year it’s shown its merit. I use Excel on a daily basis, and David and I pass Word documents containing edits back and forth (AKA David helps me edit my posts). I get my money’s worth out of Office’s free cloud-based suite of tools, but I really only use Excel or Word.
The Weird Excel Conundrum:
There is a strange coincidence amidst the young people I know well who are making serious cash (and we’re talking California big bucks here, folks) – every single one of them is extremely proficient in Excel. I know how to view information in Excel. I know the difference between a column and a row. And I know how to enter information into Excel. Hell, I even know how to use a basic filter. But these young, smart elite high earners – every last one of them – can practically cast spells in Excel. I truly don’t know if it is a coincidence or not, but I’m not kidding – every single one of my young friends who makes great money can use the shit out of Excel.
For the potential future young reader: LEARN EXCEL.
We cannot mention Office, Word, and Excel without mentioning Gmail and the Google Apps Suite of products. Before I was using Slack, I was using Google Everything for work. My first startup internship in 2010 – Google. Job at cool, well-funded Y-Combinator company in 2012 – Google. Coffee shop in Palo Alto – Google. This website – something different. I’m cheap and do not want to pay $5/ per user per month.
Many (read: almost all) websites, startups, and good-ole regular companies utilize Google for all of their email, document, and calendar needs. I currently use it as a contract member of other teams that have chosen to use Google to help run their business– and everything is easy and works. Sharing is easy, writing is easy, scheduling is easy; it’s great.
Continuing down the Google path – there has been a Chrome icon on my desktop for my entire adult life. That’s a weird one to think about (or write). One company that I sell my time to right now requires that we use it for testing the functionality of various features of the site, and I get a lot out of Chrome extensions. Here is a short list of extensions that I’m using:
I currently use LastPass for remembering passwords, Honey for saving money on online shopping (more so when I was living in America), Keywords Everywhere for doing simple keyword research, Grammarly to help keep my writing on track, File Converter for… converting files, and Tag Assistant by Google for making sure that our website is working properly.
There are an enlightened few who have a Chrome Extension for every use case, but I prefer to keep it pretty simple. Either that or as I get older, I am becoming more of a luddite. Feel free to comment with any extension that you feel might be worth checking out. Perhaps in the future we will dedicate a post to Chrome Extensions for the Remote Worker. We’ll see… I hope I don’t have to write that one.
Brave is an ultra-privacy focused browser that has these selling points: It doesn’t track you, it does not display ads to you, it helps block other sites from tracking you, and it saves you time and data (through not loading intrusive ad scripts). I am writing this from a Brave tab as we speak, and I use Brave as my primary browser for ‘My Stuff’. I have a sort of system/rule in place for which browser I use that goes a little like this:
Google Chrome – Other people’s stuff/tasks that I am being paid in sweet, sweet United States Dollars for.
Brave – Activities based around my world and my work (reading, writing, banking, etc.)
WordPress. Where do we start? I am using and learning WordPress because of this site. I’ll be honest, WordPress is pretty hard for me to use and learn but, like an ancient dark Sith relic, I can feel its tremendous power calling out to me in the void. I’m making slow and steady progress with WordPress and hopefully by the end of this trip to Greece (which should be over in June) I’ll be a little more proficient. For now, here’s what I know about the benefits of WordPress:
- An endless sea of free plug-ins that will help you optimize your content, images, SEO, site, or anything else you can imagine.
- Powerful themes that take most of the guesswork involved with building and running websites out of the picture. We are currently utilizing Elegant Themes thanks to a pre-existing subscription that David has, but in the future, we’ll look to others. (Elegant Themes Customer Support – if you are reading this, you really need to step your game up. Also, it’s 2020 so you should be able to easily enable AMP).
- A devoted community that is eager to help teach you.
- Higher paying freelance/contract jobs to assist others with their WordPress sites.
- It is free to install on your site.
I’ll probably end up returning to edit this part of this post in the future when I know more of what I am doing with WordPress. Or we will dedicate a future article to it. WordPress is great but there is so much to do to unlock its true potential.
I’m a big fan of Squarespace. Squarespace is aimed at creating beautiful websites that are simple to build, edit, and view. Best of all, they work well. I think they hit the nail on right on the head. I’ve designed several websites for friends utilizing Squarespace, and I would like to do more with Squarespace in the future. I find working on Squarespace sites to be fun, easy, and rewarding. On top of that, their Customer Support is easy to get a hold of and does a great job. I believe that WordPress is a better option for a longer-form content-based site like wanderbbq, but if I had a ‘Personal Portfolio’ type site in the future I would definitely consider using Squarespace.
Jing is an old-ish and lightweight ‘screencasting’ software. What is screencasting? Have you ever seen a video on YouTube of just someone’s computer desktop screen? In this video, you will follow the person’s mouse icon around the screen as they click around, explaining some task that they are doing. If you watch a Twitch streamer it’s the same principle – although typically live. Jing manifests itself as a small ‘Sun’ icon that is permanently attached to your desktop. To open Jing you simply mouse over the Sun and then choose whether you want to take a screenshot (single still picture) or record a video (with or without microphone audio).
After you’ve completed your screenshot or screencast you can either save it to your computer or host it for free on their site. I love the simplicity of Jing, mostly for its ease of use and lightweight nature. When I say lightweight, I mean that it will run on a beat-up old computer and still do a pretty good job.
Sadly, Jing will be discontinued by TechSmith soon (within the next year) but it is still worth giving a shout-out. I’ve used Jing for about 10 years to take screenshots and record screencasts.
Bandicam is like Jing but on some form of screen-recorder steroids. There are near limitless options for how you can record your screen using Bandicam – even on the free version. If you do decide to shell out the forty bucks for it, there are even more options. I currently use Bandicam if I need to make a more presentable video that is also easily editable, and I anticipate that I will use it more and more after Jing is permanently put to bed. It is worth noting that the free version of Bandicam does come with a big watermark in the top of all the videos that says something along the lines of “Buy Bandicam or you will look like a cheap-skate in everything you produce with it”
The Almighty Upwork. We’ll cover Upwork in detail in future articles as it is the kind of platform that requires a lengthy discussion. For now, we can say this:
Upwork is how many freelancers and remote workers earn a large portion of their living. I currently am employed via Upwork, and I work for projects that also employ many other Upwork-ers. Upwork is fantastic because of the trust that it has built between freelancers and clients in regards to payment. I feel safe knowing that, if I agree to do a job (especially an hourly one), I will be paid. This is a big deal when you think about how many ‘Work from Home’ scams are out there. I mean most sites that announce that ‘You can make X dollars per day from home!’ are actually trying to sell you something. The cool thing about Upwork – that isn’t the case.
If you submit an application for an account and you are accepted – welcome aboard. After completing your profile, you will then have to submit proposals to various job openings, and after the first few proposals, you should receive a positive response (it took me about 10 proposals). Finally, you get down to work and get paid – I opt to be paid via PayPal on a weekly basis – it’s nice.
Now with that being said, Upwork has a lot of power. They take 20% of the first $500 of every project so if you are writing 2000 words blog posts for $75 for example, prepare to only get $60. After the first $500 it drops down to a much more acceptable 10% – but even that adds up. If you happen to stay with one client and get paid over $10,000 – then it’s a more livable 5% from there.
The other ‘Upwork-is-powerful’ aspect is the 5-star rating and feedback system. Much like an Uber Driver let loose on the bustling streets of New York, you are now at the mercy of other people when it comes to being rated. It’s a not a huge deal – just do your best and ignore the haters. But it does end up feeling pretty Black Mirror Nosedive-ish. If you do well and receive high ratings, you can have a high Job Success Score and then make it to the coveted ‘Top Rated’ group. I’m not ‘Top Rated’ on Upwork currently, but I know that I am Top Rated in the hearts of my friends and family and that is enough for me.
Simply put, UberConference is my favorite screenshare and video chat platform. Their free rooms offer 45 minutes of call time before they boot you and your fellow conference attendees off, and that is sometimes a blessing (man, those conferences can run loooong). There is no software that needs to be downloaded, it is easy to mute your mic and turn off your camera, and the dial-in feature works well. If you are new to the exciting world of Video Conferencing or Screen Sharing than I have some advice for you:
If you are not the conference host or speaker, you should Double Mute your mic. “What is Double Mute?” You may ask. It’s simple. I always choose to call in (or dial-in) by phone rather than utilize my computer’s microphone, and when I do that, I make sure that I mute my phone’s microphone through the phone (or Skype’s) settings and additionally press the mute button within UberConference.
This then achieves the state of conference enlightenment… I mean Double Mute.
I offer this advice because it can potentially save you hardship in the future. Remember ‘Double-Mute.’
In recent years, HubSpot has really taken over. I first encountered HubSpot while evaluating different platforms for me and my friend’s social media marketing summer project. They’ve grown from a social platform to a full-blown free CRM with many different features and even an ‘Academy’ part of their website. I am currently taking one of their courses on SEO, and it has been fantastic. I’m really impressed with all of the tools that HubSpot offers its free users. They have a big office here in downtown Dublin and I think it’s because they do a great job.
Expect an article about them in the future.
Jira is an awesome bug-tracking and productivity software. Basically, as you go about your day you may encounter a problem or ‘bug’ with your product (Jira is primarily used in software-as-a-service or SaaS companies.). You would then add the ‘bug’
ZenDesk is a customer support ticketing platform, and without sounding too arrogant about it, I am pretty close to a ZenDesk superuser. It has chosen a green theme for their service, and I think it’s fitting because whenever I have their support ticketing platform open, I’m getting paid.
Customer Support is neither glamorous nor lucrative work, but in a world of sometimes spotty remote contracts Customer Support shines due to the fact that you typically know how many hours you will work in a week. More on this later. ZenDesk is the platform of choice for many companies (although there are competitors) and I’ve used it at four or five different companies.
Trello is an interesting visual board for all of the tasks that your team needs to accomplish. Tasks are broken down into ‘Cards’ and then assigned to the person or team that is responsible for making sure that that particular ‘Card’ makes it from ‘To-Do’ to ‘Done’. David and I are trying out utilizing Trello for wanderbbq, but two users might be a little too small for it to be optimal. Still, it’s nice to have a place to throw up any GENIUS marketing ideas and then move their cards from one stage to another.
Why do we work remotely? We do it for the money, darling. That’s showbiz, baby… sorry, I’ve been spending too much time by myself. PayPal is a great way to get paid. If you haven’t yet heard of PayPal, you’re from one of two camps: A) You’re from a foreign country that probably has a decent PayPal clone or B) You’ve been holding your hands over your own ears whilst saying NAH-NAH-NAH for the last twenty-years.
Sarcasm aside, PayPal has really upped its utility in the past several years. If you’re an American like myself, you can now apply for a PayPal Cash Debit Card which acts as a Debit card and draws from your PayPal balance. It’s very handy. Their fees are pretty low, and it has been incredibly useful to me over the past nine months. I have used the Cash card today to pay for my favorite kind of gum in-store in Dublin (Airwaves), and then I bought an online subscription using my Cash card from my home. On Wednesday of this week (and hopefully many more Wednesdays to come) I will transfer my earnings from Upwork to my PayPal account. It all works pretty seamlessly.
What tools are you using that deserve to be on this list? Keep an eye out in the future as we release a new list. I’ve already added some new tools this year and I feel a Remote Tools 2020 list coming along in the future. As my laptop goes to show – you don’t need to have the very best to begin working from home and making money online. In many cases, your attitude, resilience, and willingness to take risks and try new things is more important than the technology that you are using for getting started with remote work.
Well, except for WiFi, you need to have great WiFi.
Thanks for reading