It seems like the era of AI apps for every piece of art form is upon us.
In the spirit of paying it forward and helping my fellow humans, I’m going to share a number of great tools that have helped me build and market my work to the rest of planet earth.
(quick note, this is not a paid post or an advertisement, I receive no money from recommending these tools).
Now you may not need all of these tools.
Yet, I hope that many can help you in your own work.
You’ll find a bit of everything from website design, social media marketing to simple but beautiful video editing.
If you’ve ever tried your hand at website design before, then you’ve probably heard of WordPress.
Lots of ordinary people and big brands use WordPress as their platform of choice to create their website and blogs.
It powers over 30% of websites today.
It’s a modified and somewhat simpler to navigate version of wordpress.org.
Either way, getting a website, blog or both off the ground is pretty quick and simple with WordPress.
Recent data shows that 60 million websites are powered by WordPress and that 30% of today’s online bloggers use WP as their publishing platform – so that’s gotta mean something, right?
This service is a real time saver for me.
Once you’ve set up your home base of a website, you’ll no doubt want to start telling people about it and the great service or content you have.
In the digital age, there seems to be no better way of doing this than utilising social media.
What you don’t want to be doing is spending all your time posting across loads of different social channels about your cool side projects.
So we need to be smarter in our approach to managing our time and energy, this is where tools like Hootsuite can help.
Basically, it’s what the industry calls a social media management tool
I would add a sanity saving tool too as no one wants to be on social media posting all day long.
You can easily schedule and post updates to any social network in advance with its simple to use features and dashboard.
I previously used a free account but that’s now restricted to 5 posts a week so I’ve switched to Buffer (find that below).
There are paid features but dependent on the nature of your side project, you may never need to purchase them.
You can get a full overview of HootSuite in this article.
My #1 social media scheduling tool of choice.
I switched from Hootsuite to Buffer for two reasons in late 2021.
- The ability to schedule videos to LinkedIn (Hootsuite doesn’t offer this at the time of writing).
- Up to 30 post slots to schedule content on the free plan monthly (vs the 5 on Hootsuite).
If you’re playing in the free market with not much cash to spare, these details are important.
In short, Buffer is simple and friendly to use, plus the team is constantly adding new features to their product roadmap.
I must say that I am very very late to the Twitter party.
As someone who writes a lot, I use this platform to engage with mostly writing communities and those who share my interests.
I will admit that I’m not a massive user of twitter so far, this is because I mostly use it to push out content from other platforms to engage people.
But, I can see it’s worth if you put the time in and of course if this is where your audience hangs out.
Knowing where your core audience hangs out is crucial in understanding where to invest your time and energy.
So make sure the platforms you post to are where the people you want to engage with hang out.
I used to be a power user of this platform.
But not so much since the paywall went up and the fact that every article is about 10x your life, morning routines or telling you the latest 99 reasons to quit your job.
However, don’t let my cynicism put you off as it can be a great engagement tool.
Especially, for those of you who are writing content or wanting to showcase a new technology service/product without paying to write somewhere.
I always enjoy sharing my work here and it has led to a great engagement at times too.
Unlike some of the social tools I’ve mentioned so far, I am a power user of LinkedIn.
I am a power user because this is where my audience hangs out.
It’s important to understand where a large base of your audience goes for their information and mine just happens to be this platform.
For any of the social tools I’ve covered so far, these are the ones that work for me so they may not be right for you.
You will need to do some research to find the best channels for your work.
What I can say is that LinkedIn is a growing platform and one which I feel is underused by many.
It has nearly 800 million active users.
If you have created a side project which offers a service or product then you should be marketing on this platform. Also great for building our your professional and personal branding.
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn for more content and thoughts.
A fantastic and easy to use email marketing tool.
You can quickly create a newsletter and many more types of email marketing with this tool.
It surprised me just how quickly you could create a professional looking email and start building your audience with their tools.
An invaluable tool for me as a big source of my engagement is my weekly newsletter (which you can subscribe to here btw!)
Email is not dead, friends.
It’s essential for those wanting to create a connection with their audience.
You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create professional and eye-catching designs with this free tool.
I have been using Canva for years to create amazing visual content for my site, newsletter and more.
With everything from posters, magazines, ebooks, blog pictures – this graphic design tool has so much to offer
The best part? Most features are free.
You can easily make your side project look visually stunning with Canva, it is an essential tool for all creators.
For Windows users the ever simple movie maker tool was the holy grail for editing videos, but what do we do now that it is gone?
Shotcut is a free video editing tool that I’ve used a few times and is starting to get popular.
It has far more features than movie maker and has a steeper learning curve for sure.
It’s the best of the free video editing tools that I’ve used which will actually get the job done to a high standard without investing in the expensive premium suites from Adobe.
If you are an iOS user like myself then your device will come pre-installed with Apple’s own in-house video editing tool.
This is the main tool I use for editing all my videos.
Gone are the days of needing expensive and fancy filming equipment.
It’s free, simple to use and I feel most people could pick this up in an hour and create some good content.
I would recommend iMovie over Shotcut for its simplicity and time investment, it’s truly amazing what you can create on your phone.
Another bonus app for iOS users and one you may not be aware of.
This app is great for shooting videos for social channels.
With lots of cool features including filters, adding text and music, plus you can add your own subtitles too.
The subtitle feature is a really important one as many apps charge a premium for a feature like this and although the clips app can be temperamental from time to time, it’s a great feature.
Studies have shown that 80% of video shared on social channels today now has subtitles included as standard.
So it’s will be crucial to have this option at your disposal.
Another free video editing tool for IOS and Android with some paid features if you need them.
This is a popular tool for those posting videos to most social channels but mainly Instagram.
InShot allows you to do a lot in its free version, including scaling any video for different social channels and screen sizes.
Once more you can add text, blur backgrounds, add music and so much more.
Again, another handy tool to have in your video editing suite and one where you can add your own personal visual touch to any content.
👋 Want to learn how to easily film and edit videos with free apps? check out my full step by step guide here.
Do you need some visually stunning images but don’t know where to get any that you won’t get sued for using?
I have a solution for you.
For years now I have been using a great website called Unsplash which curates thousands of photos from photographers all over the world.
And the best bit? They are all royalty-free.
Unsplash hosts so many amazing photos covering many categories, so you are spoiled for choice.
Use of all photos is royalty free for business and personal use.
But, you can give back by crediting the creator wherever you use the image or donate every now and again to Unsplash.
A royalty-free media site which is very similar to Unsplash but with one added benefit.
Alongside a vast library of beautiful pictures, you can also get free video clips to use for any of your projects.
Super useful for social media videos and to splice into your YouTube videos.
For the longest time, I’ve been looking for a place to get my hands on a library of beautiful icons to use in my work and break free from the limits of PowerPoint.
I finally found the holy grail in the Nounproject which offers over 2 million free royalty-free icons.
You just need to give credit to the artist in your work for each icon you use or buy individual icons if you prefer not to have to give credit.
A free photo app that provides lots of options to create high-quality photos and videos with all the high standards you come to expect from the team at Adobe.
With consistent updates for both video and phot editing, this is a good tool for your wider toolkit.
Thinking about venturing into the world of audio and starting your own Podcast?
Owned by Spotify, Anchor provides a seamless and easy experience to record and distribute your podcast.
If you’re looking for a service that’s going to help you get up and running on the world’s largest platforms then Anchor is your best choice.
It’s also my personal choice and powers the Steal These Thoughts! Audio Experience aka my podcast.
You’re not limited to publishing on Spotify though.
You can upload your show to any podcast platform and even make use of newer video podcast features.
Need a simple video conferencing tool to connect with people around the world?
Look no further, Zoom is here to save the day.
With both free and paid plans, Zoom offers a host of great features for users including the ability to record both audio and video to convert conversations into podcasts, webinars and online classes.
The free plan gives you unlimited access for one-to-one calls and a limit of 40 minutes on group calls (more than 2 people).
Unlike Skype, your participants don’t need to install anything. Just send them a link and they can join via their web browser, voila!
A simple way for you to share your availability for engagements has arrived.
Again Calendly offers free and paid subscriptions, but you should be ok with the free version for most scenarios.
I use this to book my podcast guests, public speaking events and consulting sessions with clients.
Super easy to use and saves the annoyance of email tennis to confirm a time all parties can meet.
Looking for somewhere to store videos and share in your work or perhaps you want to turn your hand to vlogging?
YouTube provides a platform for you to share your own videos to the public or keep them private for only members of your classes and newsletter to view.
Simple to sue and used by billions of humans make this an essential tool in the content creator bag of tricks.
A perfect app for podcasters to turn segments of their episodes into social media ready posts.
The free version offers 10 video creations a month
More than enough to use your audio to create short videos to use across all your platforms.
A free tool with a simple learning curve to allow you to create top quality audio for your podcast and videos.
Even if you’re using the cheapest of audio equipment, Audacity can do wonders with your audio.
You’ll need to invest about an hour to learn the ropes but once you’re done you’ll be able to take your audio game to the next level.
Yes, another social media platform but perhaps one you overlook.
Pinterest allows you to pin images onto lots of boards and generate ideas, so at first glance, it may not seem right to market your side project (depending on your topic).
But, did you know lots of bloggers (including me) have been having success with thousands of visits from this platform by creating bespoke pins?
I wasn’t sold at first either but the results have been encouraging.
Labelled on the site as the only link you’ll ever need and it’s probably true.
You may have seen these cropping up on Instagram bio’s recently to get around the fact you can’t add much in.
The beauty of Linktree is that it allows you to direct your audience to one page full of all your content and contact links in one place (check out mine here).
The best part? You can do all of this for free.
With a similar offering to linktree above, About.me allows you to drive your audience to a specific call to action.
Whether that’s signing up for your newsletter, visiting your blog or checking out your podcast. About.me has you covered.
Take a look at an example of my page below:
A growing insight analytics tool recommended to me by one of the lovely readers of my newsletter.
I’m still testing this one but in a nutshell, it allows you to track the behaviour of users on your sites and make changes for better engagement.
Never has it been easier to create good copy and quality articles with the help of these writing tools.
Both the Hemmingway app (named after the man himself of course) and Grammarly are free to use.
Paid options are available of course, but you can do a lot with the free version.
I find both can make you wince at how much your writing can suck from time to time.
I’ve had many smackdowns from the Hemmingway app in my time, yet it’s all part of the learning process.
Capturing screen recording has never been so easy!
A free account with Loom allows you to record videos of up to 5 minutes for free and stores these in your own personal locker.
If you stick with the free plan, you’ll get 25 slots to use in your locker, but can upgrade for more if you need it.
With a simple user friendly interface and user experience, this is one tool that could become an essential as part of your content creation workflow.
That’s about all the tools I can think of at this moment.
As I’ve said, most of these have been invaluable to me and the best part is that they are free to use.
I’ll leave you to go forth, embrace the enormity of the possibility of what you can create with the support of these tools and have fun building your side project.
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.
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Well not unless you actually tell people about your product and they know why it’s amazing. This is something I’ve seen far too many times, especially in my world of L&D, where teams spend months working hard on new content, throw it out into the world and then no one looks at it…..ever.
I thought I’d share some insights on two particular questions that I ask myself when building social media and general marketing campaigns.
I’ve been very fortunate to learn from the same communication coaches who’ve worked with giants like Google, Skype and Microsoft.
The lessons I’ve learnt from these coaches have shaped the way I now communicate in all forms. I certainly feel like the insights have given me the edge over others these past 8 years. So, I want to pay it forward by sharing what I’ve learnt and what’s worked in the real world.
What follows is a loose framework on how to write engaging yet simple communications to capture any audience.
These are the 3 keys to a impactful message
- Tone – how you speak with your audience
- Structure – What, why, how, what’s in it for me/why is this important?
- Timing – know when best to share messages with your audience
To know how to weave these together as organically as possible, is to know how to get your messages heard every time.
Let’s investigate each of these 3 key attributes in more detail…
It is essential to understand how to speak with your audience in a simple yet engaging manner.
Building a strong narrative that delivers clear messages is more important than a message full of buzzwords and potentially misinterpreted meanings. Use simple to understand language, keep your points brief and speak in a human tone.
On average, people will scan emails for 5 seconds before deciding whether to continue reading.
Messages that sound robotic won’t connect with your audience – you need to be authentic, so craft your messages as you would an authentic conversation with a co-worker. Be human.
The caveat to this would be to make sure you’re clear on how the audience likes to converse and tailor your message where needed. You do want to be as authentic as possible, but you must also consider who you’re speaking with and what is the best approach to connect with these people.
The way you connect with a team in Finance is not going to be the same as you would with those in technology.
Knowing your audience matters!
The structure of your messages should be clear and provide your audience with the key information they need to know or act upon.
We can break down any messages into the following framework:
This needs to be bold, attention-grabbing and on point – no fluff or drab headlines. Think about the headlines that would make you open an email.
What are you asking of your audience? What do they need to know or do?
The most important component of your message is the why – why is this message important? Why should we care?
4/ What’s in it for me?
What are the benefits for the reader if they engage with your content?
5/ What do I need to do?
Always be clear on the action(s) you want your audience to take. Optimise those calls to action like your life depends on them.
Place yourself in the audience’s position and ask:
- What would you like to see if you received this message?
- What would make you act on the requests that have been laid out?
- What are the key points you need/want to know?
Most people are fundamentally driven by 2 questions when presented with instructional communications:
1. How will this make me look?
2. What are other people doing?
Use these insights to craft short and succinct messages that will land with your audience in the way you want.
Timing is everything when it comes to landing key messages.
A perfectly crafted communication shared at the wrong time of day will result in poor engagement. Remember those messages that drop in at 5 pm on a Friday? Of course you don’t. And that’s where the tool of time must be respected.Tweet
Yearly research on external messaging channels like social media gives us a good indication of when people are most active to receive content. We can use these insights for the workplace too.
For corporate environments
- Avoid trade/traditional busy days – Monday is a big no no here
- Avoid late afternoon post 3pm and Fridays after 12pm (try to avoid Fridays altogether if you can)
- Tues – Thurs between 7-8.30am and 12-2pm produce the highest engagement in my experience.
- As a golden rule, avoid sending any key messages that require action from your audience outside of these times.
- Do your research. Find out when your audience is most active and where they hangout.
For external and social media channels
There is so much research and analysis into the best times to post across social media platforms that I will not repeat everything here.
Instead ,you can use this blog post from the team at Hootsuite to discover the latest insights from their detailed research. But, I don’t want to leave you hanging, so let me share data from some of the biggest platforms today from the team at Hubspot.
Best time to post on Twitter
Best time to post on TikTok
Best time to post on LinkedIn
The main lesson here is to post when your audience is active.
This might be what’s shared in the images and it might not. You’ll discover more through trial and error, and of course, if you operate with consumers across multiple timezones, you may not need to pay too much attention to this.
This is why it so so important to know your audience and conduct your own research on their habits and behaviours. Use the data from this post as a rough guide.
The difference between a good and a great communication campaign can all come down to timing, so be aware and know your audience.
Where you can apply this framework
You can use this across many channels.
Of course, it would be most applicable to use as a guideline for your email campaigns, yet you can deploy all of this insight in face to face delivery and adapt it for your short-form social media messages too.
The idea is that this framework can flex to your scenario.
As we’ve talked through, keep in mind that knowing your audience, being able to explain the why and doing this in an authentic and humane way is what works to get your messages seen and heard
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.