Posts Tagged ‘free’
This can be far from ideal, and I often find myself sandwiched between Alison from accounts and Malcolm in Marketing (*names changed to protect the innocent).
Now whilst it can be good to rub shoulders with other people (saves going stir crazy at home), one of the problems that a busy freelancer can face is the distraction of office talk. Who is going out with whom, what happened at last night’s party, and what happened in the program that was on TV last night.
All of this can be very distracting when you are desperate to complete a project and get the invoices raised.
One solution of course is to plug in some headphones and code/write/design to the sounds of your favourite tunes. But sometimes concentration is required, so having the Spice Girls tell you what they really (really) want can be equally off-putting.
Sounds of Nature
So let me suggest to you, the sounds of nature. Rather than having 9-inch nails, Nirvana or Girls Aloud screaming at you, why not drift away with natures ‘white noise’.
As I type this, my ears are filled with the pleasant sound of surf on a tropical beach. There are birds in the distance, the sound of the breeze stirring trees– it’s all nice. It is calming, soothing, blocks the sounds around me, and best of all, it does not distract from what I am doing.
It’s a perfect solution. And you don’t have to stick with the sound of waves. Rain (with thunder) is great, as are the wild animals of Africa or crickets in the grass – there is lots of choice.
Give it a try – for FREE
Want to give it a try? Well I am providing you with two 20 minute tracks for free (from a copyright free source) – one track of the surf and one track of the rain – both are very good. Download the free natural audio tracks here. (zip file containing media files – about 57mb)
Going One Step Further
If like me, you find that your concentration levels go up when listening to the sounds of nature, than I would also direct you to a site which offers very high quality and very good nature sound collections (reasonably priced). Listening Earth is an Australian small business formed by a Husband and Wife team, who travel the earth recording (and photographing) nature. Their downloadable CD collections are what I now listen to whilst working – they are very good.
And I am all for supporting interesting small companies such as these, regardless of what they do as a business, or where they are based. Recommended.
“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”
John F. Kennedy
I was looking at some trends recently for the self employed, and there has been a sharp increase in the weight of IT Workers, Americans and in particular, freelancers throughout the world.
Maybe it’s because we are all so busy working that we catch quick (but unhealthy) meals, or we don’t have time to exercise, or maybe it just goes with the territory. However, as we all know, weight problems can lead to other problems, which can lead to the inability to work, which then leads to a lack of money.
But, I am not going to sit here and preach about getting healthy. What I am going to do is talk about an option which may interest you… so please bear with me for just a while longer.
The World Is Stuffed Full of Secrets
What if I told you, the world was full of secret places, and hidden items – would you believe me? What about if I told you a world-wide game of hide and seek was being played right now, very close to where you live and work? Maybe right outside your house and office.
What about if I told you there was a way of getting a little exercise which is fun for you, fun for your family (and dog if you have one), and is not going to end up with you going down the gym or starting some major exercise regime?
Now what about if I told you its free?
I am talking about an activity called Geocaching.
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. I am not talking a virtual container here – I mean a real physical box with items inside.
There are tens of millions of these boxes hidden all over the world – all hidden from people who are not playing the game. I can guarantee if you have left the house today, you will have walked or driven past a dozen or so without realising it.
If you have a modern mobile phone (iPhone, Android or even Symbian based), there will be a free Geocaching app which uses your phones GPS to guide you in this treasure hunt. You simply pick a nice area, follow the guide and find the hidden containers (caches).
The containers can be in woods, parks, city streets, buildings, amusement parks, near rivers – anywhere.
Why I love It
Now the reason why I love it – it gets me away from work. My family and I will go out for an hour or so, and we will go treasure hunting. For that hour (or eight hours if we do it on a weekend), the family get quality me time, we all get some exercise, we all enjoy the challenge and I still get to use a gadget (to play the game).
Because we are always seeking different caches, the hunts take us to places we didn’t know existed. We have discovered new pubs (bars), restaurants, woods, countryside paths, rivers, sights, historical buildings, walks, views and even people who we would never have known about if it were not for Geocaching. We no longer have to visit the same places over and over again.
And being away from the normal work area means I have time to think, to plan, to recharge. All whilst getting some exercise and staying fit enough to work.
Why not give Geocaching a try?
If you are a Freelancer or Small Business Owner in the UK, it may interest you to know that a new magazine has been created just for you. The BritishSME magazine is very new, with just 2 issues under its belt, produced every 6 months, with lots of great information for all types of small companies.
The initial two editions covers such topics as tax changes, staffing, insurance, bank lending, and all kinds of other small business news. What is also useful is a range of ‘Best Buy’ tables for company banking, credit cards, mortgages (for Buy to Lets) and insurance.
The magazine is produced in both electronic and printed versions – you can read the editions without signing up but by signing up you can have the magazine delivered to your in tray or letter box.
As a say, it’s a new magazine, but I for one wish them the best of luck. You can read/download existing issues or sign up for future issues here.
Call me an email dinosaur, but I am still a fond user of Microsoft Outlook for dealing with work emails, contacts ,discussions and Do list (with a sync to ToodleDo). It may not be perfect, but it works for me, its fast to use, and gets the job done with the minimum of effort.
Recently, I was introduced to a FREE 3rd party add on called Xobni. As with most bolt on products, it’s actually available in a Freemium version. Xobni, sits on the side of outlook and adds lots of contact information and tools for most actions in outlook. The web site for Xobni says that it makes outlook more “contact centric” – I am not sure it goes that far, but it does make it a lot more powerful.
In a nutshell, whenever you work on an item (email, discussion, todo or contact) that is linked to a contact, a panel is displayed in outlook which shows the contact information. This is not the standard Outlook contact information, but a new contact form which is built from your activity with the contact.
Default Contact Options
The default Xobni information is picked up by scanning and indexing your emails, both sent and received. Using things like your contacts email signature bar and linked outlook contact entry, it generates the contact name, job title, phone numbers, email addresses, web sites etc. But beyond this, other useful information is pulled together for the contact such as:
- A graph of when you communicate – in and out sent dates and times (its meant to indicate the best times to communicate with the contact – not sure how useful this really is)
- Conversations – a list of recent emails to or from the contact, files exchanged (with links to the files), people in their network (people who your contact has emailed (via CC emails), etc
- Appointments scheduled in the past or future with the contact (from your outlook diary)
- URL Links shared between you – Premium content only
All of the above can be quickly re-viewed and actioned (replied to, changed, printed, etc) from the Xobni side window meaning that you don’t have to loose what is in the main screen of outlook. It is all pulled together very well, and is very useful.
Actions and Bolt Ons
Whilst the above summary information is very useful, the real power comes from the bolt-on actions. You can download widgets which connect Xobni with other services such as Dropbox, Evernote, Huddle, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and a whole host more.
Want to send your contact an Evernote note? Click the note and it will compose an email (for you to check and edit) with the note attached. See your contacts last comments on twitter or facebook? They are right there. See your contacts linkedin profile and who they are connected to? Not a problem. What about sharing a large file – click the file in dropbox and the file is copied to your public dropbox area for you and a link is added to an email. There is even a ‘lets meet’ button which will compose an email to your contact with your free diary slots over the next few days.
Xobni is not perfect. If you stick to the FREE version, the really useful buttons (create a contact, update the contact information with this information, etc) produces a pop-up purchase window. It also takes up 1/6th of the screen in outlook. However, it provides a lot of useful information regarding your contacts. If you use outlook and are working on building relationships with clients, it’s a must-have.
Meetings – don’t we just hate them?!? The travel, the preparation, the setting up of projectors, the forgetting of the crucial cables. Meetings can seriously eat into a freelancer or small business schedule. But they are a necessity to good business and working as a team.
But why not try a virtual meeting? Yes, it may not have the tactile feel of a face to face chat or a huddle over a project plan, but it also means that that you can do it in the comfort of your own chair, or in your underwear, or even in the bath.
So here are two FREE ways of holding virtual meetings:
From its original version, the Skype system continues to add more and more functionality. In addition to the voice chat and text chat, Skype now allows free video conferencing and computer screen sharing. There is a downside in that to screen share, you do need to have everybody in a video call first, which relies on a web cam and a FAST internet connection, but once connected, screen sharing works very well. The other plus side is that with Skype, everything is included – voice, face to face and the screen share – so nothing else is needed for a great virtual meeting. Of course, everybody in the meeting needs to be a registered skype user. Skype provides a useful ‘how to share screens on skype’ tutorial for further information.
The alternative to skype that I would recommend is a FREE service called Mikogo. This is a web based screen sharing and virtual meeting system. The service does require the download of a small 1.6Mb application (as does most paid for virtual meeting products), but this adds a pop-of menu of features including whiteboard, annotations, freezing screen (so you can do stuff without others seeing), file transfer, participant pointers (you can see what your audience are talking about via hovering coloured dots) and a whole host of other features. To invite others to a meeting, you just email them a web URL (shortcut) to a Mikogo virtual meeting room, and they enter a room code, password and their name to participate in the meeting.
Mikogo also has a dial in number for voice communication (with non-premium numbers for most counties), so you can talk and show at the same time. Whilst it doesn’t offer the video chat that Skype offers, the fact that anybody with an internet connection can use it, with up to 10 participants makes it perfect for most virtual business meetings and discussions. There is also a premium (paid) version of Mikogo for more meeting participants (upto 25).
Which one am I using and Why
Out of the two free options, when doing formal group meetings, I generally opt for Mikogo. Skype is great for quick one to ones with distant workers, but Mikogo feels more professional. Plus the features offered such as the whiteboard are so useful – just highlight sections of the screen, draw boxes, lines, whatever – to illustrate what you are talking about. The final reason for selecting Mikogo is because not everybody uses Skype, and I don’t want to force anybody to register on any service to have a meeting with me.
Have you ever thought about what money is? If I look on a note in my wallet (it’s a British £10 note), it says “The Bank of England promises to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £10”. USA, Canadian, and the Euro notes say something very similar. So money, the cash we use is really an “I Owe you”. It’s an IOU from somebody you do work for, and you give it to somebody else for the product or work that they do. We are just passing IOU notes around. And IOU’s are just a projection of the barter system.
Barter is the original form of trade – from the dark old stone or bronze ages. Barter worked when one person said “You look after my sheep, and in return I will catch you some fish”. Barter was a trade of skills. The money came from this, allowing people to exchange the IOU work notes – and a way to put value against things that they exchanges.
Projecting this forward to today, and the question is, should Freelancers, Contractors and other Small Business Owners barter and trade skills instead of payments? If cash is short, it may be tempting to do some technical work for say another freelancer who can provide marketing copy if you can in return, give them some web site coding (or visa-versa).
There are Pro’s and Con’s for the barter system in business:
- No money changes hands, therefore no taxes to pay
- If you have free time, it’s a handy way to get outside skills into your set-up without having to hit the bottom line
- It generates working relationships which can then be extended into other work by creating working partnerships
- Exchange of work can lead to additional publicity (additions to portfolio, web sites posted, credits etc)
- When work is hard to find, a skill exchange keeps you busy, active and in work mode
- Money is not involved, and if you need money, it may not help your business
- There is a lot of trust that both parties will carry out the agreed work
- There may be some discussion of the relative values of different work and skills (is 1 page of copy text worth an hour of coding or page of web site design?)
- The barter system is deemed out of date by some freelancers.
What do you think? Are there other freelancers you can barter or do a work exchange with?