We’re at the halfway mark for the year and I’ve been trying out a lot of new tools and processes. In this bonus episode, I wanted to talk about WordPress plugins, digital products, and analog tools that have helped me be more productive!
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- WP Content Pilot Pro / AppSumo Deal
- ThirstyAffiliates Pro
- Six Colors
- Hubspot CRM
- Apple Notes
- Stream Deck
- Key Light
- Magic Keyboard
- Field Notes
- William Hannah Notebook
- Pen Addict Podcast
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Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks how did you build that? We are into the bonus episodes of sorts. These are generally shorter form episodes where it’s just me talking to you about something and we are about halfway through the year now. I want to talk to you about some of the tools that I have found useful over the last six months since I’ve been staying at home, focusing on more of my work and my process. I’ve been trying to improve a lot of things especially because in July I’ll be taking some time off after the birth of my son. So, I’ve been thinking about the tools I’ve been using. I’ve been trying to improve a lot of the work I have been doing and so I made a quick list of some software and some hardware that has really helped me improve my game. I’m going to talk about this stuff in no particular order. Well actually, the particular order is WordPress plug-ins, general tools and then hardware and analog tools. But I didn’t pick that order for any reason. It’s just the order in which I listed all of that stuff out. All of this, all of these links will be available over at https://howibuilt.it/. That’s where the show notes are. It’s how https://howibuilt.it/173 (that’s the episode number). So, let’s get into it. The first tool I want to tell you about is one that I very recently started using that solved a really good problem that I’ve been trying to solve myself. I was going to write my own plug-in to do it but then I found a lifetime deal on Appsumo for a plug-in called WP Content Pilot. So, what this does is, they’re actually positioning it for affiliate programs. You can set up “campaigns”, connect a source to it and then do a search for a keyword and import the posts that it finds on those keywords as posts on your own website. So, for example if you want to pull in YouTube videos with the keyword podcasting you can do that. But what I’m using it for is a content aggregator. As you probably know I publish content on multiple sources, my blog, this podcast, my YouTube channel; I have another podcast called start LOCAL. I want my personal blog, my personal website over at Casabona.org to be the single source of truth for all of my content. So, what I did was, I used WP Content Pilot to connect to my YouTube channel and my two RSS feeds. It’s really great. It’s been working out really well. It took a little bit of that finagling and finessing because I don’t think I’m using it in the way that it was intended to be used. But it’s working really well for me. So, the way I’m doing it right now is the two RSS feeds are working great. I just have them basically pulling a new post every 5 to 7 days at the same cadence at which my podcast episodes come out. Because if you do it any less than that, it will, if it doesn’t find a new episode, it’ll go to the last published episode that it hasn’t pulled in. So, I don’t want the whole back catalog being pulled in, like flooding my feed all at once. I just kind of want new episodes to be published moving forward. So, that’s what I am doing for both podcast feeds. For YouTube, again, it took a little bit of finagling because I couldn’t just say pull in all videos from this YouTube channel. I basically have to make a playlist which I called Casabona.org and any time a new video is added to that playlist it’ll pull it into the website. And that playlist is unlisted because it’s not really a way I want to organize my YouTube channel. So, when I upload new videos, it now gets added to playlist, one for the topic and one for Casabona.org. But it’s been great. And then I’m using beaver builder to publish the posts on my homepage. They include the category class name, so I was able to set some custom styles based on the category in the feed that’s being pulled in. So How I Built It episodes are blue like how I built it. YouTube is red is a little darker than the normal YouTube red because the normal YouTube red is like super bright. And Start Local is like a gold, which is like a county color for Chester County PA. And then the last nice thing about…well not the last nice thing but the last thing that I want to highlight for this plug-in, is you can have it linked directly to the original source. So, it will create a post based on the content, but it’ll also redirect it for you so that instead of people having to click on a post on your website and then click through to the original source, they’ll just go directly to the original source. So, between the visual difference I created from other sources versus my own source and the fact that when they click it will take them to the original source, I’m really happy. I got this idea from Six Colors. I really like the way that they do it. Mine’s not quite as refined as theirs is. Their site has been around for a while and they had custom work. But this works for me for now. I’ll probably improve upon it in the future. But WP Content Pilot is really good. I will link to the actual website and then I think the Appsumo deal is going on for a little, like a couple of days as this episode comes out. Either way, it’s worth it. I’m really glad I picked up the lifetime deal. I think if I hadn’t and I stumbled upon this it solves the exact problem I’m trying to solve. So that’s WP Content Pilot.
Thirsty Affiliates is next. I might have mentioned that one on the show before, but affiliate marketing is a big part of my income plan this year. So, at the end of last year I took some steps to figure out exactly where I could add more affiliate links without kind of bombarding people with affiliate links. Thirsty Affiliates is a really good WordPress plug-in that will automatically link content based on the keywords that you set up. Which is perfect right? So, whenever I mention something like I don’t know, managed WooCommerce hosting, it will like go to LiquidWeb or Nexcess now. The nice thing about it is that you set the link and the link isn’t embedded in the content. It’s basically done as the content is generated. So, if the link ever changes, the content won’t be stuck with the old link. Similarly, if your affiliate link changes you still have the main redirect which is really cool. So I have it installed on Casabona.org and on How I Built It. On the podcast website, it’ll link in the transcripts as well. So, there are contextual links inside the transcripts, so people don’t have to back scroll and look for the show notes or anything like that which is really nice. That’s been really working out for me. My affiliate income at the halfway mark has been really good, especially my Amazon affiliate links. It’s a bummer that they decreased the amount of the percentage amount that they’re paying out, but I’m still doing better in Amazon affiliates than I have ever before. My hosting affiliate links are doing pretty good. So, overall, I’m happy with the progress that my affiliate links have made. I think that Thirsty Affiliates is a big reason why. Because now I can automatically include the relevant affiliate links in my content even if I don’t think about it. So, for example anytime I mention like the Sony A6400, that gets turned into an affiliate link on Amazon to my camera. So, I think that’s a really great tool. I’m a big fan of it. Again, I will link that in the show notes over at https://howibuilt.it/173.
The third and final WordPress plug-in I want to tell you about is one that I recently picked up after a lot of hemming and hawing. I didn’t know if I really needed this or not, but I ended up picking it up. It’s is called Fusebox. It’s a much nicer looking podcast player for your podcast. So, this is created by the smart passive income team, Pat Flynn and them. If you go to https://howibuilt.it/ you’ll notice that there is a player on the bottom of the page with the latest episode. If you click through to any of the episodes, you will see a much nicer looking player. The reason that I like this plug-in so much is that it is a much nicer looking player, and you know it has like the embedded subscribe links and share links. But it also has a call to action which allows people to easily join my newsletter or my mailing list if they want to which I think is fantastic. It’s a much more obvious way of getting more conversions and it’s been working. So, again, I’m very happy with that. So Fusebox. I think it’s a really good plug-in. I ended up building a little bit of a companion plug-in. I feel like all of the plug-ins I use, or all of the plug-ins that I build are like companion plug-ins to connect to tools I’m using. But this plug-in I have is called Insert Fusebox. I’ll have more information on it when I’m ready to kind of put it out into the world. But what it does is essentially automatically grab the latest episode and embed the Fusebox short code. Fusebox does not specifically connect to any podcast plug-in as far as I can tell, so it’s not reading your feed and it’s not automatically replacing the podcast player with its podcast player. You actually have to embed the short code into the content. I knew that if I didn’t do this automatically, I would never do it. So now when the content is created, I can grab the URL from that post and generate the Fusebox short code to automatically embed it. I think this is really useful for anybody who’s using Fusebox. Right now, it supports PowerPress, because that’s what I use. But I’m going add Seriously Simple Podcasting support to it. I think it would be really valuable so keep an eye out for that. But Fusebox has been really good. I got it because I liked the way the player looks, and I thought that it would help me grow my mailing list. Both of those things are turning out to be true. So, hooray for that.
So next up is other digital tools that I’ve been using. But before we get to that, I do want to tell you about the first sponsor for this week. That is CircleCI. This episode is brought to you by CircleCI. Whether you’re on a development team, manage a development team yourself, or you have a business that relies on working software, a good process is so important to make sure you’re creating high quality work. Continuous integration, or the ability to check and manage code automatically can help you and your developers streamline the process in a big way and CircleCI is here to help. Designed for modern software teams, CircleCI’s continuous integration and delivery platform helps developers push code with confidence. Trusted by thousands of companies, from four-person startups to Fortune 500 businesses, CircleCI helps teams take their software from idea to delivery quickly, safely and that scale. Visit http://howibuilt.it/CircleCI
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Ok. So, we just talked about some WordPress plug-ins. Now here are just some general digital products that I’m looking at or I’ve been using. The first one is a CRM. I am notoriously bad at sales and marketing to the point where sometimes I wonder how I got to this point in my life as a business owner. I’ve been using various tools for my “CRM” from Airtable, to like a note, a notebook or a Bear note. That was my note app of choice for a while. I finally decided to bite the bullet and try HubSpot CRM. I liked HubSpot CRM because it was free, and I honestly don’t need a lot in terms of functionality. I just want to know who I’ve contacted, what they said and when the next time I need to follow up is. HubSpot is great for that. Honestly, Airtable would have been great for that but they don’t have reminders, which just kills me. So, you can’t do like a date-based reminder field, not even in the paid version. That would’ve been the thing that made me pay for Airtable. But HubSpot is great. So, I like it a lot. I check it twice a week, on Tuesdays and on Fridays. I do all of my kind of account management through there. I set up reminders to follow up when I need to. I keep all of my communication in there. I love that they have a forwarding and a BCC address, so that I don’t have to worry about connecting my mailbox. Honestly, I don’t want HubSpot to be flooded with all of my email either. I just want to keep the contacts in there that I want to manage for specific work, like new projects or sponsorships which is the main reason I set up. Honestly, that’s been super working out for me because I just started a new round of reaching out to sponsors and I’ve been getting a lot of interest. I’ve been able to keep track of all the interest in HubSpot CRM. So, I’m really happy with that. I think my friend Maddie might’ve recommended it. So, I’ve been enjoying that as my CRM, after I should say, trying to bounce from CRM to CRM. I was in Capsule CRM and then Agile CRM and I just…I was focusing too much on the tool and not enough on the actual outreach. So, I settled on HubSpot CRM and I’m pretty happy about it.
Next up is a built-in app, if you are on iOS and Mac OS. That’s Apple notes. Every year around WWDC I think about going back to Apple’s native apps. Then for one reason or another I just don’t. I try it and I don’t like. There’s some killer feature that I decide I absolutely need. But last year, with the reminders redesign, I started using reminders a lot more. So, I use that in conjunction with OmniFocus. This year I realize that I have too many places where I keep notes. I have a fieldnotes notebook. I have another notebook as you’ll learn later. I was getting frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t sure where the stuff I was trying to keep track of actually lived. I pay annually for Bear notes and I was paying annually for Bear notes because they support markdown. Markdown is apparently a must-have feature for me. But it’s useless if I’m not actually taking notes down. I really like the system integration in Apple notes. Apple notes looks a lot better. I really wish they supported markdown, but whatever. So, I’ve been using Apple notes a lot more to keep ideas, to capture links, to do field notes transitions. So, whenever I write something down in the notebook, I move it to Apple notes quickly. I really like the capture and the obviously the system integration because it’s the built-in app. So, I’ve been using it consistently for a couple of months at this point. I’ve been happy with it.
I don’t think I am going to renew my Bear note subscription. Sorry Bear notes. You are a fantastic app, but I wasn’t using it even at $15 a year. Enough right? So, it’s not about the cost of something. It’s why pay for something you don’t use right? So, I’m not using Bear notes. I’m still using Evernote because it’s got the best integrations. One day, maybe, when Notion allows for Zapier integrations, I will move off Evernote but until that day, Evernote is still the best tool. But that is mostly for other things that I’m not using Apple notes for. Apple notes is for general ideas, jotting down things quickly and keeping track of stuff as I think of it throughout the day. I’ve been really happy with it. So, Apple notes. The surprise app for me of the year. I don’t know why I decided one day to just start using it. As I record this, WWDC I think is next week? Yes, it’s next week. So, yes, I’m really happy with Apple notes so far. Speaking of notes, Milanote is another one I’ve been trying. Their team reached out to me and asked if I would backlink to them on my uses page. I informed them that I only do that if I actually use something. So, they set me up with an account. Full disclosure. It’s a free Pro account and I’ve been checking it out. I really like the way it looks. I haven’t quite found the groove of it yet though. But I really want a good research buddy. I think Milanote could be that. So, keep your ears peeled for that. I’m trying it out now. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll be like I need Milanote. I know Shannon Shaffer mentioned it on her episode. She absolutely loves it, which kind of gave me the brand awareness. And yeah, so, I’m trying it out and I hope it could be a research buddy for me. But this is another place where there’s no API automation integrations or anything like that and that’s almost a deal breaker for me every single time because I don’t necessarily want to live in the app, I want to capture stuff to the app and then organize it later. I don’t want to have to visit the website every time. Plus their iOS app is a little bit lacking like it’s really just a capture tool. I would much prefer capturing something in Apple notes and then sending it to Milanote. But we’ll see. Maybe they’re working out some bugs and things like that but I’m trying it out.
And the last tool is one that I’ve been using for a long time, but I finally became a pro user. It is Canva. So, I love Canva for everything. I am terrible at designing and they make it so that you don’t have to (well I don’t have to be good at designing at least). I’ve been using it and they rolled out a couple of killer Pro features like remove backgrounds which I was paying another service to do that, remove.bg. It might be the same service and they just tap into the API. Between that and a few other features they added, they let me do another pro-free trial and as soon as it ended, I was like you know what? I use this every single day to create all sorts of graphics. It’s totally worth paying for so I love Canva. Canva Pro is great. I have not been using Photoshop or creative cloud for about a year now and instead I was using Affinity photo to edit photos. But even that, I’m really not using that all either. I’m using Canva for everything. So, I’m a big fan of Canva Pro. I’m finally paying for it. I couldn’t be happier. This is one of those instances where I will happily pay for a tool that gets the job done quickly and easily for me. So those are all the software tools.
Ok. So, as we wrap up this episode, which I told you would be short and now are approaching regular length, is a few actual analog or in real-life tools I’ve been using. I won’t belabor this one very long because I’ve written at length about and talked about it. But Elgato’s stream has really changed my process a lot. I love it. I use it for videos. I use it for Zoom calls. I use it to manage the lighting in my office. It’s just fantastic. I will link to a blog post where I talk about how I have configured my stream deck as well as a YouTube video of how I’m using my stream deck with OBS to record YouTube videos and my course videos. Along with that, I just recently got the Elgato key light which is a smart lighting panel. I’ve fixed it to my desk so that I have good three-point lighting. It’s a little better than the lighting I was using previously. The nice thing about this is that it integrates right with the stream deck. So, I can turn it on or off. I can increase or decrease the brightness and I can increase or decrease the color temperature. So, eventually what I hope to do is have a keyboard Maestro script which stream deck also integrates with to press start recording and then like it sets the key light properly. It sets the rest of the lighting in my office properly. It kills a bunch of apps and then it starts recording. But the key light is integral to that because it’s the lighting and so I can control that more easily with the stream deck which is just fantastic. I will link to that in the show notes as well. Maybe my favorite tool, I mean the stream deck is my favorite tool, but I assumed this would be for a long time after they announced it, is the new magic keyboard for iPad. It includes a trackpad. It makes the iPad hover a little bit. So, I’ve been using my iPad a lot more for more tasks. For example, because the iPad now has cursor and trackpad support, I can update beaver builder pages with the iPad. That’s not something you could’ve done before this. Before I think it was iPad OS 13.4. So, the magic keyboard was an insta buy for me. I absolutely love it. I can see myself now taking just the iPad with me and leaving the laptop behind, which was always the dream when I had the 12.9-inch iPad. I downgraded to the 11 inch and bought a MacBook air. But now I could see myself doing a lot more with the iPad because it has cursor support and the Magic keyboard has been so great, I absolutely love using it; backlit butterfly keyboard (maybe it’s not butterfly, it’s scissor switch). The good one that doesn’t stink. It’s backlit and it’s really great. I absolutely love that keyboard. It’s not perfect but it is absolutely the best thing that you will get if you want to use your keyboard, a keyboard with your iPad.
The last thing I want to tell you about is my favorite topic, analog tools stationary. I have been ripping through field notes notebooks. I’ve been a big fan of field notes for a long time, but I generally do not go through an entire field notes notebook in a month. Since the quarantine started, I guess I’ve like always had in my pocket and I’ve been using it a lot more like even at my desk. I’ve been ripping through one like every three weeks. So, I’ve about halved the time it usually takes me to get through a field notes notebook. So, like I said earlier, my process has been to write stuff down in the field notes notebook and check it off. If there’s anything lingering that I need to attend to, I’ll put it in Apple notes which is basically like the digital version of my field notes notebooks anyway. So, I’m a big fan of field notes. I just recently resubscribed to their annual subscription even though I always let it expire and then realize I shouldn’t have. I should just stop doing the dance. But, alas, I’m a subscriber again. Finally, and I’ve posted about this before and it’s like I wrote about it in my analog tools, but I have a William Hanna notebook. It’s a ring system and it’s really nice leather. It’s a UK-based company but they do all sorts of custom prints for pages, so I’ve been using it as a weekly planner. I have a few that I heard about on the pentatonic podcast where you have the entire week on the left page and then a blank.grid on the right page. So, I will plan out my week with my tasks and then use the rest for notes. Then I will have a section of the notebook that is all.grid. So, I can use that for meeting notes or journaling bigger ideas that I have that I want to keep safe. Then the last section is to do lists. So, I’ll keep like my reading list, things I want to watch or learn or other just general long-standing lists that I am going to have. I recently decided to commit to that fully because I was having a problem like which notebook did I write this idea in. So now it’s either going to be the field notes notebook which is going to be just quick ideas that I will convert to either an Apple note or put in the William Hanna notebook, or it will just be the William Hanna notebook. So, I have a couple of notebooks that are half used that are really good that I need to figure out do with. But I’m happy to consolidate all of my planning stuff into two notebooks. That doesn’t count my actual personal journal that’s more like a diary which is still the theme system journal. But that’s just for reflecting and really not for planning. So, I write like something good, something bad, something I’m looking forward to, something I shipped. I do have the three tasks I want to get done each day but that is derived from what I have in my William Hanna notebook. So that’s everything. This turned out to be in a normal sized episode. So, thanks for bearing with me. I hope that you learned about some new tools that you’re going to check out. All of this stuff will be available in the show notes over at Howibuilt.it. Thanks so much for listening. If you have any questions about the tools I’m using let me know. Maybe if I get enough feedback, I’ll do a feedback episode. Thanks to our sponsors for this week, CircleCI and TextExpander. They make the show happen and. If you want to take my new podcasting course that you heard about at the top of the show podcast head on over to podcastliftoff.com. if you liked this episode be sure to give us a rating interview on Apple podcast. It really helps you discover the show. Until next time get out there and build something.