10 Awesome Free Tools for Your Small Business (and Your Life)

It hit me today that, WOW, I have a lot going on.  And it sure is overwhelming.  But who’s life isn’t like that?  We all juggle jobs with family and hobbies (if we are lucky) on top of keeping up with everyday life (food, laundry, shower, cleaning–again if you are lucky to get to that).  Now that I’ve opened my second Etsy shop, Knitting Naturals, and acquired a new part-time job, I need to stay organized and on top things more than ever.

Whether you run your own small business or not, these tools have greatly simplified my life and I’ll bet at least a few will work for you too.

1. XMind

This cool brainstorming tool allows you to easily create mind maps so you easily brainstorm and organize your thoughts.  You can create topics and subtopics for your new project, and I’ve found it to be a great tool to organize all the major areas of consideration for our tiny house project.  Start with one of their easy to use templates or begin from scratch, I find this a flexible tool that fits many needs.  You can even attach pictures and documents to your subtopics, upload files, insert a matrix (spreadsheet), and then share your mind map with others.

2. Evernote

I picture Evernote as the digital place for all the notes I have jotted down on Post-Its and scraps of paper on my desk, in random notebooks, and floating around in my purse.  It’s a place to keep quick notes, thoughts, ideas, or pictures, and you can even sync Evernote from your home computer to an app on your smartphone.  No more fumbling for pen and paper when you have a great idea on the road!

3. Dropbox

I only recently started using Dropbox, but I love it already.  Whether you want to share photos and music with friends and family, make documents and spreadsheets available for colleagues, or simply want to sync files between your computer and your phone, Dropbox is a great cloud storage solution.

4. Square

I got my Square to use at craft shows so I can easily accept credit card payments right there.  This is a great advantage and can certainly increase sales when so many people carry a card with them instead of tons of cash.  It’s easy to sign up and they will send you the little square device free of charge, there’s just a small processing fee per transaction.

5. Google Analytics

A must-have for anyone who runs their own website.  See all the details of who is visiting your page and how often to get some insight on what’s happening and be able to make better marketing decisions.

6. Fount

This nifty tool allows you to identify any web font you see.  Find an awesome font on a site and what to use it on your own web page?  Now you can find out the exact name and download it yourself!

https://i2.wp.com/designyoutrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/DYT_fount_1.jpg

7. Wave Accounting

A 100% free accounting app made for small business owners and freelancers. You can create and send professional invoices, track expenses, create reports, and eliminate accounting headaches.  An added bonus:  Wave will track your business and your personal finances, which I love.  I used to use Outright, but like Wave much better because of this feature.

8. Mail Chimp

Want to start a newsletter for your business to keep customers engaged and up to date on your happenings?  Try Mail Chimp, a free email marketing and email list manager.  Granted, it’s only free up to 2,000 email subscribers, but if you have that many people interested in your business I think it’s probably worth it to upgrade.  You can choose from different templates and create custom lists to focus your promotions and news.

BONUS:

Life Tools for Extra Money Making

These last two sites are actually simple ways to make a little extra money on the side if you have the time.  I’ve enjoyed both with pretty good success, so trust me, they are actually legit operations.

9. Inbox Dollars

Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, and the site is full of colorful ads and such, but I’ve made some decent cash simply from doing surveys, reading emails, and watching video ads.  You can also browse the offers to earn extra money on services you may already be considering (like Netflix or TurboTax).  It’s helped pay the cell phone bill and buy a night out to eat.  So all in all, not a bad deal.

10. Daily Feats

Earn points for doing daily feats (anything from flossing to eating healthy to volunteering to playing with your kids), then turn those points into rewards.  Rewards can vary (and they change regularly) but are usually coupons or gift cards to different sites.  I’ve seen Ebay gift certificates, gift cards for Starbucks, and coupons for Walgreens.  It’s easy to rack up points, and I’m finding it motivates me to read more, walk my dog, and make sure I get my vitamins in every day.

Tuesday Tutorials – Owl Wrist Pillow

This one is for those of you who sew (in which case I’m quite jealous of your skills).  I think I’d probably like to sew more if I had a sewing machine…and if I tried sewing more than just hemming pants and fixes holes in my favorite sweater.

Regardless, this tutorial I found easy enough to hand sew, and since my boyfriend plays games on his computer a LOT, and was using just a bunch of socks as a wrist pillow to provide support and comfort, I think this little owl friend will help him out (and it’s much cuter than a bunch of socks).

I found the original tutorial on Leonie’s Creations–kudos to Leonie!

Whip up one of these cute owls for yourself or as a gift, either way wrists everywhere will thank you!

Owl Wrist Pillow

Materials

  • 2 pieces of cotton for the back and front: 14×19 cm
  • Little felt pieces for the eyes and nose: 2 circles (light color): 2.5cm diameter, 2 circles (dark color): 1.5cm diameter, 1 triangular piece
  • Bright colored thread, 30 cm
  • Filling

Directions

      1. Cut out the back and front piece for the owl. I used 2 different prints for the front and back piece so it looks more playful. Cut out 4 circles for the eyes and a triangular piece for the nose.
 
      2. Stitch the 2 big circles and the nose on the front piece.
 
      3. Stitch the 2 small circles on top of the big ones. You can use a distinctive thread color for stitching on the small circles so the eyes look more bright!
 
           4. Place the back piece onto the front piece with the right sides facing each other. Stitch them together and leave 5cm gap at the bottom.
   
      5. Fold the owl inside out and stuff it with the filling. Close the 5 cm gap at the bottom. You are done!

Monday Munchies – Quinoa Porridge

This unique recipe originated on one of my new-found favorite blogs, A Cozy Kitchen.  The recipes there are very intriguing to me, using ingredients I’ve never heard of or considered before (like roasted bone marrow).  It’ll be fun to explore more of this recipes in the future, but the first one I tried was this quinoa porridge.

You wouldn’t usually think about quinoa as a breakfast food, but the spiced milk makes it sweet and delicious.  I didn’t have any pears or fig jam around (as the recipe calls for), but I did toast some almonds and add dried cranberries and a little warm strawberry jam.  Yum!

Quinoa Porridge

Ingredients

1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk, plus 4 tablespoons, divided
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 pear, sliced
2 teaspoons fig jam, warmed

Directions

1. In a medium pot, add the slivered almonds and toast for 1 minute, until lightly golden brown. Remove and set aside.

2. Using a sieve, rinse quinoa until the water runs clear. To the medium pot (use the same one as you did for the almonds), add the quinoa, water, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook until all of the liquid has absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Turn the heat off and fluff the quinoa with a fork.

3. To two bowls, add a few hefty spoonfuls of the porridge. Mix in two additional tablespoons of milk. Top with a small handful of the toasted almonds, sliced pears and drizzle of jam.

New Adventures in Knitting Naturals

A few months ago I attended an Entrepreneurship Extravaganza workshop to get some insight and inspiration for LittleNoteCrafts.  Little did I know that I would leave with a terrific, hit-you-like-a-ton-of-bricks, light bulb moment.

I’ve always loved nature and the environment and being outdoors.  I know a lot of people say that, but I’ve always felt I held a stronger conviction to it than most.  As a kid I first wanted to be a vet or a zookeeper so I could care for and save animals.  By the time I graduated college I wanted to work for the National Park System to promote the benefits of parks, recreation, leisure, and conservation.  I even studied abroad in Uganda, East Africa one summer to learn more about national parks, nature conservation, and sustainability.

One of my favorite shots in Africa

One of my favorite shots in Africa

I almost couldn’t believe I hadn’t previously thought of combining this love for nature with my love for knitting, but I’m very excited to announce my new shop: Knitting Naturals!

Knitting Naturals is all about hand knit accessories made from all natural, sustainable, ethically-produced yarn.  I even have my own fancy website!  Very cool, right?  Here are some ways I’m striving to be environmentally-friendly and better the Earth:

  • source all-natural alpaca yarn from local farms
  • use only organic cotton and organic merino wool (read about the harmful processes of non-organic fiber on the Knitting Naturals website)
  • ship products in all recycled or recyclable materials
  • blog about ecofriendly DIY projects to help readers be more environmentally-conscious in their daily lives
  • save for and build a tiny, low-impact, self-sustaining house to serve as headquarters for Knitting Naturals
All Natural Alpaca Wool Fingerless Gloves - Dark Chocolate Brown - Ecofriendly

All Natural Alpaca Wool Fingerless Gloves

Check out www.knittingnaturals.com to read all about the different yarns I’m going to use or learn about the mission and vision of Knitting Naturals.  You can also browse my new Etsy shop, and new items are being added regularly!

I’ve also started a second blog there to show more ecofriendly tutorials and document the planning process for the tiny house.  For anyone who feels strongly connected to this cause, I’ve also included a place to donate towards the tiny house project.  Every donation is greatly appreciated, and shows your willingness to help and support more sustainable ways of living.

I hope you will follow me on this great journey into the world of natural yarns, tiny living, and environmentalism. See you there!

This baby merino sheep sure is happy to be in this field!

Friday Features – Cassandra of Lyn and Lee

Friday Features are all about meeting the talented artists and creators of hand crafted goods to share their stories and bring to light the value and beauty found in handmade.

Today’s feature is all about Cassandra from Lyn and Lee on Etsy!

Tell me about yourself and your shop.

Hi! My name is Cassandra and I am a small town girl living in a big city. I have a fondness for mercury glass, snickerdoodles, football, animals, good movies and books and love having a great time with family and friends. I create one of a kind jewelry, great for any occasion using semi-precious stones, jewelry that works with jeans during the day and a little black dress at night. I strive to make jewelry that makes everyone feel like that inner goddess that we have in all of us.

How did you start, and why did you choose your craft? How much experience do you have so far?
I have always love jewelry and have always been creative; it made sense that two would go hand in hand with me and turn into what I loved to do. Lyn & Lee (which are the middle names of me and my sister) officially came into fruition in 2012. I had been creating jewelry for year and a half prior, giving gifts to family and friends for every holiday and birthday until they finally said “Enough is enough! You need to start selling these.” And so the ride begun.

Teal & Peacock Freshwater Pearl Woven Boho Beaded Hoop Earrings

Teal & Peacock Freshwater Pearl Woven Boho Beaded Hoop Earrings

What influences your work from your life or city? (or anything else that influences you)
So many things influence me, new stones that I just got in, a book I am reading, a color I am currently in love with, etc. The list goes on and on

What do you do when you need a little bit if inspiration?
Sometimes I just open everything, just grab and see what comes out of it.

What is your best achievement?
My first sale to someone other then friends or family. I reaffirmed that the road I was heading down was the right one.

Faceted Brecciated Jasper and Calcite Stretch Bracelet

Faceted Brecciated Jasper and Calcite Stretch Bracelet

What does handmade mean to you?
To me handmade means the thought and emotion that is put into a piece.

Do you also offer custom made items? Is it something you like to do?
At this time I don’t offer custom items, my pieces are one of a kind, so in a way they are custom.

What plans do you have for the future of you business?
My plans are to keep trucking on and I am looking toward the time where Lyn & Lee is my only full time job.

Any advice for others looking to sell their handmade items?
If it is something that you really love, it isn’t always the smoothest journey but then again the things that are worth it never are. And trust me it can be worth it.

Black Obsidian, Cream Quartzite and Purple Fluorite Woven Necklace

Black Obsidian, Cream Quartzite and Purple Fluorite Woven Necklace

Many thanks to Cassandra and be sure to check out the rest of her shop!

Stay tuned for more Friday Features, crafty tutorials, and other joyous posts!  If you’d like to stay up-to-date on happenings here at Homegrownjoy, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.  Thank you!

50 Follower Giveaway!

That’s right!  I’ve got 50 followers!  Yay!  Thank you to each and every one of you.  I am truly grateful that you enjoy my posts and read my blog.  It’s a great milestone for me and as a thank you, I want to give something away!

I’ve chosen this beautiful necklace and earring set as a prize.  To enter, simply leave a comment on what you like about my blog and/or what you’d like to see more of in the coming year.

DSCN1531

Want extra entries in the giveaway?  Share this post on your own blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media page.  Be sure to include in your comment a link where you shared it.

Thank you again!  Have a stupendous day!

 

Tuesday Tutorials – Shrinky Dink Buttons

Do you remember making Shrinky-Dinks when you were a kid?  I sure do, and it’s still just as much fun now as it was then.

In case you aren’t familiar with shrink plastic, it’s a nifty plastic that comes in a sheet which shrinks when you heat it into a small hard plastic piece.

I originally found this tutorial on SWP, and wanted to share it.  Definitely a fun but grown-up way to play with Shrinky-Dinks again!

Shrink Plastic Buttons

Use shrink plastic to make clothing buttons

1. The buttons. The buttons are cut from shrink paper. Make sure you use frosted, not clear! Clear works, but it won’t look like the buttons on this post. To cut the button shape, use a Fiskars Squeeze Circle punch – size large. To get the center holes, use a standard where to punch holes to make your own buttonssingle hole, hole punch. To keep each button the same, punch a large circle out on some paper, fold it in half, punch a smaller hole in place where the diagram (left) shows. Unfold it, and use it a template to get the sewing holes in exactly the same place every time.

2. The Pens. If you’re going to do this right.. use ZIG Millennium Pens, they were the best. Using this brand means you can wash your buttons and the ink won’t run or fade, whereas all of the other brands did (most of the time, the ink didn’t run completely off, but faded a lot).

3. The Template. You can download the template shown in the second photo with room to draw your own here. (This template fits the Fiskars Squeeze Circle punch – size large. You can use scissors, but you will notice the imperfections if you want the circle to be perfect.)

Okay.. lets get started!

Trace you design onto the frosted side of the shrink plastic paper

Tracing tips: You can use either colored pencils or permanent pens. At this initial stage it’s really important to keep the buttons clean from smudges.  When you shrink the buttons the colors will intensify. Any smudges (even the ones you can’t see), will become very evident.

Words must be written backwards in order to be readable. This is because the text is on the rough underside of the button, and once flipped to face the smooth side, the image will be reversed. An easy way to do this is to write your text onto the frosted side of some scrap shrink paper, flip it over, and then trace it as you see it onto your button.

Before and after.. shrinking the shrink plastic button

Shrinking the buttons: To shrink the buttons, you can use an oven or a heat gun (the kind used for embellishing). I would recommend using an oven as it’s the easiest way to start. While you’re creating your buttons, pre-heat your oven to 350F. When your buttons are ready, place the button on a baking sheet and then into the oven. Close the door and in seconds you will be able to see the buttons shrink before your eyes!!! (It never gets dull!)

After the buttons have twisted and twirled, and are LYING FLAT, it’s time to take them out.

Note: If the shrinking is taking too long, you may need to turn your oven up.

Monday Munchies – Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Another fantastic in-season vegetable right now is cauliflower.  I know a lot of people don’t really like cauliflower, and to be honest, I didn’t really either until a few years ago.  I hated it raw and always thought it was a very bland vegetable, but once I tried it roasted I was in love!  Roasting cauliflower really brings out a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, which mixes deliciously with the balsamic and Parmesan in this recipe.

The great thing about balsamic vinegar is that it adds tons of flavor without a lot of added calories.  You can even experiment with different flavors available through a great company called The Olive Tap.  I think the Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic would be good in this recipe, and I personally like the Apple or Raspberry Balsamic Vinegars in homemade salad dressings.  It’s a little pricey to be sure, but well worth it!

Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted CauliflowerBalsamic & Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 cups 1-inch-thick slices cauliflower florets, (about 1 large head; see Tip)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Toss cauliflower, oil, marjoram, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until starting to soften and brown on the bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Toss the cauliflower with vinegar and sprinkle with cheese. Return to the oven and roast until the cheese is melted and any moisture has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes more.