Being a successful indie author is not just about writing. You also have to run a small business … and that involves various tools and technologies.
I was a business consultant for 13 years across Europe and Asia Pacific, working for large companies like Accenture (then Andersen Consulting), Cap Gemini/CGEY and even IBM for a short stint, as well as small boutique consultancies.
One of the first things we would do as a team entering a new business was to do a technical architecture map, in order to understand the current state of the business before we made any changes.
I realized the other day that I have almost lost track of all the moving parts in my own business, so I decided to do a technical architecture map of all the software (and some hardware) that I use to run The Creative Penn Limited, which is now a multi-six-figure company.
Yes, I run a global media company from my laptop … but it’s almost entirely dependent on the internet to run. Come the zombie apocalypse, it won’t be worth much, but until then, it should continue to grow and scale because the tools we have access to now are incredible.
Here’s the overview picture and then I explain all the various parts below.
*** It’s important to note that you should not rush out and get all these tools. ***
I have grown into them over time, and they are not necessary for everyone. There are also plenty of other options that serve the same purpose. Different people prefer different tools, and you also need different things as your business grows.
NB. I’ve used affiliate links where appropriate, which means that if you do buy anything, I get a small % of the sale, although it won’t affect the price you pay. I only recommend things I use myself or know the people involved personally.
- MacBook Pro. I shifted to Mac after writing for 2 years and deciding I wanted to switch my corporate PC head into something more creative. Once you try Mac, you never go back … true for me!
- iPhone and headset. I use my iPhone all the time for business purposes. I write notes on it for book ideas. I take pictures for writing inspiration and for marketing purposes. I use it for email when traveling, and social media most days. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts on it. I hate phone calls so it’s not really for that, but it’s certainly one of the most important pieces of kit for a small business 🙂
- Scrivener. For writing all my books, as well as formatting ebook files for Kindle and ePub formats. I don’t know how I ever wrote a book without Scrivener. It is life-changing for writers! All for just $45. Amazing. Try it here for Mac and here for Windows. And now for iPhone and iPad as well!
- Dragon Dictate. Like many indies, I’ve been trying to use dictation to ease RSI and write while walking or standing, plus increasing my word count on first draft. I used it for my last novel, Destroyer of Worlds, and was impressed by how good the speech to text is these days. Click here for an interview with Monica Leonelle about how to dictate your book.
- Kindle Paperwhite. I read on my Paperwhite in bed and when relaxing on the couch, and on my iPhone when I am out and about. I usually have over one hundred samples on the device and five or six books on the go at any one time, plus I ‘own’ over 1500 books on the device. As much as I love Kobo, and I’m a Mac user so I also like iBooks, Amazon ‘recruited’ me as a customer when they were the first to introduce an e-reader into Australia in 2009. Here’s an amusing video and review when I first switched. New print books were around AU$30, which works out at about 5x as expensive as the UK, so I was champing at the bit to go digital!
- Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life, iTunes Producer and iTunes Connect. For self-publishing ebooks. Here’s my recommendations on how to self-publish ebooks.
- Draft2Digital. For self-publishing ebooks to multiple platforms through one distributor. I use D2D for Nook now, as well as smaller platforms like 24Symbols and Scribd. Here’s an interview with Dan Wood from D2D with more details.
- Createspace. For self-publishing print books. Click here for more on self-publishing print.
- ACX. For self-publishing audiobooks. Click here for lots more details about your audiobook options.
- Amazon Author Central. For creating your Amazon Author pages and updating details about your book. I maintain separate pages for Joanna Penn (non-fiction) and J.F.Penn (fiction). There are country-specific sites.
- BookLinker. Enables you to create one link for all Amazon stores that auto-redirects people and you can use your store specific Amazon affiliate links in it as well.
- BookFunnel. For giving away free books to people who sign up to my mailing list and to provide ARCs to early readers. Listen to this interview with Damon who runs BookFunnel for more info.
- TrackerBox. For tracking book sales volume. There are a number of other options for this but I need (a) multi-platform and not just Amazon specific and (b) I’m not willing to put my passwords online so it has to be offline software. This is only available for the PC so I bought a small, cheap PC to run it on. I would LOVE some kind of decent Mac solution for this. Here’s my 2015-2016 book sales figures breakdown.
Social media tools
- Facebook. I have 2 pages that relate to my 2 brands: Facebook.com/TheCreativePenn (for authors) and Facebook.com/JFPennAuthor (for readers). I’m on FB every day now and use it for reaching and connecting with customers, participating in author groups as well as running my own premium members-only FB group for my Creative Freedom Course, and using it for advertising.
- Twitter. I have one profile @thecreativepenn and primarily use it to connect with peers and authors, as well as sharing content. I have a list of people I regularly check on twitter and often find books through recommendations there. I’m on Twitter most days and it’s my favorite social network for connecting with people.
- Pinterest. I have one active profile Pinterest.com/JFPenn and I use it for fiction research and imagery that goes into my books.
- Flickr. I have one profile for Joanna Penn and use the site to share Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial photos. This means you can use my photos on your blog or for non-commercial use as long as you attribute me as the source. I do have an Instagram account (JFPennAuthor) but I rarely use it.
- YouTube. I have one channel YouTube.com/thecreativepenn where I share video interviews (that also become podcasts) as well as other videos I record about writing, self-publishing, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship.
- Goodreads. I have one profile which I mainly use to add my own books, run giveaways and also log my own reading so I don’t forget the excellent books I’ve read this year. I always do a Christmas Day book recommendation post so I use Goodreads to look back in Dec.
- Google Plus. I still maintain a G+ account even though I rarely use it now.
- LinkedIn. I still maintain LinkedIn even though I rarely even check it now. It is a vestige of my former corporate life!
- Feedly. Used to collate the blogs I read into one feed which I check on my iPhone. Integrates with Buffer.
- BufferApp. Used to schedule fresh content into my Twitter stream, primarily from Feedly. These are tweets I will generally only share once as they are news pieces. I will schedule my own blog posts in 3 time zones over multiple days.
- MeetEdgar. Used to schedule evergreen content into my Twitter stream, primarily from my own site. This is because I have over a thousand useful articles, audios and videos as well as books and needed a way to keep sharing the ‘backlist’ without having to remember to do it on Buffer.
- Social Media Warfare Plugin for WordPress. This is a great (premium) plugin for controlling the images that are associated with your posts and enabling easier social sharing. More on this and other social media tips for writers in this interview with Frances Caballo.
- WPEngine. Premium hosting service that I moved to when this site got so big that I needed much more dedicated service, but that was after 7 years on cheaper services. I recommend Bluehost for authors who don’t have a massive site like this, and you can watch my video tutorial on how to setup your own website in under 30 minutes here. I use Bluehost for my Dad’s website, ArthurJPenn.com. Remember, you can always change hosting companies.
- WordPress.org software + various plugins. When I started this site back in Dec 2008, I couldn’t have possibly foreseen where I am today in terms of being a full-time author entrepreneur with 20 books as well as courses, audio and multiple streams of income that support both me and my husband full-time. The amazing thing about WordPress software is that you can use it for a brand new site with no traffic and barely any content (see my first post in Dec 2008) and the underlying software can still be used for a site with thousands of unique visitors per day and a whole lotta content. You don’t have to have any tech skill to install it either – check out the video tutorial here.
- Studiopress themes. Themes are like the skin for your website. You can change the look and feel without impacting the content. I’m currently using Beautiful Pro for this site, and Author Pro for JFPenn.com, both premium themes from Studiopress. They are responsive themes which means you can view them on mobile and they still look good. This is critical as Google penalizes sites that are not mobile responsive these days.
- GoDaddy. For buying domain names and domain management e.g. www.TheCreativePenn.com. The first time I bought a domain, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and bought one from a local hosting company for 10x the price I could have bought it on Godaddy, but then I switched everything over later. Their interface can be messy and they try to upsell on everything, but I’ve been using them for years and the price is excellent.
- BigStockPhoto. For images to use as shareables with blog posts. Images make it much more likely that people will engage, click and read posts so it’s important to use them. I use a lot of my own pics as well as some Creative Commons but also find having a paid subscription for premium images useful.
- Canva. For creating images for social media, blog posts, advertising and more. A fantastic free service if you just use your own images, or you can pay a tiny amount to use their images. This is super useful as it has templates for things like Facebook headers, Twitter posts, even Kindle book covers as well as enabling custom pixel sizes. One of those tools I’d struggle to go without now.
- ATR2100 microphone. For recording high quality audio. I’ve tried the Snowball and the RODE podcaster, but this is my favorite. I also use it for recording my own audiobooks (in my cupboard!) and also for podcasting when I wear my iPhone headset to keep the audio clean.
- Skype. For all my video and audio interviews. Still amazing 🙂
- eCamm Recorder. For recording audio and video interviews. Incredible price for what this is.
- Screenflow. For video editing. I’ve used Screenflow for years to do my interview video edits as well as creation of my online courses, plus other videos I do. My husband is now doing the video interview edits and he prefers using Final Cut Pro. You can use Camtasia for PC.
- Amadeus Pro. For audio editing, although you can use a free service like Audacity. I use it for editing podcasts and also the audiobooks I record myself.
- Auphonic. For leveling the sound and adding metadata. I create the podcast file in .aiff format and then use auphonic to create the final mp3 for a more professional finish.
- Amazon S3. For hosting the audio files.
- Blubrry Powerpress plugin. For distribution of the audio files to iTunes and Stitcher, as well as formatting and playing on the blog. It’s a fantastic service and plugin, with hosting available if you want an all-in-one service.
- Speechpad. For transcription of audio. Recommended by Chris Ducker in this podcast on outsourcing and virtual assistants. My VA, Alexandra, formats the transcription every week which is super useful.
Business Admin tools
- 1Password. For managing logins to all these sites, plus sharing the logins between me and my husband as he now works in the company.
- QuickBooks. For book-keeping and accounting. Imports transactions from my bank so I can code to the various accounts and report easily. I can also give my accountant a logon and put all the ‘paperwork’ in dropbox so it is all managed remotely.
- PayPal. Essential for running a global business with income and expenses in USD and other currencies. Get this set up as soon as you can for your business as the various anti-money-laundering checks can take time before they raise the bar on how much money can flow through the account.
- Online banking. For managing bank accounts, payments etc. I have accounts in GBP and also USD, as well as a separate account for accruing for tax and other expenses.
- Amazon S3. For hosting media files for the podcast and also for backing everything up. Super cheap hosting and I’ve been using it with no issues since 2009.
- Gmail for Business. I used email as part of my web hosting for a long time but was advised that redundancy is better, as if they are connected and your site goes down, your email is also down. Google For Business email is great and very cheap.
- Asana. For managing tasks in a team, requested by my husband when he joined the company so I wasn’t randomly emailing him tasks all the time!
- Dropbox. For sharing folders between computers and essential for collaborating between team workers – which is just me, my husband and my VA right now 🙂
- Google Drive. For collaboration. I used folders and documents to co-write Risen Gods with J. Thorn and use shared spreadsheets in Google drive for working with translators and my VA. I also use Google Forms whenever I do a giveaway or do a survey.
- Physical Filofax diary. I’m still old school when it comes to scheduling. There’s just something about being able to flick forward months ahead and scribble by hand.
- Things app on iPhone. There are lots of apps for lists but this is my favorite and I use it every day. I have a running To Do list with dates on but also a folder for Fiction Ideas where I keep notes and thoughts. It syncs to my MacBookPro which I like.
- Moo.com: For physical business cards and postcards. Fast, good quality stock.
Digital Commerce tools
- Teachable. For hosting and selling my online courses, Self-Publishing Success and Creative Freedom. I used to sell from my own site directly but I love Teachable as it has great hosting and up-time and much smoother payments and ease of technical use. No plugins to maintain!
- Selz. For hosting and selling my own ebooks and audiobooks direct from this site. Click here for an evaluation of direct sale options and also how I’m handling EU VAT for digital sales.
- Unbounce. For creation and split testing of landing pages. This is something my husband is getting into as he was a statistician and data geek in his previous day job. I’m leaving this with him to handle!
- Active Campaign. For email marketing. I used Aweber for many years and still recommend it for authors starting out, but my business has a lot of moving parts and we decided to move to AC for the extra segmentation ability. I still recommend authors use Aweber or MailChimp.
- Zapier. For connectivity between web applications. For example, if you use Facebook Lead Gen ads, you have to manually download a file and upload it into your email provider – unless you use Zapier or something like it, which removes the manual step.
- Stripe. For some online payments and receipts.
- EventBrite. For ticket sales to physical events. When I run live events, I use EventBrite to handle ticket sales, for example, How to Make a Living (and a Life) with Your Writing in London, Nov 2016.
How does this list make you feel?
To be honest, I was a little surprised at how many services I use. But in revisiting them all, there aren’t any I would get rid of. They all serve their purpose. I’ve also added them over time as needed, and changed them as things have changed or new tools have come along. Just to reiterate, it is very unlikely that you need all this right now!
So how much does it all cost?
Many of these tools are free, some have one-off payments and others have a nominal monthly cost. I just checked my accounts and for the tax year May 2015 – April 2016, I spent 4% of my total income on Internet Costs.
That’s pretty amazing because this is my business infrastructure. I don’t have a storefront or overheads around a physical enterprise. These internet costs are the backbone of my business and they are comparatively cheap. We live in incredible times!
OK, you can find lots more detail on how I run my business in Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available in ebook, print and audiobook (narrated by me!).
I’d love to hear about what tools you use right now, so please leave a comment or question below and join the conversation.