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My Essential Tools Then and Now

Posted by: Char | Comments (4)

Fourteen years ago I was pregnant with my first (of three) child and the thought of putting him in daycare once he was born was just something I could not fathom. I took a leap of faith, quit my job and actually convinced both my current employer and a previous employer to be my first clients. I started out doing desktop publishing for the daycare center chain (irony?) and writing/editing technical user manuals for the government defense contractor.

Over the years my business has evolved as I took on more print design work, taught myself HTML (the Internet was young at the time), and did more and more web design work for companies of all sizes. In May 2006 one of my clients wanted me to help her set up a blog. Not having the slightest clue what she was talking about I started doing research – thus Essential Keystrokes was born (yes, it was on Blogger to start with). I began doing more web design in the form of WordPress customizations, started a few more blogs of my own, blogged for b5media, and was introduced to the world of affiliate marketing.

Today my business is more and more about my own websites and monetizing them through various channels, doing some WordPress customizations, and social media consulting. It has been a whirlwind 14 years and the only reason I have been able to grow my business over all these years is the willingness to change, try new things and learn something new everyday.

Obviously the tools I consider key to my business today are very different from the tools I used fourteen years ago. Just for fun, I am going to do a THEN and NOW version of Essential Tools today. I hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane with me!

Data Backup

  • Then: Stacks and stacks of floppy disks that were then replaced by Zip drives then by writable CDs then by an external hard drive.
  • Now: My primary back up source is Carbonite, which backs up my files to a location far far away on a continuous basis – nothing to remember. I have total piece of mind that my data is safe in the event of a computer crash, office fire or similar disaster. I do have a Firelite drive I use occasionally, too.

Client Management and Accounting

  • Then: I used a trusty Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for everything for many years – from logging hours billed, to income collected, expenses, rates, client contact info, the works. It was a system that worked for me and I still use a scaled down version of it, however…
  • Now: I do all my invoicing through FreshBooks. Since FreshBooks is web-based, I can do my invoicing from anywhere, it takes less than a minute to do an invoice, my clients’ contact info, payment history and rates are stored and I can. I also use Highrise to keep track of all my client notes and correspondence.

Web Basics

  • Then: When I first started out I had a CompuServe email account and used Netscape as my web browser and thought it was the stuff! I bought my first domain name through Network Solutions and hosted my first web site at
  • Now: So, I have lost count of the number of domain names I own (well, not really, let’s just say I have been known to wake up at 3 a.m. and buy a domain or two – just because it seemed like a good idea ;-) ) and have found many of them by using to find good ones. I usually purchase domain names through GoDaddy and do all my hosting now through HostGator. My browser of choice is now Firefox and I use some form of Google for just about everything else.

Design Work

  • Then: In the early Keystrokes days, a lot of my work was done using MS Word, MS Publisher and PageMaker. Then I added Web Design to the mix and added HoTMetaL (an HTML editor) and Dreamweaver. Graphics came from photo or art collection CDs I purchased.
  • Now: I do all my web design work using WordPress as the base. My favorite themes come from Studio Press, iThemes and Headway. My graphics work is done using Photoshop, Illustrator or Fireworks (depending on my mood) and I get most of my art from iStockPhoto.

Mobile Office

  • Then: What mobile office?? I don’t think I even had a cell phone until my business was a few years old.
  • Now: I have recently upgraded to the Palm Pre Plus and it is truly a mobile office of its own! I can get my email, check the web, use Facebook, Twitter (tweefree rocks), take photos for my blog posts anywhere, view PDF files, capture notes and things I find on the web using Evernote mobile, and more.


  • Then: When I first started my business I joined the Chamber of Commerce in our town. We had just moved here and I figured that was the best way to start growing my business. The woman who started the membership process for me was so fascinated with my business – as in working from home with a little one doing computer stuff – that she continued to check in on me regularly. Want to hear something cool? That same woman is one of my dearest friends in real life and NOW she works from home, kids and all, doing public relations and using the computer to make it happen.
  • Now: Networking happens every time I post something on one of my blogs, log in to Twitter, talk with my Mastermind group, and via email. The networking landscape is so different now. However, there is still no replacement for face-to-face relationship building which is why getting out, going to local events, and going to conferences related to your niche are so vital. Last year I went to SOBCon and made some of the most valuable business connections ever! Later in the year I went to ShareASale’s Think Tank – as a result of the contact I made at SOBCon and then made even more essential business contacts! My goal for this year is to make it to at least two business related conferences – hopefully ThinkTank again, and either BlogWorld or Affiliate Summit.

So, how have your business’s essential tools changed over time?

Subscribe to the Essential Keystrokes feed so you don’t miss a single Essential Tools feature. If you are interested in sharing your essential tools for business, drop me a line at cpolanosky [at] gmaildotcom.

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Categories : Miscellaneous
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A Day in the Life of the “Mom Palm” – Palm Pre Plus Review & Giveaway

Posted by: Char | Comments (309)

So I have been using the Verizon Palm Pre Plus (read my first post on the “Mom Palm“) for the past few weeks and really putting it through the paces of my ultra crazy, busy, technology dependent life.  I thought I’d share with you what a cell phone really has to do in order to keep up with me! And if you keep reading to the end, you can find out how to win a $50 Visa gift card from Verizon!

A Day in the Life of a Mom Palm

  • 6:00 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Feet hit the floor, head down the stairs to the coffee pot! While coffee is being made, I quickly check my email on the Palm Pre Plus (ok, I’m impatient) and let the dog out.
  • 6:30 a.m. – Get first of 3 kids up for school – others staggered by 15 min. each. Check the weather and my calendar for the day on the Palm Pre Plus and look up a recipe for dinner (using the What’s for Dinner app) while making lunches.
  • 7:30 a.m. – Everyone in the car and drop off kids at school – get a text message from my walking buddy wanting to do our workout at 8 a.m.
  • 8:00 a.m. – Take Palm Pre Plus on the walk. Since we are trying to get back into running shape we use the cool countdown timer app to alternate 2 minutes walking with 2 minutes running.
  • 9:00 a.m. – Back from workout, showered and plug the Palm Pre Plus back in to charge while I work. Get text messages from hubs and friends in between.
  • 12:00 p.m. – Alarm on Palm Pre Plus goes off reminding me of a conference call I have.
  • 2:30 p.m. – Afternoon craziness officially starts and this is where the Palm Pre Plus seriously gets a workout. Head out to pick up kids from school. Check email in carpool lane and can actually open the PDF file (thanks to the built in PDF viewer) containing event sheet for upcoming swim meet and read them (big improvement over my last phone).
  • 4:00 p.m. – Drop off two kids at swim and head to grocery store with third. Use shopping list created from Whats for Dinner app. Drop off third child at gymnastics. Check in with husband via phone in between.
  • 5:30 p.m. – Back at the pool waiting for swimmers to be done. Check email, upload a cute picture of kids to Facebook, use TweeFree to check in with online pals on Twitter, make notes on favorite websites using Evernote app – and did I mention I can do all of this with my headphones on listening to my favorite music?
  • 6:00 p.m. – Youngest one done with practice waiting for older one. Let her play Flash Cards on the phone followed by Crossword Light (I seriously love this app) while we wait.
  • 7:00 p.m. – Back home and time for dinner. Pull up our dinner recipe on Whats for Dinner and get dinner started. Check email in between and respond to client questions without walking into the office.
  • 7:45 p.m. – Chill out time with family.
  • 9:00 p.m. Get text message from my daughter who is still at gymnastics practice to let me know her carpool is on its way to the meet up point. Pick her up and head home to make sure all homework is done and get all three kids in bed.
  • 9:30 p.m. – Palm Pre Plus goes back on the charger while husband and I hang out, watch TV and surf on our laptops (not always but most nights) – we are a multitasking family!

Now that is a cell phone that works!

Overall, how has the Palm Pre Plus scored during my trial with it? I’d give it an A-. Minus? Really? Yep, because while this phone rocks, but there are a few little things that are either missing or could be better. For example, the camera is great but there is no capability to take video yet (coming in version 1.4);  I’d really like to be able to assign different notification tones for email and texts; and I like the Google Maps but wish it had the built-in free navigation (I’m sure that is just a matter of time, too).

Now something good for you!!

I have been given a $50 Visa Gift Card from Verizon to give away to one of my lucky readers. That’s $50 to spend on what ever you want!

How do you win?

Leave a comment on this post no later than midnight March 16, 2010 answering one of the following questions:

  1. What is your favorite feature on your cell phone (or mine ;-) )?
  2. How do you use technology to keep your busy life on track?

Get an extra entry by getting social – use any of the buttons at the bottom of this post to spread the word about the giveaway. Leave a separate comment telling me whether you tweeted, stumbled, or otherwise shared this post using one of the social buttons. I will select a winner using and will post it here.


Disclosure again – I have been given the Palm Pre Plus and the service package for it by Verizon for a few months, they are providing the gift card for the giveaway as well. I am also being compensated for my time.


UPDATE: We have a winner!! Lucky #21 Courtney. Thanks again to all who entered.

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Categories : Product Reviews
Comments (309)

Working Like A Dog (Maybe)

Posted by: Char | Comments (4)

Meet Raven. She’s my new office mate. Until this winter Raven had always been an outdoor dog, living the high life in her oversized dog house and sharing a large enclosed run with her Rhodesian Ridgeback pal, Kodi. Unfortunately Kodi passed away this summer so Raven has been a little lonely. As the weather started getting cooler and the snow started piling up by the foot, Raven has casually made her way into the house and deemed herself my sidekick. Her two favorite places to sleep all day are by my feet under my desk or right in the middle of my office (as shown above).

Raven has been a great influence – she really does help me stay on task more. I’m less hesitant to get up in the middle of something for fear of disturbing her nap! ;-)

So, what have I been working on? Let me warn you – it’s all over the board.

I recently upgraded my system to Windows 7. So far so good – nothing really earth shattering new, but it did give me the opportunity to clean off my desktop, reorganize all my bookmarks and start the year fresh. Before I did the Windows 7 upgrade I backed up all my files to Carbonite (I initially tried the free Carbonite Online Backup – no credit card required – and almost immediately upgraded to the paid version – much cheaper than a second hard drive), synced my bookmarks to Xmarks (just in case I wanted them back) and wiped the screen down with the very cute little duck (Aroma Home Screen Wipe – too cute) that is perched on top of my monitor.

Project wise I have a few web design projects in the works – hopefully I will be sharing a few of them here in the next week or so.  I’ve been playing with the new Genesis series of themes from Brian Gardner and the latest Headway release from Grant Griffiths. I am also getting ready to do some social media consulting for a client with a really important iPhone app (more on that later).

I am having fun field testing the Palm Pre Plus phone (which I used to take these photos – nice quality coming from a phone!) for Verizon. You can read my initial thoughts on the “Mom Palm” and stay tuned because I have another write up and a giveaway coming up as part of the campaign.

While I don’t really like the term “Mom Blogger,” I have been doing some writing in that department. You can find me at as part of their team of Mom Experts and recently the youth sports social networking site, WePlay, featured one of my articles from titled “Getting Past I Quit.”

And finally I have been keeping up with all of my own sites, from all the new guests on the Essential Tools series to tons of new printable activities and party ideas, girls sports insight and what’s for dinner!

Whew! I think I might just need a nap.

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Categories : Working From Home
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