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My Essential Tools Then and Now

By Char

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.

Categories : Miscellaneous



Fun trip down memory lane! :) I really enjoyed reading about the thens compared with the nows!


Thanks Heather – it was kind of fun remembering how I used to do things as opposed to how I do them now.


I recognized a lot of that. Floppy discs – wow, the kids’ll never believe you! Good to see we’ve moved with the times. But we didn’t have much choice ;)


What a fun list to see. Kinda like a before and after picture gallery. Great post!

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