13 Business tools that help keep me from going berserk

You all know Delilah and I are busy gals. We each run our own businesses as well as three businesses together – Craftcation Conference, Patchwork Show and Dear Handmade Life. This past year we’ve gotten a lot more efficient by using business tools and services that help us make the most of our time. We now realize that having downtime and taking breaks is essential for to sustain and grow all of our businesses. It’s pretty hard to come up with a new idea or innovation if every single second of your day is filled. Remember my posts on Letting Go of Busyness and the Benefits of Downtime? Here are a few tools we’ve been using to streamline our everyday tasks so we have more time to find new ways to support independent creatives through Patchwork Show and Craftcation Conference.



Spreadsheets are both the bane of my existence and the savoir of my sanity. I hate spending all day organizing information into a spreadsheet, yet without spreadsheets, compiling all that data (like the vendor information for Patchwork Show or which sponsor needs what for Craftcation Conference) I would be lost! I use spreadsheets for everything. My new favorite use is to organize social media posts. I spend Sunday mornings laying in bed and catching up on the 100+ blogs I read weekly. I send links to myself, then copy them into a spreadsheet where I write notes about when and where to post them. This is also how I keep track of articles I want to read but don’t have time to at the moment I encounter them.

Google docs:

It took me awhile to catch onto Google docs. Delilah pushed me into using it and I’m so glad she did! Google docs allows us to create spreadsheets that are ever changing. Each time we need to adjust something, say a workshop change for Craftcation, we don’t have to send spreadsheets back and forth, but instead can make the changes on one master spreadsheet and both of us can see the adjustments immediately. This also came in super handy when we were creating our magazine (hopefully debuting at Craftcation 2014). We had three different editors (Delilah, our friend Maggie from Blurb and myself) and dozens of contributors and the information was constantly in flux. With Google docs we were able to keep up with the changes without sending tons of emails back and forth.


If you send images to anyone, ever you must use Dropbox! I used to send large files one at a time via email and it would take forever! Now I upload them all at once to Dropbox then share the folder with the recipient.


This is always in play in my world. Both of my hands are in constantly motion. If one hand is making coffee, the other is reaching for the spoon. One of my favorite multitasking times is while driving. I drive from Sonoma County to Orange County at least once and often twice a month. That’s eight to ten hours in the car depending on traffic! I use this time to catch up with friends on the phone as well listen to my favorite podcasts and books on tape. One of my favorite things is reading in the bathtub (preferably with a glass of wine),  but it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I bookmark audiobooks and podcasts to listen to long trips. now, I actually enjoy the long drives alone since I have the company of great podcasts like the Moth, Fresh Rag and Adventures in Design as well as books.

Saying no:

Remember my story about getting my heart broken and how that led to Delilah and I starting Patchwork Show? During those depressed months while I nursed my broken heart, I made a deal with myself to say yes. If anyone invited me anywhere, I said yes. This worked pretty well for not wallowing in heartache, however, it’s not the best way to deal with business. I’ve had to learn to say no to projects that didn’t sound interesting, fun or profitable. This is very hard since I’m a die-hard people pleaser. I’ve had to get used to the fact that I can’t be all things to all people. Or as my dad and Ricky Nelson in his song Garden Party say, “you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself”. There are only so many hours in the day and this is my one precious life!

Business partner:

I feel so incredibly lucky to have a business partner. Delilah and I keep each other in check, always have a sounding board for new ideas, divide tasks up based off what we’re good at as well as what we enjoy doing and are each others cheerleaders. Many a time I’ve been discouraged or anxious about an aspect of our business and Delilah is always there telling me that everything is going to be okay. Somehow the burden of failure or the fear of taking a risk doesn’t seem as overwhelming when you have someone to share it with. Let me also admit that it took us a long long long time to get to this point. Few people know this, but there was a moment when we nearly dissolved our first business, Patchwork Show due to irreconcilable differences. We’ll be posting about our journey to a healthy partnership here soon.

Video conferencing:

Although Facetime and iChat have been around for years, I used to use them only when I was far away from my friends and family. It wasn’t until a few months ago that Delilah and I realized we could save dozens of emails back forth while working on a design for a postcard or newsletter by using video chatting. This is particularly helpful for us since we run three businesses together but live hundreds of miles apart. Video conferencing has also been a great tool for meetings with our volunteers or staff before a bit event. It has seriously cut down on the number of emails popping into our inboxes. Along with video conferencing is Google hangout. Sometimes we just have a quick question and it goes much faster when we’re chatting on Google hangout instead of exchanging tons of emails.

Social media management websites:

This may come as a shock but I kind of hate social media. For sure there are aspects of it that I love, like finding new craft projects to do, inspirational business articles and connecting with fellow creatives. yet, I’m not the person that needs to limit their social media time but rather the type who needs to force themselves to get online. Setting myself up on a social media management website (Hootsuite) has saved tons of time. I no longer have to remind myself to check in online and I save time by accessing multiple social media accounts at the same time.

Business coach:

When I had my first meeting with life and business coach Tiffany Han, my life was completely overwhelming me. I was juggling teaching workshops (some up two hours from my house), finishing my second master’s degree, running the wholesale and retail sides (including an Etsy shop) of my clothing business-Random Nicole, co-producing Patchwork Show and Craftcation Conference, working on a memoir, doing freelance graphic design and illustration work for clients as well as occasionally consulting creatives about their businesses and writing for our blog Dear Handmade Life. Those are just the work commitments I had. On top of that I was planning my wedding and trying to keep up with obligations to family and friends as well as throw in some self-care (hello…healthy eating, meditation and the occasional trip to the gym). My life was rarely enjoyable and I always felt like I was trying to keep around a hundred plates spinning. Seeking help from someone who intimately knows my field and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur was one of the smartest things I did last year. Tiffany helped me deeply look at my commitments and truly discover which ones mattered the most. I let go of things that I felt like I should be doing but didn’t actually enjoy. I took a leave of absence from school, closed my Etsy shop and Random Nicole, cut down my teaching hours considerably (I only teach a few times a year now) and went from posting five times a week to three times a week on our blog. I also hired a very part time assistant (more about that below). Then I examined the things I wasn’t doing enough of, but truly enjoyed and had the potential to supplement the income that was now missing from both Random Nicole and teaching. I also had to start living on a very tight budget, which was hard at first, but now I rarely miss the things I had to cut back on. I decided to develop my design and illustration work and I’m happy to say the website for my design business show and tell design studio is now up and running! I’ll be honest, I still work crazy hours (especially now which is our busiest time of year, as we’re prepping for Craftcation and Patchwork). The difference is that now I’m enjoying my work a lot more. Once again I’m excited about what I’m doing for a living and it feel really really great about it!

Weekly schedule:

One of the other fabulous things I learned from Tiffany Han was how to plan out my week by the hour as opposed to the way I was used to planning it. Previously I’d just write a ridiculous amount of things on my to-do list and would proceed to work until I could no longer keep my eyes open and then berate myself for not getting everything done. Tiffany helped me plan out my days by assessing how long a task would take and then scheduling out my day hour by hour. I’m still not the best at this and almost never finish everything on my list. She also suggested allowing a daily buffer for unexpected things – like phone calls that take longer than expected or emails that require lengthy responses. I haven’t been able to add this buffer time in yet but I’m working toward it.

Hiring help:

This is something we’ve only been able to do recently. For both Delilah and I, it meant taking a pay cut as well as figuring out how to increase our revenue to pay for help. Instead of only having volunteers work our events we now have managers. These managers are paid and know how Patchwork and Craftcation work, so they’re able to problem solve on the fly, just as Delilah and I are. We’ve also hired super part-time help for both accounting and social media. Our accounting assistant comes in for a few hours a week and enters transactions into Quickbooks as well as helps with the blog and anything else that comes up. Our social media manager helps us navigate and organize the six social media sites we have. All of our helpers are truly amazing! It was a big leap for us to do this but in the end it allows us more time to focus on things that only we can do.


Likely you’re already as obsessed with Pinterest as we are. It’s such an amazing place to organize ideas and inspiration. When Pinterest introduced secret boards, at first I didn’t know what to do with them. Quickly I realized these secret boards were the perfect place to pin inspirational images that we weren’t yet ready to release to our audience. We have a secret board for inspiration for Craftcation 2014 as well as DIY projects for future roundups for Dear Handmade Life.


Delilah and I are both obsessed with the old fashioned way of scheduling through writing with pen on paper in daily planners. We’ve both been using the Jill Bliss weekly planner for years until, sadly, Jill discontinued them. Now we’ve moved on to Little Otsu’s very similarly laid out planner. Next, we’ll be checking out the Day Designer by Whitney English. We were lucky enough to get to know Whitney at our speakeasy at Alt Summit. She is such a fun and genuine creative. All of you should be lucky enough to meet an inspiring honest woman like her.

Best of luck to all of you! Hope these tools help on your way to creative entrepreneurial stardom! now get out there and make it happen!

-nicole s.


  1. I almost never read blogs because I am on info overload. Lying in bed on Saturday morning, thinking of the mass amounts of things I have to do… I read yours. It was amazingly helpful. The future for many of us driven women is quality, not quantity…thank you, Nicole, for sharing this. You and Delilah are a amazing women whom I admire!

    1. thanks so much kelly! i know it’s so hard to make time for blogs – i can hardly find time to read a few pages of a book a week to be honest with you! that’s so right – quality – not quantity! it involves a lot of organization and prioritizing – but so worth it! you are so inspiring to d and me as well 🙂
      so glad you got a chance to check out this post and the blog 🙂

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