I use more than my fair share of tools to run this website. At last count it was over eleven that I use weekly, even more that I use sporadically….. After WordPress and email, the tool I use most is Trello. It is THE TOOL I used to start the business and lay out the site. Now that the site is up and running, I use Trello to manage my business every week. I use it for article ideas, to track the people helping with the site, SEO planning, and more.
Why I use Trello to Manage My Business and Not a Spreadsheet (or other tool):
I spent most of my career using Excel or MS Project to manage daily tasks and projects. Later in my career, I used several agile development tools and a task list tool or two. When I first started Laid Off Better Off, I wasn’t ready to pay for Excel, and started using Google Sheets to manage all of the things I was thinking about doing. I tried mind mapping tools and a few idea generating tools, but they seemed cumbersome for what I wanted, which was mostly lists of things I needed to remember to do.
Sheets is a good general tool, and a very good spreadsheet tool. I liked using it, but I missed the visual nature of some of the agile planning and development tools I used at the end of my job at really big insurance company. I also missed the ability to drag work thru a process, rather than update values in spreadsheets or copy and paste and delete, and all the other ways I tried to use Sheets as a process tool.
In my search of the internet for free tools that every business owner should use, I came across a recommendation for Trello. I came across that recommendation on more than one of the sites I looked at. On each of them, the main selling point was that it was easy, and/or it was easy for collaboration. Most of the people I hoped to work with aren’t hard core IT users, so I was particularly interested in the collaboration aspects.
Right away upon opening it, I was impressed. It couldn’t be easier to set up a board, or to add cards to boards (I’ll explain those terms later, I promise). I knew that not only could I use it to run my business, but that people could also use it to run their job search (an article I hope to write in May of 2019). I quickly created boards for startup activities, people I would work with, marketing plans, SEO plans, site layout, an editorial calendar, article ideas, and several other boards that I’ve since deleted.
Then I started adding lists and cards, and it was so easy. I was pretty much hooked on Trello as the tool to manage my tasks and major work activities.
Trello Basics (at least how I use Trello):
You can always visit the Trello site to find out how they recommend using the tool, but I’ll give some basics here too…..
Trello is made up of boards. I use boards to manage lists of similar things, or simple processes. For example, I have a board that tracks people I’m working with on laidoffbetteroff.com. I also have a board that allows me to come up with ideas for articles for the site.
Within each board, there are lists. And under each list, there are cards. I’ll post example pictures below, but think about it this way. You have post it notes, or cards, that are one thing. That thing could be a name, or an article idea, or something you need to get done.
Cards are then put in lists. Lists are like things. In a process board, lists are steps in the process (moving from idea to in progress to done, for example). In a board where you are tracking people, for example, you might have different lists for different types of people. The great thing about cards is that they are amazingly easy to work with. You can color code them, you can enter information on them, you can easily move them up and down in a list, or to another list.
I had originally planned to use some of the boards in a collaborative way. So, someone would come up with a story idea, I’d put it on the articles board and then assign it to a writer. They would either accept or decline writing, and then we’d move the card from idea to in progress. However, that has not materialized because I have only a few people helping, and they really only help once a month. It’s just as easy to manage the work in email as it is in a board. Hopefully, long term, 4-5 more people join the team and write every other week or so. Then we’ll need a tool.
That was a pretty brief overview. Maybe it’s best if I lay out the boards I use, and we all learn a bit about Trello in those discussions. Before we begin…..note, these are my actual boards. I don’t worry about spelling or punctuation being 100% correct, maybe I should, since I’m a writer…….
Company Start Up Tasks
Let’s take a look at the first board I created, which helped me track all the things I needed to do to start my company. One thing to note about this list is that most of the items came from searching the internet. I didn’t know that I needed to consider doing all of these things until I looked for start-up advice online.
In the upper left corner, you can see the name of the board, “Company Startup Tasks”. Not all of these are actually start-up tasks, but there is no need for me to re-name this board, as I’m the only user.
Each of the columns is a list. Each item in the list is a card. I use color coding to track what is done, in progress, or not needed. Note that the blue items are done. All of the items in the right-hand list are not needed, so are color coded red. That is redundant, I guess…..but I color coded them first, in their original list. Once I had several red items, I decided to create a new list, and dragged those items into the new list. It really is easy.
In looking at this list, you can see how I use Trello to manage my business. I first identify items, then group them into lists. When I realize I need a new list, or to collapse items from more than one list into just one, I simply move the cards from list to list.
I easily divided tasks into things I could do, things I needed to do with others (legal and finance), and things I needed to learn. This probably isn’t everything I did to start the company, but it is the most important things.
People Working With
I use this board a lot. I won’t share it here, since it has names on it, but I will describe it. I use this to track who is helping with the site, and who I’ve asked to help but is not (or has not committed). It’s a pretty important list, because it’s not always easy to recall who has said yes or not to helping, and sometimes I forget that someone got laid off and reached out and said they’d be willing to help.
I have the following lists of people in this board:
- Advisors/Writers/Contributors (these are the people that have committed to write articles, and actually have)
- Laid Off Advisory Council
- Hiring Manager Advisory Council
- Recruiter Advisory Council
- Small Business Advisory Council
- Laid Off Story People (people that might write their stories, or appear on a podcast)
- Ask These People Questions (people that have volunteered to answer specific things, like how they make money on YouTube)
- Experts in Recruiting (people I want to better connect with)
- Unsure People (a list of people that have said maybe, I pretty much assume these are really “no” unless I hear otherwise)
- People Not Interested (people I’ve asked, but have said no to any help)
These lists are a little different than above. Other than Laid Off Story People, the help I get is ongoing from these people, so I don’t color code them as “done”, like I do the task boards I use. Each card has contact information in it, including email and phone number.
The only list that does get color coding is the Story People list….once I have at least one story from them I mark them blue for done (though some have shared more than 1 story, so they aren’t really done). But I do mark them so I don’t ask them to share their story again.
My goal is to have 7-10 members of each of the advisory councils, and I’m not there yet. I have some invites out, but if you know anyone interested in answering a question or two a month, and in helping those looking for work or who are running small companies, contact us.
Site Ideas and Layout
This is the board I use most days. I had originally planned to have an editorial calendar, but as I said above, I don’t need one right now. Instead, I use this board to record ideas for articles, and then to color code them as they move from idea to posted on the site.
I won’t list out the lists here, you an (sort of) see them for yourself. As this is a screenshot, you can’t see all the lists. There is a list for each section of the site. In each list I have cards with story ideas, stories in progress, or posted stories.
I used this board extensively to create the original layout of the site. As I worked with a couple people on article and section ideas, I would document them here, and then see how it all laid out. Since Trello is so easy to use, as I change the site structure, I can easily move cards from one list to another. If I ever build another website, I’ll use this process for planning for sure.
As I’ve said, blue cards are done. Yellow is in progress. Green cards are ongoing things, things I do over and over (like Mike’s stories). Purple items are either started but on hold, or nearly done. I should really break that into two colors…..
The names on the cards are ideas for articles. The articles rarely end up having those exact names, but I don’t go back and edit the cards for the actual article names. Now that I’m typing this, I think I probably should. Some of the cards contain links to the draft articles, but most don’t. I don’t have enough in progress work to worry about that. As I move forward, I hope that changes, and that I have so many things going on that I have links to articles.
Note that some of these were written by other people. There are ways to link to shared documents, so that we could update items online. I could have those links in the cards, but that is also something more likely to happen in the future than now.
You also probably notice that I haven’t updated all the lists to match the sections on the website. Again, seems like a good idea, but when you are a one-person team, some of things fall on the wayside.
Marketing and Launch
I’ll start with “sigh”. Those of you that know me know that is code for, “this really should be happening, but isn’t”, or something like that. Laid Off Better Off is mostly a one-person operation, and that one person bought a ninety-year-old house right after launch. Instead of actively marketing the site, I spent a few months remodeling my house with my wife and brother in law. That also distracted me from aggressively getting more help. Now that that’s out of the way……
I use this board to help me manage marketing for the site. I haven’t done much, not only because of the personal distractions, but because (as of the writing of this) the site needs a bit more content before I really push it (IMO). The following lists are in this site:
- SEO and Site Content
- There are cards for learning about SEO
- And cards for actions I need to take
- Most of the learning is coded as done or in progress.
- Involve Influencers
- This is a list of steps to get influential people in HR/Recruiting and small business management to help with the site.
- It also includes cards on learning about the ways to approach and “close” influencers
- The learning items are color coded as in progress, but almost none of the action steps are complete, alas.
- Build Partnerships
- Unlike influencers, this is about people or businesses I want to have close partnerships with. Very little has been done here, none of the work is even marked as in progress at this point.
- Build a Community
- This is a long-term goal……how do I build a community of people that want to help each other.
- Other than a few ideas, nothing is in progress here at all.
- Social Media Plan
- Finally, a list where some items are done!
- These cards are mostly about specific things I can do in social media, like starting a FB page, or creating a Twitter account.
- I also have a goal in this one to write at least one LinkedIn post a week. I should really update that to 2-3 posts.
- Of all the lists in this board, this is the one that actually gets used weekly
- In Person Networking
- I’m not doing enough of this, but I have cards here for groups I plan to meet with, as well as individual I want to stay in touch with.
- I’ve done no pure advertising at this point, since as I stated above, I don’t think the site is ready.
- I have done social media posts and other things to advertise the site, and those are marked as done or ongoing.
- Pre Launch Beta
- Another list with done cards!
- Nearly everything I planned to do before the site launched was completed. This includes some pre-launch posts on various sites letting people know the site was coming, and how I gathered feedback.
That was a long section! But, that’s how I plan track my work around marketing the site.
Less Frequently Used Trello Boards
I do not use the remainder of the boards weekly, so I’ll just summarize them here.
This was meant to be a board that lists out people that I really want to talk about laidoffbetteroff.com with their communities. Under each name are cards of process steps from recruiting them to things I want them to do. Other than one influence, almost nothing has been done here. Again, I seem to be waiting for the site to reach some critical mass before I approach these people. But, at least I have some steps laid out for each of them once I do decide to reach out.
This one amuses me. It’s a board with things I should do to use Instagram to market the site. That said, I can see how I can use this board to help my wife with her business, and her brother with his!
Content Editorial Calendar:
I had (have) big dreams of having 5-10 people that help with the site every month. This will be the board we use to move articles from idea to posted on line. This would replace the site ideas and layout board, at least in terms of how we manage the content creation process.
I had three other boards (that I can recall) that I archived. One was to track HR people (I moved that to the people list), one was for email campaign management (which someday I will resurrect), and one was to track small business owners.
Trello is Easy to Use
Those are the boards I used to start and use to manage Laid Off Better Off and my activities. It’s so easy that I hope you give it a try.
These are a few Trello boards that are public that you might find helpful:
- Small business SEO Marketing Toolkit
- Unthinkable Podcast Editorial Workflow
- ReadWrite Editorial Calendar (Sample Board)
An easy way to try it yourself is to build a recipe board. I share a recipe board with my sister. Each list is a type of food, and each card is a recipe (or link to a recipe). We don’t actively use it, but now that I almost have a kitchen again, I’ll start using it.
Look for a future article on how to use Trello to manage your job search.