With the Holiday season approaching rapidly, you’re probably thinking of that special someone and what kind of gifts to get them. Do you have someone on your list who works online? Whether they call themselves a blogger, a web worker, or whatever, here are a few options to consider for their “toolkit”.

I’m actually fortunate that that I have all of the items discussed here. In fact, the only thing I didn’t have was a journal. And a good pen, though people tend to steal all my pens, so I stopped buying them. I’ve lost thousands of dollars worth of high-quality pens over the years.

Journals & Pens

kiki james savanna croc journalA friend recently gifted me with a gorgeous leather journal from Kiki James London in the UK. The one I got was a black Savanna croc journal, pictured here.

Now even though I work online all day and all week, I’m a long-time fan of stationery and related items such as notebooks, journals, and pens (and Kiki James has some gorgeous pens that make me salivate). I’m a big fan of writing my thoughts out on paper before committing words to the digital medium, and a good journal with quality paper makes a big difference.

kiki james tuscan wrap journal -refillableI know I’m going to enjoy this journal, and I’m going to have to get my fiancee one now, too – probably one of the large refillabe Tuscan wrap journals (above). Now to find someone who wants to give me a nice pen, and upgrades to most of the software listed below.


Because of the freelance work that I do online, there are four pieces of software that are an absolute must for my toolkit. The apps mentioned below are for Windows PCs, but a few do work on Macs.

Mind mapping. Mind maps are an every day and every minute tool for me – a digital command center for all my work. My own weapon of choice is MindJet’s MindManager Pro. I only have a copy of version 7, but version 8 – released just in time for the holidays – is out and has some incredible new features. If you don’t know what mind mapping is, just browse some of the earlier articles on this site, and my articles over at Geekpreneur. Start with a copy of the free FreeMind, then download a free trial of MindManager 8 (good for 30 days on Windows) or MindManager 7 (21 days for Mac).

Screen snapshot capture. In my writing, producing a screen snapshot of an application or a web page is pretty standard. So I hardly go more than a few days without using screen capture software. My favorite is TechSmith’s SnagIt. I have version 8, which I love, but they’ve recently released version 9. SnagIt does have a trial version, and there are a variety of freebie screen capture apps, both desktop based and plugins for the Firefox web browser.  You can see examples of SnagIt-extracted screen captures on this site, wherever I’ve posted a mind map image.

Screen video recording. From time to time, I do a fair bit of screencasting. That is, I produce videos that capture my use of a computer application in video form, then record voice over it. The hands down best tool I’ve come across for screencast production is TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio.

There is the free Camstudio, but if you’re serious about screencasting, move beyond to Camtasia Studio. Get the free trial of the brand new version 6, which has HD video output for the web. (I gotta say I’m really peeved. I bought Camtasia 4 in 2007 and only about month later, they came out with version 5 with no warning and quite an expensive upgrade. Now they’ve got version 6. So an upgrade to #6 is on my wishlist, but I’m probably not upgrading until version 7.) You can see examples of some of my Camtasia screencasts at Tubetorial.

Diagramming. I’m a strong believer in demonstrating what you are writing about in the form of diagrams – i.e., utilizing Visual Thinking. While it’s not always easy coming up with something that makes sense, I usually sketch out ideas in a journal first, then try to render it in my favorite diagramming tool, SmartDraw.

As a long-time former user of MS Visio (since before Microsoft bought the product), I do miss the automatic line connection updating when diagram elements are moved around. However, my understanding is that Visio has to be purchased as part of a package. Still, SmartDraw seems far more robust for business and technical diagrams, and I’ve come up with some pretty unique ones with it that I don’t believe Visio would have let me do.

There is a trial version of SmartDraw, or you could use the web browser-based Gliffy, which has a free edition. However, like MindManager, SnagIt and Camtasia Studio, I gladly put down cash money on a copy of SmartDraw 2007 (they’re at SmartDraw 2009 now). It’s also expensive, but worth every cent to me and the web-based freelancing that I do.

Gear + Gadgets

I never understand why someone who works from home needs an iPod or other media player. Speakers seem like the better way to go. And if you have a car, you have your car speakers. If you’re on the go in some other mode of transportation, that’s a different story.

But i’m still a gadget freak (and probably a hypocrite), and I actually do have several iPods and similar devices – all gifts. What I really love, though, is my digital recorder. I’ve got a professional Zoom H4 Handy Recorder from Samson Tech that I use for my podcasting and screencasting voice recording.

Also in my gear box is an M-Audio Fast Track USB interface for mic + guitar input, so that I can record to audio to my computer if I don’t want to use the Zoom H4.

Nikon D300 DSLR camera
Of course, I also have a few new and old digital cameras, and a Canon DV camcorder. To transfer DV tape to my computer, I use a Pinnacle Systems MovieBox Plus USB external capture device, which comes with a free copy of their Pinnacle Studio video editing software and a sheet of greenscreen cloth. (Though the software is very basic. I prefer Sony Vegas Pro 8 for video editing, and when I can afford Adobe Premiere or an Apple Mac and Final Cut Pro, I’ll get that.)

Apple iPhone

Other than that, the only other gadgets I’d want is a really good digital camera and a GSM-based cell phone for when I will finally work and travel with my soon-to-be wife – possibly an Apple iPhone, if GSM is an option. (I love Apple products, but I’m not the type to rush out and buy their over-priced 1st and 2nd generation editions.)

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