A couple years ago I moved to a part of the country where people take self defense and disaster preparedness very seriously. Here, many of my neighbors use the term “everyday carry” for the (usually large caliber) handguns they have on their persons at all times. Handguns they feel they couldn’t live without, and which they plan to deploy in the event of a terrorist/bear/zombie attack. I haven’t adopted this policy personally (not because of deep-seated views for or against the possession of firearms, but because of my deep-seated views that I don’t want to quite literally shoot myself in the foot), but it has made me think about about my own everyday carry. For nearly 8-years at Echo-Factory I’ve been testing, using and sometimes discarding hundreds of digital apps and services. Today, I’ve winnowed those down to the essentials. They may not come in handy in the case of a bear attack, but at least professionally, I couldn’t live without them.

Writing

Ulysses

The Best

My favorite app to write things in is Ulysses. The web is littered with distraction-free writing apps vying for your attention, and Ulysses is the best. Ulysses makes it easy to focus on your writing without worrying about margins, fonts or color palettes. It has intuitive tools to export into other formants, and keeps things intuitively saved and organized. If you’ve ever written a line of code in your life, you’ll find its Markdown formatting easy and intuitive.

The Rest

In my ideal world, everyone would share Markdown formatted text documents. But we don’t live in my ideal world. We live in a world where Microsoft Word is the defacto standard for business documents. Microsoft’s 2016 update of Word for Mac is much better than previous versions, and long overdue. I’ve been using the betas for several months, and the final version is quite good. I prefer working in Apple’s Pages, since its layout tools make more sense if you’re familiar with desktop publishing apps or CSS styles. But since I nearly always end up exporting to Word docs anyway, more often than not I just go with Word from the start. I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention the Hemingway App, which isn’t perfect, but does help to identify my penchant for overly-long sentences, connected by a string of seemingly endless commas, like this one.

Coding

Coda

The Best

I’m not a coder. It’s not my calling or primary job description. That said, on any given work day there’s a decent chance that I’m going to be looking at, editing or writing some code. For my money, you can’t do better than Coda 2 by Panic. It’s got great highlighting/syntax features, an intuitive built-in FTP client and much more. Panic runs a dedicated and talented development team that constantly turns out good products.

The Rest

If you’re looking for a standalone FTP client, Transmit, also by Panic, is the best. GitHub’s free Atom editor is by many accounts quite good. If I spent more time in a code editor, I think it’d be worth versing myself in the more advanced features of Sublime Text.

Content Management

Wordpress

The Best

Over the past 8-years, we’ve built sites in Drupal and Joomla (yes, we are that old), Codeigniter, Django, ExpressionEngine and several obscure DIY CMS’s favored by our developers. But for our money, you can’t beat WordPress. “But,” I can hear you saying pedantically, “Wordpress is a blogging platform not a CMS.” To which I say, you’re being pedantic and I don’t care. Wordpress isn’t perfect, but it’s so widely supported and has so many plugins, themes and resources, you need a very good and specific reason to *not* use WordPress if you want to think about something else. Advanced Custom Fields is the easiest and best way to extend WordPress beyond its default capabilities (though we have run into some memory issues on the backend when we get into too many custom fields on a single page). It’s well worth ponying up for the pro version of the app. And while it’s much more of a niche solution, TablePress is an amazing plugin for what it does, which is make displaying tabular data very easy.

The Rest

Just because you can implement a CMS, doesn’t mean you should. For largely static sites, don’t discount the cost-savings and flexibility of good-old static HTML. There are some other “lightweight” CMS’s out there that look interesting, like TidyCMS, LightCMS and CouchCMS, but I haven’t tried them.

Forms

Gravity-Forms

The Best

What percentage of the websites we build do you think end up with some kind of form on them? If you answered anything less than 100%, sorry, you’re wrong and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you also suspect that forms can be a serious PITA, you’re correct. I’ve tried quite a few different solutions, from hand-coded scripts to hosted services, and for my money, Gravity Forms is the best one out there. Gravity Forms makes it easy to create, edit and style forms, easy to customize notifications and replies, and integrates easily with other software like Hubspot, or really anything you can imagine through services like Zapier. Its one fatal flaw is that it only works in WordPress. So for standalone sites or a different CMS, you’re out of luck.

The Rest

For simplicity, you can’t beat Wufoo. But their styling is pretty restrictive, and we’ve run into some weird issues with their API when trying to sync our own custom forms with Wufoo. I’ve had a good experience with Formstack as well.

Email Subscriptions

Campaign_Monitor

The Best

You can’t beat CampaignMonitor. Who knew that a bunch of Aussies would have enough time between battling crocodiles and avoiding the many poisonous creatures that inhabit their continent to create the world’s best email platform. But somehow, they did it. CampaignMonitor has both great tools for developers, and for less-technical users who want to send emails once they have a template already in place.

The Rest

MailChimp is also very good. I prefer CampaignMonitor, but it’s a personal preference, not a judgement of quality. We subscribe to Litmus to make sure our emails look good in a variety of clients. I’d caution you away from Constant Contact. They’ve got a hell of a sales team, but their platform is far more limited than other options.

Hosting & Domains

Flywheel

The Best

There about a million different web hosts and registrars, and we’ve tried a good chunk of them. Our two current favorites are Site5 for low-cost budget hosting, and Flywheel for managed WordPress hosting. For registrars, I’ve got a soft spot for Gandi, the French registrar whose tagline, “No Bullshit” perfectly summarizes the experience they offer.

The Rest

For both security and performance, we run almost every site we’re involved with through CloudFlare. It’s easy to setup, and quite affordable. Namecheap is another great registrar, and probably actually beats out Gandi when it comes to UI.

How’d I do?

Think I got it wrong, missed a great candidate or maligned your favorite digital tool? I’d love to hear about it. Much like my firearm-toting neighbors, I’m always looking for an upgrade to my everyday carry.