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A couple of weeks ago, my daughter invited her mother and me for dinner, and we arrived mid-afternoon.
As is always the case, Mother and daughter had lots to do and talk about, which left me to my own devices. So I turned on the TV, launched Disney+ and started scrolling through the menu to find something to watch. I knew there was the possibility they might need my help with something, so I didn't want to choose a show that would require my full attention.
After some time, I decided to watch the Pixar movie UP! I hadn't seen it since my kids were young, but I remember it as a fun, feel-good movie. Plus, I wasn't concerned about missing part of it for whatever reason.
In UP!, there's a character named Dug. Perhaps you're familiar with him. Dug is a dog that the two main characters meet along their journey. Dug wears a special collar his master made that allows him to talk.
Now, I don't want to spoil too much of the movie if you haven't seen it. But let's say that Dug, like most dogs, is easily distracted. This is evident in the film every time he sees a squirrel. He might be mid-sentence explaining something important when suddenly, SQUIRREL. He's distracted. If you've ever heard the term Squirrel Syndrome to describe someone who is easily distracted, it came from Dug.
A close sister to Squirrel Syndrome is Shiny Object Syndrome. Shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a continual state of distraction brought on by an ongoing belief that there is something new worth pursuing.
According to Wikipedia, Shiny object syndrome is a psychological concept where people focus on a new and fashionable idea, regardless of how valuable or helpful it may ultimately be. While at the moment, it seems to be something worth focusing one's attention upon, it is ultimately a distraction. People who face a fear of missing out are especially susceptible, as the distraction of shiny objects in themselves clouds judgment and focus.
I have a confession to share with you. For a long time, I suffered from Shiny Object Syndrome regarding software. Any time I saw or heard of a new tool, especially software, that might somehow make my life easier, I wanted it. Even if I had no idea how or why I would use it, it was FOMO, the fear of missing out.
The pitch, ad, or recommendation made the software sound so helpful and desirable that I just had to have it.
Someone would mention, or I would read, how this new software was the be-all, end-all of software. Using it can save you 10 hours of work per day, and your clients will start mailing you envelopes full of cash for all the fantastic features you can offer them because of it. It sounds too good to be true. But what if it isn't? And if I act right now, for a limited time, I will only pay $99 instead of the regular price of $9,000. What a deal. How could I pass that up?
Ok, you know I'm exaggerating. But you also know there's some truth to what I'm saying.
Looking through my Applications folder, I see several tools, and BTW, I'm using the terms tools and software interchangeably. Still, I see several tools I bought and never used or used for a short time before consciously giving up on them, or sometimes, just forgetting about them because it was not as helpful as I thought. I fell for the hype.
And that's not counting all the online tools, memberships, subscriptions and communities I paid for and never used.
We work hard for the money we make as designers. And we must be careful not to waste that money on tools we don't need.
Case in point.
Have you ever heard of Doodly? It's a tool that lets you easily create whiteboard animation videos. You know, the kind where you see a hand with a marker that quickly draws the animation. They're great for explainer videos.
A few years ago, I saw a Facebook ad promoting a lifetime license for Doodly. It usually costs $39/month. But for a one-time purchase of $67, I would have access to it for life. There's no arguing. That's a fantastic deal. The problem is, I've never used it.
The ad pitch for Doodly made it so appealing. I thought to myself. This would be an excellent service to offer my clients. And they hooked me in.
I never considered that in my 30+ years in the design space, I've never needed to create a whiteboard animation video. Not once did I ever think, “you know what? A whiteboard animation video is exactly what this client needs. I wish I knew how to make them.” The possibility of this tool blinded me. But in the three years since I fell for this deal. The opportunity to create a whiteboard animation video has never come up. So even though it was a fantastic deal. It was a waste of my money.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with Doodly. I still think it's a great tool. It just isn't a tool I need. Sure, the lifetime deal means I have it should I ever need it. But why spend money on something you may or may not ever need?
Nowadays, everywhere you look, there's some tool or software that can benefit you and your business.
I'm a big fan of AppSumo. I'm even an affiliate of theirs. If you're not familiar with AppSumo, it's a website that offers software products at amazing deals. Often lifetime deals where you pay once and own the software forever.
AppSumo does a fantastic job at making these deals seem irresistible. How owning them improves your life and streamlines the way you work. In other words, they're great at marketing the products they promote in a way that makes you want them.
And AppSumo is just one site. PitchGround, MacHeist, MightyDeals and many other websites offer lifetime deals for great-sounding products. And if you buy something, A lifetime deal is the way to go. After all, why pay monthly for something if you can pay once and use it forever?
I've bought many lifetime deals for software I still use daily. And they've saved me a ton of money.
Plutio, my project management software, costs $39/per month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.
Billwaze, is my invoicing software, although when I bought it, it was called EZBilling360. The plan I have costs $99.99/month. I paid $59 for a lifetime license.
SocialBee is what I use to schedule and recycle social media content. It costs $39/month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.
Book Like A Boss is my appointment scheduler. The plan I have costs $15.83/month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.
And that's just a few. So you can see how buying a lifetime license is worth it. But that's provided you use the software. I've also purchased many lifetime licenses on these sites and elsewhere for tools I don't use. I was a culprit of shiny object syndrome.
My problem was I would buy a great-sounding tool without knowing why or how I would use it. And I wasted a lot of money because of it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the products sold on these sites are not good. Many of them are. And they do help a lot of people. But just because they help a lot of people doesn't mean they're going to help you. In fact, my AppSumo purchase history is four pages long and dates back to 2015. And you know what? Looking through those pages, I can see a pattern. Every piece of software I bought and still use today is something I bought because I needed it at the time. Equally, almost every piece of software I purchased but didn't have an immediate use for, I don't use anymore, if I ever did at all.
Just because something might be helpful to you someday is not a good excuse to part with your hard-earned money today. Owning many different tools doesn't make you a better or more efficient designer if you don't or can't use them. Remember, you're what makes you a designer. It's not the tools you use.
Just like a photographer is a photographer regardless of the camera or lenses they use. Just because they buy a new lens doesn't make them a better photographer. Sure, it might allow them to take photos they couldn't take before. But that only helps them if they take the kind of photos the lens is designed for. A portrait photographer doesn't need a high-power zoom lens. So buying one is a waste of money.
As a design business owner, you must be careful about your purchase of tools. That's why, to help fight my shiny object syndrome, I started to apply filters and question every tool I'm considering buying. It helps me stop wasting money on tools I don't need.
And you should do the same. Don't ask yourself whether or not a tool will be helpful because, in most cases, it could be helpful. Look at Doodly. It's a beneficial tool if you need to create whiteboard animation videos.
Instead, ask yourself whether or not it's something you need right now or in the foreseeable future. Are you in a situation or know of an upcoming situation that could benefit from owning that tool? If you can't think of immediate use for it, don't buy it.
Now, sometimes you feel tempted by a tool because you feel it will help fast-forward something that might be difficult you're trying to avoid or get through. Take a CMS, for example, a Client Management System. There are hundreds of options out there you could use to manage your clients and projects. And hearing how someone is successfully using a different system may make you question your current system.
But buying a new CMS may not be the answer. Maybe your frustration comes from a lack of understanding of your current CMS. And buying a new one is an easy way to avoid dealing with it.
How does that saying go? “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Even though a tool is working well for someone else, it may not be the answer to your problem. New is not always better.
Instead, embrace what you already have and make it work for you.
I mentioned how I use Plutio to manage my projects. Is it the best tool for the job? I have no idea. It might not be. Many designers use other tools that work well for them. However, I invested in Plutio, so I'm making it work.
And think of this. Tools that claim to make things easier or more efficient, or ones that say they'll save you time, may attract you because you don't want to do those things. You're looking for an easy way out. What sounds like a great deal may be nothing more than a bandaid covering up what you really should or could be doing on your own.
I talked earlier about lifetime deals and how they can save you a lot of money, which is true. But be wary. The offer of a lifetime deal makes it easy to get roped into purchasing something you don't need. My AppSumo purchase history is evidence of that. It lists many lifetime deals I've purchased that I never used. I bought them because I thought the price was too good to pass up for something that may come in handy someday. In other words, they were a waste of money. I didn't apply my filters. I didn't have an immediate use for them, so I never should have bought them.
But what about tools with monthly fees? How many tools do you have that you pay a monthly fee for? How many of them do you get your money's worth from?
I had an aHrefs subscription for over a year. Ahrefs is a fantastic platform to help track, analyze and grow websites. It's excellent with keyword research. It enables you to analyze and monitor competition, track website backlinks, and much more.
If you're trying to build and grow websites, aHrefs is the tool to have. But it comes at a cost. My subscription was $127 Canadian per month. And every month, when I saw that charge on my credit card statement, I questioned whether it was worth it. The tool is excellent, but I wasn't using it as much as when I first subscribed. Was I getting $127 per month worth out of it? When I concluded that the answer was no, I wasn't; I cancelled my subscription. Why pay $127 a month for a tool I only use occasionally, no matter how much I like it? If I find myself in a situation where I need it again, I can always re-subscribe. But in the meantime, that $127 can be used elsewhere.
I recently did an audit of all my monthly subscriptions and cancelled several of them that I no longer felt I needed. In all, I'm now saving over $300 per month.
These days, I apply a filter, as I mentioned earlier, whenever I consider a new tool if I see an ad for something interesting on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Or maybe a podcaster I trust or a colleague recommends something I could use. In the past, I might buy it, no questions asked. But now I try to disconnect myself from the idea that the tools are the answer that will take me to the next level.
The tools are simply a way to become more efficient at something. The tools are a means to an end. They're there to support and help you with the things you are trying to do. Once again, you're who makes you a designer. Not the tools you use.
In many cases, these tools become a distraction and pull us away from the things we're trying to do. And they cost money and can become dangerous for you because they're masked by the idea that they'll make your life easier. But you don't need all the tools.
I want you to make an audit of all the tools you're currently using and figure out which ones are necessary. This can save you money. It can save you time. And it can bring you back to what's vital for you and your business. And stop paying for those tools that aren't necessary.
Think back to the photographer analogy. A photographer who buys a new lens every time they want to take a different kind of photo will soon find themselves with a hefty camera bag, just like all the tools we have to deal with as designers.
Imagine that photographer making decisions now. They have over a dozen lenses to choose from, and it will become harder and harder for them to decide which one to use. This works against them and makes them less efficient photographers because they don't have the time to master each lens.
Be honest with yourself. The tools you have right now. Are you using them to the best of your ability? Are you maximizing the investment you put into them? Tools are not magic buttons. You can't just buy something and all your problems go away. That's not how it works.
So do that audit. Figure out which tools are necessary for what you do. Next, figure out which would be great if you actually used them. Then decide if you want to commit to using them. If not, stop paying for them. Finally, determine what you don't use or need and eliminate them. Open up your wallet and mind for the tools you will use.
I did this episode as much for me as it is for you. I've failed at this before, and I want to hold myself accountable to be better at it in the future. Every time I see a new tool come across my screen, I need to ask myself. Do I need this right now? Will this actually help me? Or is it just distracting me from what I know I need to do?
More often than not, it turns out I don't need the tool, regardless of how good the deal seems.
I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.
I want to help you.
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org