(Updated: 5/4/2021) Maybe you work in the office, but you long to be outside with your friends or family. You hate wasting time with unnecessary busywork because you want to balance your time on, not just work, but also the people who matter. You strive for efficiency with every task. As a translation company that translates millions of words per year, we keep busy. That means productivity is key, and any tool that can make us more productive is priceless. Here—updated for 2021—is a list of desktop productivity tools for business that we love the most.
Our Favorite Desktop Productivity Tools
Since this list of the best office productivity tools for the desktop weighs in at more than 50 items, we’ve organized them into the following categories:
- Project Management
- Writing, Editing, & Grammar
- Photo Editing & Photos
- Social Media
- Web Development
- Info & Data
Finally, before we begin, let us explain the icons that we have listed after each productivity tool.
This icon indicates free productivity tools. The tool is either completely free or it has a free level that is useful on its own. Free trial periods don’t count.
This icon indicates desktop productivity software. The item is a downloadable computer software, or the service offers a downloadable tool for the desktop.
This icon indicates the best online productivity tools for business that have a productivity browser extension you can install.
Translation professionals are also communication professionals. To make sure we communicate effectively here at IVANNOVATION we like to make sure that we are sharing our views, company information, and insight on the right platforms.
This application hardly needs an introduction. It has taken the business world by storm, but in case you’re not sure what it is, here you go! Slack is a messaging tool with message threads organized in private and public channels. Messages themselves can be commented on so that message threads can be focused on single topics rather than rambling over various topics. This is one of the top productivity tools for managers as they need to organize teams and ensure effortless communication within and between teams. It has an incredible number of third party integrations, so if you use tools such as Google Drive, Trello, Hubspot, or whatever, there may be an integration to make your life easier.
WebEx by Cisco is a web conferencing service. You can send an email with a link to a contact. When the contact clicks on the link, they log into the call. They can choose to use a telephone or the computer microphone and speaker to join in. Users can share their screens and text chat as well. It’s an excellent and reliable service.
Since 2019, however, we have actually been using Zoom, which has many of the same features. Both are excellent tools for web conferencing.
An alternative to WebEx is join.me. The great thing about join.me is that it has a free tier for those who want to share screens without parting with their hard earned cash.
GMass is a mass email, mail merge, and follow-up email service built to run in Gmail. It even allows you to track opens and clicks. We’ve only started experimenting with this since we usually use MailChimp for our email list. But we love the convenience of having a mass email tool in Gmail. Finally, GMass is free for up to 50 emails per day.
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We all hate to waste time on repetitive tasks. The great thing about technology these days is that so many repetitive tasks have become unnecessary. Some of the following tools help you to save moments here and there by eliminating repetitive typing, and others help you to link your web services together so that they communicate with each other seamlessly.
Gmail Templates is actually a feature that is included in Gmail, but you have to enable it. Click on the gear icon at the top right in Gmail. Then click “Settings” and then click on the “Advanced” tab. There you can enable Templates. After you write an email that you want to save as a template, click on the three dots at the bottom right corner of the email for “More options.” Choose “Templates” and then “Save draft as template.” Later, instead of writing the same email again, go to Templates, and choose the email template from the list. Make sure to NOT accidentally delete the template.
Additional pro tip: If you create a designed email in a program such as Mailchimp, you can actually save that designed email as a template in Gmail as well.
FastKeys Automation is an amazing tool. The basic functionality of it is to save snippets of text along with shortcuts. When you type the shortcut, the program will automatically insert the entire text. But it’s so much more than that; you can record automations of all kinds to make your work faster. For example, I created an automation (with some kind help from the creator of the tool) to create a whole set of file folders; all I have to do now is type Alt + Ctrl + p and FastKeys will set up all the folders for me in just seconds. This tool can save hours of your time.
Its automation is based on a free and open source scripting language called AutoHotkey, or AHK for short, but FastKeys is still worth paying $19-$29 for personal or business license because it adds not only menus but also user friendliness. You can test it for free, but it will give you a reminder to buy a license every few hours until you actually purchase your license.
PhraseExpress is a feature-rich tool like FastKeys. Useful features include a clipboard history tool, a document generator, and a macro recorder. The macro recorder even integrates with a mouse recording tool. As with FastKeys, payment is on the honor system; it can be downloaded for free, but then the user can pay for it after a trial period. Unlike FastKeys, PhraseExpress is available for Mac.
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IFTTT (which stands for “IF This Then That”) allows users to connect their various services so that they work together. For example, you can use IFTTT to back up any photos you are tagged in on Facebook to your iOS Photos album. Another example, automatically save new iOS contacts to your Google Contacts. We love to use it to log all sorts of information automatically in Google Sheets.
Zapier works like IFTTT. Connect various apps and web services so that they work together.
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Staying focused is essential for any professional. Whether it’s a noisy office or a noisy home or just the big old noisy world, sometimes we need tools to help us focus on the task at hand. Following is a browser that helps cut visual distractions as well as a couple of sound tools to help drown out distracting noises.
Brave blocks ads on the Internet. It helps you focus, but more importantly, it makes some websites much faster. It also provides you better privacy as you browse as compared with some other browsers. If privacy is important for your work, a VPN may be a necessary tool to go with a secure browser.
Use SoundCloud to make lists of favorite songs and then stream them. It can help you to focus and to block out distracting noises.
myNoise provides custom background noise for focusing at work, relaxing at home, and/or sleeping. Noises include tonal drones, rain on a tin roof, a railroad, and a purring cat. What’s more, the user can adjust various elements in the sound too, for example, adjust the base or increase the intensity of the rain.
When teams work together on projects, it’s easy to get into “he said, she said” mayhem. The following tools help teams organize their efforts with top efficiency and insight into project information.
Asana is a system of to-do lists designed for groups rather than individuals. It provides workflow and team solutions, used to track your team’s work and manage projects. The screen is divided into three panes. On the left is the list of projects. In the middle is the lists of tasks for that project. Finally, in the right pane is the information about that task, including subtasks. (Read our 10 Ways Email Kills Your Productivity article to learn about Asana’s pros and cons.)
Confluence & JIRA
Confluence, by Atlassian, is like a cross between a webpage builder and a system of word processing documents. It’s optimized for managing teams and sharing information. It’s ideal for keeping all the pertinent information for projects both before and after completion of the project. Companies frequently use it to for creating online help documentation, employee handbooks, etc..
(To learn about Confluence’s pros and cons check out 10 Ways Email Kills Your Productivity.)
JIRA, also by Atlassian, is for assigning and tracking tasks. It’s perfect for teams that use the Agile method. Although it was designed for computer developers, other types of teams can also use it to coordinate their team efforts. Since it is a companion tool to Confluence, the integrations between the two systems make them work together flawlessly.
Trello (now owned by Atlassian) is another project management system that looks like a whiteboard with sticky notes posted on it. Each sticky note can represent an issue or task. Each card can have its own discussion thread. Those who are familiar with Agile development will immediately recognize the Kanban system in its design. Trello is beautiful and easy to use. The main drawback is also its strength, namely that it’s so flexible. Any structure in the system must be imposed by the user, making it a little intimidating to start using to organize your projects. But they have probably hundreds of example boards that you can get inspired by. (Learn about Trello’s pros and cons here: 10 Ways Email Kills Your Productivity.)
ProofHub enhances project collaboration by allowing teams to plan and visualize various aspects of a project in a timeline view using a Gantt chart. Further, it allows them to prioritize tasks, assign them to one or more team members, and set dependencies between them using a Kanban board. Teams can also track billable and nonbillable hours both manually and using timers. It also includes document management features for providing feedback, collaborating, and approving files.
Time Doctor is an accurate time tracking and time management software that helps you get more done each day. It is a web-based solution that provides time tracking, computer work session monitoring, reminders, screenshot recording, invoicing, reporting tools, integrations and so much more. It helps you stay focused by gently nudging you when you get distracted from work. It also helps management keep track of the time use of distributed teams, a feature becoming more and more relevant in today’s world of distributed work.
Milanote is a tool for organizing your creative projects into beautiful visual boards. Created to replicate the feeling of working on a wall in a creative studio – visual, tactile and sometimes a bit messy – Milanote is a great fit for freelancers in both the marketing and design spaces. Milanote has heaps of built-in templates to help you get started with a variety of different projects, from creating a moodboard to set out the visual direction for a project, to writing that perfect creative brief. Its sharing features make it a great option for those who regularly provide work to clients for feedback. Milanote’s basic plan is available for free with no time-limit.
Writing, Editing, & Grammar
Here at IVANNOVATION, we do a lot of writing, but we don’t sharpen many pencils. In other words, we use a lot of online and desktop tools to increase the speed and quality of our writing. Here are just a few.
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EmEditor is a fantastic text editor that we use constantly. Rather than talking all about EmEditor here, see our separate article about text editors where we explain the functionality of EmEditor in detail.
Some of us always have Notepad++ open on our desktops. We like it because it’s lightweight, opening almost instantly. Also, it’s perfect for creating .txt files, the most simple text file type possible. You will always be able to view TXT files even after DOCX has become obsolete. Further, we often use it to strip all formatting from text. To do that, copy some text, paste it into Notepad++, copy it from Notepad++, and then paste it wherever you want. All the formatting information will be stripped away. More good news–it’s completely free (as in “free speech” and also as in “free beer”).
Simplenote lives up to its name. It’s simple. It’s for notes. If you want a note-taking app that has no bells and no whistles, Simplenote is for you. We started using it as an easy way to pass text from an iPhone to a PC. But before long we started drafting all our articles with Simplenote in the browser with dictation. The fact that it keeps a history of all our notes makes it a writer’s perfect companion.
Simplenote is our favorite over here at IVANNOVATION, but it’s just one of many similar tools, including some that do not even require a login. You can find some options compared here.
Dragon by Nuance is a dictation software. We use it to compose emails and write blog articles. After you get used to it, you will find that you can compose text in lightning speed. You can find dictation services pretty much anywhere nowadays. But you will have to believe us when we say, Dragon is worth paying the $70-100 price tag. It is much more accurate in our experience than Google and Apple’s dictation tools.
Grammarly is a lifesaver in so many ways. You know those late nights where you can’t seem to stay awake anymore, but your fingers somehow keep on typing? Those are the nights where Grammarly comes in most handy. This “English language writing-enhancement platform” not only proofreads your work, but they also offer plagiarism-detection resources and help you check through more than 250 grammar rules. An extension can be added to your browser to make sure that even when you’re just simply typing a status on Facebook, you don’t confuse “their” with “they’re”. This writing app was built by linguists and language lovers. It detects and fixes writing mistakes so you don’t have to go back and read everything you wrote at 3:00 A.M. all over again. Although . . . if you wrote it at 3:00 A.M., you prolly oughta go back and proofread it one more time again anyway.
Like Grammarly, the Hemingway app helps with grammar, spelling, and readability. It is also available offline for when you’re in the middle of nowhere getting some writing done. Sentences that are too long are highlighted in yellow. Sentences that are difficult to understand are highlighted in red. The text you type on the site is also formattable, meaning you can change words from bold to italic to a headline or a bullet point, etc. The text you write here can also be exported to Microsoft Word or other editors. It has one-click integrations with the Medium platform and any WordPress blog so that you can easily publish a live post or a draft. Highlights on Hemingway can also be sent to colleagues.
Writefull comes as a browser extension as well as a desktop app. Basically, if you’re not sure how to use a particular vocabulary word, you can enter it into the search bar and immediately find, not only a definition of the word but thousands of example sentences using the word. It’s helpful for anyone, but especially for a second language learner.
Update: If you click on the link above, the website will say “You are visiting the website of the old Writefull.” When you see that message, don’t click on the screen. Instead, scroll down and you will find the place to download the Writefull tool we are recommending. We were afraid that the Writefull team were going to stop offering this amazing tool so we asked them on Twitter. Here’s their response:
Hi Darren – glad to hear you like the Writefull app! It is still available but we are no longer maintaining it, as we are focusing our efforts on our newer tools at present. But we'll always aim to make a version or set of features of Writefull free ✍️— Writefull (@Writefullapp) July 29, 2020
Before Writefull existed, we used Google News for basically the same purpose as Writefull. Sometimes we wanted to see examples of how professional writers used a particular word or phrase, and we would search for that word or phrase on Google News for thousands of examples. Google News lacks some of the features that Writefull has, but it does show you the entire context of the word that you search for rather than just one sentence or part of the sentence like Writefull does.
Just paste your article or book title into the text field on this site, and it will capitalize it correctly for you. That’s all.
Google Docs & Sheets
Google Docs, Google sheets, etc. are an amazing toolset. They all integrate so well with each other that we use them constantly. There are some amazing benefits to these tools. You can work together with others in real-time. You can share files with anyone, giving them edit permission, comment permission, or view-only permission. However, after using them for quite some time, we have also become annoyed at some of the drawbacks. One is that the load time of a document can be slow depending on the speed of your connection and processing speed. Another is that it’s easy to leave open a slew of Docs and Sheets in browser tabs, but they take a lot of processing power just sitting there open, which can slow down your computer. (Try this tool if you want to freeze browser tabs so they don’t slow your computer down so much.) Finally, if your travels bring your through China, you won’t be able to use Google Docs or Sheets without a VPN, and with a VPN they’ll be painfully slow.
LibreOffice (and OpenOffice) is a free and open source office suite including word processor, spreadsheets, presentation software, database, and more. The word processor and spreadsheet portion of this software is especially good, but the presentation software may leave you wishing for good ol’ PowerPoint. But hey, it’s free!
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Photo Editing & Photos
When you spend hours writing something useful for your customers, it’s discouraging if no one ever reads it. Eye-catching images can make the difference between your content getting clicks or getting yawns. Below are some of the best tools for marketing teams. We frequently use these graphics tools to make our materials more visually appealing.
CanvaNot a professional graphic designer? With Canva, you don’t have to be! Canva allows you to easily put together beautiful designs and documents you can use on social media or as templates for your resume or presentations. Just choose a layout and get started. There are millions of images to choose from, photo filters, free icons and shapes, and hundreds of fonts. There are also templates to use for inspiration. For example, their calendars page has lots of styles of calendars for you to use as is or to modify. The tool is available not only on the Web but on iPad and iPhone as well. Once you’re done with a design, it’s yours to download and share how you please.
Canva may be one of the more well known tools of its type, but there are many alternative online design tools that are worth checking out.
With Buffer’s multimedia feature, Pablo, you can now also create your own content with the perfect size and format to share on any social media platform you wish to post to. It allows you to edit the typography with more than 25 different fonts, and choose from over 50,000 images to work with.
When posting on social media, writing our articles, and including images on our site, we make sure to use our own pictures or photos that are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0), such as those from Pexels. They provide over 30,000 free high quality and completely free stock photos. The photos are tagged for easy search and approximately 3,000 new high-resolution images are added every month. The site claims to “hand-pick” their photos from uploads by photographers in their community or sourced from sites like Unsplash, Gratisography, Little Visuals, which are all free stock photo sites.
Don’t know how to use Photoshop? No worries! With PicMonkey, you can edit or touch up images online and quickly create graphic designs and collages with its design tools. Its main functions used to be largely free, but—bad news to you freeloaders out there—it seems that there is no longer any free level. Now they offer a 7-day free trial.
Pixabay is where we get lots of our high-resolution photos. The site offers royalty free high-quality images, over 940,000 free stock photos, vectors, art illustrations, and videos that you can use anytime anywhere. Attribution is not required when using their images because they are made available free of copyrights under the Creative Commons CC0 license.So, you can download, distribute, and change them however you’d like.
For more free, high-resolution photos we also turn to Unsplash, which was founded three years ago as a Tumblr blog.
PikwizardPikwizard is an excellent free stock photo site with over 100,000 high-quality images, with 20,000 that are completely exclusive to the site. What makes Pikwizard stand out is its high-quality images of people. The site is full of CC0 images, which means you can use them with no attribution required!
More tools for marketing teams! Social media can be a black hole for time. You can fritter your days away checking for “likes” on your profiles. The same goes for professionals who manage social media for their brands. Taking your words and images and posting them one-by-one on all your profiles and then checking for engagement one-by-one is a Sisyphean task. Below are some tools that make social media management a lot more efficient.
HootsuiteWith the Hootsuite console, you can manage all your social media accounts in one place. From scheduling tweets to interacting with customers, HootSuite does it all. It has so many functions that it’s appropriate that HootSuite has a “HootSuite Academy” to help new users get acclimated to the complex environment.
Buffer has some of the same functions as HootSuite. It allows you to schedule posts to go out on social media automatically. Buffer may be easier to learn how to use for some versus Hootsuite. Buffer also has a great blog that often offers free social media templates and tips. While browsing the web, Buffer allows you to add content you find online to your social media publishing queue through browser extensions and mobile apps. But one thing that is pretty annoying is that even when using the Buffer Pro paid version, in order to export your posts with click and interaction data (which seems like it should be a pretty basic feature), you need to upgrade to Buffer Analyze. Still, we currently use Buffer and highly recommend it.
Want to know what hashtags related to your market are trending? Use Hashtagify to research the appropriate hashtags to use in your marketing messages.
Developing a website and managing it can seem like a lot of work. But, with productivity tools, you can not only create a website easily, but keep track of the site’s analytics and SEO, and help your website grow. Here are some tools we use to simplify our lives when it comes to the IVANNOVATION website:
WordPress is an open source software that helps you create websites. It started as a platform for bloggers, but it turned into a full-fledged content management system (CMS) used by top websites such as TechCrunch, Chicago Sun-Times, the Walt Disney Company, and much more. Now it’s surrounded by a vibrant ecosystem of themes and plugins that can help you make your website look and act just about any way you want.
This tool has similar features to Google Analytics. But if you are already using that, why should you bother to use Clicky? Not only is Clicky’s user interface a little less intimidating than Google Analytics, but it also includes many features that Google Analytics lacks. With Clicky you can see detailed information about every visitor that is visiting your site in real time, view heat maps, and more. The greatest thing about Clicky for us is that it’s much easier to view the behavior of individual users on your site than with Google Analytics. That’s why we use both Google Analytics and Clicky.
This handy browser extension will tell you the page authority, domain authority, and the number of inbound links for any page you visit. Mozbar is a must-have for all who want to analyze the SEO of pages they visit.
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Sales & Marketing
No company is complete without marketing! Some may find marketing to be complex and time-consuming, and the tools to go along with it on the pricier side. But, we promise you, that it doesn’t have to be any of those things. Save time, money, and a headache or two with the following tools.
Zoho‘s services run the gamut from CRM, to mail, to accounting, to DIY app development. Zoho’s CRM is easy to use, visually pleasing, and just works.
We’ve changed CRMs a few times over the years with varying levels of satisfaction. HubSpot’s CRM is definitely a pleasure to use. HubSpot offers its CRM free as a gateway drug for companies to get hooked on their other products, which include a website CMS platform, automations, email marketing, analytics, and more. HubSpot’s paid marketing tools are powerful but pricey. Nevertheless, even if you want to freeload, HubSpot’s CRM is surprisingly powerful for a free product.
Marketers can use Hunter to find known email addresses of those working at companies whose web pages you are looking at. Hunter searches the web for publicly available information about people including email address, phone number, social media profiles. If it cannot find the email address for the individual you are looking at, it can find the most common email pattern used by people at that company and then give you the best guess of that person’s email address. If you often send emails to authors of articles that you read online, Hunter will be your fast friend.
This may be a bit of a false dichotomy, but it seems like whereas Hunter is more designed to help marketers, AeroLeads is designed to help sales teams. However, realistically either would work for either task. With AeroLeads extension installed on your browser, do a search on LinkedIn for your target customer. When you find a good prospect, click on the extension icon and add the prospect’s contact information to your list. You can also export the leads to your CRM for adding to your outreach workflow. For heavy LinkedIn users, this is an amazing resource.
Leave a call to action on web pages that you share on social media with Snip.ly. When you find an article that you’d like to share on social media, paste it into Snip.ly. Snip.ly will shorten the URL, and when people click on that shortened URL, they will see your call to action at the bottom of the page. Some websites will not let you use this tool, but most will. It’s a great way to remind readers who shared the great article with them.
MailChimp needs no introduction. It is a beautifully designed, easy to use email marketing tool. If you have a list of subscribers, MailChimp will help you communicate with them and give you insights into the performance of your messages.
Info & Data
Gathering information and data you need is one thing. Keeping it organized is another. But, you no longer have to separate the two with productivity tools that help you keep your notes in one place, share important details with others effortlessly, and save noteworthy news articles and curated content for later.
Visme is a powerful and versatile infographic and presentation tool. With hundreds of infographic templates and presentation templates, users can translate boring data into beautiful, actionable data. You can also add interactivity to projects by adding or embedding video, audio, and even third party widgets. Analytics within Visme help you and your team see who is viewing your content and when, and for how long. Finally, you can also turn your content into a strong lead generator, which can enhance your marketing endeavors.
Evernote is a beautiful platform that allows you to take, share, and cultivate your ideas through any device. You can create project to-do lists. Write down something you want to remember. Or take a picture of a drawing. Your notes can be whatever you want them to be. Once you create a note, it is always available, no matter what device you’re on, hence the name Evernote. You can even search for handwritten words that you’ve taken a snap of and saved in Evernote. It also allows you to share ideas with co-workers in a group notebook for ease of collaboration.
Ever see an article that you want to read but don’t have time to finish? Save it in Pocket and come back to it anytime. You can save just about anything in the pocket for later use. It’s great for writers that want to save source material to take notes from and refer to in their writing.
Cloud storage and backup service. Dropbox is an integral tool we use to share documents with everyone in the organization. It can also be used to request large files from other people.
We have discussed the scheduling of social media posts, but how about scheduling meetings? This can be a dreadful and annoying process, especially when you’re going back and forth with someone, trying to find the perfect time to schedule a call/Skype or in-person meeting that works best for all parties involved. Either of the next two tools is the perfect solution to that problem.
Google Calendar is a free Google service that helps you keep track of all your important events in one place. You can even download the iOS or Android app to have access to it on your phone. It’s perfect for time management and scheduling. You can create and edit events and share your calendar with others, as well as add reminders to events with the options of editing type and time. Other users can be invited to events by editing the visibility of your calendars, like birthday calendars. If your work team all have Google accounts, their birth dates can all be inputted into your calendar. A country-specific calendar will also display holidays and special occasions each month. Thanks to machine learning, Google Calendar can also include events found in Gmail, reminders, and “Smart Suggestions” when creating events to help you address titles, contacts, and locations.
Imagine this: two extremely busy people try to set up a meeting via text messages. How many messages back-and-forth does it take to finally find a time that works for both of them? Just looking through your calendar and then telling your contact all the times you’re available is extremely time-consuming. Enter Calendly. Just share your personal Calendly link with your contacts, and they can see all your free time slots at-a-glance. They choose one, and you both get a confirmation email for the meeting time. This is a great tool especially for people who do lead generation to set up meetings for demos.
Last, but definitely not least, we have a couple of more our favorite desktop productivity apps and online productivity tools for you to make your work life simpler, so you have more time and brain space for the things that really matter!
LastPass stores passwords in a safe way so you never forget them. You don’t even have to try to remember them in the first place! You’re also able to share logins with others, without having to share the actual password. It can be used on any device and only the master password must be remembered, while all other passwords are stored.
Switch Extension is the creator of Switch, a productivity tool for busy digital workers. It’s an app that helps accomplish daily tasks more productively by streamlining the workstation and cutting down time wastage in the browser. Using Switch, users can manage all tabs, accounts and projects from one place, right inside the browser. Switch is designed to help manage tab overload and to allow switching between multiple accounts seamlessly, giving users everything they need to become ultra-productive in their digital lives.
Use Upwork to find, hire, collaborate with, and pay freelancers. Check it out to find writers, designers, developers, and more.
That’s All for Now
These are some of our favorite office productivity tools for business that we use every day. They help us communicate with each other, get work done, reach out to leads, save our stuff, and more.
What are your favorite productivity tools for the office? What tools and services make your life easier?
Leave us a comment, and we will share some of our favorite suggestions from you on our blog.
You Made It!
Darren Jansen, business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION, has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.
Gisel Olivares, Content Editor + Creator + Curator. Her online business, GeeOlives, provides social media management, copywriting and editing, web customization and development, and graphic design, among other related services to small businesses, nonprofits, and sustainable brands. I have a love for languages, traveling, social media, and writing. I am fluent in English and Spanish, and still working on perfecting my French while living in France for almost three years.
Co-Written by Darren Jansen & Gisel Olivares
(For regular updates and commentary on technology specifically for translation, see Jost Zetzsche’s excellent journal here.)