How to Run Your Business on a Chromebook for Less Than $300
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?
I was skeptical myself, until I took my Chromebook to Austin for a conference.
That's when I fell in love with it.
In this post I'm sharing why . . .
. . . and why you should consider a Chromebook for your work, studies, or personal life.
Two Laptops Destroyed in Two Months
It was heartbreaking —
My husband and I were on vacation celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in the Florida Keys. It was gorgeous, warm, and magical . . .
. . . until he dropped his laptop (while it was in the padded case) on a tile floor. He took out his Dell laptop, tried to boot it up, and nothing happened. We removed the hard drive, sent it to a data recovery specialist, and the verdict was the data was unrecoverable.
All of my husband's business data on that laptop was gone.
Yes, he had backups. But he also was missing three months of critical data from his business.
Two weeks previous to the death of the Dell, my son's laptop (my old MacBook Pro) had water spilled on it.
Another laptop gone — two laptops destroyed in two months.
I was determined this was not going to happen to me.
I wanted a backup laptop I could take on vacation, to conferences, and have just in case my current MacBook Pro died.
I was not, however, willing to shell out the $2,000+ a MacBook Pro costs.
Enter the Chromebook
I had read about Chromebook laptops, which run the Chrome operating system and are manufactured by multiple companies, including Google, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard and more. The only downside is any application you run on it must be a web application, as Chromebooks are meant to run only on wi-fi and have a minimal hard drive.
Basically, they're meant for cloud computing only.
When I analyzed the applications I use in my business, almost every single one was a web application: WordPress, Google Docs, Canva, and social networks.
I researched Chromebooks and found they top out around $300 (unless you're considering the Google Pixel version which costs over $1,000). The Toshiba Chromebook 2 received glowing reviews, had a high-resolution display and was recommended by BusinessInsider.
I was sold. I could theoretically have a backup computer for less than $300.
I ordered my Toshiba Chromebook 2 from Amazon, and because I'm a Prime member, had it in two days.
Now the real test would begin.
Running on Wi-Fi Only is a Myth
Initially I used my new Chromebook in my home office only, where I have a good internet connection via DSL. I wrote blog posts on the Chromebook, posted on social media, watched YouTube videos, and was pleased with how well it performed. The only downside was I couldn't create infographics since Pixelmator (my favorite graphics app) was Mac-only. I could use Canva.com instead, but my infographics were too complex for Canva to handle.
My love affair with it really began this month when I attended a conference in Austin. In a large hotel conference room (with no wi-fi nor enough power strips for the 300+ laptops in the room).
My Chromebook prevailed!
First, you can use Google Docs without wi-fi on a Chromebook. So it didn't matter that we were stuck in a windowless conference room without an internet connection. I was able to take notes using Google Docs (and those notes were beautiful— tables, bullets, emojis — I took full advantage of everything Docs offers). I also updated the notes on the flight home (without wi-fi).
Second, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 has a whopping eight-hour battery life. And it's really eight hours. I took conference notes from 9am to 5pm without ever being plugged in to a power strip. Comparatively, my MacBook Pro battery lasts only about three hours, tops.
Third, my Chromebook is small enough that it fit easily in my leather handbag. I didn't need a separate laptop case, simplifying travel, and needing one less carry-on bag.
Fourth, in the evening at my Airb&b guest house with wi-fi, I was able to record a webinar and upload it to Vimeo, extract the audio, covert the media files, and create an infographic, all using the Chromebook. I was able to accomplish far more than I originally ever thought I could with a Chromebook.
What follows is a list of the apps I used to do accomplish all those projects, along with my other favorites:
Snagit is a much-loved desktop screen capture tool from TechSmith, that also records video. They debuted a bare-bones Chrome version last year, but I was unsure if I could record a webinar 40 minutes long using it.
I needed to record my screen, with multiple browser tabs open, and demonstrate to SMOC members how I was able to reach Google's first page in 90 days (the topic of my webinar).
I recorded the entire 40 minute-webinar using Snagit.
While the sound quality wasn't nearly as good as it would have been on my MacBook Pro, it worked well enough in a pinch.
Awesome! I had my 40-minute long Snagit file.
Now what? How was I going to get Snagit's .avi file converted to .mp4 format so I could upload it to Vimeo?
Snagit automatically saved my webinar recording on Google Drive. When I went to open it, Drive asked me if I wanted to convert the file using CloudConvert.
I was game: I needed to convert the file, and had no idea how to do it using a web application. My favorite desktop conversion tool, Handbrake, wasn't available for Chromebook.
So I tried CloudConvert and was thrilled: it converted the webinar file from an .avi to an .mp4 successfully, and reduced it significantly in size, from 272MB to 104MB (tiny for a video file).
Then I realized I needed to convert the audio from the webinar to an .mp3 audio file: could CloudConvert do that too?
No problem: it took the .avi file and extracted the audio, saving it to an .mp3 file. Brilliant! Again, the size was considerably smaller than .mp3 files I save using TechSmith's Camtasia (my regular webinar recording tool). Those .wav files are usually over 100MB; CloudConvert's .mp3 was only 30 MB.
Since WordPress is a web application, I didn't anticipate any issues using it on my Chromebook. I was able to create lessons, create the webinar page and embed the webinar video and audio files on it. Smooth!
But, WordPress won't accept a media upload larger than 2MB, so how could I upload my audio file that was 30MB?
I normally use FileZilla to upload files to my server (I even donated to the application's author I was so pleased with it), but again, no Chromebook version of it.
So I searched the Chrome Store for the most popular FTP application and downloaded it: sFTP Client.
One FTP application is pretty similar to the next: either they work or they don't.
It worked. The first time.
And it choose between regular FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or sFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol).
My last major test for the Chromebook was creating an infographic. While I had read about graphic web applications like Pixlr, it was vastly different from Pixelmator, and I didn't want to invest the learning curve in a tool I would use so infrequently.
Then it hit me: HubSpot offers free templates for creating infographics using PowerPoint. While I had never downloaded the templates, I wondered if it would be possible to create my own branded infographic using Google Slides?
I created a new slide deck with only one slide, modified the size to what I needed, and created an infographic consistent with the others I share in my members-only webinars. It had the same look & feel, and I was able to create it entirely on the Chromebook:
As a visual person, I enjoy using Trello for project management, as I can easily see the progress on each task as it happens. I can also organize my projects and teams the way I choose.
Like other web applications, Trello worked seamlessly from my Chromebook. It was the same experience as using it on my Mac, so I was able to communicate with my VA and developer without a hitch.
Projects continued while I was gone, and I managed them all from my Chromebook.
I already used Canva to create simple images for some of my blog posts and social media, so using it from the Chromebook wasn't much different. While the screen on my Toshiba was smaller than my MacBook Pro, I could easily zoom in to see the areas I needed in Canva.
I use the basic free version of Evernote, so I wasn't able to use it to take notes during the conference (no wi-fi during the day). But at night, I had wi-fi and was able to access my travel itinerary, conference details, update my To-Do List and more. I experienced no difference in using Evernote's web application and the Mac desktop version.
As a writer, trainer, and artist, I love being creative and helping others to learn new things.
I have rarely loved math: I can do it, but it takes me longer than those for whom it's a strength.
So I outsource my accounting. Not to a bookkeeper, not to QuickBooks (tried it, hated it), but to LessAccounting: a web-based accounting application designed for people who hate accounting.
I connect my bank accounts and PayPal, and it does the rest. It imports all of my transactions, including expenses, income, and I can create invoices from it as well.
It costs $39 a month, and it saves me hours of time every month.
I can log in from Chromebook, review and categorize my expenses (if necessary), and analyze my Profit & Loss statements, just as I could from my MacBook Pro.
A Chromebook for My Virtual Assistant
My experience with the Chromebook was so positive, that I purchased one for my VA when her old laptop began to have problems. Because I already had experience successfully using the applications core to my business from the Chromebook, I knew she would be able to do the same. I sent her an advance on PayPal, and she purchased the Chromebook in her country.
She's thrilled with it.
As I am with mine.
I still love my MacBook Pro and use it as my primary business computer. But, if a new Chromebook debuts with a larger screen, I may make the switch permanently.
How Are You Using Your Chromebook?
It would be so great to hear how you're using your own Chromebook (or questions about its potential). Share your tips in the comments below so others can learn what's possible using a Chromebook.
Projects I want to try from my Toshiba Chromebook 2 are:
- Recording a live webinar with attendees
- Reading a Kindle book (I've downloaded the app but haven't used it much yet)
- Exploring its abilities I have yet to discover
I'll keep this post updated as I learn and experience more!