Every once in a while, an app arrives which completely transforms your business. I don’t discover them very often, but when I do, it’s hard to remember what life was like before.

That’s exactly what’s happened with Notion.

I started using this platform last year when I launched my YouTube brand. I needed a tool to keep my unorganised ideas organised and ensure my dreadful memory wouldn’t scupper my plans for content domination.

I have no doubt that Notion played a huge role in the supercharged growth I experienced right from the start (and which I’m still experiencing today).

Without Notion, I’d be battling with a bunch of spreadsheets, loose ideas and multiple project management apps. It isn’t perfect, and it has scared the living daylights out of me on a couple of occasions, but I couldn’t run my business without it.

What is Notion?

It’s pretty tough to explain exactly what Notion is. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to work on their marketing team.

It’s not a to-do app. It isn’t a project management app. It’s not a database app. It isn’t a wiki.

It’s all of those things rolled into one. But a lot more, besides.

People use Notion for a wide variety of things from project management to personal wikis, knowledge bases, life planners and even budgeting systems.

Strip everything back, and Notion is basically a completely customisable database application that can be accessed via a web app or natively on macOS, Windows, Android, iOS and iPadOS. Its genius lies in the fact that it’s very approachable, even for non-databasey people like me.

It can be anything you want it to be, as confirmed by their list of built-in templates, which include development roadmaps, reading lists, syllabuses, lesson plans, engineering wikis, content calendars and even mood boards. And even if you don’t make one of those templates your starting point, Notion is easy enough to use from scratch that it won’t take up oodles of your time during the configuration stage.

Excited to try it? Notion is free for personal use, and I highly recommend diving in to see if it can captivate you as quickly as it did me.

Why Notion matters to me

Like many things in life, you don’t realise how organised and detailed your work is until you map out what you do to get from A to B.

Next week, I’m delivering a presentation to a bunch of Mac enthusiasts about my content production process. While writing down the steps I undertake to move a piece of content from idea to blog and eventual video, it struck me that I’ve built quite an engine.

The other thing that struck me was that Notion plays an active role during every step of the journey. It’s the glue that holds everything together. Without it, my blogs, videos, review units and future content plans wouldn’t connect, and there’d be no coherent narrative throughout my work.

This is vital if you want to make a success of a content or influencer brand. While I’m sure there are many people out there who can survive with a simple spreadsheet or Trello account, my mind needs an awful lot more help and encouragement if I’m to create a coherent brand like Mark Ellis Reviews.

Notion is my guiding light, content archive, goal-setter and planning tool.

So, let’s look at how I use it.

How I use Notion

I don’t use Notion as a to-do list – I should make that clear immediately. Things 3 is my go-to app for ensuring I keep on top of tasks.

Instead, Notion plays the role of operations manager. It ensures I have somewhere to plan content, keep an eye on the budget, set goals and link every constituent element of a piece of content together.

This is what my sidebar in Notion looks like.

Notion sidebar

This is how I use each area:

  • Ideas bucket is basically a repository for ideas that strike me while out and about. I use it pretty rarely, but it’s nice to know it’s there, because I can just dump stuff into the list and move it elsewhere if the ideas prove to be worthy of my time.
  • Videos is my Kanban board for Mark Ellis Reviews videos. It’s where I plan future content, archive past videos and keep track of what I’m currently working on.
  • Blogs is pretty similar to the videos Kanban board, albeit for articles like the one you’re reading today.
  • Skillshare classes is the area in which I plan my online courses.
  • Email series is a classic example of something I want to build into the brand but for which I don’t have the time just yet – Notion makes planning this kind of thing super easy.
  • Downloads is similar to my email series area – it’s where I plan out potential digital downloads and products.
  • Review units is where I track all review units, to which I attach their date of acquisition, price, brand contact and useful stuff like affiliate links.
  • Brand Contacts is my personal directory of brand contacts for my review units.
  • Profit and loss is a rudimentary spreadsheet containing the financial incomings and outgoings for the brand.
  • Brand assets is the only area in Notion where I upload files such as logos and social media banners.
  • Sponsors is a personal directory of sponsorship contacts.
  • Goals is where I keep a simple Kanban-style list of goals for the year, divided by the quarters and tagged with the aspect of the brand to which each goal relates.

Notion’s crowning glory is the database linking it offers. It means that I can link a blog to a corresponding video, review unit, brand contact and sponsor. This proves genuinely useful virtually every day from a reference perspective, and it delivers great peace of mind that everything is nicely organised.

Notion is rock solid, too. The only scares I’ve had are on a couple of occasions where I’ve logged in to find a completely empty database. This has happened on two occasions but has been resolved quickly (the data hadn’t gone anywhere, thankfully; it always seems to be a server issue).

This is rare, but it has made me realise just how much I rely on Notion. Indeed, the thought of it properly breaking and losing my stuff led me to a rather frustrating discovery about their commercial model.

The one big problem with Notion

I love supporting independent developers. It’s why I use so many third-party apps and why I’ll happily pay for a productivity app such as Things over Apple’s ‘free’ Reminders.

However, I need to come clean and reveal that I use the free version of Notion. Not because I’m a cheapskate or because I want to maximise every last drop of ROI – it’s because I can’t find a reason to upgrade.

The personal plan for Notion is possibly the most generous piece of free software I’ve ever used.

A few weeks back, I headed over to their pricing page to see what I’d get for a paid upgrade. It’s not much, I’m afraid; if you go for Personal Pro at $4 per month, you gain unlimited file uploads (I barely upload anything to Notion), unlimited guests (I use it alone) and version history (that doesn’t excite me). The step-up beyond that is a team option at $8 per month (again, no use for lonely old me), and an enterprise tier, for which you have to contact their sales team.

This bothers me. I wish the Personal Pro plan had more enticing features. I even wish it was a little more expensive. To be honest, it feels and looks like an afterthought.

For instance, if Personal Pro provided guaranteed backup recovery (those aforementioned crashes are what led me to their pricing page, after all) or access to a feature set that would offer a genuine benefit, I’d sign up immediately. Alas, I guess the team at Notion doesn’t see a need to charge for either of these things. Clearly, they’re aiming the paid plans squarely at small teams and growing businesses and use the free tier as a method by which to hook people in. That’s pretty smart, but it’s a shame for smaller creators like me who want to support them.

They’ve made the free tier too good.

Why not upgrade to the Personal Pro plan regardless, you might ask. That’d be a fair point, but I do need a reason to upgrade – Personal Pro just isn’t very interesting, I’m afraid. It could be a minor benefit or a purposefully crippled free feature set which demands an upgrade the more wholesomely you use the product – I just want something for my money.

So, this is a small plea to Notion: please add some exciting stuff to Personal Pro. Even if it’s fluff (branding options, for instance); just give me a reason to give you some money, please!

Other than that, Notion is easily the best software discovery I’ve made in the last few years. Try it out!