Six Must-Have Tools I Use to Run My Online Business
Welcome to October! This is probably my favorite month of all. There’s pumpkins, apple cider, and crisp mornings (although it’s still 800 degrees here in the middle of the day). It's also the last business quarter, which means pushing to wrap up yearly goals and set new ones, and the exhilaration of fall planning (September is the new January ya know).
One thing I'm doing right now is looking at my tools and processes to see how I can streamline things… get rid of software and apps that aren’t serving me anymore, maybe learn to use my favorites a little more efficiently, and pay extra attention to anywhere I’m sinking too much time.
As I was trying to think of something useful to share with you this week I realized there are quite a few tools I rely on to run things smoothly around here that you might need to know about in your own business. Some are free, some paid, but they all help me work remotely in the most efficient way possible for my clients. I hope you’re able to find a new tool or two to try out as well!
I use Wave for all of my invoicing, payment processing, and to track my business expenses. I leave my yearly tax filing to the pros, but throughout the year I keep track of my income and expenses in Wave and at the end of the year I can print any reports my accountant needs straight from my Wave dashboard. It's super easy because it connects to my bank account, and since I use it for payment processing it already has all my invoice and payment information.
I like it because: It can handle my recurring invoices, gives me a nice summary view of my income & expenses right on the dashboard, integrates well with my bank and PayPal, and isn’t loaded down with a bunch of options I don’t need.
Cost: Free! The payment processing fee is similar to PayPal or Square, although they recently started offering Bank Transfer payments that only cost 1%. If you want to use it for payroll you’ll pay a monthly fee.
Toggl is a web based time tracking system. I track all of my working time, whether it’s for a client project, writing a blog post, or answering emails. Some client projects are tracked and billed according to the amount of time spent, but I also just like to know how much time I’m spending in other areas of the business and on the business as a whole. I have a client named Admin set up and different projects assigned to that client like Blog Posts, Newsletter, Website Updates, and Social Media. This helps me make sure I’m spending time in the right places.
I like it because: You can use it by opening a browser and going to toggl.com (which is how i normally use it), add a button to your browser, download the desktop app, or install it on your phone. It’s everywhere. It’s also super simple to use. You set up clients, add projects to them, and either track your time by clicking a button or entering it in manually.
Cost: Free! There’s several other paid plans depending on what you need, but since I’m only tracking my own time I’ve been using the free version for a while now and it’s perfect. If you have an assistant or other team members you may want to upgrade to one of the premium plans.
This is where I keep my blog post ideas, design inspiration, business growth ideas, random sketches, cryptic three word ideas that I might need down the road (wtf is “pajama productivity” anyway?), house project lists, and even my coupon matchups for grocery shopping. I used Trello for a long time for these lists but I’ve found that Evernote is the simplest, fastest, and most efficient way for me to jot something down. I also use it to write my blog posts and track client projects with to-do lists.
I like it because: I have the Evernote app on my phone and my computer. The phone app has a cool feature that lets me add a new note by just swiping down and tapping a button, then it saves that note to my catch all ’notebook'. Once a week, usually during my weekly review, I go through that folder and move notes to their appropriate notebooks, act on them, expand on them, etc. There’s no telling how many ideas I’ve been able to hang on to since I started using this, instead of frantically searching for a scrap of paper and a pen or sending myself text messages.
Cost: Free! As usual there are premium plans, depending on what you need.
Squarespace is the platform I use for my own website, which houses my blog and online shop, as well as the platform I build most of my client’s websites on as well.
I like it because: It’s stable, easy for my clients to maintain, and is a great combination of style and functionality. I’m a Squarespace Circle member, which basically means I get to learn about new features before they’re available to everyone, and I can tell you Squarespace is constantly adding really great features that make mine and my clients lives easier. One super cool recent addition is the built in ability to sell gift cards from your shop, and another update allows your customers to create their own account, which is handy.
Cost: $12-18 per month if you pay annually
Without Adobe Creative Cloud my life as a graphic designer would be much more complicated. I know, because I tried to wing it for years using free software like Gimp and Inkscape. And don’t get me wrong, those are great options, and much more affordable if you’re only doing a little bit of graphic creation every month. Adobe Illustrator is my home base though… it’s where I start and finish most of my projects. Creative Cloud is the monthly subscription service Adobe offers now, so you no longer have to buy one incredibly expensive software program at a time. Instead, you pay a monthly fee and your applications are always up to date. I have the full Creative Cloud subscription which includes all their software (Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat, and a ton more I rarely use). They also offer smaller plans if you only need one or two apps, such as Illustrator for creating your social media graphics or Acrobat for editing PDF files, and deep discounts for students and teachers.
I like it because: It makes my life simple. My apps are always up to date, I can share design assets between programs, and I always know I have the right file type (that was always a struggle using the free software).
Cost: It varies. My subscription is $50/month, but there are lower plans depending on how many programs you need to use.
I just recently started using Later for my Instagram scheduling, and so far I’m loving it. I’ve used other social media schedulers in the past but felt like the process of adding posts was too bloated for what I need. Later has a media gallery that you can upload your photos to at any time, from your phone or computer, then choose from those photos when you’re scheduling your Instagram posts. This makes things so. much. easier for me! I love being able to upload a bunch of photos and blog graphics at once, write my caption on them one time (you can save captions for future use too, btw), and drag them onto the calendar to auto schedule. When it’s time to publish the scheduled post you get a notification on your phone and can push the post to Instagram in just a few quick clicks. You can schedule Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well, but I’ve only utilized those a little bit.
I like it because: It makes Instagram marketing simpler, and as I’ve gotten older (and busier) I’ve learned that if I don’t make the not-quite-essential things simple they may never happen. Later helps me actually schedule my Instagram posts. Oh, and it has a super neat feature that lets you preview your feed to make sure you aren’t focusing too much on one color or type of graphic.
Cost: Free for the basic plan, which includes 30 Instagram posts per month. There are premium plans with different levels depending on your business size and what you need.