Essential Business Tools
Don’t Let Tech Fears Ruin Your Dreams
When my grandmother was a young woman in Jamaica, she remarried an American man from Oklahoma who’d been working in the country with the peace corps. Though she was already a skilled and well-respected educator, she decided to attend university in the states to begin a new career to match her new life.
For the next couple of decades, she worked as a social worker in the small Wisconsin town where they’d settled. I remember visiting her once in her office and being in awe of my grandmother, the “business” woman.
Shortly after that visit, my mom let me know my grandmother was retiring. I had no idea what that meant, so she explained that my grandmother would soon stop working.
I was so puzzled because she clearly enjoyed her work. When I pressed for details, I was told that my grandmother was leaving her field early because she was intimidated by a new piece of technology – the computer. She just didn’t think she could learn it, so she chose to retire instead.
Years later, my grandmother did learn how to use the computer with a little help from me, from others, and finding the courage to experiment with the one she and my grandfather purchased for their home.
But I’ll never forget how it felt to see a sharp woman with so much to offer forced out of her career because the new tool she needed to do her job was unfamiliar to her.
Launching your work from home business requires the use of tools known as computer applications (software apps or just apps). You may be familiar with some of them, such as a web browser or an email client. But there are other types of apps that are essential to running a home business that you’ve probably never considered such as project management software, schedulers, automation apps, conferencing apps, etc.
Deciding which of the hundreds of apps available are the right fit for you can be overwhelming and expensive, especially when you are initially finding your groove and figuring out your workflows.
I’ve tried several of the most popular apps over the years and I’ve learned which ones are best for my business and my wallet. Others may not have been perfect for my business, but I recommend them to other entrepreneurs because they are great tools.
I’m sharing my list of the best tools I know of that will help you to run your business like a pro. This list is not exhaustive and all the tools may not be exactly what you need, but this is a great place to start when you’re building your operations systems.
Note: I’ve included affiliate links for many of the tools below. This means I may get a small commission, at no cost to you, if you choose to make a purchase using these links. Thanks for supporting this blog!
“No matter which tools you choose to run your business, there will be a learning curve.”
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Building Your Website
Software – WordPress
WordPress is the software used to build the majority of the world’s websites. It’s easy to use and flexible. Make sure you use self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) rather than WordPress.com
Hosting – Siteground
I’ve used a lot of hosting companies and none of them come close to Siteground. Siteground provides the structure your website needs to grow at affordable prices with customer services that is mind-blowingly good.
For a step by step tutorial on building your business website, read this post I wrote.
Theme – Divi
If you’re a visual person, Divi is the theme for you. Build your website using the drag-and-drop visual editor or select from one of the gorgeous templates in the Divi library and make it your own.
Graphic Design – Canva
Create stunning graphics for your website and social media accounts using Canva. Canva is so easy to use and fun to play around with. It has hundreds of free images, elements, and templates to use in your designs so you can make something amazing every single time.
Organizing Your Data
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – Dubsado
Dubsado is an incredible software for managing your business operations created by a husband and wife team in California. In short, it’s a system that acts as a hub for keeping your service-based business running smoothly.
Spreadsheets, Documents, and Forms – Google Sheets
Who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet? Google sheets, Google Docs, and Google Forms are three of the apps I use to create files I use in my business on a daily basis. I love using G Suite (the collection of business apps created by Google) because it’s cloud-based, which means I have access to my work anywhere an internet connection is available. It’s also easy to download documents on your computer for offline work.
File Storage and Sharing – Google Drive or Dropbox
Once again, Google Drive to the rescue! Your computer can only store so many files at once, so virtual storage is a necessity. Google Drive is great because you can set individual files or entire folders as shareable with the public or with select individuals.
Dropbox is another option that I like to use because a lot of other online entrepreneurs use it and it’s so easy to download files from Dropbox to Dropbox.
Both of these apps have mobile versions, so if you come across some cool freebies while you’re browsing the web on your smartphone, you can save them immediately (without having to send the link to yourself so you can use it when you’re back at your computer.)
Research – Evernote
Oh, Evernote…I love this software. There are so many ways to use it! It’s an amazing tool that allows you to screenshot, save documents, organize receipts, and more. I love to store blog post ideas, save ads and copy for my swipe file, and I keep track of bills I pay online.
Editing – Grammarly or Hemingway App
Written communication is a core part of running a business online. Put your best foot forward with editing software. I like Grammarly because it has a Chrome extension. No matter where I’m typing on the web, Grammarly is there to help me keep my grammar on point. Grammarly also has an editor you can use for documents.
Hemingway App is awesome for making your content more readable. The average person reads at a middle school level. You can run your documents through Hemingway and tweak it so that it is easier for your audience to understand.
Communicating With Your Audience & Clients
Email Marketing – Convertkit
When it comes to email marketing, your standard, free services (such as Gmail or Hotmail) won’t work. You’ve got to use email marketing software specially designed to handle massive quantities of messages and with built-in automation to ensure a custom experience for each segment of your audience. My favorite email marketing software is Converkit. It is a great entry-level software for online business owners who are serious about listbuilding and growing their businesses!
Appointment Management – Acuity
Put appointment setting on autopilot with a scheduler! Set up an account with Acuity then embed a link to your scheduler on your sales page (or share it directly with prospects.) Your prospects will choose from one of your pre-selected time slots and you’ll receive an email letting you know when you have your next appointment. This is a great way to eliminate excess emails!
Calls – Google Hangouts or Zoom
Using your personal cell phone number isn’t the best choice for client calls, but it can be done with the right apps. Google Hangouts and Zoom are my favorite apps to use for client calls whether on mobile or on my computer.
Managing Your Projects
Project Management – Asana or Trello
Track your client projects from start to finish using software that helps you to break down your processes (workflows) and meet deadlines. If you love lists, Asana is a great choice for you. More of a visual person? Check out Trello!
Time Tracking – Toggl
Tracking your time is a good idea even if you work on retainer. It’s a good idea to know how long it takes you to perform tasks so that you can charge accordingly. My tracker of choice is Toggl. It has a convenient chrome extension and you can set it up to record by the client or by the project. I track my time in Toggl and export the data at the end of the week so my clients can see what I’m doing and when.
Automating Your Tasks
Social Media Posts – SmarterQueue and Tailwind
Managing social media can be a full-time job. Multiply your efforts by using a scheduling tool to post on your behalf. I love SmarterQueue because it allows you to create your own content library and you can loop your posts!
For Pinterest, I prefer Tailwind. Tailwind is one of Pinterest’s official partners and it’s a great visual tool for scheduling pins and curating content. On top of all that, Tailwind has a Tribes feature and a soon-to-be-released smartloop feature that makes sharing your best content far and wide that much easier.
General Tasks – IFTTT or Zapier
Once you experience the magic of automation, you’ll wonder how you ever got on without it. To take automating your business to another level, try IFTTT and Zapier.
IFTTT has great little recipe cards designed to work with some of your most beloved apps. The best thing is, it’s totally free!
Zapier is like IFTTT on VITAMINS (steroids are yuck, so this is the best I could come up with)! Zapier connects 1,000’s of apps so that you can integrate all of your systems. The learning curve is a bit steeper with Zapier and the free plan only allows for so many “zaps” at a time, but it’s a good option for when you’ve outgrown IFTTT.
Payment Processing – Stripe
Now for the good part – getting money! My payment processor of choice is Stripe. It integrates with several apps and accounting software so that you can keep your finances in order.
Creating Contracts – Hello Bonsai
Before you start working with anyone, you ought to have a rock-solid contract in place. Bonsai has great, customizable, legally binding contracts available for freelancers and small business owners. You can even get started for FREE! Warning: Always run contracts past your personal attorney to ensure they’re right for YOUR business.
All Tools Have a Learning Curve
No matter which tools you choose to run your business, there will be a learning curve. Fortunately, there are great tutorials available from the companies that produce these tools and from experienced users. In the future, I plan to do more tech tutorials to serve this community, so be sure to check back here for those (and request what you’d like to see me demonstrate for you!)
As your business grows, the tools you use will likely change, and that’s perfectly fine! What worked at one stage won’t always work once it’s time to level up.
The most important thing to remember is practice makes perfect. The more you use a tool and learn about how to use it, the better it will work for you.
Which of the tools in this list are you most excited to try out? Let me know in the comments!
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