Running a business isn’t easy. It involves managing a lot of moving parts, and it can be a huge challenge to keep everything organized.
I’m often asked what the best tools are for managing different business tasks – so I thought I’d share with you the various tools that I use, and why. Some of these are marketing partners, but rest assured that I only recommend products and services that I trust to be of the highest quality. I promise that every tool on this list is one I have personally used and highly recommend.
So here we go, in no particular order:
Project & Task Management
Teamwork is by far my favorite project manager, and believe me, I’ve tried just about all of them. I used Basecamp for a while but it couldn’t do a lot of the things I needed, like setting priorities and dependencies, and making some tasks/projects private. Teamwork does that and so much more, like time tracking, for example. There is a free version that you can use to try it out, and various levels of paid accounts at different price points above that. Their fast and friendly customer support rocks, too. Check it out.
Asana is a free task management tool that you can also use with teams. I use Asana to organize my blog content and editorial calendar, but you could use it for just about anything.
If you’re a visual person and you like being able to see things laid out instead of in a list, you’ll love . Each project/area of focus is a board, and within a board you have lists and each list then has cards. So you can organize just about anything, and if you want to move something you just drag it to another list or move it to another board. It’s pretty awesome, and it’s also free to use. There is a premium Gold level that gives you a few extra features, but I never found them enticing enough to upgrade.
For super simple lists and brain dumps, WorkFlowy is clean and easy. It’s basically one big list that you segment however you like with sub-tasks (nested tasks), and you can have as many levels of subtasks that you need. Then you can zoom in to focus on just one segment of your list, or zoom out to see a big picture of everything. And it’s totally free as well.
I recently discovered Todoist and as far as task managers go, I think it’s the best. It does everything I need it to without being so complicated that I get lost in it, and the interface is gorgeous – clean and simple, easy to find what I need. You can use it on all your devices, and you can even send emails as tasks using a Chrome extension. I’ve tried so many other tools over the years (Things, Omnifocus, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, etc…) but none of them really worked. Todoist is free, or you can get a few more features by upgrading to premium – which is still only around $30/year.
This isn’t a task manager, but it’s a critical component in my workflow. I store files on Dropbox so I have easy access to them from my desktop computer, my laptop, tablet, and phone. Everything is in sync so I can access my files no matter where I am. A Dropbox Basic account is free and includes 2 GB of space, or you can upgrade to Pro for $19.99/month and get 2T of space. Then you can also earn more space by inviting friends and connecting apps. It’s easy to have lots of storage space without spending a lot of money.
Invoicing & Accounting
If you need robust accounting plus invoicing but the thought of using something like Quickbooks makes you want to run for the hills, try Xero. It’s $30/month and will do everything you need it to. I’ve used it for three years now and I love it. Plus, it’s easy to keep things up to date so it makes tax time a breeze. Click here to try Xero for free.
I was a loyal user of Freshbooks for many years before I found Xero, and it’s a great program. It handles invoicing, including recurring invoicing and automatic late reminders. Clients can log into their own account and see their history (which is handy at tax time), and you can also see whether or not an invoice has been viewed, so you can check in with the client if needed. You can also import all your expenses into Freshbooks, making it a good choice for simple accounting. Freshbooks also has time tracking, which is handy. Prices start at $15/mo and go up from there, depending on the features you need.
Calendar Management & Scheduling
Google Calendar & BusyCal
For my calendar, I use G Suite’s Google Calendar and BusyCal together. BusyCal is a desktop app for mac with an easy to use interface that connects to my Google Calendar. My Google Calendar then syncs to every other device I use, so I can access my calendar anywhere. BusyCal has a free 30-day trial, or you can purchase it from the Mac App store.
For scheduling phone meetings, rather than going back and forth with clients via email to find a time that works for everyone, I use Acuity Scheduling. I just send a link to my calendar, and the client picks a time that works for them. I can connect multiple calendars, set my availability, and let the system do the rest. I can also collect payments at the same time, so I can set up packages and client intake forms, and the client can purchase, complete their intake form, and schedule their session all at once. My clients love it because it’s so easy and it saves us all time.
Another good one is TimeTrade, which I used for years until I discovered Acuity. It’s great if all you want is the scheduling feature and only need to connect one calendar.
My email is hosted through G Suite (formerly called Google Apps for Work), which also gives me access to their entire suite of tools – including Google Calendar, Google Analytics, and Google Drive, which are the ones I use most. I highly recommend having Google host your email instead of your website hosting company. It’s good to keep things separate, and their spam filters are amazing. Use the coupon code 7CNHGV6V3NV7TV7 to get 20% off your first year.
Mailplane (mac only)
Mailplane is a desktop app for managing Google mail. I have tabs for all of my email accounts (personal and business), and I can check them all from one window. If you use a mac, it’s definitely a time saver.
This is a fairly new service, more robust than MailChimp but easier to use than InfusionSoft. I’ve been using it for a while now and it has fantastic features at a reasonable price point. One major difference between ConvertKit and Mailchimp is that with CK you have one list and you segment your subscribers by tags and forms, so you only pay for your subscriber once. Not like with Mailchimp, where if you have one person on multiple lists, each one counts toward your subscriber count (which costs you more money). And you can have an unlimited number of different forms, which means you can offer different things on different pages, and they all go back to the same place. It’s worth a look. Check out ConvertKit.
I used Mailchimp for many years before I found ConvertKit. Deliverability is critical, and they definitely pass that test. Mailchimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are some features that you can only get with a paid account, like Automation (autoresponders) and a few others, but unless you need autoresponders you’ll be fine with a free account. Their detailed reporting is also great, so if you like seeing how many times one person opened your email or what country they are in, you’ll like MailChimp over ConvertKit.
When you want to get more advanced and expand your optin forms with popups, slide-ins, split testing, etc., OptinMonster is fantastic. It’s easy to use with a ton of options, like setting delays or only showing to certain people, for example. So if you’re like me and you hate pop-ups, you can still tailor the optin forms to work in a way that you feel good about.
Online Meetings & Webinars
For webinars and group online meetings, I am loving CrowdCast. I’ve tried a bunch of different services over the years, but CrowdCast is just easy to use for me as well as my guests. It’s a clean interface with a chat section and a dedicated place for people to ask questions for me to answer, and I can share my screen if I want and bring people up on screen with me. They also have a mobile app so you can watch live or replays from any device. Support is fantastic too. Check out CrowdCast if you’re looking to do webinars or online meetings.
FreeConferenceCall provides a free conference phone line so you can hold meetings and record them. It’s easy to use and reliable, and great for when you don’t need video and want people to be able to call in internationally. The interface is a little clunky, but they are improving that and it doesn’t affect performance at all.
Square started out with that cute little plastic square thing that you could plug into your phone and swipe a credit card. Remember? Now they have expanded to chip readers, POS systems, and have a powerful web-based interface for invoicing and reporting. They have also taken things even further and now integrate appointment booking, marketing tools, payroll, and more. Seriously, check out Square.
Paypal has been around for a lifetime, it seems, so it deserves to have a place in this list. It’s a great way to collect payment online, but it’s also got a bad rap. I personally have never had a problem with it at all, but I’ve heard some horror stories about funds being locked up or accounts being closed. So while I do currently use Paypal, I can’t say it’s the best, especially with Square and Stripe as great options.
Stripe is a little tricker to use if you’re not a developer, but even that is changing as more and more software platforms integrate with it. All you need is a Stripe account to get started, and a place to connect it to. I have stripe connected to Xero so payment records are automatically imported for accounting purposes.
Social Media Management
If you want a clean interface, ease of use, and affordable price, check out Buffer. There is a free version that lets you schedule up to 10 updates at once, or you can upgrade to the Awesome Plan (yes that’s what it’s called) for just $10/month for unlimited updates and the ability to connect more social channels.
This is the new kid on the block…so new that at the time of this writing, it’s still in beta, but I’m liking it. SmarterQueue is like Edgar but better. You can bulk schedule posts and re-use evergreen posts from the library, like you can with Edgar, but you also have great analytics, and you can connect feeds for all your content resources so you always have something great to share without hunting for it. There’s a 14-day trial so you can click here to try it out for free.
Hootsuite allows you to see and interact with your social media feeds in one place. So you can read, tweet, retweet, etc. all right there. You can also schedule posts in advance, though there is no bulk scheduling at this time. Hootsuite has a free version that I use, but you can also upgrade for additional features and reporting.
Contracts and Faxing
When I need to get a document signed, I upload it to HelloSign and I’m done. The client receives an email to read the document, sign, and save. Then I receive an email confirmation and we’re good to go. There is a paid version and a free version. If you don’t need things signed frequently, the free version is probably good enough for you.
Yes, believe it or not, fax machines do still exist. On the rare occasion that someone requests a document from me by fax, I use HelloFax. It’s easy to use, connects with Google for faxing via email, and it also has signature capabilities, so you can sign a document digitally and send it back. There’s a free version and full-featured paid versions that start at $9.99/month.
Domain Registration & Website Hosting
For domain registration, I have used Namecheap for years. Their domains are reasonably priced and they don’t try to upsell you a bunch of crap you don’t need. They do offer hosting as well, but I only use them for registering domains. Plan on around $10/year, depending on which extension you choose (.com, .net, .io, etc.).
WiredTree Website Hosting
Hosting can be a bit of a crapshoot (because these companies are always changing), but I’ve had experience with a number of hosting companies over the years, and these days I’m recommending WiredTree out of Chicago. My website runs on a fast Dedicated VPS server, and I LOVE THEM. They’re not the cheapest kid on the block, but you get what you pay for. For me, support is everything, right after uptime, of course. Their hosting is fully managed, which means they are actually paying attention to your server round the clock, and whenever I have a question or need support, I can get an answer in minutes. I can even call them on the phone and a real person will answer. Imagine that. Plans start at $55/month.
WP Engine Website Hosting
Not ready to make the jump to WiredTree but still don’t want crappy shared hosting? Check out WP Engine. This is still a form of managed hosting, and their are some limitations on what plugins you can install, but that’s for a good reason, and it’s worth checking out. Save 20% off your first payment
There’s nothing better out there than the Genesis Framework, which is developed by Studiopress. Every website I build these days is done on Genesis, and they have a number of child themes that you can use. If you want to DIY it, you can purchase a child theme and set it up. If you want someone to do it for you, you can check out our Fresh Start Package to get your own customized version of a Studiopress child theme.
If you like feminine WordPress themes, check out Restored 316. These are child themes that use Genesis as well, but they have a much different look and feel than the Studiopress child themes do. You will need to purchase Genesis as well, if you want to use one of these.
I <3 Moo. Design your own or use one of their designs. Choose your style, your paper, and get it fast. You can also greeting cards, stickers, and more. I’m all about working with fun, forward-thinking companies who put the customer first, and Moo is at the top of the list.
1Password Password Manager
I’d be lost without 1Password. It lives on all my apple devices and keeps track of the hundreds of passwords I have. I know people who use LastPass, but I didn’t like it and 1Password works much better for me.
Professional Development + Tutorials
If you like to learn by watching instructors live, check out CreativeLive. There are many free live broadcasts, but you can purchase the replays after if you can’t attend live. There are some fantastic topics and instructors, so check out their free upcoming online courses)
If video tutorials are more your style, check out Lynda.com. Lynda is a real person, by the way. There are hundreds of great classes, and you get access through a low-cost monthly subscription.
This is another great source for online video-based courses, but this site doesn’t require a subscription. So you can look through the course catalogue and purchase only what you want to learn. There are often really good discounts as well, so get on their mailing list to get notified.
So there you have it! That’s the mega list of tools that I use to run my business. Have fun checking them all out!