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Top 10 Small Business Tools

By October 11, 2016Business
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In my past few years of running my business, I have gone through quite a bit of trial and error to find the perfect programs to help me manage and maintain my online business. With just about all of my business conducted virtually, it’s crucial for me to use only the most user friendly and cost effective programs that help make both my own work easier, but more importantly the experience my clients have with me easier as well. My motto this year has been simple, but significant, so today I’m sharing my top 10 online business tools that I personally use to run my own business.

Every business is different so every business’ needs will be different. So while these programs work great for me, there might be others out there more useful to you, but hopefully you walk away with some new tips or tools to help you create that ideal online client experience.

My Top 10 Tools I Use to Run My Online Business

And how I use them to create a streamlined client experience. 

My Top 10 Tools Click to Tweet quote.

When going through all the various tools I use throughout my work day to manage and maintain my business, I tried to think in terms of the various areas in which they are used: Design, Website, Marketing, Project Management, Email, Invoicing…etc. As an online Small Business owner, using the best programs for my business is imperative in building and maintaining a successful business. The following tools are just a few of my favorites that I personally recommend to all of my small business clients.

I am an affiliate to a few of these companies, but none of the links below are affiliate links as I believe in you making the best decision for your brand because it really is the right fit for you and not just because I get a kick back for recommending it.

1. HOSTING: WPEngine

WHAT IS IT:  WordPress Website Hosting perfected (seriously – that’s not just their tagline). While you might not consider hosting to technically be a tool, but when it comes to maintaining a smooth and secure website, it is hugely important.

WHY I LOVE IT: WPEngine is by far my favorite host company because of their excellent speed, maximized security, and by far the most amazing customer service you could ever ask for in a host. Unlike other hosts, WPEngine offers all inclusive packages for small business owners operating their online business. This includes 100% guaranteed daily backups (no more random backup plugins or fear of losing content), CDN included for optimized images and content, as well as 24 hour customer service where you don’t talk to a machine or send in support tickets, but you speak to a real individual who can help you understand any issues you may be facing and walk you through the best solutions.

HOW I USE IT: I use WPEngine as my own personal host for not only our own site, but the majority of our clients sites as well. I know that when I refer a client to them, they are going to be taken care of with the utmost respect and attention so I know that I’m referring a very technical side of my business to pros who have my clients best interest in mind.  

As a website design team, my developer and I use WP engine for all of our staging sites for our website design clients. Providing them with an interactive website build experience that they can engage with through each step of the build process and providing them with the most professional platform to view their new site on. With password protected staging install options, we keep our clients information private until they are ready to launch, but allow them to test, monitor, and get private feedback before launching, giving our clients the most professional end product. 

2. EMAIL: GSuite

WHAT IS IT:  “All you need to do your best work, together in one package that works seamlessly from your computer, phone or tablet.” Literally. This is a pretty popular program that’s been around for a while so I know that most of you are probably already using it or have heard of it before. G Suite (formally know as Google Apps for Work) allows me to use my custom domain name for my own Gmail email address. Allowing me to use my professional name while working within the Gmail interface and having access to all the other programs within the Google family.

WHY I LOVE IT: I love that I can maintain that professional look with my [email protected] email instead of the alternative [email protected] email address. This helps maintain my brands consistency and gives off the sense of professionalism I want to convey online to my clients. But I get to continue using my favorite email program that I’m already so comfortable using and be logged into all my accounts at one time v.s. Having to log-out and log-in to multiple different accounts in order to get all my mail.

HOW I USE IT: Other than my own professional email address, I use many of the Google programs for my business including Google+ Hangouts, Google analytics, and Gmail for my personal accounts, so maintaining all of this from one platform is incredibly helpful.

3. DIGITAL BACKUPS + FILE ORGANIZATION: Dropbox

WHAT IS IT: Again, another well known and popular program, you’re probably already familiar with Dropbox either for personal or professional reasons. Dropbox’s whole goal is to simplify the ways you create, organize, share, and collect content – be in images, graphics, content, music, or video.

WHY I LOVE IT: I love that no matter where I am, I always have access to my most important files and documents that I need in order to run and maintain my business. The user interface is incredibly easy to use and even with updates, the learning curve of Dropbox’s systems are always consistent and minimal, making the way I run my business easier and faster.

HOW I USE IT: I use it to organize all the files and important information for my business. For myself, I use it to have a hard copy of all critical information for my business; proposals, templates, programs, packages, website content, and client information.

For client’s I’m able to create folders in which we are able to share content back and forth as we work through projects together with little to no learning curve on the client end. I also am able to share all final design files with clients at the completion of a project so they can begin using their brand immediately instead of waiting for the mailed USB drive I send with hard copies of files.

I definitely tried investing in one of the personal cloud options and stepping away from the monthly Dropbox service fees, but with so much of my business already invested in Dropbox, I wasn’t able to fully transfer over and the syncing of the programs wasn’t nearly as fast as Dropbox, so it is still the dominant tool I use for filing and organization.

4. SCHEDULING: Calendly

WHAT IS IT: Completely eliminate the email tag game when it comes to scheduling meetings and events with clients, especially on different time zones.  Calendly is an online scheduling tool that allows you to create specific types of events with independent criteria that you can use for scheduling client meetings, appointments, events, and anything else you can think ok. You have complete control over your availability, breaks in between appointments, and how many appointments can be booked in a single day.

WHY I LOVE IT: This is probably my favorite tool of all. Calendly has completely revolutionized my business when it comes to project and client schedulings. It has eliminated the email-tag game of back and forth correspondence, discussing availability and postponing the intake process of clients instead of getting started right away. This has saved me so much time in helping connect with more people as well as eliminate any issues that can arise when working in different time zones or with international clients.

HOW I USE IT: I use Calendly for all client meetings and booking appointments. Whether they are for brand coaching, design consults, or initial meetings, Calendly allows me to link to my Google Calendar (associated with my Google Apps for Work email address) and input my availability once, and have it displayed so that my clients can book times that work best in their schedule for them to connect with me. The program also allows me to take in important information such as name, email and Skype names for video chats. I can also set reminders that automatically go out to my clients in predetermined increments helping them to make their appointments on time and significantly cutting out the number of missed appointments. The reminder emails also allow my clients to reschedule or cancel appointments up till 24 hours before an event so that they can reschedule for a better time for them, while not taking up any of my time to deal with rescheduling or additional emails.

5. PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Basecamp

WHAT IS IT: Basecamp is one of the leading online-based project management and collaboration tools. With functions that include things like To-do lists, files, messages, discussions, calendars and schedules,  milestones, and more, this program really has it all.

WHY I LOVE IT: I love the organizational elements of this program, allowing me to keep all project content in one place for me and anyone else relevent to the project to access at any point. Instead of going back and forth with emails that have the potential to get lost or deleted, I have confidence that all critical information can be organized in a safe and secure way. I also love that I can share access to projects with clients or other subcontractors on a project to project basis and can control which discussions or comments are shared with the client v.s. Subcontractors, or everyone involved.

HOW I USE IT: I use Basecamp for all of my website design projects. Depending on the project, I might have anywhere from 1 to 3 or more subcontractors (developers, photographers, SEO analysts, and clients) on a project. Basecamp allows me to share access to project files and information with all the most important people. I am then able to archive a project when it is finished, opening up space for future projects, but if a client ever comes back for additional work or new projects, I can pull back up the archived work and immediately jump back in where we left off without having to search through files or emails to get information I know I already had before.

My clients or subcontractors also don’t have to have their own account or pay for any memberships as all work and access is included under my own subscription. This makes teaching them how to use the program so much easier and eliminates stress or anxiety over learning a new program.

6. INVOICING: PayPal

WHAT IS IT: PayPal is a popular online payment gateway for invoicing and both making or taking in payments online.

WHY I LOVE IT: While there may be other, better payment programs out on the market to use, PayPal has always worked for me so why fix what’s not broken. I love that not only is PayPal a safe and reliable program for my business, it’s been around a while and therefore has the confidence of many online shoppers who trust their account information is safe when they use PayPal.

HOW I USE IT: I use PayPal on my site for my eCommerce payment programs and any on site purchases I offer in the form of workbooks or Brand Coaching, as well as custom invoicing my clients for more personal design work and website design. I am able to duplicate invoices to maintain information and consistency amongst my invoicing, as well as schedule out invoices in advance and brand them with my own logo and formatting. Maintaining consistency amongst my invoicing systems helps make balancing the financial site of my business easier and gives my clients the confidence when it comes to making investments with me.

7. EMAIL MARKETING: Mailchimp

WHAT IS IT: Mailchimp is one of the most popular email campaign and list collection brands for small business owners and bloggers all over the world. Mailchimp allows you to collect emails, create targeted lists, run email campaigns, send newsletters, and collect analytics to improve your email marketing strategies over time.

WHY I LOVE IT: I love it because if you have less than 2000 subscribers, it’s free. For small business owners, when you’re just starting out, and don’t have a large list, this is a great platform to help familiarize yourself with online email marketing and experiment with various marketing strategies to help create a branded email experience for your followers without having to spend a monthly fee.

HOW I USE IT: When working with startups or businesses who are new to email marketing, I recommend Mailchimp to them to help begin to learn how they want to use email marketing to elevate their brand. For website design clients, I help them create lists and campaigns that we can create opt-ins for on their sites, helping to increase their list from day one, even while they are still figuring everything else out.

8. EDITORIAL CALENDAR: CoSchedule

WHAT IS IT: CoSchedule is an all in one content marketing and scheduling program that links up wiht your WordPress website so you can log into one platform and manage not only your site, but your blog, your social media accounts, and any promotions you want to do.

WHY I LOVE IT: I love the simplicity of logging into my site and having access to any of my primary social platforms and scheduling my content in a very user friendly interface. This makes delegating my editorial scheduling work to my assistant so much easier as the learning curve to understand the program is low and incredibly manageable.

HOW I USE IT: With the exception of Pinterest, I use CoSchedule to manage and schedule any and all of my social content. I am able to schedule out blog posts and social sharing of my content to my primary platforms as well as some of the smaller programs I want to include my content on but don’t commit too much more of my own time on. I also use CoSchedule to schedule out all of my private Facebook Group’s daily posts. This lets me spend more time engaging my community instead of more time writing and posting content.

9. DESIGN: Canva for Work

WHAT IS IT: Canva is a Graphic Design program to help designers and non-designers alike to create professional quality graphics for social media and beyond.

WHY I LOVE IT: I personally love canva because it gives my clients a way to better utilize the work we do together and empowers them to have control over their brand’s identity. Instead of relying on myself to create graphics for them, or having to spend money and time learning design software like Photoshop or Illustrator, Canva makes it attainable for my clients to create a consistent Brand Identity and stand out in their market.

HOW I USE IT: I personally use Canva for my own social graphics. Anything design related, I use Photoshop or Illustrator, but for more regulated graphics or promos, Canva makes it easier and faster for me to maintain the simpler pieces in my social strategy. But professionally, after each design project, I offer a Canva For Work custom Template design package to help my clients create editable design resources to assist them in maintaining their new brand identity. From setting up the account to a one-on-one teaching session after, Canva allows me to help my clients take their small businesses to a more elevated level of success.

10. SOCIAL MEDIA: BoardBooster (Pinterest) 

WHAT IS IT: BoardBooster is a Pin scheduling tool for bloggers and small business owners who rely on Pinterest as a major traffic driver. It works as a scheduling and account management program to help you maximize your efforts on Pinterest.

WHY I LOVE IT: I personally just started using BoardBooster after switching from Tailwind. BoardBooster has some incredible features including scheduling your pins with specific metrics per board as well as my new favorite feature, looping pins. Looping pins allows me to pin as many times a day by recycling older pins that might still be completely relevent but so far down in my boards that new followers might not see them. So instead of repinning the same content on a board over and over again, this feature assists in elongating the life of a pin by helping re-expose it to my newer followers.

HOW I USE IT: Pinterest is by far my number one traffic driver so being able to manage and maintain a consistent presence on Pinterest through my own boards as well as group boards I contribute to is a MUST. BoardBooster allows me to spend less time on Pinterest pinning new pins by recycling older content that is still 100% useful. This let’s me stay picky with my content and only selecting the most useful resources instead of mad pinning each day in order to hit my max number of pins to maintain my activity levels of Pinterest. Quality over quantity is what BoardBooster is all about.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE?

These are only a few of the tools I personally use to manage and maintain my online small business, but there are so many more out there that are equally if not more perfect for you and your business. With the goals to help you maximize your online presence and look as professional online as you are in person, these are my top 10 tools I recommend for small business owners.

TOOL TIP!

Just about every tool on this list (and pretty much every online program on the market today) offers free trials for you to test out and see if you like the program. Take advantage of this offer before investing any money into a program you might not need or might not be a good fit for you. When a learning curve is involved in understanding a new program or app, not having to pay for that learning time is a huge help to us small business owners with minimal marketing and investment budgets to spend on our own brands.


What do you use?

What other tools do you use and recommend for other small business owners? Which programs do you swear by or couldn’t run your business without? I am always on the look out for new programs and resources to recommend to our clients so please share your favorites in the comments below.

Do you know of a small business owner who could benefit from some of the tools in this post? Please this share with them, and hopefully they too will walk away with some new ways to elevate and grow their small business online.

If you have any questions about any of these programs, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask. I would never recommend anything I don’t personally use myself so I am more than happy to offer up any more information about any of them if you are considering in investing in them for your business.

Sincerely,

Julie & Steve signature.

SO, HOW CAN WE HELP YOU BUILD YOUR BRAND?

WEBSITE DESIGN       BRANDING & LOGO DESIGN              CONTACT


PHOTO CREDIT: © Raw Pixel 

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Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

Julie Harris is the founder and lead designer of Whiskey & Red. Based out of Woodland Park, Colorado, Whiskey & Red specializes in small business branding and WordPress website design. They collaborate with small business owners, at all levels of industry, helping them translate their offline business into an online digital experience.

6 Comments

  • Clay Smith says:

    Hi there Julie,

    This post really makes sense to me, that’s why I decided to comment, because believe me or not I don’t do it often.

    I didn’t know about scheduling app, I’ll check it out and notify about an experience that I’ll gain.

    I’m waiting to see more.

    Cheers,

    Clay Smith

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Clay. I’m honored you decided to share your feedback with us here. Definitely let me know what you think of the scheduling app. I believe you are talking about Calendly the appointment scheduling app. It’s truly amazing. I don’t know how I ever existed without it.

  • Virginia says:

    Coincided, Mailchimp seems to me excellent tool, Coschedual too, but it is still a little expensive for me, for dating use “Bookly” I find it excellent and simple for customers. Also as an organizer I really like “Asana” especially when you want to focus on finishing a project. Very nice post Julie!

    • Julie Harris says:

      I’ve heard of “Bookly” but having always used “Calendly”, I’ve yet to try it out, but if I ever think I need to make a change, I’ll definitely check it out. Same with “Asana”, we use “Basecamp”, but we’ve heard great things about Asana and I’ve been referring clients to it who can’t afford Basecamp’s monthly fee. Both great referrals Virginia! Thank you!

  • Tiffany says:

    Thanks for the list. I’m already using some of these. I also find GetResoponse’s marketing automation very useful.

    • Julie Harris says:

      Oooo that’s a new one for us. We’ll have to check out GetResponse. Thank you so much for the resource recommendation, Tiffany!

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