When going through all the various tools we use throughout our workday to manage and maintain our business, we tried to think in terms of the various areas in which they are used: Design, Website, Marketing, Project Management, Email, Invoicing…etc. As online Small Business owners, using the best programs for our business is imperative in building and maintaining a successful business. The following tools are just a few of our favorites that we personally recommend to all of our small business clients.
These are our favorite small business resources that we use on almost every project. While some of the below are affiliate links, we recommend all of them regardless.
1. Hosting: WP Engine
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 We Love It: WP Engine is by far our favorite host company because of its 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 We Use It: We use WP Engine as our own host for not only our own site, but the majority of our clients’ sites as well. We know that when we refer a client to them, they are going to be taken care of with the utmost respect and attention, so we know that we’re referring a very technical side of our business to pros who have our clients’ best interest in mind.
As a website design team, we 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: G Suite
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 we know that most of you are probably already using it or have heard of it before. G Suite (formally known as Google Apps for Work) allows us to use our custom domain name for our own Gmail email address. Allowing us to use our professional name while working within the Gmail interface and having access to all the other programs within the Google family.
Why We Love It: We love that we can maintain that professional look with our @whiskeyandred.com email instead of the alternative @gmail.com email address. This helps maintain our brand’s consistency and gives off the sense of professionalism we want to convey online to our clients. But we get to continue using our favorite email program that we’re already so comfortable using and be logged into all our accounts at one-time v.s. Having to log-out and log-in to multiple different accounts in order to get all our mail.
How We Use It: Other than our own professional email address, we use many of the Google programs for our business including Google Analytics, Google Drive, Google Docs and Sheets for our 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 We Love It: We love that no matter where we are, we always have access to our most important files and documents that we need in order to run and maintain our 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 we run our business easier and faster.
How We Use It: We use it to organize all the files and important information for our business. We use it to have a hard copy of all critical information for our business; proposals, templates, programs, packages, website content, and client information.
For clients, we’re 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. We also are 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 we send with hard copies of files.
We definitely tried investing in one of the personal cloud options and tried stepping away from the monthly Dropbox service fees, but with so much of our business already invested in Dropbox, we weren’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 we 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 in 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 We Love It: Calendly has completely 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 us 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. Calendly also now connects to Google Chrome, allowing you to add schedulers easily into your emails, and even provides invoicing options, taking in payments for consults or other hourly appointment fees.
How We Use It: *We no longer use Calendly as we’ve moved to Dubsado, but before our switch, we used Calendly for all client meetings and booking appointments. Whether they are for brand coaching, design consults, or initial meetings, Calendly allowed us to link to our Google Calendar (associated with our Google Apps for Work email address) and input our availability once, and have it displayed so that our clients can book times that work best in their schedule for them to connect with us. We could also set reminders that automatically go out to our 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 our 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 our time to deal with rescheduling or additional emails.
5. Client and Project Management: Dubsado
What Is It: Dubsado is a Business Management Solution, combining both a CMS and internal project or team management program into one epic platform that can handle it all. You can schedule appointments, create workflows, create questionnaires, canned email templates, organize projects through client portals, invoice clients either for single projects or recurring monthly work, sign contracts, submit proposals, and more.
Why We Love It: This program truly changed our business. We went from everything within our intake and booking process being manual, to everything being streamlined, organized, and partially automated, giving us back HOURS in our workday to focus on other areas of our business. Their interface is clean and intuitive to use, their client portal is fabulous, and best of all, their customer service is top-shelf. Dubsado offers an excellent free trial or you can book a demo with their support team and experience all that Dubsado can bring to your business.
How We Use It: While we mention quite a few other programs in this post that do specific functionality (scheduling, bookkeeping, invoicing, etc…) This program does all of them and more. We have an embedded Dubsado form on our contact page that immediately streamlines any potential inquiries we receive into our CMS. We have auto-scheduling emails and reminders that sync with our Google Calendar to make booking appointments and rescheduling easier for us and our clients. We use it for all of our project proposals, contracts, and project invoicing. Their Workflow system allows us to streamline so much of what used to take hours of our manual time to write emails, send drafts, and submit questionnaires. We even submit design drafts through them, allowing us to keep almost an entire project process under one platform, streamlining our client’s access to their project files and creating a whole new level of transparency in our design process.
Clients don’t need to pay for an account in order to access their client portal we create for each project, and the workflow automation helps ensure deadlines aren’t missed and that all communication is organized in an easily accessible platform.
6. Payments: Stripe
What Is It: Stripe has quickly become the new standard in online payments.
Why We Love It: Stripe integrates and works well with client management solutions, eCommerce shops and just about everything in our business. Stripe has a simple interface that is understandable and doesn’t require any of the programmer-level knowledge that PayPal can force on you. A simple, trusted and reliable credit card processing program.
How We Use It: We use Stripe to process almost every online payment for our business. Maintaining consistency amongst our invoicing and processing systems helps make balancing the financial side of our business easier and gives our clients confidence when it comes to making investments with us.
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 We Love It: We 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 We Use It: When working with startups or businesses who are new to email marketing, we recommend Mailchimp to help them begin learning how to use email marketing to elevate their brand. For website design clients, we 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. Invoicing and Bookkeeping: Quickbooks Online
What Is It: Quickbooks Online streamlines the entire financial side of our business. It’s easy to keep accurate books, send invoices, and set quarterly reminders.
Why We Love It: Quickbooks Online is easy to use, affordable and keeps our business organized. We have a consistent goal to always spend less time on the administration of our business and more time doing actual projects. Quickbooks is a huge part of that.
How We Use It: All expenses are tracked directly through Quickbooks by connecting to our bank. We can easily upload all receipts and send invoices, both recurring and single. We are able to track all business mileage with their app. It also connects directly to our client management solution, Dubsado.
9. Design: Canva Pro
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 We Love It: We personally love Canva because it gives our 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 us to create graphics for them, or having to spend money and time learning design software like Photoshop or Illustrator, Canva makes it attainable for our clients to create a consistent Brand Identity and stand out in their market.
How We Use It: We offer a Canva Pro custom Template design package to help our 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 us to help our clients take their small businesses visual marketing to a more elevated level of professionalism and success.
10. Spelling & Grammar: Grammarly
What Is It: Spelling and grammar checker that works almost everywhere on your computer. From Gmail emails to WordPress text boxes, compose clear, mistake-free writing.
Why We Love It: Spelling errors had been a long-term issue for us until we found this tool. We started with their free account and have since upgraded to their paid version which offers more suggestions and writing tips.
How We Use It: Every written word in our business goes through Grammarly. Blog posts, page content, and every single email are checked by Grammarly. This has greatly helped with keeping a clean and professional brand experience.
But What About Everything Else?
These are only a few of the tools we personally use to manage and maintain our 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 we recommend for small business owners.
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.
Every business is different so every business’s needs will be different. So while these programs work great for us, 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.