My favourite online tools and apps I use to run my business
I love a business tools post, don’t you?
Finding out what tools other business owners use to run their business? I first wrote a post on the software and apps I use in my business about a year ago but thought it was time to write an updated version as a few key ones have changed. So here you go with the 2019 run down.
1. Asana – project management
Towards the end of year one of my business, I realised that I needed to clarify and ‘set’ my client process – so that it was clear to both my clients and me exactly what was happening at any given time. Cue Asana. I had used it before but had never used it properly - for actual project management I mean. It’s one of those tools that the more you commit to using it, the more you see how brilliant it is and it becomes an integral part of your business and life.
If you connect your business domain to Asana when you set up your account, you can have three levels of organisation: teams, projects and tasks. So my teams are not actually teams like you’d have in a big company, because it’s just me here. But I use teams for the different areas of my business, such as client work, internal processes, and then I have one called personal too. Within each team I set up projects so, for example, in client work I have a project for each client’s website project that I’m working on. I can then invite that client to share the project and they have access to it where all of the tasks that each of us have to do are clearly set out.
For client work this is one aspect I love - I run the whole project within Asana so communication with clients is almost exclusively inside Asana. Everything is there, in one place and gone are the days of trawling through endless email chains to find one key bit of information!
Projects are broken down into individual tasks (and you can even have sub tasks too!) which you can assign to yourself or others, as well as due dates. Due dates are absolutely key because without them you just have a long list of tasks that never get done!
I could make a whole post about Asana so I won’t go into any more detail now. Having tried out quite a few project management tools (eg Trello, ClickUp), Asana is where my heart lies. The beauty is that it’s free (although there is a paid, premium version) and you can use it in as simple or detailed way as you like. Well worth a look if you haven’t tried it already.
2. Dubsado - to organise and communicate with clients
I’ve been using Dubsado since I started my business as my CRM (client relationship manager) software. That sounds very technical but it’s where I keep details of all of my clients, proposals, contracts, invoices and payment schedules. To be honest, in the autumn I started to look at whether I could manage without it completely. And I probably could but I think the chaos would overwhelm me. Without Dubsado, for example, I would have to create each client’s contract from scratch (or copy and paste and hope that I had changed over all of the details each time!). It’s the automation I love – when it’s time to send out a proposal to a client, I know that once they have picked the package they want, the contract and invoice will auto populate with the client details, package details and price. It just happens, like that! Without me having to spend ages tinkering around. It really does save so much time once you’re set up.
You can also set up fully automated workflows – such a huge timesaver.
Have a look for yourself at Dubsado for your self (affiliate link) – it's completely free for your first three clients and then you’ll get 20% off your first month or year subscription via this link or with the code ‘esdubsado’.
3. Plann – Instagram planning & scheduling
This isn’t a new one to the list but there is a brilliant new version of Plann that’s just been launched – on desktop! I hate typing anything on my phone, particularly long captions for Instagram. So to be able to do that on Plann is perfect for me and then set an alert when it’s time to post. Plann does not post automatically to Instagram which suits me because I like to keep a bit of control when it’s time to post – what if I want to change something! You can also save hashtag lists which I didn’t used to be a fan of but I’ve now got very specific lists, for example, called ‘Squarespace’ or ‘small business’ and I include multiple hashtag lists in one post.
Find out more about Plann (affiliate link) to get $10 credit if you choose a paid account.
4. Starling Bank - personal and business banking
Starling is a UK mobile only bank that I’ve been using for my business account for a few months. And I love it! So much so that I have recently switched my personal account to Starling too. Apart from free business banking, it’s the small things like notifying me that direct debits are due to come out the next day rather than sending me a text along the lines of “oops you’re overdrawn and now we’re going to charge you” which my old bank did!
Find out more at https://www.starlingbank.com. They also featured me in a blog post recently which you can read at https://www.starlingbank.com/blog/turning-hobby-into-business/.
5. ConvertKit - email marketing
This time last year I wasn’t using ConvertKit but instead managed my email list with Mailerlite. Now Mailerlite is great and cheaper than ConvertKit (they have a free plan which ConvertKit doesn’t and even after that the first paid plan is cheaper). So why am I not using it? Well like all of these business tools, it’s a horses for courses thing. I do recommend Mailerlite to clients if they don’t want to use Mailchimp – so it’s definitely worth having a look at. Every now and then over the last few months I've had another look at it but something keeps pulling me back to ConvertKit!
Partly it’s the whole look and feel of ConvertKit when you log in. Don’t laugh, the look of an app’s interface can be make or break for a lot of people – I'm not alone! Although ConvertKit doesn’t have a drag and drop template or email editor, for example, the focus is on keeping email broadcasts as simple as possible with not too many bells and whistles (which can affect deliverability). The email editor and template editor are having a makeover as I write and I've been involved in beta testing both of them, which are going to be fantastic when they’re ready to be launched.
Subscriber tagging and automation in ConvertKit are complete winners too as far as I’m concerned. Subscribers can have multiple tags so you can really hone in on what they’re interested in and which of your content they have responded to. Automations can be as simple or as sophisticated as you need them to be – there’s real flexibility to use automations pretty much any way you need them to work.
ConvertKit is particularly great if you want to use lead magnets (freebies) to encourage people to sign up to your list. It makes it very easy to automate sending out freebies and you can have multiple ones all over your website if you want to.
Try ConvertKit for yourself with a 14 day free trial (affiliate link).
6. Wave – for accounting & bookkeeping
This time last year I used Xero, which is fantastic but you have to pay for it. My accounting software needs are pretty straight forward for Every September and paying £20 ish per month didn’t seem good value to me for what I need. Then I discovered Wave, which is completely free. I think it has everything that you’d expect to find with any accounting software except the price tag. You can set up a bank feed or add your transactions manually and it’s pretty straightforward and intuitive to use.
7. Tailwind – Pinterest scheduling
I have recently started using Tailwind again as I’m having a real push on using Pinterest properly for my business. If you’ve not heard of it, you can use Tailwind to schedule your pins to Pinterest (and also posts to Instagram but I’ve never used that part). You set up a schedule, telling Tailwind how often you’d like to post, and it automatically chooses the best times of day to pin. You can override the suggested schedule but I trust Tailwind to know better than me on that one!
You then sync Tailwind with your Pinterest boards and as you add images to Tailwind you tell it which board(s) to add the pin to. The scheduled pin then gets added to the queue and when it’s time to post, Tailwind does it for you.
Even more recently I’ve started using Tailwind Tribes. You join different tribes based on what’s relevant for your business and Pinterest account. Then, you pin to the tribe, the idea being that, generally, for every pin you add, you share somebody else’s content from that tribe on your own Pinterest account (scheduled via Tailwind). The result can be a large number of shares very quickly after you’ve added your pin and fantastic reach for your pins – far greater than most of us can usually hope to achieve on Pinterest!
If you fancy giving Tailwind a spin, my affiliate link will give you a $15 credit if you decide to sign up for a paid account. You don’t have to pay to use Tailwind but the features are restricted for the free version. If you fancy just using Tailwind Tribes you can do that completely free.
8. Canva – graphic design & photo editing
Although I also use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Canva is fantastic for creating any sort of graphics, business document, lead magnets – you name it. It’s much easier to use than Adobe products and so it should be – it doesn’t have all those bells and whistles. But it is a brilliant and versatile bit of software and I love using it. And it’s free (there’s a paid version but you can definitely manage without that).
I also recommend Canva Photo Editor for quick edits to images – cropping and resizing are what I use it for most.
Have you tried these tools?
Or do you have your own ‘must use’ apps and software that I haven’t mentioned?