17 Business Tools That Keep Me From (Completely) Losing My $%!&

Approximate reading time:7 minutes

Not to brag, but a lot of clients tell me they are so impressed with the way I run my business. Now, I really am not any more inherently organized than the next person. (Just ask my family and former students!) But because organization isn’t easy for me to maintain, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for good tools to help me. Because I love to see others succeed, I’m sharing my list of favorites here. I didn’t invent any of these, but some of these are affiliate links that will give me a small reward if you sign up. (They will be noted below.)

Organization/Productivty

Dubsado project dashboard

Just a small part of Dubsado’s dashboard functionality.

Dubsado (affiliate link) – I’ve already written an entire blog post singing the praises of Dubsado. But I can’t say enough good things about it! It is basically a computerized assistant that keeps my all my virtual paperwork straight, lets me communicate more easily with clients, and can even do my bookkeeping and time tracking for me. The only thing I would do differently is get professional setup help earlier. The company offers free 1:1 support sessions. There are a number of full-service Dubsado experts out in the world as well. Jen Rudd of Grow With Jen is my favorite, and she also has DIY options. (limited use free trial, paid plans start at $30/month, you get 20% off your first month or year using my link)

An example of a Trello board.

An example of a Trello board: my content publishing calendar THAT I FOLLOWED PERFECTLY I SWEAR.

Trello – As much as I want to love other task management sites, my allegiance still lies with my first love Trello. The interface hasn’t changed much since I started using it in 2012 but I don’t need it to look fancy if it works. I mostly keep lists for each category or project, and then move cards to a Done list after they’re completed. That way it’s easy to see what I still have left. I use Trello to manage big ongoing projects within my own business, and have recently started using it with on large web design projects with clients. (free plan, extra Trello Gold features available starting at $5/month)

Passion Planner – While I love the digital tools listed above, I have found that there’s still nothing quite as satisfying as physically checking something off on paper. For whatever reason, it’s easier for me to visualize my week and plan my time in a paper planner even though I also use Google Calendar. Passion Planner has been my favorite planner for 3 years running, and you can read a full love letter here. ($35 and up)

Communication

Calendly – This scheduling page cuts down on back-and-forth e-mails when trying to schedule calls or meetings. You set your availability and then send a link to clients to let them choose a slot that works for them. Boom, all done! Calendly also talks to your Google Calendar or iCal and automatically blocks out slots where you’ve got something else scheduled. I am thrifty and use the free plan, which only gives me one appointment type, but it works for now. Paid upgrades allow for different types of appointments. (limited feature free plan, paid plan starts at $8/month)

ConvertKit or MailerLite – When it comes to e-mail marketing providers, ConvertKit was my first love that I religiously neglected for a year. They don’t have a free plan, unfortunately, so I eventually switched over to MailerLite, which functions very similarly and is free for under 1,000 subscribers. (Which I’m sure I’ll be at for…a long time.) Most e-mail marketing services have very similar list-building, segmenting, and automation functions. This is mostly personal preference, but I found Mailchimp to be just a bit clunkier than I would like. (ConvertKit starts at $29/month, MailerLite’s paid plans start at $10/month)

Content Creation

Adobe Creative Cloud – Now I’m cheating a bit because I’ve been messing around in Adobe since approximately fourth grade. Not gonna lie, the learning curve for Adobe software can be pretty steep. (Though, on the other hand, I mastered the basics of InDesign in about an hour.) But there is nothing that can touch Adobe’s programs for graphic design, photo editing and manipulation, print layouts, and illustration. If design is a big part of your work, you probably already know how to use Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’re dying to upgrade your visuals and have a lot of patience and time, there are lots of video tutorials online, though I learned mostly just by trial and error. (limited use free trial, individual apps start at $21/month)

Canva – Having spent a decade and a half mastering Adobe, it was actually kind of hard for me to learn how to use Canva. Not because the user interface was particularly difficult…I guess I was just used to doing things the complicated way! Canva is a web-based design tool that can produce designs for both web and print. It has a large gallery of free and paid design assets that you can use including photos, clipart, and templates. It’s great for someone who needs decent graphics quickly. (free, team features start at $12.95)

Content Scheduling

Example of a Hootsuite dashboard.

Example of a Hootsuite free plan dashboard. You can clearly see how much attention I pay to my social media marketing…

Hootsuite – This is the all-purpose workhorse of content scheduling. I’ve used both the free and paid plans for myself and for client work. The free plan is fully functional, but you are limited in how many channels you can use. The interface is pretty simple and supports all the major social media channels. The one downside is that it suffers a tiny bit from master-of-none syndrome. That said, if you only want to learn and pay for one system, this is probably it. (limited-feature free trial, paid plans start at $19/month)

Planoly planner interface

Planoly’s planner interface. Very simple and pretty! ….but doesn’t do Pinterest…

Planoly – This app is a popular Instagram planner and was (I think) the first to have grid preview functionality. Planoly does one thing and does it well: create beautiful, robustly functional Instagram marketing. I have not used the paid plan but with it you can create shoppable posts if you are a brand or influencer. (limited-feature free trial, paid plans start at $7/month)

Tailwind dashboard

Tailwind is the holy grail for me, since I only really use Instagram and Pinterest (which functions quite differently from most social media platforms).

Tailwind – Originally designed for Pinterest, Tailwind now includes Instagram scheduling features that include the grid preview, so I now use Tailwind almost exclusively for what little bit of social media marketing I do. (limited-use free trial, paid plan starts at $15/month)

WordPress/Website Stuff

X Theme – I now design almost exclusively with X theme because I love the modularity and different content blocks I can create without hashing through a sea of code. It includes Cornerstone, a robust page builder, a ton of customizable options, and 30 additional premium plugins for things like dynamic opt-in forms, sliders, and more. ($59)

Siteground – My recommended web host. Their plans are affordable and the support is awesome. They’ve even just done stuff I needed for me, which has greatly reduced the number of times I’ve burned down the Internet.

Community

Diamond Membership – I am typically not one to pay for “memberships” or “masterminds” or whatever exclusive club you want me to be in, but I knew I wanted to be part of the Diamond Membership. This group was started by my business coach, and I knew that it was going to have only the realest and dopest people and content. And they do. Adam and Allie attract talented, authentic people by being talented, authentic people. There’s a monthly capsule of content for small business owners and a cool group of entrepreneurs to bounce questions off of.

Education

Mike Albert’s “How to Write a Proposal That Gets You Hired on Upwork” – I find myself sharing this article at least once a month with someone who wants to know how to get started freelancing. Upwork gave me a great start and it’s what I recommend for anyone who wants to freelance. Mike set a goal to earn $100K in a year as a fractional CFO and documented that journey on his blog. This article about winning proposals is golden and has improved my business and confidence a lot.

Melyssa Griffin’s Pinterest Strategies – Melyssa’s post about 3 easy Pinterest strategies is all the Pinterest training I’ve ever done. I don’t pretend to be an Pinterest expert, but neither do I pretend to care that much about my Pinterest traffic…it would just be nice to have some. I think she has a free webinar on Pinterest as well as a paid course, neither of which I have done. This blog post is thorough, practical, and a great resource just on its own.

Val Geisler– Val is really, really, really smart. She was also once honest enough to tell me that I wasn’t ready to pay her for e-mail marketing consultation. Which I appreciate! So for now I read her blog and newsletter where she tears into e-mail campaigns and shares all the take-home lessons. Check out her website and just search for things like “welcome sequence” or “e-commerce” to learn valuable tips.

 

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