I get asked all the time about what tools and services I use to run my business. While I’ll often test out new services and products, I’m a firm believer in using well-supported software. I’d rather use the industry standard rather than a fly-by-night new app or software that may not be in business next year. Plus, when you use standard systems, you’re more likely to find integration between other systems – allowing you to connect and automate tasks.
One thing I see a lot of people do is try to use only free tools – and often that can cost you more in time. Pro tools can get you there faster. I have no problem spending money if it saves me time. My rule of thumb – if it’s under $150 and will save me an hour or more – it’s a done deal. Then every quarter I will evaluate my tools and get rid of any “money leaks.” If I’m not using it, out it goes.
What follows is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use, why I use them, what they cost me and what I do to save money.
(Note: some of these services have free or discounted plans – I note what I pay for them. Please also note that some of these links are affiliate links – and all of these are actual products I use in my own business).
Trying to grow your business? The first thing you’ve got to get in order is your schedule. No room = no time to create. Get off the hamster wheel and give yourself space by blocking time and using systems to book appointments.
Google Calendar – Free
My life lives in here. I use color blocks to outline different types of work (like design time, consulting and meetings). I setup recurring blocks to hold space for my daily workouts. I also set aside time each week to focus on my own business (This time is used for things like writing blog posts, newsletters and updating my website).
Calendly – $50 / year
Stop the scheduling runaround. Get a system where people can set their own appointment time. This will save you countless emails and valuable hours. Calendly integrates with my Google calendar – so I can easily block off time when I’m not available. I simply send a link to someone and they’re able schedule a meeting at a time that works for them. Genius.
Acuity Scheduling – Free +
Need to have someone schedule and pay at the same time? Many of my friends are huge fans of Acuity Scheduling.
Evernote – $50 / year
This is where my brain is stored. I use it for everything from writing blog posts, to taking client notes, to outlining products and courses, to storing design ideas and favorite recipes. Use the web-based clipper to snap screenshots and store images inside notes. You can even email notes to your notebook. The robust tagging system allows you to easily find notes. Bonus: evernote syncs across all your devices (so you’re not endlessly searching for that one doc you stored on that other computer…)
Evernote Essentials – $29+
This is THE guide to getting the most out of evernote. Easy to read and gives you tons of ideas for the best ways to use evernote.
Todoist – $29 / year
I’ve been searching for years for a to-do list manager that understands how my brain works. I LOVE todoist. Elegant, clean and simple to-use. Recurring tasks are a breeze – and I can even assign tasks to team members and clients. Mobile app is nice bonus.
LastPass – $12 year
Tired of trying to remember all those crazy passwords? Last pass securely stores your passwords so you don’t have to. One master password locks it up – and you can even share logins with others without compromising your security.
Amazon s3 – $ varies
My favorite storage solution. While I love dropbox for sharing assets like photos with clients, I rely on s3 to store things like audio files, pdfs and site backups. Great for delivering high quantity of data for a low price. (For example, thinking of giving away a large file like an audio meditation as a freebie? Store it on s3 and you won’t need to worry about bandwidth overages – you can send gigs of data for pennies).
Accounting + Getting Paid
Quickbooks Pro – $199
It’s a business standard – and I’ve been using the desktop version of quickbooks since I started my business. This one program is the sole reason I run a dual boot system on my mac (the windows version is MUCH better, go figure). It may not be pretty, but it gets the job done. (Note: I do all my own bookkeeping, so all I do every quarter is send my quickbooks file to my accountant. He reviews my records, gives me any edits and tells me what to pay the government. This easy process keeps my costs down).
Harvest Billing – $12/month
Stripe.com – 2.9% + .30 per transaction, no monthly fee
One thing I’m not a fan of in quickbooks is invoicing and taking credit card payments. I used to use Quickbooks Merchant Account to process online payments – not only did it have a significant monthly fee and high transactional percentage, but the interface was clunky and hard for clients to use.
Enter Harvest Billing – gorgeous clean interface, easy to setup recurring retainers and invoices – and integrated time tracking. All for $12 a month? Big fan. Clients can now easily approve estimates, add funds to retainers and pay invoices with one click from their email. This one change cut down the time it took me to get paid by at least 2-3 weeks – improving cash flow and my bottom line.
Stripe.com is now my preferred payment processor of choice – no monthly fees, 2-day direct transfer to my bank account and a competitive percentage rate – not to mention that it easily integrates into a lot of 3rd party shopping carts and other systems (Like Harvest mentioned above).
Gumroad $108 / year + 3.5%
If you’ve read any of my latest posts about launching or purchased one of my e-books, you know I’m a HUGE fan of Gumroad. This service is super easy to use to sell digital downloads. Great app to track sales and weekly payouts to your bank account.
Video + Audio Production
Screenflow – $99
Amazingly easy-to-use video capture software – how I record all my how-to videos and site reviews. Great for training videos and recording powerpoint/keynote presentations for online courses.
Vimeo Pro – $199 / year
I do a LOT of website reviews – and I store all of my video recordings on Vimeo Pro. Great place to securely store and share your online videos – especially if you’re creating online courses.
Handbrake – Free
Convert to video files from almost any format. Also great to compress large video files for web use.
Audacity – Free
Super powerful software to record and edit audio. Mac or PC.
Project + Client Management
I’m often handling several projects at once (both internal and client side). Many of my clients work with me for years – Basecamp allows me to archive old projects, grant specific access to contractors and clients and manage everything in one convenient location. (Bonus Tip: Harvest Billing time tracking integrates directly into Basecamp). To store client contact information, I use Highrise – a product from the makers of BaseCamp.
Zoom – $15 / month
The easiest and best video conferencing service I’ve ever used. LOVE this. So much easier to use than Google Hangouts and much more stable than Skype. Easy to schedule and use all over the world. Pro tip: Zoom can record audio AND video – great for blog interviews and online courses.
Slack – Free+
Get off of email and into Slack. I’m on multiple client teams – which means massive amounts of emails. Slack is a messaging service that lets you instantly chat with team members and cut down on the email monster. Send files, share info and get instant feedback.
Wufoo – $14 / month
I love Wufoo! Simple form management – easily allow me to create intake forms, questionnaires, surveys and testimonial follow-ups. Great for getting instant feedback from readers and clients. Powerful software that can even be used to take payments.
ConvertKit – $ varies
As a designer, I’ve used all sorts of newsletter tools – from the big guns, to the archaic to the high-end customized systems. I just recently made the switch from Mailchimp to ConverKit and I couldn’t be happier. I make active use of tagging functionality – that way I can send specific information to segments of my list.
Pro tip: If you’ve got a WordPress site, you can offer different opt-ins after each blog post with their great ConvertKit plugin.
Pro tip: Got an online course and you do a lot of in-person events?
Create promo cards with special discounts and hand them out at your next event.
Social Media Management
Buffer – $120 / year
Simple and easy to use, Buffer connects your various social media accounts (both personal and business). This service provides dummy-proof scheduling, easy-to-understand statistics and the ability to quickly mange multiple accounts in one location.
Later – Free+
Instagram doesn’t let other systems auto-schedule posts, but you can get pretty darn close with Later. This awesome tool helps you queue up posts – you add your photo and post, and it will ping your phone when you have scheduled the post. You simple have to click a couple of buttons and it will copy your post to Instagram. Great way to do plan for longer posts from your computer (much easier than typing on your phone!)
Design + Development Tools
WP Engine – $29+ / month (various plans)
Siteground – $15+ / month (various plans)
I need fast, reliable web hosting service for my clients – and I’ve tried them all. The only two hosting services I’ll recommend these days are WPEngine and SiteGround. Both have automated backups, malware scanning, staging sites and great customer support.
Creative Cloud – $49 month
Every project I touch uses a minimum of 3 Adobe products. I was thrilled when they came out with the cloud service – instead of spending $2500+ every 2 years to upgrade my software, I now have instant access to the latest version of every Adobe product for a low monthly fee.
Bonus 1: Typekit (Adobe online webfonts). Normally a $50+ yearly fee, this is included for free with creative cloud subscription – this allows you to choose from their amazing webfonts on your website.
Bonus 2: Echosign (digital signature software) – 5 forms per month are included for free with cloud membership. I can easily upload contracts and have clients instantly and securely sign documents. No more mailing contracts!
Stock illustration, photography, fonts and elements – (typically $100-$250 month)
You’re only as good as your toolbox – and often that means you need to buy stock elements for projects. I’m always looking for interesting new fonts and creative elements to keep my work fresh and engaging.
Balsamiq – $12 / month
Large comprehensive projects often call for wireframe and/or prototype drawings. This is a great web-based service that allows me to share wireframes between clients and developers.
The majority of my development work is in WordPress – and I’m always searching for the next great plugin that will serve my clients. I typically buy the developer license and test any plugin before using it on live sites. I have no problem spending money on a well-vetted solution. Paying for plugins means that the developer can spend time supporting their product – meaning it’s going to be around for a while.
All time fav plugins:
Beaver Builder – My go-to page builder – allows me to create any kind of page layout I want
Gravity Forms – The ultimate contact form
Sucuri – WordPress Security
Soliloquy – amazing photo slider
Envira Gallery – photo gallery
Events Calendar – clean calendar
WishList Member – membership site/online course
OptinMonster – simple, clean pop-up optins
WordPress Themes – $30+
After years of testing themes and frameworks, I’m sold on the Genesis Framework from Studiopress. It’s the basis of every single custom site I create. While Studiopress offers a ton of child themes, there are new 3rd party sites cropping up all the time that can get you that unique look.
How to save money + get discounts!
Running a business can get expensive really fast – so I’m always on the lookout for a great deal. Here are a few ways I save on ongoing fees.
- Join an industry-related membership program
Are you a designer? AIGA memberships gives you discounts on many creative services.
Are you a business owner? Check out founders card (this card alone saves me hundreds of dollars a year from vendors like apple, at&t, hover.com, moo, harvest billing and various airlines and hotels.)
- Get a smart credit card
I love my amex platinum – while there is a yearly fee, I get great benefits like access to airline lounges (so needed for long layovers!). All of my expenses go on this card – then I turn the points into savings on travel.
- Always search BEFORE you buy
Looking for a popular program or software? Do a quick search on the product name + “promo code” – often you’ll find a coupon on a site like retailmenot.com