tools and a tool belt

The must have tools for your online business

What are the must have tools for your online business?

This is not about buying all the fancy new toys – which would be Shiny Object Syndrome. Read more about how to overcome Shiny Object Syndrome here.

The right tools really can make or break your online business.

There are a few things to keep in mind when tooling up your online business:

First, ask yourself this question when you consider adding tools for your online business: will it save me time and save me money?

Back to Shiny Object Syndrome, some tools will look really cool. And when a new one pops up, everyone starts talking about it… “have you tried the new XYZ? It sounds like it solves every problem you’ll ever have!” 

But that’s rarely the case. Plus, to further entice you, these new tools often are free if you jump on early. I talk more about the costs of free below. 

But, when you plan and understand the needs of your business today and going forward, you’ll be in a better position to assess whether the latest and greatest tool will save you time and money.

Second, understand that there will be a learning curve with any new tool.

Ugh, the learning curve. That might be enough to stop you right there. But let’s keep the end game in mind. Do your homework before you decide that it’s too much trouble to learn something new. 

Start with how steep the learning curve will be, and will it be worthwhile. Even something as simple as a time tracking tool means switching things up. 

Ask around. Who uses what tools, and why? How long did it take them to learn how to use the tool you are considering? Do they use it effectively? How much does it cost? Does it make more sense to hire the work out than get the tool and do it yourself?

Third, free is NOT always better. 

For example, MailChimp has a free plan which is very popular. But OMG, and this is my personal opinion only, what a pain in the a** it is. In my mind, MailChimp has a way of making things harder than they have to be. If you are looking for a free email marketing solution to start, Mailerlite is a good option. 

Just keep in mind that there are tools that start out free, but they start to charge you when you get to a certain number of users or activity. So consider that in your decision making. For example, maybe you are ok with MailChimp as long as it’s free, but if you have to pay, you want a better system.There is opportunity cost there in starting with MailChimp because, when you upgrade, you have to learn a whole new system and get everything migrated over.

So, we’ve established that the must have tools for your online toolbox should save you time and save you money. But what tools do you really need as a freelancer with a service-based business?

Here are my recommendations for the must have tools for your online business: 

1. A scheduler. 

Your clients need to book in time with you. You also need to book discovery calls and coffee chats.  Make it easy for you and your client by using a solution like Acuity or Calendly.

2. A password manager.

LastPass is everything to me. It stores all my passwords across devices. It can also generate strong, random passwords that help prevent hacking. You can also securely share login information with your clients or with your team. 

It may feel scary to store all your passwords in one online space. But how secure is that notebook of passwords you carry around? Or using the same, easy-to-figure-out password for everything? LastPass makes life easier. For free. 1Password is another option. 

3. A time tracker.

I still use a time tracker to this day. Why? Even though I don’t work hourly, I want to know how long it takes me to do things. Most people, including me, think things take less time than they actually do. 

When you are creating packages, or pricing out a proposal for a client, or subcontracting work, it’s critical to know how long each piece of a project takes. Otherwise, you may not charge enough, and you’ll lose money! Toggl is a fave. Harvest is another option. If you use FreshBooks or Dubsado, timers are included.

4. A project management tool. 

I recommend using one of these for client work and for your own business. I’m a fan of Trello, especially when you are starting out or have a small team. The free option is robust enough for most needs, it’s visual, and it’s easy to use. Asana is another good option, especially for bigger teams and more complex projects.

5. A social media scheduler.

I’ve seen this over and over again. If you don’t plan out and schedule your social media content, then you may not post at all. When client work becomes a priority, promoting your business gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Which leads right into the feast-or-famine cycle. 

Plan your content out and plug it into a scheduler so you stop stressing about it. Some good options are Buffer and Hootsuite. Planoly is great for Instagram, and Tailwind really helps your Pinterest game.

6. A design tool. 

Unless you are hiring design out (which really is a good idea if design is not your cup of tea), you’ll need something to help with your graphic needs. 

Canva is a great free solution that’s pretty simple to use. Canva has templates for just about everything as well as stock photos, design elements, font options, video, and music options to jazz up your designs. I prefer Photoshop simply because I learned it first, but either is a good choice.

7. An accounting tool.

Unless you are a bookkeeper or an accountant, you likely aren’t passionate about doing your books. But it’s a MUST. Wave and Quickbooks Online are two options to help keep you on track. Wave is free and is a good DIY choice. If you have a bookkeeper or an accountant, check in with them on their preferences. It might save you money to go with their choice.

8. Google Analytics. 

Note that I didn’t suggest a tool category here. I went straight to the tool. If you have a website, make sure you have Google Analytics set up. And then use it. Because if you don’t know how people are behaving on your website, you can’t make improvements.

9. A storage option.

Google Drive is free and is my storage solution of choice. It’s accessible from all my devices, and it’s easy to share info with your clients and your team. 

I use Dropbox, too, to store freebies that I deliver via ActiveCampaign and for other miscellaneous stuff where Google Drive isn’t the best solution.

10. An email marketing solution. 

You need a way to build an email list and share value with clients and leads, and an email marketing solution is a must. I mentioned this above. MailChimp is not my fave. But a lot of people like it, especially when starting out. 

Mailerlite is a good option with a free plan. When I was over MailChimp, which happened pretty quickly, I moved to ConvertKit. And that immediately made my life easier. I now use ActiveCampaign and love it.

11. A payment platform. 

It almost goes without saying that you need a way to get paid. So you likely already have Stripe, PayPal, or both. There are fees involved, but the convenience factor of a payment platform means it’s easier for your clients to pay you quickly. And that’s a good thing!

12. A CRM.

If you are just getting started, a CRM is not really a must. That said, I signed up for Dubsado pretty early on when they had a deal running. And it’s saved me a lot of time. 

My contracts, proposals, forms, and invoices are all handled through Dubsado and all live there. Since I signed on, they also added a scheduler which can be embedded on websites or sales pages. When they did that, I was able to cut out my Acuity account. I loved Acuity – but why have an extra tool if you don’t need it?

And if you need to upgrade your onboarding game, I’ve got the tool for you! What If Onboarding Clients And GETTING PAID Was As Easy As 1-2-3…instead of a time and money-wasting scramble to pull together invoices, agreements, and checklists over and over again?

Onboard Like A Boss™ is the simple, no-brainer onboarding system with customizable templates you can use over and over again to get you paid fast and get you to work quickly and easily.

Onboard Like A Boss™ product mockup with desktop, laptop, phone, and documents