Five Business Tools I Can't Live Without
I've tried sooooooo many business tools over the years. Some have been life changing, some a waste of time and money, and others maybe great for someone else, but not for me. Today I wanted to share my five favorite business/productivity tools. Each option is either free or comes with a free trial, which I think is super important so that you can try it for yourself before committing some of your budget to it.
This is my newest favorite business/productivity tool for sure. It's just a time tracker, but something about it works better for me than any other time trackers I've tried in the past. I love that it has a desktop app so that I can track things organically without having to get online. It helps me stay more focused, and I LOVE that the app has a little reminder alert so that if I've forgotten to track what I'm doing, I don't go very long before realizing it.
Within the Toggl website, I love the reports I can generate. Using a combination of projects and tags, I can see exactly where I'm spending my time, and I can see not just how many hours I'm spending on each client, but also how many hours I'm spending on various marketing and administrative tasks.
I have my Toggl account set up so that I have 5 main projects I may be working on at any given time: administrative, marketing, design, photography, and education. Within each of those projects, I have a simple system of tags, utilizing a basic "who, what, and where" approach so that every task is tagged the same way. That allows me to breakdown my reports by who (clients), what (what I'm specifically doing) and where (which program I'm primarily using). This has allowed me to see, for example, how many hours a ProPhoto site set up takes verses a Squarespace site set up, while still also allowing me to see how many hours I'm spending on website work, as well as how many hours with each client. It's nerdy and probably easy to get obsessed about it, but I totally love it. And it's keeping me accountable, since I can really see how much time I'm wasting. I used to think "man, I worked 30 hours this week!" and now I can see that maybe I sat at my computer for 30 hours, but I really only worked for 15 of those hours. And that knowledge has totally changed my productivity and made me so much more efficient.
(no image for this one, sorry! But I don't want to post my banks and accounting information for everyone t0 see!)
I've tried a couple of bookkeeping apps, but for my needs, Wave can't be beat. It's free, so that certainly helps, but I would absolutely pay a monthly fee if they decided to charge one, I like it so much. It does the same basic things that Quickbooks does, but I've found the Wave platform to be way more intuitive, and simple in all the right ways. I use my Wave account solely for bookkeeping, communicating with my accountant, and running reports, but it does have a payroll and invoicing option (I do all my invoicing through Dubsado and Paypal). The only thing I wish had that it didn't was a dedicated app, but it hasn't been a deal breaker for me.
My very favorite thing about Wave, although most online bookkeeping platforms do this, is that it imports my transactions directly from my bank. I have a dedicate business checking and savings account, and every single dollar that my business sees goes through that account - in or out. Which means that I don't have to input anything by hand, which I adore. I used to make so many silly little mistakes when inputting by hand, and it would just eat up my time double checking them. Now, I just let Wave populate, I categorize each transaction at the end of every month, and boom. Bookkeeping done, easy as can be.
My accountant is happy with the reports it runs, too, which means that come tax time, I just run an income statement for him, and on one piece of paper he can see every deduction, depreciation, and income figure he needs.
Admittedly it took me a while to fall in love with Asana. I've tried it a couple times, and always found it such a pain to set up that it didn't seem worth it. I gave it a go again last month when I decided to hire a new assistant, and I'm liking it so much more this time around. They've updated it a lot since I last used it a few years ago, and not only is it prettier, it's a lot more streamlined and practical. I still don't find it particularly intuitive, but now that I have a few projects set up, I do like seeing all my tasks in one place.
I'm still on the fence about running client projects from Asana, mostly just because I live by my planner and prefer to have everything there. But, I am totally loving it for my editorial calendar, which I'm trying to step up in a big way this year. I still map out my ideas on a paper calendar (and I'll be blogging soon about how I do this) , but once I have them in place, I love that I can add them to Asana and my assistant can seamlessly help me with them. And I know it's a bit silly, but I love that I can add an image to each item, and have it populate on the board. I'm such a visual person that it helps make my editorial boards so much more engaging, and it keeps me motivated to keep going. Blogging can be such a big project, so anything that keeps me motivated is good!
Smarter Queue & Later
I've tried a number of social media management platforms - Hootsuite, Meet Edgar, Coschedule, and a few others. I'm currently using Smarter Queue & Later, and I think they are the current best options for what I need. Later is amazing for Instagram, and I LOVE that it lets me preview my IG schedule as a grid so that I can swap things around to create a nicer looking grid. Again, I'm super visual so anything that I can SEE is really good. And I love that Later is free for up to 30 post. Since I try to post just once a day (and often fall short), the free plan meets my needs beautifully. Later also has a scheduling option for Facebook, but they don't allow for evergreen content to automatically recycle, which I found limiting.
Smarter Queue is what I use for most of my Facebook content. I like that it lets me set a schedule, and set post types. Then when I have a new post, I just tell it what post type it is, and how many times I want it to recycle as evergreen content before expiring, and it does the rest.
I also really like how it lays the posts out, so I can see what's coming up soon. I don't really like the look of the overall platform, it's a bit clunky, but it does the job I need, it does it well, and it's a fairly reasonable monthly fee. I try really hard to keep my costs down, because they can add up SO fast. I have yet to find a really good, free scheduler that does everything I need, but Smarter Queue is one of the more budget friendly options out there. And if you want to give it a try, you can get a doubled trial by using THIS LINK. In the spirit of full discloser, if you end up signing up for it I get a month free.
I also like that Smarter Queue lets me post in groups I run. I haven't used this feature much yet, but I think it's really nice to have, and once I'm ready to step it up in that area, I think it will be a lifesaver for sure.
Social Media Templates
This last one is a tool I made for myself, but it's one that I use almost every day so I'm counting it on this list anyways. My social media templates are just a collection of square, horizontal, and vertical templates that I've created in three separate Photoshop files. When I need a graphic for my blog grid, for Facebook to promote something, for Pinterest, etc, I use these templates. I love them because I've spent time building a few different versions, so when I need something I don't have to reinvent it each time. I just grab one that will work, add a different image and text, and export. I also already took the time to make sure each one is cohesive (using my brand colors, fonts, and overall look), and that helps so much, too. It's one less decision I have to make when I need to share something, and when you are a small business owner, too many decisions can be the difference between a successful day, and a wasted day.
If you want to build one yourself, you'll need Photoshop, but it really isn't that hard to do. I have quite a few options built now, but I just started with a couple, and added to them as I went.
I know how overwhelming it can be when you are staring at so many options, and you either don't know which one is right for you, or you don't even know what's out there that might make your life easier. These are five things that I use regularly, in different areas of my business, and that I would truly miss if they disappeared tomorrow. I hope you found this helpful!