After experimenting with different resources I’ve finally discovered some amazing tools (and plenty of duds, believe me!) that have taken my business to a whole new level! My systems are running smoothly, I have automated workflows in place, and I am working comfortably in my mobile office. Below, you’ll find the top tools that I recommend to every service-based business owner, and most of which have free trials to test them out as well!
Top Tools Every Service-Based Business Owners Needs
As a web designer, you know I have to talk about website hosting. Quite frankly, your hosting is probably the most important decision you will make when it comes to your website. After going through awful excuses of hosting like GoDaddy, BlueHost, HostGator, and InMotion Hosting (we’ll just skip over managed platforms like Squarespace), I have to say that Siteground completely blows the competition out of the water. I host 8 of my own websites (I know, it’s a lot) with Siteground, as well as all of my clients, and I have nothing but wonderful words to say about them. They’re top notch in terms of server uptime, speed, and security just to name a few!
• Related Reading: 7 Reasons Why You Should Choose WordPress over Squarespace (& Wix!)
Domain Email: G Suite
As a business owner, you need to appear as professional as possible to your current and future clients. Let’s be honest, emailing email@example.com just doesn’t give clients as much confidence as emailing firstname.lastname@example.org would. Take some initiative and make your business more credible with an email account under your domain name. If you much prefer the layout of Gmail, go with a G Suite account and access all of the tools it has to offer. But, if you host with Siteground, you can create as many domain emails as you would like on your server for no extra charge!
Client Management: Dubsado
This one amazing tool turned my whole business around and set me on an organized path when working with clients. Dubsado is a client relationship management software (CRM) that I now cannot live without! It helps me nurture my leads into clients (with automated workflows), get paid quickly, and deliver my work through a beautiful Client Portal. It has everything I could possibly need (or want) to run my business smoothly. Plus, you can send messages to clients through the dashboard by connecting your snazzy new domain email!
• Related Reading: How to Get Organized and Create an Effective Client Workflow
Contracts: The Contract Shop
Contracts and agreements that legally protect your business are another super important tool you must be using. If you aren’t utilizing contracts, you need to stop right now and reevaluate. Being proactive in this area can literally save your business! You never know when something can go wrong in a project like delivering work to your client, and they decide to take it and run. The Contract Shop sells templates for a large variety of businesses that are all attorney approved. It takes as little as 15-minutes to plug in your information into a contract and cover your business legally. Once you’ve “written up” your contract, you can quickly send it to your clients to sign electronically through Dubsado.
Project Management: Asana
If you need help keeping track of your daily tasks and organizing your schedule, you need to use Asana. Asana is a platform that was built with project management in mind and it definitely keeps my client workload organized. Using this platform has added so much more order to my day as I’m not constantly wasting time and thinking about what I need to work on next. Not only can you create tasks to check off yourself, but you can collaborate with others (both clients & colleagues) by assigning them duties to complete as well.
When it comes to getting paid, there’s only 2 things I want in a payment processor; the ability to quickly deposit payments into my bank account, and low payment processing fees. For these 2 reasons alone, I use and love Square. Square has the ability to accept in-person payments through a mobile card reader, send individual or recurring invoices, and so much more. But, the best part of it all is that your money goes into your bank account by the next business day and if you refer other entrepreneurs to them, you can receive up to $1000 without paying any transaction fees! Oh, and did I mention you can also connect your Square payment account to Dubsado? Score!
Come tax time, you’ll need to be able to report your business income and expenses. For the non-accountant, Quickbooks helps you easily track payments you’ve received throughout the year as well as what you’ve spent by securely connecting your bank accounts and your credit cards. Get rid of the Excel spreadsheets and automate your business with the industry standard accounting software to make sure you’re prepared for tax season. Plus, it integrates directly with Dubsado. (I told you Dubsado was amazing!)
Email Marketing: MailerLite
For low cost email marketing, I favor MailerLite over MailChimp. Why? Because it’s also free for the first 1,000 subscribers on your list, and it offers a way better segmenting experience than MailChimp does. Want to give your subscribers the ability to opt-out of a certain topic, but still keep them on your main newsletter list? MailerLite can easily help with their Group segmenting.
Pinterest Scheduling: Tailwind
Pinterest is my top social media referral (behind Facebook) that brings traffic to my website. Tailwind, is the main reason for this. With Tailwind, you can create an automated pinning schedule, pin in bulk, and share your pins to niche communities called, “Tribes” where other business owners can re-share your content. It can really save you time and it takes the tedium out of pinning manually.
File Sharing & Storage Tools
File Sharing: Dropbox
Being in visual services, I’m constantly sending and requesting large files to and from my clients. Dropbox makes it so easy to share these files without degrading the quality which is very important. It also connects with your computer so you always have access to documents whether you’re online or offline.
File Storage: LaCie External Hard Drive
Keeping multiple copies of your important documents is definitely a must because you never know when your computer will randomly kick the bucket. (Like I’ve mentioned, being proactive can save your business!) In addition to using an online file storage like Dropbox, I have a, “tried & true” LaCie external hard drive that rarely leaves my computer. If you’re an Apple user like myself, you can also use the Time Machine app to create automatic backups of your entire computer which saves directly to your LaCie hard drive.
Computer: Apple Mac
In the fight between Mac and PC, who will win? Honestly, I use both, but for my business, I choose to use Mac. I find that Apple products take much less maintenance (you don’t have to worry about anti-virus software), MacOS feels much cleaner than Windows 10, the devices last much longer (as I type this my 2011 iMac is still going strong!), and you can easily connect all of your Apple devices together for file sharing. I’m not looking to stir up any arguments, but for business, my MacBook Pro & iMac have definitely been worth the investment.
Computer Glasses: Blue Light Filter Glasses
Staring at bright computer, phone, and tablet screens all day can put a big strain on your eyes. To protect myself from damage, I wear a pair of blue light filtering glasses to reduce exposure and filter out the damaging rays. My eyes definitely feel less strained after staring at the screen with my glasses on vs without them.
Mouse: Logitech MX Vertical
As business owners, we spend a ton of time slaving away in front of the computer. Because of this, my wrist (and I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well) has started to give me some pain issues. My loving boyfriend was kind enough to purchase an ergonomic mouse for me and it has made a huge difference in the amount of time I can spend designing on the computer.
Office Chair: High-Back Executive Chair
Last, but most certainly not least, is getting a chair with a high back that allows you to work in comfort. I spend hours at my desk working on client projects as well as creating new content and I can tell you, getting an executive style chair can save you so much unnecessary back pain! Making sure to take care of your body is an aspect of business that we often tend to overlook. So, if you’re going to burn the midnight oil every week, at least reduce the amount of physical pain you have to endure.
Are you already using any of the tools above in your service-based business? If so, which do you love the most? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!