Starting an online business has never been so simple, or so low cost. That’s right, you don’t need to take out a loan or borrow from family – you can start for under $100 in monthly expenses.
I’m a huge fan of not spending money, aka bootstrapping and I started my own online business with minimal overhead and continue to run it to this day with very low overhead. Of course, as your team grows you will need to invest in tools that cost a bit more but will definitely save you time.
So here is my attempt at saving you some grief of eventually finding GREAT resources to keep your online business on track, organized and stress free (well relatively). These are tools I use on a regular basis and for anyone looking for ideas on tools to use check these out.
These are recommendations that would fit any online business, not just digital marketing or web design specifically.
Google Drive is the number-one tool I’ve used for my business with clients. Storage on Google Drive is relatively affordable, it can be accessed from everywhere, the user interface is intuitive, and everything updates in real time, so I can work in tandem with my team members all over the world (or in the next room!). Another cool perk is that you can actually edit Google Docs, Sheets and Slides while you’re offline and it’ll automatically update everything once you’re online again!
The important thing to remember is to keep your Google Drive ORGANIZED. Create folders and subfolders for EVERYTHING – it’ll make it WAY easier to locate the files you need. Trust me.
Price: free for 15G, all I use at the moment
Bit by bit I’m getting my stuff in order. I use Wave as my bookkeeper, before sending to the bookkeeper😊 Accounting stuff is time consuming and if you don’t stay on top of it, it can be frustrating. For invoicing & payments I use Square, although Wave has that functionality too, I just haven’t moved there yet. At the end of the year I can print off different reports for the bookkeeper, making both our lives easier during April. A WIN/WIN I’d say.
Price: free for basic, all I use at the moment
I use to write EVERYTHING in a notebook, or multiple notebooks. Every note about a client, every login, every design element, every maintenance update, every single thing. I flipped around a lot. And rewrote it more times than I care to admit because I wanted all the notes together. I’ve used a million different types of Project Management software, each one specific to a specific client. None of that helped me manage myself. And yes, I needed to be managed as much as my clients work did.
After some research and trying a few different ones I decided to stick with Asana. Best decision I ever made. Now I can EASILY access all my info, and keep great records of my history with clients, what level of maintenance they are signed up for, emails I want to keep, web grabs of design elements or colours that make me happy, EVERYTHING. I still don’t use it to its full potential.
Price: free for basic and I totally recommend starting out there.
I’ve used Trello for a few different things and while it’s handy for some things it’s not for big projects. I’ve used it for a couple of website design projects and it works just OK, also used it with a couple of clients to manage their social media, again it works OK. It’s good for event planning, I used it to plan a gala a while back. The trick is to get everyone on-board using it. It’s free, user friendly, and you can have a team on it so everyone is in the loop and can document in one place. Simple to use.
Price: free for basic
This is a big one, for everyone I’m sure.
A successful entrepreneur talked about this on one of his podcasts. It’s really good, both for myself and for people doing work for me. You can track all your time and submit detailed invoices for payment. It’s AWESOME for 2 reasons.
- I’m getting better at invoicing properly for my time and
- It has been great at keeping me on task! Once that timer is running, I need to stick to one thing. That means less bouncing around to other tasks, or social media.
Price: free for basic (unless you have a team, you only need free!) It looks like their are only paid plans, but there is free, it’s just kind of hidden, snoop around.
Strict Workflow is an extension you can add to your chrome browser. There are a few options out there, search for “Pomodoro Time Tracking” and select the one best suited for you.
If you find yourself continually getting lost down rabbit holes wasting your time, YOUR LIFE, on social media or random sites that are doing nothing for your brain, install this. Once you’ve hit it once, you’ll be on track for the day. It blocks any sites you set up so you can’t visit them for 25 minutes. It’s borderline frightening when you first use this and repeatedly try to load Twitter or Facebook and it tells you to get back to work – it’s such a habit that even though you’ve just set the timer, you still click to check. Ugh! Anyway, try this.
Don’t worry, after the 25 minutes, the tomato turns green and you get 5 minutes to fart around on any site you want. Then it’ll ring at you and you’re back to 25 minutes work and blocked elsewhere. And repeat, although you will likely just find you are in the groove of work now and don’t need it.
1Password is a life saver for sure. I originally started with LastPass but switched to 1Password, mostly to support a Canadian company. I’m not sure how I ever went without this. Everything nowadays needs a login & password and you can’t use the same one for everything anymore. I have SO MANY passwords and logins it would make your head spin. I used to keep them all in my head or sometimes on a scrap of paper. Now, 1Password saves me so much time it’s crazy. And secure. I have these passwords now: 55$%tfdRF23@&go0KchR!…you get the idea. I pay annually, it’s under $60 and well worth it.
It’s a bit complicated to set up but it’s definitely worth it.
Price: varies, they have personal, family, team, and business options
I recommend this ALL THE TIME. Need a social media share image, maybe with some text overlay, or something a little more creative than you can pull off? Canva is your answer. So many templates to choose from and if you get the paid version, your options open up, like removing backgrounds. You can resize your same design for different social media channels, set up your own fonts and colours, make your own style for posting on all social media platforms. The more time you spend in there, the more comfortable you will become and you’ll be posting like a pro in no time. Every online business today requires good quality images that are personalized.
Price: free for basic
Slack is a communication desktop and smartphone app for a team. REALLY FUNCTIONAL. You can start different channels for different discussions or topics, send private messages to a single person or different groups of team members, video chat (I have yet to find a better video chat tool I like) everything. Email threads are the worst and no one likes getting in the middle of one. Get Slack and never do that again. Keep in mind that you need all team members on board with participating on this or you aren’t getting anywhere using it.
Price: free for basic, all I’ve used
Acuity has a free plan, but the paid plan is worth every cent! You can sync your appointments to your Google Calendar to make sure you don’t double-book, customize your scheduling page, create paid appointments if you want to offer paid strategy calls, and integrate it with over 500 apps using Zapier!
But, in my opinion, the best part is the calendar syncing – the worst thing is having a potential client book a discovery call at the same time as a school event and having to contact them and reschedule!
I also recommend having a detailed intake form before a lead can book a discovery call – just to qualify them and make sure they’re right for you.
Price: free for basic
I like Stripe because they support you for chargebacks much more than PayPal does, but you can definitely start with PayPal – I used PayPal for a while before switching to Stripe for invoicing my clients and it worked great!
Eventually, I recommend setting up automatic payments through Stripe, to avoid the hassle of reminding/nagging/begging your clients to pay their invoices so that you can pay YOUR employees!
By the time I finished this, I thought of other things I use but the top 10 or 11 is going to have to cover it for now. Good luck! And if you try any of these, let me know your thoughts.
Here’s to a prosperous, well organized, and less stressy 2021!