From time to time, people ask me about the various tools I use to run my business. There aren’t many, honestly, because I’m cheap! I only invest in a tool after a lot of research and when I absolutely need it. In fact, I went years with DIY’ing all sorts of things, like using an Excel spreadsheet for “accounting” and manually adding content across my social media platforms.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized my stubbornness about spending money was actually costing my business big time. As an example, at my hourly rate of $100, I easily spent $500 or more per month marketing my business on Pinterest. I could spend of that on Tailwind and automate most of that process. No-brainer, right?
Sadly, I had a-ha moments just like that about each of these tools and regretted waiting so long to invest. I think a lot of us solopreneurs make that mistake. It’s hard to part with money, especially for something you could do yourself. But if you actually think through the time you spend bootstrapping things vs. the low monthly fees for the various programs, it quickly becomes clear that many tools are worth their weight in gold.
So, here are 5 must-have tools in my business. The ones I’m willing to pay to use every month (and I promise, that’s saying a lot because dayum I love money!).
Also, you know me—I like to be totally transparent. I’m including affiliate links for each of these. If you sign up, I get a small reward (typically in the form of a free month or discount on my fees). If you’re going to sign up anyway, why not let us both benefit, right? And again, you know me—I wouldn’t recommend something I don’t use, believe in, and recommend. That’s why there are only 5 things listed here…I’m only telling you about the tools I actually use each month.
I finally stopped my Excel spreadsheet madness this year and started using QuickBooks like a grown-up business owner. It integrates with my business bank account/debit card so I don’t have to remember to manually track expenditures anymore. I can categorize income/expenses and it adds repeat items automatically. I also use it for invoicing, which is leaps and bounds better than my old-school method of making them in Word and tracking them in Excel.
Investment: $10/month (you pay only $5/month for the first six months)
I really resisted paying for a scheduling system. After all, I’m not a coach or someone who has tons of meetings with different clients. But I do have plenty of virtual coffee dates (integral to growing your network), interviews for stories I’m writing, and occasional meetings with potential clients. Managing all of that was cumbersome back when I had to go back and forth via email to nail down times with people. Now I can just send a link and they can book themselves into my calendar. The system sets different available times based on the type of appointment, and it integrates with my iCal so I can easily block off time without having to go to the Acuity site.
Investment: $10/month(the plan is now $15/month, but I’m grandfathered in at my lower rate!)
When I started my email list in 2016, I used Mailchimp because it was free and easy. As my list grew and I wanted to add opt-ins and email sequences, however, I switched to ConvertKit. I’ve been told it’s more robust. I paid someone about $200 to help me set everything up, but now it’s pretty straightforward to add new opt-ins and sequences, write regular newsletters, and manage my subscriber list. Also, paying for a list based on its size has made me more inclined to prune cold subscribers on a regular basis (something I never did before because I was so caught up on vanity metrics). Now my list is more engaged than ever, with an open rate around 60%.
Investment: $49/month (I was paying $29/month, but recently moved up to the 1,000-3,000 subscriber plan)
I launched my first course in 2017 and thought about bootstrapping it using YouTube and a password-protected page on my website, but then thought better of it after chatting with the amazing Emylee of Think Creative Collective. They told me the DIYed their first course and later wished they’d gone straight to a hosting platform. ‘Nuff said. I did my research and decided to go with Thinkific because of its low costs and ease of use. I was able to set up my “school”, link it to Stripe and Paypal quickly, and add content all by myself. That’s saying a lot—I waited a year to launch a course because I was so overwhelmed by the technology piece. Turns out, it couldn’t be much easier! My upgraded plan allows me to offer discount codes (an important element of my marketing plan) and allows my students to pay via Paypal.
Investment: $39/month (it’s $49/month if you don’t pay for an entire year upfront)
I don’t know if I have the words to describe my love for SmarterQueue. I’ve been using Hootsuite for free for years, and I hated the idea of paying to schedule social media posts. I only switched to this program recently, and it’s already my favorite tool. It doesn’t work yet for Instagram or Pinterest, but it replaces everything I managed on Hootsuite (Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn). What’s so great about it? You can create content categories—tips, blog posts, quotes, as examples—and fill them up with evergreen content. Then you can let those posts recycle as many times as you want. There’s also a cool drag-and-drop calendar where you can plot out which categories will be used at which times on which accounts. Like, seriously, this thing is so incredibly robust for the price. I can’t get over it.
Bonus tools: I use the free version of Later to help manage my Instagram account. It doesn’t post on your behalf (that would violate Instagram’s rules), but it does help me get things written and scheduled in advance so that each day I just have to go into the app and copy the photo, caption, and hashtags into Instagram. Also, I recently started paying $14.99/mo. for Zoom to host trainings for my membership program and for group mentoring calls.
In all, I spend $127.99/month on tools for my business. Again, at my billable rate of $100/hour, that means I’d have to handle all of those tasks in less than an hour and a half a month to make it worth the DIY route. Impossible. Now I’m here kicking myself that I waited so long to invest in my business. That I spent all those years pulling out my hair trying to do things I hated, found overwhelming, or just plain sucked at rather than spend basically 1.5 hours of income each month on them.
So, if you’re reading this thinking, “Oh boy, that sounds familiar. I am totally DIYing things I shouldn’t,” then take my advice and start investing in your business. It’s really true that you have to spend money to make money. Just be sure to spend it wisely!
Oh, and if you’re a paper planner kind of person like me, check out this list of my favorite 2018 planners.